Geneva – A Kuwaiti court has sentenced activist Salman Al-Khalidi to a five years' imprisonment on charges challenging his legitimate right to freedom of opinion and expression, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said Thursday in statement expressing deep concern.
The Criminal Department of the High Court passed the sentence against the 23-year-old activist in absentia after he was convicted of insulting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and publishing false news for views he expressed on Twitter.
The court based its decision on Article 4 of the provisions of Penal Code 16 of 1960, which contains broad texts that allow the authorities to prosecute and punish activists for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to express opinion
Euro-Med Monitor reviewed Al-Khalidi’s activity on Twitter and found that what he wrote falls within the framework of his right to freedom of opinion and expression, is legitimate criticism of authorities in Kuwait and some other countries, and is no justification for his detention, trial, and imprisonment.
On more than one occasion, Al-Khalidi had criticized the Saudi authorities against the backdrop of the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
On 25 December 2021, Al-Khalidi appeared in a video, speaking from inside his car about Saudi authorities banning him from entering the Kingdom for 25 years—without his being informed of the reasons. He said that he had learned about the decision when trying to travel from Qatar to Saudi Arabia via the Salwa land port between the two countries. He attributed the ban to Saudi authorities’ annoyance with his tweets, in which he expressed opinions contrary to those of the Kingdom.
The Kuwaiti authorities have instituted some laws criminalizing peaceful criticism, such as Cybercrime Law No. 63 of 2015, which includes vaguely-worded texts that can be used to prosecute social media activists. Additionally, Article No. 4 of Law No. 31 of 1970 amends some provisions of Penal Code No. 16 of 1960, which states: "Whoever, without permission from the government, gathers soldiers or performs any other hostile act against a foreign country that exposes Kuwait to the danger of war or severing of political relations, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment for a period of no less than three years. If the act results in the outbreak of war or the severing of political relations, the penalty shall be life imprisonment".
In May 2016, the Supreme Constitutional Court of Kuwait rejected an appeal filed by an activist against Article No. 4 of Law No. 31 of 1970, and said that the article "deals with the criminalization of tangible acts unrelated to the freedom of opinion and expression guaranteed in the constitution and legally regulated".
Restricting people's freedom to express their opinions in a peaceful manner is an arbitrary use of the law that challenges the Kuwaiti Constitution and Kuwait's international obligations under the relevant human rights treaties.
Kuwaiti authorities must rescind the ruling against Al-Khalidi, and stop passing laws restricting individuals' rights to peaceful criticism and to freely express their legitimate opinions.
The Kuwaiti National Assembly should amend all laws and legislation imposing restrictions on freedoms, as well as introduce legislation that permanently prohibits harming the rights of individuals and groups, and contributes to creating a safe environment for the expression of opinion and the exercise of civil liberties.