International News

Amnesty International, Annual Report 2000 on Kuwait
by Amnesty International
Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000 03:20 pm CST


State of Kuwait
Head of state: al-Shaikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah Head of government: al-Shaikh Sa'ad al-'Abdallah al-Sabah Capital: Kuwait City
Population: 1.8 million
Official language: Arabic
Death penalty: retentionist

Dozens of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continued to be held; they had been convicted in unfair trials since 1991. The fate of more than 70 people who "disappeared" in custody in 1991 remained unknown. At least 12 people were sentenced to death. In two separate cases, the editor of the newspaper al-Qabas and a professor of political science were convicted on charges of insulting Islam.

BACKGROUND

The Amir, al-Shaikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, dissolved parliament in May citing the lack of cooperation between members of parliament and the Cabinet as the reason for his decision. Fresh elections to the National Assembly were held in July. The Amir issued a decree that, subject to ratification by the new parliament, women would be allowed to vote and stand as candidates in parliamentary and municipal elections in the year 2003. However, in November parliament narrowly rejected the decree. Some members of parliament subsequently introduced an equivalent bill on women's voting rights which was also narrowly rejected by parliament in December.

PAST HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

The majority of human rights violations in Kuwait related to the period of Martial Law following the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces in February 1991. Despite having taken some positive steps in a series of political and human rights reforms, the government failed to address many of these violations including the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, unresolved extrajudicial executions and "disappearances", and political prisoners sentenced after manifestly unfair trials in the Martial Law and State Security Courts. The last eight political prisoners of Jordanian nationality, including at least four prisoners of conscience, were released following an amnesty granted by the Amir in February. About 30 other political prisoners, mainly of Jordanian nationality, had been released in successive amnesties in the previous three years. However, dozens of men and women of other nationalities, convicted on similar charges of "collaboration" with Iraqi forces, remained imprisoned. One, Khalaf 'Alwan al-Maliki, an Iraqi national who had lived in Kuwait since 1950, died in custody in February.

BIDUN (stateless people)

The status of the Bidun continued to be discussed in various committees. The Cabinet announced in June that to qualify for citizenship, a Bidun must have registered in the 1965 census. Following its consideration of Kuwait's report, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern that, despite its efforts, the government had not found a solution to the problems of the Bidun, the majority of whom remained stateless.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

An appeal court judgment in January overturned a sentence of six months' imprisonment against Muhammad Jassem al-Sagher, editor of al-Qabas, for printing a joke which a lower court had found offensive to Islam.

In October Ahmad al-Baghdadi, professor of Political Science at Kuwait University, was convicted on charges of insulting Islam and sentenced to one month in prison. Following increasing pressure for his release, both from within the country and internationally, he was granted an amnesty by the Amir after serving half his sentence.

The government ordered the newspaper al-Siyassah to be suspended for five days for publishing a report deemed harmful to the Amir and to the country's interests. The editor said that his newspaper was not to blame as it "only reported the words of the secretary general of an Islamist movement during a symposium, criticizing the Amir's decision to give Kuwaiti women their political rights".

The verdict in the trial of two Kuwaiti women writers, 'Alia Shu'aib and Laila al-'Othman, charged respectively with insulting Islam and offending public decency in their writings, due to be announced in December, was postponed until January 2000. They were sued in early 1997 by a group of four men who alleged that their books promoted moral corruption and were against Islamic traditions. The publisher, Yahya Rubi'yan, was charged with printing and distributing books offending public decency.

FORCIBLE RETURN: RISK OF TORTURE

In January the security forces arrested a group of 25 Arab men resident in Kuwait and accused them of "subversive acts to destabilize the security and stability of Kuwait".

Several days later, 15 men of Egyptian nationality were forcibly returned to Egypt where they were detained incommunicado by the State Security Investigation Department, where they were at risk of torture. They were reportedly interrogated about their alleged membership of a banned Islamist organization. Four of the men, Ahmad Hassan Badi'a, Magdi Fahmi, Youssri Hamad and Muhammad Farag, who had been living in Kuwait with their families for several years, were transferred to a prison near Cairo in April; the other 11 were released.

DEATH PENALTY

At least 12 people, including one woman, were sentenced to death following their convictions for murder and drugs offences. No executions were reported.



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