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US Department of State’s Report on Human Rights Practices in Kuwait for 2017 – Part II

Section 2. Respect for civil liberties, including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression including for the press, although these rights were violated. The courts convicted more than one dozen individuals for expressing their opinions, particularly on social media. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds.

Freedom of Expression: The Press and Publications Law establishes topics that are off limits for publication and discussion, and builds on the precedent set by the penalty law. Topics banned for publication include religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the emir; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; insulting an individual or his/her religion; and publishing information that could lead to devaluing of the currency or creating false worries about the economy. The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security. Any citizen may file charges against anyone the citizen believes defamed the ruling family or harmed public morals.
The courts convicted more than one dozen individuals for insulting the emir, the judiciary, neighboring states, or religion on their social media sites.

In July the Court of Cassation upheld rulings made by the Court of Appeals and the Criminal Court and sentenced ruling family member Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem to three years in prison with hard labor for allegedly insulting the emir and one of his ministers.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. All print media were privately owned, although their independence was limited. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the emirate. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. In August the Public Prosecutor ordered a gag on publishing news or comments related to five state security cases. The order covered print, news, and digital media, including social media sources on the basis that it hampered the progress of the investigations and harmed national security. Broadcast media are a mix of government and privately owned stations, subject to the same laws as print media.

Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books are made available in the country. As of October the Ministry of Information received approximately 9,000 books for review–5,800 of them were published while 951 were banned due to content violating religious, political, and public morality guidelines. Nine of the authors whose books were banned requested to go through the appeals process to get permission to publish. Only four of those books have been reviewed by the appeals committee as of October, and two were allowed to be published, while two other books remained banned. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books of a religious nature.

National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers and social media outlets under the new cybercrime law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law.

Internet freedom
In 2015 the government passed a cybercrime law that criminalizes online activity to include illegal access to information technology systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. Fines ranged from 3,000 dinars ($9,900) and a three-year prison term for online blackmail to 50,000 dinars ($165,000) and a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering. Newspaper reports indicated that nearly 1,853 cybersecurity cases were filed under this law in the first six months of the year.
The government also implemented a new E-Licensing program that requires bloggers and websites in the country to register with the Ministry of Information and apply for a license. Any person or organization, such as a news outlet, that is working without a license is subject to fines ranging from 500 to 5,000 dinars ($1,650 to $16,500). The ministry has issued 453 licenses to individuals and organizations this year.

The government continued to monitor internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and generalized security reasons. The Ministry of Communications blocked websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by email and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the 2006 Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law. Individuals must receive a license from the Ministry of Information to establish a website.

The government filtered the internet primarily to block pornography and LGBTI material, and sites critical of Islam.
The country had a high rate of internet access due partly to pervasive ownership of smart phones. The World Bank reported an internet access rate of 82 percent in 2016.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of peaceful assembly
The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted this right in the case of noncitizens. The law prohibits them from demonstrating or protesting.
Officials sometimes also restricted the location of planned protests to designated public spaces, citing public safety and traffic concerns. In April, however, hundreds of supporters of the prominent opposition leader Musallam Al-Barrak celebrated his release from prison with an impromptu rally and procession from the Central Prison to his house without any government interference. In the past courts have tried and sentenced participants in unlicensed demonstrations to prison terms and deported noncitizens for participating in rallies.

Freedom of association
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. The law prohibits officially registered groups from engaging in political activities.

c. Freedom of Movement
The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.
The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other individuals of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were widespread reports of abuse of migrant workers, especially domestic workers from Asia. Because there is no path to citizenship, all workers are considered expatriates and not labeled as migrants.

The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. There is no system for providing protection to refugees, and the government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. According to UNHCR there were more than 3,000 registered asylum seekers and recognized refugees in the country. Most of these were from Syria, Iraq, and Somalia, and many were either employed with access to basic services or supported by human rights groups pending resolution of their UNHCR asylum requests and resettlement. Many were increasingly fearful of losing their jobs and/or residency status. Due to populist anti-expatriate sentiments in the country, the cabinet enacted policy making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. The immediate effect of this policy was witnessed by human rights organizations who reported that many foreign workers and their families that were receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford. Compounded by stagnant wages, higher cost of living, and a lack of job security, more persons–even legally employed workers, especially from conflict zones–began seeking asylum and resettlement in Europe, America, and Australia.

The law does not provide noncitizens, including bidoon, a clear or defined opportunity to gain nationality. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship. According to 2016 government figures, there were approximately 96,000 bidoon in the country, while Human Rights Watch estimated the bidoon population at more than 105,000.

The naturalization process for bidoon is not transparent, and decisions appeared arbitrary. The Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with monitoring bidoon affairs, had more than 96,000 bidoon citizenship requests under review. According to UNHCR the bidoon population can be broken down into 8,000 who have clear and legitimate claims to citizenship, 35,000 who could possibly be eligible, and the remainder who have little or no claim under current laws.

According to bidoon activists and government officials, many bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended special benefits to bidoon to entice them disclose their true nationality. So far 10,000 bidoon have admitted holding other nationalities. They claimed benefits that include residency that can be renewed every five years, free healthcare and education services as well as ration cards. Other privileges to those that come forward to adjust their status include priority employment after local nationals and obtaining driving licenses.

According to UNHCR some bidoon underwent DNA testing to prove their Kuwaiti nationality. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity in order to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing.

The government discriminated against bidoon in some areas. Some bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and subsidies to bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Bidoon activists claimed many bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, and attend school. The Court of Appeals affirmed court jurisdiction over bidoon complaints against the Central Agency including those related to certificate issuance. The Court of Appeals overturned the ruling issued by a first instance court that dismissed a complaint by a female bidoon against the agency that denied her the right to be issued some certificates over lack of jurisdiction. The agency attorneys pleaded that the agency work falls under the “sovereignty acts” that cannot be challenged in courts (such as citizenship issues).

The Ministry of Education partners with the Charity Fund for Education to pay for bidoon children to attend private schools, but the children must fall into one of seven categories to qualify for an education grant.

Many adult bidoon also lacked identification cards, preventing them from engaging in lawful employment or obtaining travel documents. This restriction resulted in some bidoon children not receiving an education and working as street vendors to help support their families. Many bidoon children who attended school enrolled in substandard private institutions because only citizens may attend public school.

The government allowed bidoon to work in some government positions, as dictated in the 2011 decree, including in the military. In April the government announced a new initiative that would allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military.

Since the government treats them as illegal immigrants, bidoon do not have property rights.

Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014.

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and nonnationals accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country.

Exile: While the constitution prohibits exile of citizens, the government can deport foreigners for a number of legal infractions.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has obtained a second nationality, which is against the law. The country does not give birthright citizenship based on the right of anyone born in the territory to nationality or citizenship. Additionally, the government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause, including a felony conviction and, subsequently, deport them. The government has justified the revocation of citizenship by citing a 1959 nationality law that permits withdrawal of citizenship from naturalized Kuwaitis who acquired citizenship dishonestly or threatened to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights. The Court of Cassation ruled that the courts had jurisdiction over citizen revocation cases. Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing health care and other government services reserved for citizens. In April the Council of Ministers created a committee presided over by Amiri adviser and former speaker Ali Al-Rashid to review complaints of citizenship revocations since 1991. The committee restored the citizenships of seven out of 184 families. There were no known revocations of citizenship during the year.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants. According to the law, children derive citizenship solely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and nonnational fathers do not inherit citizenship. Female citizens may sponsor their nonnational children (regardless of age) and husbands for residency permits, and they may petition for naturalization for their children if the mother becomes divorced or widowed from a noncitizen husband.

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