A peaceful protest last year by 15 stateless Bidun in Kuwait resulted in prison sentences between 10 years to life for three of the accused, including one in his absence, by the Kuwaiti criminal court on Tuesday, January 28.
The court acquitted one man, released the 12 remaining men on a pledge of good conduct for two years, and the additional condition of bail payment of 1000 Kuwaiti Dinar (approx. US$3,280) each for five of them.
Security forces had arrested the 15 men in July 2019 during a crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding citizenship and greater rights.
Kuwait considers the Bidun as foreign nationals or illegal immigrant and does not grant them economic and educational opportunities.
“Today’s sentencing is yet another illustration of the Kuwaiti authorities’ refusal to recognize the rights of the Bidun. These men should be commended for peacefully rallying and speaking out for their rights against Kuwait’s discrimination of the Bidun. They should not be facing prison sentences.” Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director said in a statement.
“A humane, sustainable, and comprehensive solution to the plight of the Bidun is long overdue. More than 100,000 Bidun people face severe restrictions on their rights to access to employment and state services, particularly health care and education, and these men are being punished for daring to challenge this outrageous situation,” he continued.
Morayef went on to call upon the government of Kuwait to release the remaining imprisoned Bidun and grant them their rights.
Between July 11 and 14, 2019, Kuwaiti security forces arbitrarily arrested 15 Bidun men in a crackdown on peaceful protestors who had been demanding greater rights for the stateless group.
Their trial started on September 10, 2019 and included prominent human rights defender Abdulhakim al-Fadhli and another activist living in the UK, Mohamed Waly Mutlaq (also known as Mohamed al-Badry “al-Enezi”), who was tried in absentia, bringing their number to 16.
A week later, judicial authorities released five of them provisionally.
The long list of charges includes organizing public demonstrations amongst the Bidun, participating in unlicensed or illegal demonstrations against the ruling system in Kuwait, and spreading false news.
They are also charged with joining a proscribed organisation, the “Kuwaiti Biduns Foundation Council”, which is an online initiative begun by Mohamed Waly Mutlaq, a former Bidun from Kuwait who now lives in the UK, where he has obtained citizenship.
Al-Enezi, who is also charged as a defendant in the trial, advocates for secession of the Bidun to form a separate state if Kuwait will not grant them nationality. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)