A former Kuwaiti lawmaker is facing at least 42 years and six months in prison on various convictions that include posting on Twitter comments deemed by the authorities insulting to the neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
On 22 December, a court of appeal convicted Abdulhameed Dashti in absentia of insulting Saudi Arabia and sentenced him to ten years in prison, bringing his total jail term to 42.5 years. Dashti, who is currently in the UK for medical reasons, was stripped of his parliament seat to allow Kuwaiti authorities to prosecute him. Dashti also was convicted of prior charges of insulting religion, Kuwait's Emir (the country's ruler), and the judiciary.
On Twitter, Dashti reacted to his sentencing:
هل يصدق عاقل أن احكم بالسجن لمدة 42 سنة وستة شهور…
فقط لأنني عبرت عن رأي ، عن أي ديمقراطية تتحدثون وتتشدقون بها واي قضاء !!!؟ pic.twitter.com/gi3x7wTrqU
— د.عبدالحميدعباس دشتي (@adashtimp) December 22, 2016
Could any sane person believe that I was sentenced to 42 years and six months in jail for just expressing my opinion, what democracy are you talking about and what judiciary?!!!
Dashti is a critic of Saudi Arabia, in particular its war in Yemen and its 2011 military intervention in Bahrain to crush the popular uprising. He is also known for his controversial support of the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and the Iranian regime. He faces further years in jail in a number of other cases related to comments he made.
On Twitter, while acknowledging that they do not agree with Dashti's opinions, a number of Kuwaiti activists expressed their support. Activist Sara al-Drees, who was detained in September for insulting the Emir and is currently free pending trial, tweeted:
— سارة الدريس (@saraaldrees) December 22, 2016
despite my full disagreement with Dashti, and full respect to the relations with Saudi Arabia, what does it mean to jail someone for 42 years over words!! 42 years! and in Kuwait!
تختلف تتفق مع عبدالحميد دشتي حقك .. تحتقره تنبذه سياسياً أيضاً حقك .. لكن أن تدعي أنك مدافع عن حرية الكلمة وتفرح لسجنه بسبب كلمة فأنت كذاب!
— ناصر دشتي (@Na9eR_Dashti) December 22, 2016
whether you disagree or agree with Abdulhameed Dashti, that's your right..to despise him and dismiss him politically, that's also your right..but to claim that you support the free word while you are happy for his jailing for a word, then you are a liar
Like other countries members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a political and economic alliance of six Gulf countries, Kuwait criminalizes criticism of other countries. And article 4 of the country's state security crimes law punishes by at least three years in jail anyone who engages in a “hostile act against a foreign country, in a way that would endanger Kuwait to the risk of war or of severance in diplomatic relations”.
In Bahrain, human rights activist Nabeel Rajab is currently in jail on a number of charges that include “offending a foreign country”, punishable by two years in jail under the kingdom island's penal code, over tweets critical of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. While in the UAE, academic and economist Nasser Bin faces ten years in jail under article 166 of the penal code for committing a “hostile act” against a foreign country, over tweets critical of the killing of protesters by Egyptian security forces.
Last May, Kuwait's constitutional court ruled that expressing one's opinions on foreign states cannot be considered as a “hostile act”. Yet, it seems that judges and prosecutors will continue to send people to jail for criticizing foreign countries, in particular their neighbors.