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Kuwait court restores citizenship of pro-opposition TV owner

Lower court's landmark ruling overturns an emiri decree and orders the government to return citizenship to an opposition activist
Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah attends the opening ceremony of the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria (AFP)

Kuwait's lower court on Sunday ordered the government to restore the citizenship of a pro-opposition television station owner and his four children who were stripped of their status in 2014.

In its landmark ruling, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the court abolished an emiri decree revoking the citizenship of Ahmad Jabr al-Shemmari in July 2014 for allegedly posing a threat to national security.

It ordered the government to "immediately" return Shemmari's citizenship, although the ruling can still be challenged at the appeals and supreme courts.

After revoking his nationality, the government shut down Shemmari's al-Youm TV station and Alam al-Youm newspaper, which were critical of the government and hosted leading opposition figures at a time of political crisis in the Gulf state.

The action came as part of a crackdown on dissent and included revoking the citizenship of former Islamist MP Abdullah al-Barghash and around 59 members of his family. 

The government later stripped Islamist preacher Nabil al-Awadhi and opposition activist Saad al-Ajmi of their citizenship. Ajmi was deported to Saudi Arabia.

The lower court had in late 2014 initially rejected Shemmari's demand that his citizenship be restored, saying nationality cases were "sovereign issues" and outside the remit of the judiciary.

This view was later supported by the appeals court.

However, the supreme court, whose rulings are final, said earlier this year that such cases can be heard by the judiciary.

In its verdict Sunday, the lower court said the "government measure was oppressive" and had violated Kuwaiti laws. 

It also ordered the government to pay temporary damages of $16,600, opening the way for Shemmari to seek much higher compensation at the civil court.

Shemmari's lawyer had insisted that revoking his nationality violated the constitution because he was a Kuwaiti by birth.

New York-based Human Rights Watch at the time denounced what it called a "crackdown on people seeking reform" in Kuwait, which unlike other Arab states in the oil-rich Gulf has a democratically elected parliament.

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