Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, although these rights were violated. The courts convicted approximately two dozen individuals for expressing their opinions, particularly on social media. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds. On September 22, the public prosecutor ordered the arrest and detention for 21 days, under state security charges, of the activist Sara al-Drees for postings she made on social media protesting government actions that suppressed freedom of expression. She turned herself in on September 25, and on October 6, the Criminal Court released her on bail of 500 dinars ($1,650) pending trial.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The 2006 Press and Publications Law establishes topics that are off limits for publication and discussion, and builds on the precedent set by the Penalty Law 16/1960. Topics banned for publication include religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the emir; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; insulting an individual or his/her religion; and publishing information that could lead to devaluing of the currency or creating false worries about the economy. The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security, which included criticism of the emir. Any citizen may file charges against anyone the citizen believes defamed the ruling family or harmed public morals.
In November, Human Rights Watch published a report highlighting laws that Gulf governments, including Kuwait, use to limit freedom of expression. The accompanying interactive website profiled 140 prominent Gulf-based social and political rights activists, including 44 from Kuwait, who have struggled against government attempts to silence them.
The courts convicted approximately two dozen individuals for insulting the emir, the judiciary, neighboring states, or religion on their social media sites. In April a criminal court found activist Sara al-Drees innocent of contempt of religion charges after she was sued by a group of private citizens when she posted messages about her religious opinions on social media.
In January 2015 charges were filed against MP Abdul Hamid Dashti after he criticized Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen. Prosecutors released him on bail of 1,000 dinars ($3,300). In July, Dashti was sentenced in absentia to 14 years in prison by the criminal court.
Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views generally without restriction. All print media were privately owned, although their independence was limited. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the emiri system of government. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. In October the government banned media coverage of tribal caucuses in order to enforce the law from 1996 banning them.
Broadcast media are a mix of government and privately owned stations, subject to the same laws as print media.
Before the annual international book fair held in November, the Ministry of Information requires publishers to submit a list of books they might offer at the event. Censor officers at the Ministry of Information review books to determine if content is appropriate. If an officer determines that a book should be censored, the book is referred to a censor committee consisting of 9 to 10 members who determine the appropriateness of the book. The author can appeal the censor committee findings to an appeals committee comprising four to five members. If the appeals committee upholds the censoring, the author has final recourse to appeal the finding in the courts. Members of both committees are selected by the under secretary and assistant under secretaries on an annual basis and also includes members of the academic community and members of the writers guild. In November the government added more than 100 books to a list of banned books, including the book Smile due to its depiction of gender integration. Most of the books on the banned list revolved around religion, politics, and public morality.
Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books are made available in the country. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books religious in nature. The government did not impose additional restrictions on online newspapers or journals.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information censored all imported books, commercial films, periodicals, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, and other materials deemed illegal per the guidelines enumerated for speech and media. Media outlets exhibited a range of opinions on topics relating to social problems, but most self-censored, avoiding critical discussion on topics like the emir, foreign policy, and religion, to avoid criminal charges or fines or to keep their licenses. Discussions of certain social topics, such as the role of women in society and sex were also self-censored. Authorities censored most English-language educational materials that mentioned the Holocaust and required education material either to refer to Israel as “Occupied Palestine” or to remove such references, although authorities did not censor these topics in news media. Widely available satellite dishes and virtual private networks allowed unfiltered media access.
National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers and social media outlets under the new cybercrime law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law.
In July 2015 the government passed a cybercrime law that criminalizes online activity to include illegal access to IT systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. The law was implemented in January with the publishing of the law in the National Gazette. Fines ranged from 3,000 dinars ($9,900) and a three-year prison term for online blackmail to 50,000 dinars ($165,000) and a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering.
The government monitored internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and generalized security reasons. The Ministry of Communications continued to block websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by e‑mail and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the 2006 Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law.
In July the government implemented the Electronic Media Law that establishes regulations and oversight for online commercial and private internet websites and activities. The law requires individuals to procure a license to establish internet sites and businesses and identifies the Ministry of Information as the regulatory body. The law states an individual must be at least 21 years old to apply for a license. As of September the government had issued 148 licenses with 126 applications pending.
The government filtered the internet to block pornography primarily, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) material, some secular sites, and sites critical of Islam.
The country had a high internet penetration rate due in large part to pervasive ownership of smart phones. The World Bank reported an internet penetration rate of 82 percent.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The law provides for the freedoms of opinion and research, but self-censorship limited academic freedom, and the law prohibits academics from criticizing the emir or Islam.
The Ministry of Interior reserved the right to approve or reject public events and those it considered politically or morally inappropriate.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right in the case of noncitizens. The law prohibiting them from demonstrating or protesting.
Officials sometimes also restricted the location of planned protests to designated public spaces, citing public safety and traffic concerns. Courts tried and sentenced participants in unlicensed demonstrations to as many as two years in prison for their involvement, and authorities also administratively deported dozens of noncitizens for participation in rallies.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. The law prohibits officially registered groups from engaging in political activities.
