(Beirut) – Kuwait should stop prosecuting people for peaceful speech and reform laws that restrict free speech rights, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2018. Provisions in Kuwait’s constitution, the national security law, and other legislation restrict free speech, and were used in 2017 to prosecute dissidents and stifle political dissent.
Kuwait applies the death penalty and does not adequately protect the rights of stateless Bidun, migrant workers, women, and LGBT people. In a positive step, Kuwait’s Constitutional Court in October struck down an overbroad 2015 law that had required all Kuwaiti citizens and residents to provide DNA samples to the authorities, finding that it violated the right to privacy.
“The Constitutional Court striking down the abusive DNA law was a positive step for human rights in Kuwait,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Kuwait should now follow through on that momentum and ensure that its laws aren’t stifling freedom of expression in the country.”
In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.
Kuwait maintains the death penalty for nonviolent offenses, including drug-related charges. In January, Kuwait carried out its first executions since 2013, hanging seven people.
Despite recent reforms, migrant workers do not have adequate legal protections, and remain vulnerable to abuse, forced labor, and deportation for minor infractions. The domestic worker law fails to set out enforcement mechanisms or sanctions against abusive employers.
Kuwait excludes approximately 100,000 stateless people, known as Bidun, from full citizenship despite their longstanding roots in Kuwaiti territory.
Kuwait has no laws prohibiting domestic violence or marital rape, and personal status laws discriminate against women, including with regard to divorce and child custody. Kuwaiti women married to non-Kuwaitis, unlike Kuwaiti men, cannot pass citizenship to their children or spouses.
Same-sex relations between men are punishable by up to seven years in prison and transgender people can be arrested under a 2007 penal code provision that prohibits “imitating the opposite sex in any way.”
Kuwait is a member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi-Saleh forces in Yemen, with media reporting that Kuwait had deployed 15 aircraft. Kuwait did not respond to Human Rights Watch inquiries regarding what role, if any, it has played in unlawful attacks in Yemen and if it was undertaking investigations into the role its own forces played in any of these attacks.