Twitter and Gulf News reported a Kuwaiti group called Fifth Fence (AlSour AlKhamis) using Twitter to attempt to organize a mass rally outside parliament on February 8. That protest has since been rescheduled to March 8. “We at the Fifth Fence call on the Kuwaiti people to assemble at parliament … on Tuesday at 11am (0800 GMT) to press for our legitimate right of holding sessions and to declare our rejection of the continuity of this government and its undemocratic practices.” the group wrote, inviting opposition MPs to join them.
The protests were, by some accounts, related to an investigation into Minister of the Interior Shaikh Jaber al-Khalid Al Sabah about the death by torture of a 35 year old Kuwaiti citizen, Mohammad Gazzai Al Mutairi, at a police station after he was arrested for possessing alcohol. The government and parliament postponed sessions for six weeks which was described as unconstitutional by the opposition. The death occurred on January 11 after six days of torture, and resulted in the arrest of sixteen policemen and the resignation of the Shaikh Jaber, a member of the family that has ruled Kuwait since 1756, but the cabinet asked Jaber to stay on.
US state cable 09KUWAIT110 details a meeting between the US ambassador and Shaikh Jaber. The US ambassador deplored “the ongoing deficiencies in Kuwait’s legal system that stymie effective prosecution and restraint of … individuals once captured.” They discussed the Kuwaiti prisoners still at Guantanamo, who the ambassador described as “nasty, unrepentant individuals” and she said that “Kuwait’s record had been tarnished by the example of former GTMO detainee al-Ajmi, who’d allegedly blown himself up in Mosul following his release to the Kuwaiti authorities.” Kuwait “had to take steps to show its seriousness in changing and controlling the behaviors of extremists within its society.”
Jaber told the Ambassador: “You know better than I that we cannot deal with these people (i.e. the GTMO detainees). I can’t detain them. If I take their passports, they will sue to get them back (Note: as happened with Al-Ajmi. End note.) I can talk to you into next week about building a rehabilitation center, but it won’t happen. We are not Saudi Arabia; we cannot isolate these people in desert camps or somewhere on an island. We cannot compel them to stay. If they are rotten, they are rotten and the best thing to do is get rid of them. You picked them up in Afghanistan; you should drop them off in Afghanistan, in the middle of the war zone.”
They went on to discuss the recent rescue by US NAVCENT forces in the northern Gulf of seven Iranian smugglers whose boat was foundering while engaged in smuggling hashish. The ambassador said they needed to think about dealing with similar episodes in future in “expeditious fashion”. Smiling broadly, the Interior Minister deflected the question, saying “God wished to punish them for smuggling drugs by drowning them, and then you saved them. So they’re your problem! You should have let them drown.”
The Kuwaiti Ministry of Information ordered the Al Jazeera station in Kuwait closed on December 13, 2010 after they aired live footage of Kuwaiti police cracking down on an opposition gathering and broadcast an interview with an opposition member of parliament.
Since the announcement of the protests (originally scheduled for an earlier date) there have been a number of government reforms announced. Yesterday the Kuwait Human Rights Society (KHRS) issued a press release on “positive developments in the country’s political terrain … to strengthen the values of leniency, sublimation and accepting others’ opinion” and announced their intention to continue pressing for amendment to the law on peaceful gathering and meetings, in line with Article 44 of the Constitution which permits such meetings. They are also asking for the government to stop any attempt to amend the Audio-Visual, Print and Publication Laws to suppress opinion to be in accordance with Article 36 of the Constitution which states that the freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed for everyone, and article 37 which states that freedom of press and publication is guaranteed.
The Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah agreed yesterday to withdraw the request to the Constitutional Court on the interpretation of articles 50, 100, 101, 111 and 163 in the Constitution to help diffuse the current hostility, and the Amir ordered all lawsuits against the media to be thrown out.