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Dispatches: In Kuwait, Deported for an Opinion
June 8, 2014

Last week, Kuwaiti authorities announced that they will deport an Egyptian imam for criticizing the recent Egyptian elections.

In a sermon given in a Kuwaiti mosque several days after the recent Egyptian presidential elections, Imam Sayed Faraj Abu Halima condemned the Egyptian judiciary for being complicit in “rigged” elections. He went on to say: “The other day there were elections in an Arab state, and we know how they ended – no one turned out except for a few voters. These elections were forged…” The imam wasn’t the only person who found Egypt’s elections problematic. Foreign observers said the election fell short of international standards.

Kuwaiti officials deported the imam, his wife, and two children back to Egypt, according to local human rights activist Nawaf al-Hindal who has advocated for the rights of deportees.

The decision to deport the imam came after the Kuwaiti Religious Endowments Ministry issued regulations banning “interference in the domestic affairs of other countries” in sermons.

We do not know what fate awaits Abu Halima and his family in Egypt, but the risk of abuse is high in the midst of Egypt’s brutal crackdown on dissent, as authorities hold thousands for months without formal charge solely for peaceful expression of their basic rights. There have also been credible reports of torture and abuse in Egyptian custody. International law permits some restrictions on sermons and other public speech directly inciting violence or hatred against certain groups, but we have no evidence that this particular sermon contained hate speech or incitement to violence. It is hard to see how the Kuwaiti government could carry out this deportation and also claim to uphold its obligations to ensure the right to free speech.

International law also strictly prohibits "refoulement" – sending someone to a country where they face persecution or abuse. There is no indication that Kuwait considered this risk to Imam Abu Halima in sending him back to Egypt.