Amnesty urges Kuwait not to crack down on protests

Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:00pm EST
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KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwaiti authorities must allow protesters to gather peacefully and express their views without the threat of arrest, Amnesty International said ahead of an opposition march over voting rules planned later this week.

Protesters plan a march in central Kuwait on Friday, on the eve of parliamentary elections which the opposition is boycotting in protest.

Opposition politicians and youth protest groups say new voting rules introduced by Kuwait's 83-year-old ruler by decree in October are an attempt to skew the December 1 election in favour of pro-government candidates.

The emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, says the voting system is flawed and that the changes are constitutional and needed for the sake of Kuwait's "security and stability".

"Protesters must be allowed to peacefully assemble to voice their views without hindrance or fear of arrest and such gatherings should be permitted to form into marches or other types of peaceful protest," London-based Amnesty said in a statement posted on its website.

Kuwait's prime minister said on Monday that the planned protest march had been given permission to go ahead, in a step which could ease tensions ahead of the vote.

Kuwait allows the most dissent among the Gulf Arab states and its citizens often hold rallies in a designated area outside parliament. But recent protest marches in the streets beyond have been broken up by police using tear gas, smoke bombs and baton charges.

Authorities are keen to prevent the kind of unrest Kuwait experienced on October 21, when thousands of demonstrators tried to reach government headquarters in the largest march and were forcibly dispersed by police.

"The right to protest and freedom of speech are enshrined in Kuwait's constitution," Information Ministry official Tareq al-Mezrem said in response to the Amnesty statement.   Continued...