Thirteen activists and a journalist detained by Kuwait’s security forces during an apparently peaceful protest by members of the stateless Bidun minority must be released unless charged with a recognizably criminal offence, Amnesty International has urged.
Bidun rights activist Abdulhakim al-Fadhli, who is currently on trial in connection with his involvement in previous Bidun demonstrations, was among those detained by non-uniformed security officials.
On Thursday, some of those arrested were taken to the public prosecutor’s offices, possibly in order to confirm the basis of their arrest.
Security forces including masked police reportedly used batons and armoured vehicles to disperse about 200 Bidun protesters calling for citizenship and improved rights in al-Jahra, outside Kuwait City, on Tuesday.
“These protests highlight the urgent need for the Kuwaiti authorities to heal the open wound of discrimination against the Bidun community," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Instead of arresting peaceful protesters, the Kuwaiti authorities should step up their efforts to resolve the situation of the Bidun and end the unlawful discrimination against them.”
The Bidun community living in Kuwait – between 90,000 and 180,000-strong, many of them from families who have resided in Kuwait for decades – are denied citizenship.
Considered by the authorities to be illegal residents, they do not enjoy equal rights with Kuwaiti citizens in access to education, health care and work opportunities.
The demonstrators had gathered to demand Kuwaiti citizenship in a square in al-Jahra, outside of Kuwait City, after prayers in a nearby mosque.
There were conflicting reports on the nature of the unrest.
Some reports suggested that some demonstrators resorted to violence and that the police deployed force to disperse the gathering. However, eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that the demonstration was peaceful.
The same eyewitnesses added that police had shown greater restraint than during previous demonstrations in 2011 and early 2012.
Human rights activist Maryam Shah, who observed the demonstration, refuted a report that a car tried to run over a member of the police force and it later emerged that this incident was unrelated to the demonstration.
In November 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on Kuwait to end discrimination against the Bidun community, including by amending its nationality law.
In April this year, the Head of the Central Commission for Illegal Residents, a government body established in 2011, announced that up to 20,000 Bidun were likely to be granted citizenship in the near future.
“It remains to be seen whether the authorities will make good on this latest promise, but even if some individuals granted citizenship no longer face continuing discrimination, other Bidun will remain with their situation unresolved,” said Philip Luther.
“The Kuwaiti authorities must create a programme that seriously tackles the problem of discrimination against the Bidun, in line with their international human rights obligations.”
Since 2011 there have been several largely peaceful demonstrations by Bidun.
They have been protesting against their continuing statelessness and are continuing to demand Kuwaiti citizenship, which would allow them to access education, health care and work opportunities on the same basis as Kuwaiti citizens.