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Police break up protest by opposition activists; MoI warns citizens to abide by gatherings law
March 24, 2015, 8:35 am

Riot police dispersed hundreds of opposition protesters who rallied yesterday to demand the release of political prisoners and press for democratic reforms in state. More than 500 activists gathered outside the National Assembly for the third week in a row after authorities jailed opposition leader and former lawmaker Musallam Al-Barrak for insulting H.H. the Amir. The previous two gatherings were peaceful and passed off without police interference.

But as a few dozen protesters marched towards parliament yesterday, police used batons to beat activists, forcing them to disperse. Kuwait National Committee for Monitoring Violations, a private rights group, said on Twitter that several protesters were hurt and others were arrested. Rights activist Nawaf Al-Hendal said the protesters included women and former members of parliament. He said at least a dozen people were arrested in the melee.

Earlier in the day, the interior ministry had warned protesters to abide by a law that regulates rallies, affirming its keenness on maintaining the country's security. In a press statement, the ministry emphasized its confidence in citizens' awareness and keenness on the country's safety, security and stability out of belief in the necessity of respecting the law and recent decisions by the constitutional court regarding public gatherings.

The constitutional court had earlier said that organizing public gatherings and demonstrations should fall within the framework of freedom and discipline, guarantee the safety of citizens and residents and go in harmony with relevant terms and measures, mainly necessary permits. The court on Wednesday overruled a case regarding constitutional grounds of the public demonstrations law. Public gatherings are generally allowed in Kuwait, provided activists obtain a permit from the competent authorities.

The opposition has stepped up its demands for the dissolution of the parliament and government and the scrapping of a controversial electoral law. Since tens of thousands took to the streets in 2012, authorities have cracked down on the opposition. Dozens have been tried and handed heavy jail terms. The crackdown, which has also seen several opposition figures stripped of their citizenship, has been condemned by rights groups, who have called for reforms to stop people being jailed for exercising free speech.

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