Kuwait opposition politician gets bail in insult case

Reuters News

4/22/2013 7:08:42 AM - Reuters News

KUWAIT (Reuters) - A prominent Kuwaiti opposition politician convicted of insulting the ruling emir was granted bail on Monday, his lawyer said, prompting celebrations by supporters who packed the court building and defusing tensions over his case.

Musallam al-Barrak, an outspoken former member of parliament, was sentenced to five years in jail last week for remarks made at a rally last year.

The sentencing had triggered a series of street protests that highlighted ongoing political tensions between opposition figures and the government, headed by a prime minister picked by the emir.

After the appeal court ruling on Monday, hundreds of Barrak's backers escorted him through the appeal court complex cheering, whistling and chanting: "The people want Musallam al-Barrak," and "God is great".

"It will ease tension", former opposition lawmaker Khaled al-Tahous said.

The five-year sentence was not overturned on Monday, defense lawyer Dokki al-Hasban told Reuters.

But the court ruled that Barrak should be granted bail, on a payment of 5,000 dinars ($17,600), and that his defense team would have a chance to argue his case next month.

Barrak was not taken into custody after his sentencing. Security forces had searched his guest house and a neighboring home last week but failed to find him, supporters said. It was not clear why police had not taken him into custody during subsequent speeches at the guest house.

Barrak was found guilty of insulting Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah in a speech in October last year in which he appealed to the emir to avoid "autocratic rule".

Kuwait has avoided mass Arab Spring-style unrest but citizens held large street protests last year after the emir changed the electoral law, a move the opposition said was aimed at preventing them from winning a parliamentary majority.

The government has said the move brought Kuwait in line with voting systems elsewhere.

While Kuwait allows more freedom of speech than some other Gulf Arab states, the emir has the last say in state affairs and is deemed "immune and inviolable" in the constitution.

There has been a series of trials in Kuwait in recent months involving opposition activists accused of insulting the emir, mainly on social media.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Mahmoud Harby; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Andrew Torchia)