Kuwait: Kuwait has amended its electoral law to bar anyone convicted of insulting the Emir from standing in national elections, closely-watched contests in a Gulf state with an outspoken assembly routinely critical of the government.

The state news agency KUNA said late on Wednesday parliament had approved an amendment stipulating that “a citizen convicted of offending God, the Prophets, or the Emir through a final court ruling shall not be allowed to contest the elections”.

The measure will affect some prominent opposition politicians, including former MP Musallam Al Barrak, who is serving a two-year prison sentence over a 2012 speech in which he addressed the Emir by saying: “ ... we will not let you, your Highness, practise autocratic rule”. Kuwaiti courts have also sentenced a number of other people to various prison terms on charges of insulting the Emir or for blasphemy.

Kuwait allows more free speech than some of its neighbours, but the constitution says the Emir is “immune and inviolable”.

Insulting him carries a penalty of up to five years in jail.

Kuwait, a Western-allied oil exporter, avoided serious unrest during the 2011 Arab uprisings when some rulers in the region were overthrown. But citizens held large street protests in 2012 over changes to the electoral law which demonstrators said disadvantaged the opposition.

The government had said it would strike with an “iron fist” against dissent.