Zuhair Al Mahmeed sentenced to 15 years in prison in Kuwait following an unfair trial

Zuhair Al Mahmeed sentenced to 15 years in prison in Kuwait following an unfair trial

Zuhair Al Mahmeed is currently detained at the Central Prison in Kuwait City after being sentenced to 15 years in prison in a trial marred with violations of international fair trial guarantees.
Latest Updates
January 30, 2020: MENA Rights Group and JL Human Rights Consulting submit a request for opinion to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD).
June 18, 2018: Kuwaiti Supreme Court finds Al Mahmeed guilty of the state security charges and increases his sentence from five to 15 years in prison with hard labour.
July 21, 2016: Court of Appeal upheld the verdict of the Court of First Instance
September 15, 2015: Court of First Instance sentences Al Mahmeed to five years in prison for the possession of weapons without license, but declared him innocent of all national security charges.
August 19, 2015: Al Mahmeed is charged with “spying for Iran and its agent Hezbollah”, “possession of weapons” and “plotting to carry out hostile acts including spreading panic and disorder in Kuwait”.
August 15, 2015: Al Mahmeed is arrested at his office in Kuwait city by intelligence and police officers.

Zuhair Al Mahmeed is a former consultant at Kuwait Airlines. Although he retired in 2012, he continued working on political, social and cultural research papers. Al Mahmeed has a long-standing history of civic engagement and holds several honorary positions such as Secretary-General of the Islamic National Accord and Secretary-General of the Council of Christian-Islamic relations.

On August 15, 2015, Al Mahmeed was arrested at his office in Kuwait City by masked state security, intelligence and police officers who were wearing civilian clothes. During the arrest, the officers did not show an arrest warrant, nor did they inform him of the reasons for his arrest. Al Mahmeed was then taken to his house, which was searched and heavily damaged during the search. The security forces confiscated his personal belongings, including his computer, telephone and money, before taking him to the Directorate of State Security where he was detained until September 10, 2015, when he was transferred to the Central Prison.

During interrogation, from August 15 to September 10, 2015, Al Mahmeed was subjected to torture, beaten on the head and body, kicked and electrocuted. He was blindfolded and forced to stay in one position, either standing up or kneeling down, for many hours on end. Moreover, he was deprived of sleep and food and threatened with violence against his family as well as the deprivation of their citizenship. During this period, he lost consciousness twice and had to be transferred to the Jaber Al-Ahmad Hospital for treatment.

Between August 15 and August 19, 2015, Al Mahmeed was brought before the public prosecutor at the Palace of Justice four times where he mentioned that he had been tortured. However, instead of ordering an investigation, he was further beaten, threatened and insulted.

On August 19, 2015, he was charged with “spying for Iran and its agent Hezbollah”, “possession of weapons” and “plotting to carry out hostile acts including spreading panic and disorder in Kuwait”. Al Mahmeed was later transferred back to the Directorate of State Security, where he continued to be subjected to acts of torture.

During the entire interrogation period, he was held incommunicado without access to a lawyer or his family. Ultimately, Al Mahmeed was forced to sign the investigation documents, which he was unable to read because he was denied access to his spectacles. He was subsequently transferred to the Central Prison on September 10, 2015. Al Mahmeed was held in solitary confinement for almost six months, from August 15, 2015 until January 12, 2016.

From September 15, 2015, Mr Al Mahmeed was tried along with 24 other Kuwaiti defendants – all of them Shi’ites – and one Iranian. The case is also known as “Abdali cell”, since the Kuwaiti authorities claim to have found a large arms cache in a farm in the al-Abdali area, in the north of Kuwait.

The trial was widely criticised for being marred with irregularities and violations of international fair trail guarantees. Most detainees, including Al Mahmeed, were subjected to torture, forced to sign false confessions, denied access to legal counsel, and held in incommunicado and solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time. Nonetheless, on January 12, 2016, the Court of First Instance sentenced Al Mahmeed to five years in prison for unlawful possession of firearms for failing to return firearms and ammunition he used while serving in the military during the Gulf War. The court did not find him guilty of the other charges.

His sentence was confirmed on appeal on July 21, 2016. During the hearings before the Court of Appeal, his lawyer requested CCTV footage to prove that he was tortured and that they were not allowed to attend the interrogation of their client. They also requested access to Al Mahmeed’s medical file and called into evidence the clothes he wore when entering the Jaber Al-Ahmad Hospital, which bore stains of blood as a result of the torture he had been subjected to. All the requests were denied with the reason given that the CCTV footage had already been deleted by the Ministry of Interior, the clothes destroyed and the medical file “vanished”.

The Public Prosecution appealed the verdict against Al Mahmeed and other defendants in the case, demanding increased penalties. His case was referred to the Supreme Court, which increased Mr Al Mahmeed’s sentence from five to 15 years in prison with hard labour, finding him guilty of the state security charges that the previous courts had discharged him of.

In doing so, the Supreme Court acted outside its mandate laid out in Law No. 40 of 1972 concerning objections in cassation and the procedures as it ruled on the merits despite finding no violation by the lower courts of the law or any error in its application or interpretation. In addition, the Supreme Court sentenced Al Mahmeed without conducting a thorough examination of the facts and without allowing the defendant to defend his case in violation of the equality of arms principle.

On January 30, 2020, MENA Rights Group and JL Human Rights Consulting asked the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to issue an opinion as to the arbitrary nature of Al Mahmeed’s detention and call on the Kuwaiti authorities to immediately release him.