NGOs: Freedom of expression and civic space continue to face severe restrictions in Kuwait

16 July 2020

On July 16, 2020, CIVICUS, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and MENA Rights Group delivered a joint oral statement before the Human Rights Council (HRC) during the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) outcome of Kuwait. The NGOs expressed concern over the crackdown on human rights defenders and restrictions on civic space, and urged the authorities to effectively implement recommendations aimed at guaranteeing freedom of expression.

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Madam President,

Since its second Universal Periodic Review, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Gulf Centre for Human Rights, MENA Rights Group and CIVICUS found that Kuwait did not implement any of the 13 recommendations related to civic space. Instead, restrictive legislation such as the 1979 Public Gatherings Act, the 1970 National Security Law, the 2015 Cybercrime Law and the 2006 Press and Publications Law, continue to place undue restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms.

Furthermore, human rights defenders face severe restrictions, with women human rights defenders and activists from the stateless Bedoon minority facing heightened threats. Legal and policy limitations placed on the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression put HRDs at a continuous risk of detention, defamation, citizenship revocation and other forms of reprisals as a direct result of their work. Two of Kuwait’s leading human rights groups, the Kuwaiti Bedoon Gathering and the Kuwaiti Bedoon Committee, are regularly subjected to harassment and intimidation. Similarly, women human rights defenders face increased risks as a result of their work, such as defamation, stigmatisation, social pressure and gender and sexual-based violence, as well as marginalisation and discrimination.  In October 2018, the Twitter account of woman human rights defender Abeer Al-Haddad was hacked due to a tweet she published about her plans to sue the head of the Central Apparatus for Illegal Residents Affairs.

Freedom of expression is frequently impinged upon for journalists, bloggers and civil society actors online. On 2 January 2019, journalist Aisha Al-Rasheed was arrested under the 2015 Cybercrime Law following online posts in which she denounced the corruption of government officials. She was released on bail four days later, but charges against her were not dropped. In February 2019, Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli and Hamed Jameel were summoned for interrogation by officials for their online commentary. Kuwait continues to be a closed space for civic space, unduly hampering the activities of civil society and human rights defenders.

ISHR, GCHR MENA Rights Group and CIVICUS thus urge the government of Kuwait to implement recommendations from its last periodic review, including to “(l)egislate  to  guarantee  the  freedoms  of  expression,  of  assembly and  of  opinion” and “(g)uarantee  the  right  to  freedom  of  expression,  association  and  peaceful  assembly  of journalists, activists, human rights defenders and those who take part in demonstrations”, both of which were accepted by the government.

Thank you.

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