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Ex-Kuwaiti lawmakers sentenced to prison, hard labor for insulting ruler

By Schams Elwazer, CNN
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
File photo: Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah in Kuwait City, 08 October 2007.
File photo: Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah in Kuwait City, 08 October 2007.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Kuwait's Ministry of Information: Constitution holds emir inviolable
  • The three ex-parliamentarians are out on bail and plan to appeal, an activist says
  • Human rights group: More than 300 people are detained on charges of insulting the emir
  • A man was sentenced this week to five years in prison for such charges

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- A Kuwaiti court sentenced three former members of parliament to three years in prison -- with hard labor -- on charges of insulting the nation's ruler, a human rights group said Tuesday.

Falah Al-Sawagh, Bader Al-Dahoum and Khalid Al-Tahou are currently out on bail. They will appeal the decision, the Kuwait Society for Human Rights said.

More than 300 people are currently detained in Kuwait on charges of insulting the emir, which is a crime under the national security law, said Mohammed Al-Humaidi, director of the human rights group.

Some have faced prison time for what they said on Twitter.

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"We call on the judiciary and the government to create a special law for electronic crimes like in other countries," Al-Humaidi said. "Someone sending a text on a mobile or tweeting or commenting on social media should not be tried or convicted in a court of national security."

On Sunday, a Kuwaiti court sentenced another man, Mohammed Al-Ajmi, to five years of imprisonment for insulting the emir -- the maximum sentence permissible by law.

Al-Humaidi said that sentence will also be appealed. The human rights group director said he did not know the exact nature of Al-Ajmi's tweet or why his sentence was longer than others.

Kuwait's Ministry of Information said anyone accused of a crime gets "a fair trial with a comprehensive legal defense and open appeals process."

"Kuwait has a long-standing proud tradition of open debate and free speech with free, transparent and inclusive elections and the most robust parliament in the region," the ministry said in a statement Tuesday. "We are a country led by the rule of law and our constitution holds our Emir to be inviolable. If our citizens wish to amend the constitution there is a straightforward legal way to do this, but we will not selectively enforce our laws."

Al-Ajmi is the third Kuwaiti to be sentenced this year for insulting Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Twitter.

In January, Rashed Al-Enezi and Ayad Al-Hirbi were each sentenced to two years.

Al-Humaidi said Al-Enezi's tweet implied an opposition member of parliament would do a better job ruling the country than the royal family.

Al-Hirbi's tweet quoted a line by a dissident poet interpreted as insulting the emir.

"We call on the Kuwaiti government to abide by international agreements it has signed respecting human rights," Al-Humaidi said. "As a nation, Kuwait must work toward broadening freedoms, not limiting them."

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