The government used its power to register associations as a means of political influence. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor can also reject an NGO’s application if it deems the NGO does not provide a public service. There were approximately 120 officially licensed NGOs in the country, including a bar association, other professional groups, and scientific bodies. Dozens of unlicensed civic groups, clubs, and unofficial NGOs had no legal status, and many of those chose not to register due to bureaucratic inconvenience or inability to meet the minimum 50-member threshold. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor rejected some license requests, contending established NGOs already provided services similar to those the petitioners proposed. Members of licensed NGOs must obtain permission from the ministry to attend international conferences as official representatives of their organization.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.
The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other individuals of concern.
Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014.
The law also permits travel bans on citizens and nonnationals accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country. Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain passports, which employers illegally took from them when they began their employment.
Exile: While the constitution prohibits exile of citizens, the government can deport foreigners for a number of legal infractions. While the constitution states the “emir is the head of state and shall be immune and inviolable,” it also states, “No Kuwaiti may be deported from Kuwait.”
Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who is born a citizen unless that individual has obtained a second nationality, which is against the law. Nevertheless, the government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause, including a felony conviction, and subsequently deport them. During 2014 the government revoked the citizenship of at least 33 individuals–some dual nationals, some not–including opposition activists, a media owner, a Salafist cleric, and several tribal members. The government justified the revocations by citing a 1959 nationality law that permits withdrawal of citizenship from naturalized Kuwaitis who acquired citizenship dishonestly or threatened to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights. In April the Court of Cassation scheduled a hearing to consider the legality of the revocation of citizenship of former MP Abdullah al-Barghash and his family (al-Barghash was one of the 33 who had his citizenship revoked in 2014). In May the court suspended dealing with the case until a request for a new judge could be resolved. In October an administrative court restored citizenship to Ahmad Jabr al-Shemmari, the former owner of opposition media Alam al-Youm newspaper and television station, after the Court of Cassation ruled that the courts had jurisdiction over citizen revocation cases. Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing health care and other government services reserved for citizens. There were no known revocations of citizenship during the year.
The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants. According to the law, children derive citizenship solely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and nonnational fathers do not inherit citizenship. Female citizens may sponsor their nonnational children (regardless of age) and husbands for residency permits, and they may petition for naturalization for their children if the mother becomes divorced or widowed from a noncitizen husband.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. There is no system for providing protection to refugees, and the government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. According to UNHCR, there were more than 3,000 registered asylum seekers and recognized refugees in the country. Most of these were from Syria, Iraq, and Somalia, and many were either employed with access to basic services or supported by human rights groups pending resolution of their asylum request.
The law does not provide noncitizens, including bidoon, a clear or defined opportunity to gain nationality. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship. According to government figures, there were approximately 96,000 bidoon in the country, while Human Rights Watch estimated the bidoon population at more than 105,000.
The naturalization process for bidoon is not transparent, and decisions appeared arbitrary. As of April the Central Agency had more than 96,000 bidoon citizenship requests under review.
According to bidoon activists and government officials, many bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. According to the government, as of September, 8,004 bidoon have adjusted their legal status since 2011 claiming Saudi, Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, Jordanian, and other nationalities. In April the government stated that 32,000 bidoon were qualified for consideration for citizenship but that only 8,000 would be eligible due to their security status and criminal records.
According to UNHCR, some bidoon underwent DNA testing to prove their Kuwaiti nationality. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity in order to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on genealogical bias.
The government discriminated against bidoon in some areas. Some bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and subsidies to bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Bidoon activists claimed many bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, and attend school.
According to a government official, the government issued 2,664 birth and death certificates to bidoon in the first nine months of 2015. The Ministry of Justice issued 1,439 marriage and divorce certificates to bidoon in the first nine months of 2015. But government sources stated approximately 15,000 bidoon children were not provided birth certificates due to security restrictions. The Ministry of Education partners with the Charity Fund for Education to pay for bidoon children to attend private schools, but the children must fall into one of seven categories to qualify for an education grant. According to government officials, as of May, 510 bidoon students were attending Kuwait University.
Zakat House, a government agency that falls under the Religious Affairs Directorate, collected and dispensed donations, provided food, subsidies, financial aid, and training to bidoon and provided monthly financial assistance to 14,455 bidoon families totaling 6.5 million dinars ($21.45 million) from January through June. It also paid for the DNA testing required for every bidoon applying for citizenship.
Many adult bidoon also lacked identification cards, preventing them from engaging in lawful employment or obtaining travel documents. This restriction resulted in some bidoon children from the household working as street vendors to help support their families and not receiving an education. Many bidoon children who attended school enrolled in substandard private institutions because only citizens may attend public school. In May 2015, however, the government approved the transfer of 5,000 bidoon students from private to public schools due to their families’ service in the military. Many bidoon families depended on charity to assist with medical and educational expenses. The government announced it issued 35,844 identification cards to Bidoon as of May.
The government allowed bidoon to work in some government positions, as dictated in the 2011 decree, including in the military. In March the government announced there were 2,030 bidoon, who were children of Kuwaiti mothers, in the army.
Since the government treats them as illegal immigrants, bidoon do not have property rights.
In 2014 a high-level official in the Ministry of Interior announced a proposal to give “economic citizenship” of the small island country of Comoros to the bidoon. At the time rights groups were concerned that the government might force them to take another, illegitimate nationality and potentially be vulnerable to deportation. As of September, the Comoros plan remained under deliberation.