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Kuwait holds breath as Al Barrak’s trial resumes

Defendant is challenging five-year prison sentence for insulting Emir

Image Credit: AP
Musallam Al Barrak is greeted by supporters outside theJustice Palace in Kuwait City on April 22.
Gulf News

Manama: The trial of Kuwait’s top dissident on Monday is set to galvanise the country’s attention following the months of bitter standoff between the government and the opposition.

Musallam Al Barrak, a former union leader and an ex-lawmaker, will appear before the court after he challenged an earlier verdict of five years in prison for abusing the status of the Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah in a speech he gave last year.

For Al Barrak, his remarks addressed to the country’s ruler were freedom of expression, a claim that was noisily endorsed by supporters.

“I have never insulted the Emir,” he said. “I wanted to draw attention to some facts in the country,” he said.

However, for the authorities, his words, harsh in their content and unprecedented in their character, amounted to stepping over local values..

The standoff, against the backdrop of uprisings in some Arab countries, the emergence of the Muslims Brotherhood as the new rulers and the increasing instability risks in the regions, has threatened to freeze the country in a political deadlock with ominously uncertain consequences for Kuwait.

The dissolution of the parliament elected in February 2012 and dominated by Islamists and tribal candidates in June 2012 accentuated the stalemate between the government and the lawmakers.

The situation was compounded by the amendment of the 2006 controversial electoral law that slashed the number of candidates a voter could elect from four to one.

For the opposition, it was a move to curb its growing influence and ensure the election of a rubber-stamp parliament.

For the government, it was aligning the country with international practices and addressing a loophole in the election process ahead of the parliamentary elections in December.

On October 15, Al Barrak, one of the most prominent leaders who opposed the amendment and the new elections, gave a speech that sent shockwaves across Kuwait and in which he addressed the Emir in direct challenges.

He was warmly hailed by his supporters, but strongly condemned by those who accused him of using the situation to score political points to serve his ambitions.

Al Barrak was subsequently summoned by the authorities for crossing the red line and insulting the emir.

He showed up at his trial and was sentenced to five years in prison.

However, Al Barrak, in a rare show of defiance, refused to turn himself in to the police or to allow them to arrest him until he was shown the original arrest warrant, effectively managing to remain out of prison until the court of appeals reviewed his case on April 22 amid tight security.

The case was used by lawmakers who opposed Al Barrak’s attitude to threaten to question the interior minister for failing to apprehend him, in a clear indication of how divided the country was over the situation.

The judge ruled to allow Al Barrak to remain out of prison on a 5,000 dinar (Dh64,497) bail, but said that he should stand before the judge on May 13.