Kuwait court frees opposition leader following protests

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 9:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 12:36am


A Kuwaiti court freed prominent opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak yesterday after police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a fifth straight night of demonstrations demanding his release.

Judge Ahmad al-Athari said he was releasing Barrak on bail of 5,000 dinars (HK$137,000), triggering jubilation among supporters of the former MP in the small, jampacked courtroom.

The public prosecutor had ordered Barrak to be detained for 10 days last Wednesday on charges of insulting the supreme judicial council and slandering its chairman, Faisal al-Marshed, in a speech he delivered at a public rally last month.

"Oh Mussallam, you are the conscience of the whole nation," shouted the crowd of supporters after the judge ordered his release. But he has to appear again in court in September to resume the trial for which he faces a maximum of three years in jail.

Elite special forces, backed by armoured vehicles, had earlier escorted Barrak from the city's central jail to court where supporters rushed to hug him and chanted slogans in his favour.

Around 30 lawyers registered their names to defend Barrak, 58, but the judges allowed only three of them to make arguments.

"What I said at the public rally did not constitute any insult to the judicial council or its chairman," Barrak told the judge after he read the charges against him.

Wearing a dark brown prison uniform, he said the order to detain him for 10 days "is illegal and is an act of oppression by the public prosecution."

Barrak told the court that before moving to the central jail, he had been detained at the central investigation department "where the treatment was extremely bad."

"They did not give me my medicine nor allowed me to eat before fasting" he said, referring to the dawn-to-dusk fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

Barrak revealed documents he alleged proved huge sums in illicit financial transfers were made to senior officials, including judges.

Kuwait's prime minister, Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, dismissed the documents, saying they did not stand up to scrutiny.

The political tension has deepened rifts in one of Washington's most important allies in the region.