November 1, 2012
Tensions are rising in oil-rich Kuwait and Bahrain with the two monarchies finding it hard to contain the growing popular protests. In Kuwait, police used tear gas and smoke canisters to disperse thousands of protesters.
In Kuwait, police used tear gas and smoke canisters on Wednesday to disperse thousands of protesters heading toward the prison where Musallam al-Barrak, a popular protester, was lodged. Mr. Barrak was arrested for a speech critical of the Kuwaiti Emir.
Picked up on Monday, Mr. Barrak was charged two days later on three counts and has been imprisoned for 10 days by prosecutors, pending further questioning.
Two weeks ago at a public rally, he had appealed to the Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, to avoid the pitfall of “autocratic rule.” Since under the Kuwaiti constitution the Emir is considered “immune and inviolable,” prosecutors charged him over the remark.
Three other former lawmakers had been detained earlier on similar charges. They have been freed on bail but their trial is due on November 13.
Wednesday’s protests were one among several after the Emir ordered changes to the electoral rules which, in the view of the opposition, would weaken its presence in Kuwait’s politically-charged Parliament. Under the new rules, a voter can pick only one candidate, instead of the earlier four.
As the protests built up, authorities banned gatherings of more than 20 people and accelerated preparations for the polls, scheduled for December 1.
Justifying the Wednesday crackdown, the Interior Ministry accused “violent agitators and instigators” of causing the trouble and warned that it would deal harshly with further protests, according to state news agency KUNA.
The Kuwait crackdown coincided with harsh measures in Bahrain, where protests against the monarchy have been continuing, despite several crackdowns and reports of custodial torture, for nearly two years.
On Tuesday, the Bahraini Interior Ministry banned rallies and gatherings, which, in its view, were linked to violence, rioting and attacks on public and private property.
Following the order, Amnesty International slammed Manama for violating the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and has called for the immediate lifting of the ban.
As dissent flares in several parts of the Gulf, the governments have been particularly sensitive about keeping the royalty out of the frame of protests and adverse comment.
A draft media law in Qatar, home to Al Jazeera television, prohibits publication or broadcast of information that would “abuse the regime or offend the ruling family or cause serious harm to the national or higher interests of the state.”