Sheikh Ahmad Al-Humoud Al-Sabah
First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister
Ministry of Interior
I write to seek urgent clarification regarding steps that the Kuwaiti authorities have taken or are taking to investigate and bring to justice any special forces officers who allegedly inflicted a severe physical assault on human rights activist Sulaiman Binjassim after they apprehended him close to a demonstration in the al-Andalus area on April 17, 2013. We understand that a prosecutor filed an official complaint and ordered a medical examination when he saw and noted Binjassim’s injuries on April 18, the day following the assault.
We request that you inform us of the outcome of this complaint and any related investigations, and specifically whether the Kuwaiti authorities have yet identified the officers concerned and brought charges against them or expect to do so in the near future.
According to a statement that Binjassim has provided to Human Rights Watch, officers wearing masks and gloves but no identification tags chased him on foot and by car as he left the area of the Cooperative Supermarket in al-Andalus after photographing a large crowd of people demonstrating in support of Mussalam al-Barak and around 50 special forces officers in blue fatigues and black masks who were seeking to disperse them. It was around 11pm and Binjassim, who is a co-founder of the National Committee for Monitoring Governmental Violations, had attended in his capacity as a human rights monitor to note the events that occurred.
Binjassim told Human Rights Watch he started to run after a tear gas canister landed near his feet as he walked away from the scene, and he then saw several demonstrators running towards him with four special forces officers in pursuit. Some officers fired rubber bullets and others in two GMC Yukon vehicles joined in the chase. Binjassim ran into a garden, where one officer wearing a black mask, goggles, gloves, and blue-tinted fatigues cornered him and, assisted by a second officer who arrived moments later, then subjected him to a violent and unprovoked assault:
I stood up and put my hands up, saying ‘Enough, I have stopped.’ One man grabbed me by my shirt, tightening the material around my neck and dragging me. I said I could not breathe, he said ‘Ok, I will help you’, and he started strangling me with his arm. I tugged his arm down and said, ‘My spirit is departing.’ He replied ‘OK, I will make your spirit depart.’ He then took his baton and held it across my throat in a choke-hold and kicked me in the back of my knee so that I fell to my knees with my hands on the ground. His colleague who had got out of the car approached me and started punching my nose, forehead, and head.
Binjassim estimates that one officer struck him between 8 and 12 times, before telling the other officer to force Binjassim into an upright position using a baton, then proceeded to punch Binjassim in the stomach and chest. They released hold of him so that he fell to the ground and then kicked him in his stomach several times before dragging him to their car and forcing him to sit in a painful, contorted position with both his head and feet on the car’s floor. One officer pressed down with his leg on Binjassim’s neck, causing him to complain that he could not breathe, and threatened to put his shoe into Binjassim’s mouth. Then they secured Binjassim’s wrists with a thick plastic strap, tightening it further after he agreed that it was already very tight, and one threatened to break his fingers if he should drop a heavy helmet that he placed in Binjassim’s cuffed hands.
Binjassim said he was driven in the vehicle, which contained four special forces officers, for about 10 minutes during which they repeatedly questioned and slapped him. He could not identify the officers because they remained masked and did not refer to each other by name but the driver issued orders over the radio leading Binjassim to conclude that he was a commander of special forces in the area. At one point, Binjassim said, he heard the driver issue an instruction to someone else by radio, stating, “Hand him to Major General Ibrahim al-Tarah.”
Officers transferred Binjassim from the car to an unmarked white civilian pick-up truck and then took him to the police station located behind the Cooperative Supermarket, where he saw several people that officers had detained at the protest. A duty officer asked his name and noted other personal details but failed to tell him the reason for his arrest. Officers then took him to the Bureau of Investigations and shut him in a tiny cell with a high ceiling and metal door for around 12 hours to await questioning. Guards banged on the door and Binjassim heard shouting, screaming and beating noises that made it sound as if interrogators were torturing other detainees but, he told Human Rights Watch, “I am not sure if these were real or simulated.” Officers questioned him twice, and moved him to a larger cell which eventually contained 32 others, after the first session. Initially, they asked his name, address, parents’ names and Twitter address. On the second occasion, they asked him to explain his presence at the protest and whether he had thrown stones or taken photographs.
The detaining authorities took Binjassim for questioning by a state prosecutor, in the presence of his lawyer, at around 3pm on April 18. He then learned that he faced a minor offense charge for allegedly attending an unlicensed gathering. The prosecutor noted the bruises and other marks on his face and head caused by the assault to which special forces officers had subjected him, filed an official complaint on his behalf, and ordered that he should receive a forensic medical examination. He underwent this several hours later but has yet to be informed of its findings. Authorities released him from custody at 3pm on April 19.
Witness statements as well as video footage and photographic evidence that Human Rights Watch has reviewed indicate that Kuwaiti special forces used rubber bullets, tear gas, and other force to disperse the demonstrators who had gathered in al-Andalus on the evening of April 17, and that some of the protestors threw stones at the special forces and lit fires on a main road to block their approach. Binjassim however, says he did not participate in any violence, yet special forces officers subjected him to a sustained and brutal assault. Given this evidence, the Kuwaiti authorities need to speedily conclude a criminal investigation and prosecute all those responsible for any such assault and other abuse, including those who gave orders, and we look forward to receiving your prompt assurance of this. We urge too that the other officers who were present and witnessed any assaults on Binjassim but failed to intervene are also held to account by being prosecuted or disciplined and warned as to their future conduct.
I look forward to receiving your response.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Director, Middle East and North Africa division
Human Rights Watch
His Excellency Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs