Kuwait's political freedoms under threat as nationalities revoked
The Kuwaiti government's decision to revoke the nationalities of the owner of a pro-opposition TV channel and newspaper, and a former MP along with three members of his family, has sparked fears for the political future of the Gulf state.
Kuwait's dynamic political scene and vocal opposition have distinguished it from its Gulf neighbours, but recent years have been fraught with unrest and power struggles within the ruling family, resulting in growing dissatisfaction among Kuwaitis and calls for reform.
"Threat to state"
A cabinet statement said that the decision to strip the nationality of Ahmed Jabr al-Shemmeri, a naturalised Kuwaiti and owner of Al-Yawm satellite channel and Al-Alam Al Yawm newspaper, was based on an article in the nationality law relating to those who pose a threat to the state. The government gave the reason for former MP Abdallah al-Barghash and his three siblings having their citizenships withdrawn as being that they had been obtained on the basis of false information.
Al-Shemmeri's TV station and newspaper also had their licences revoked and were ordered to shut down, with the Information Ministry citing the reason as "losing some of the terms and conditions for obtaining a licence". The Al-Alam al-Yawm newspaper was suspended twice earlier this year for breaching a media blackout ordered by the country's attorney-general to avoid discussion of a video allegedly showing a plot to overthrow the Emir.
Recent months have witnessed a resurgence of the opposition's activities. While some are sceptical that this poses a greater threat to the country's leadership, what is clear is that long-standing tensions have come to a head in this most recent period of unrest.
Earlier this month, prominent opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak was detained for 10 days pending a court case brought against him for insulting the judiciary and slandering its head, Faisal al-Marshed. In June, Al-Barrak accused Al-Marshed along with some senior former officials of bribery and corruption involving billions of dollars, in a characteristically dramatic speech to thousands of Kuwaitis gathered at the capital's Irada Square.
The prime minister was swift to dismiss the allegations, saying that the documents presented by the leader did not warrant investigation. But Al-Barrak's speech had reignited the support of many by tapping into a widely held grievance regarding the perceived misuse of public funds by Kuwait's political elite.
Stifling of dissent
The order for Al-Barrak's detention sparked days of protests, bringing at their height, thousands of Kuwaitis onto the streets to call for his release. During the subsequent crackdown on the demonstrations images were shared widely on social media by activists and protesters allegedly showing the Special Forces using tear gas and rubber bullets against them. The Interior Ministry released a statement denying the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, saying that only stun grenades had been used to disperse the protesters, having previously warned that it would "respond firmly to those conducting illegal and uncivilised acts".
Other Gulf states have in the past revoked citizenship as punishment for political activity deemed a threat to state security. In 2012, the UAE stripped the nationalities of six Islamists calling for reform. But the recent decision of the Kuwaiti government is viewed by many as part of a systematic stifling of the opposition.
Bandar al-Khairan, the secretary-general of the opposition Kuwait Democratic Forum, said the threat of revoking nationality would not prevent the forum from continuing its activities. He told the BBC: "We're not afraid because we didn't commit any crimes. We will continue to demand our rights and call for reform."
Human rights defender Nawaf al-Hendal expressed concerns that the recent decision is part of a long-term move by the government towards imposing greater restrictions on freedoms in the country. "It's true that Kuwaitis previously had more freedom than other Gulf countries, but in recent years the government has been implementing harsher measures on dissent and freedom of expression", he told the BBC.
He said that following protests in 2012, the number of Twitter users arrested for posting tweets deemed offensive to the Emir increased dramatically, in what he believed was a sign of growing intolerance of politically sensitive debate.