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Kuwait arrests leader of Islamic party over Saudi 'insult'

Kuwaiti authorities have arrested a conservative politician for insulting a deceased Saudi politician back in December
A group of supporters of the former Kuwaiti parliament member Musallam al-Barrak stage a protest against the Barrak's arrest in Kuwait City on 2 March, 2015 (AA)

Kuwait has arrested the leader of the Ummah Party for allegedly insulting the neighbouring Gulf state of Saudi Arabia on television, the interior ministry said.

Hakem al-Mutairi was arrested at the instruction of the public prosecutor for "grossly insulting Saudi Arabia" during an interview, the ministry said in a statement.

Mutairi is the head of the Ummah Party, a group of Islamic and conservative politicians founded in 2005 but still not officially recognised.

The group said Mutairi was arrested by the secret police on Friday and interrogated over remarks he made on television in December about the death of the head of Ummah Party in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed al-Mufreh.

It said Mutairi raised questions that Mufreh may have died from poisoning at a hospital in Turkey.

Mutairi has been accused of financing al-Nusra Front in Syria, according to the Lebanese paper al-Akhbar, which documented the role of Kuwaiti Salafists in aiding and sponsoring armed groups in Syria. Yet Kuwaiti authorities have not acted on the leaks that revealed Mutairi’s supportive role for Nusra, and the claims of him backing sharia officials within the group remains to be corroborated.

In recent months, Kuwait cracked down on online activists for criticising Arab leaders, especially those of the Gulf States and Egypt. 

In February, Kuwait sentenced blogger Saleh al-Saeed to an extra two years in jail for posting comments on Twitter in which he accused Saudi Arabia of grabbing land in Kuwait and Bahrain.

Saeed was initially sentenced in December to four years in jail. The lower court charged that because of the 16 tweets he had posted online in October, he had endangered Saudi-Kuwaiti relations and undermined the kingdom.

Yet other sources elaborated on Saeed’s charges, pointing to his interview in August with Syrian channel Sama in which he lashed out against Saudi Arabia and its policies in Syria, while defending the actions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Earlier this month, thousands of Kuwaits demonstrated in support of former parliamentarian Musallam al-Barrack, who was sentenced for two years for insulting the ruler.

Authorities detained and questioned several activists and former MPs for "insulting" Egyptian, Saudi and Emirati leaders.

Human Rights Watch said in its latest World Report that the Kuwaiti government aggressively targeted free speech throughout 2014.