Kuwait Cracks Down on Free Assembly with Ban on ‘Unlicensed’ Demonstrations
The decision by Kuwait’s Interior Ministry to ban ‘unlicensed’ peaceful demonstrations is worrisome and is an indicator of the deteriorating conditions for free expression and assembly in Kuwait. Authorities must reverse the ban on ‘unlicensed’ demonstrations and implement policies that ensure free speech and assembly without fear of prosecution.
On October 22, the interior ministry declared that groups of more than 20 people gathered in a public area without a license will be ‘banned’ from assembling. According to the ministry, police will have the right to prevent and to disperse these ‘unlicensed’ rallies, if they believe they are a ‘security breach,’ or a threat to ‘public order’ or ‘morals,’ vague descriptions which could serve as justification for banning or dispersing virtually any type of peaceful assembly.
The ban on ‘unlicensed demonstrations’ comes after an October 2 demonstration – “The March of the Nation’s Dignity” – during which tens of thousands of Kuwaitis expressed concern with a draft decree issued by the government which would change the number of candidates voters can choose in December 1’s parliamentary elections from four to one, effectively limiting the role of the opposition. Because of potential changes to the electoral law, many opposition parties plan to boycott the election. During the October 2 demonstration against the draft decree, at least 29 protesters were injured and 15 detained by authorities, some still face charges despite being released from jail.
Kuwait is not an electoral democracy - rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press - as the ruling family sets the political agenda. While political groupings have been allowed to emerge, formal political parties are banned. Authorities continue to limit criticism and political debate in the press. And while freedom of assembly and freedom of association are guaranteed by law, the government in practice restricts these rights.
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