Kuwait: Crackdown on “stateless” protests

Stateless protesters face deportation after demonstrations in Kuwait demanding citizenship turned violent. Kuwaiti authorities revealed that as a punishment, the stateless “Bedoon” population, those without passports, would be forced out of the country. Authorities also warned that any Bedoon from the army and police force would be dismissed if they or their children attended the protests, and those involved in the protests would be evicted from any state housing.

There are at least 120,000 Bedoon jinsiyya (without nationality) in Kuwait denied the right to obtain birth, death, marriage or divorce certificates. They have no access to public education, health care, housing or employment.

Kuwait’s Interior ministry faced down the protests with tear gas, smoke bombs, water cannons, bats, humiliation, harassment, arrests and trials. Back in February and March 2011, around 5000 stateless protested in isolated areas of Taimaa, Sulaibiya, and Ahmady for their rights to documents, education, health care, employment, and most importantly naturalisation. Over 100 men were sent to trial for ‘illegal protesting’, ‘disobedience of police orders’, and ‘violence against policemen.’

In December the protests began again and every Friday, Kuwait’s police repressed them more and more violently. Kuwait University professor Dr Ebtehal Al-Khatib and other members of the Kuwaiti association of Human Rights reported the terror they witnessed in Taimaa. A video of a stateless woman being beaten by a riot policeman enraged the Bedoon even further. According to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai, around 108 protesters were arrested on 13 January. They are still in detention as the prosecution keeps delaying their release.

Kuwaiti authorities justified the oppression saying the protests were not “authorised”. Some stateless activists tried to get permission to demonstrate but their requests were rejected. The Interior Ministry has repeatedly stated that only citizens are allowed to protest. It also claims that the brutality demonstrated by riot police was merely a response to violence by protesters.

Several Kuwaiti activists condemned the threats of deportation. Academic Dr Ghanim Al-Najjar suggested these threats were not serious, but were made up to frighten protesters.

Unconfirmed reports by stateless activists indicate that detained protesters were mistreated and beaten in prison. For over a week after Fridy 13 January, Taimaa and Sulaibiya areas — where large numbers of Bedoon live — were under siege by riot police.

Activists such as Nawaf Al-Bader and Mousaed Al-Shammari have reported on Twitter how policemen set checkpoints questioning drivers in an attempt to stop people joining ptotests.

Mona Kareem is a stateless poet, journalist, and a blogger at monakareem.blogspot.com