Kuwait court acquits five tweeters of insulting emir

Beyond reach of criticism

KUWAIT CITY - Kuwait's lower court Wednesday acquitted five opposition activists on charges of insulting the emir via their Twitter accounts, a human rights official said.
"The court acquitted the five tweeters," director of Kuwait Society for Human Rights Mohammad al-Humaidi, who is a defence lawyer, said in a tweet.
The ruling comes a day after international advocacy group Human Rights Watch said that the rights situation in Kuwait deteriorated last year, with police using force to disperse protesters and launching crackdowns on online activists.
The New York-based group also called on authorities to drop all charges against online activists.
The information ministry denied the accusations in the report and called HRW accusations unrealistic.
One of the five acquitted tweeters, Rashed al-Enezi was last month sentenced to two years in jail in a different case but for similar charges.
The appeals court on Wednesday started hearing his challenge and refused a plea by lawyers to suspend the jail term until it had ruled on his case, Humaidi said. He has been in prison since January 6.
A third court rejected Wednesday an appeal by lawyers to free stateless activist Abdulhakeem al-Fadhli who was arrested last month and sent to prison to serve a two-year term issued against him in absentia, Humaidi said.
Fadhli was accused of instigating thousands of stateless Arabs, locally known as bidoons, to protest in demand for citizenship and basic rights.
Over the past five weeks, Kuwaiti courts sentenced to various jail terms four tweeters and three former opposition MPs for insulting the emir and undermining his authority.
HRW said that based on unofficial records, at least 35 opposition activists and former MPs have either been convicted, on trial or under investigation on similar charges.
Criticising the emir is illegal in Kuwait and is considered a state security offence. Those convicted face up to five years in jail.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last month Washington had already raised with Kuwait its concern about such sentences.
The Kuwaiti opposition has been staging regular demonstrations in protest at an amendment of the electoral law and the subsequent December polls.