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5 Kuwaitis acquitted for "insulting" tweets

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Five Kuwaitis have been acquitted of insulting the country’s high office on Twitter.

The opposition activists—Muhammad al-Ajmi, Faris al-Balhan, Abdul-Aziz al Mutairi, Fahd al-Jufaira and Rashid al-Enzi—were accused of causing offence to emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah in tweets using the hashtag #battery earlier in the year, according to Arabian Business.

Human rights groups welcomed the move, according to the BBC, with Human Rights Watch saying the verdict could be "a victory for free speech."

The BBC quotes the group's Sarah Leah Whitson as saying, "Kuwaiti authorities should take a cue from this decision and revoke sentences and drop charges against others accused of offending the emir."

However, Arabian Business noted that the prosecution is planning to appeal the ruling.

Since October, at least 35 people have been charged with insulting the emir. One of those is al-Anzi, who is serving a two-year prison term in a different case, while other activists, including three ex-opposition members of parliament, have also been convicted.

Opposition leaders say the charge of insulting the emir or making critical comments about him in public, an offence that carries a five-year jail sentence, is being used to quell political dissenters.

In December, opposition activists boycotted elections in protest of a new electoral system, in which citizens could only vote for one candidate instead of four, they believed worked in favor of pro-government candidates. The vote had a low turnout and frequent protests followed. A demonstration against the system in October drew more than 150,000 people to the streets.

A number of Kuwaitis have been arrested and convicted over the last few years for expressing views about religion and politics online.

It is too early to say whether this week's ruling marks a turning point in the government's stance on the issues, but human rights activists certainly see it as a step in the right direction.

Photo by Fawaz Al-Arbash/Flickr