In 1991, President Bush announced the start of military operations to free Kuwait from the ravages of dictatorship after the invasion of Iraqi forces. He promised to restore Kuwait and its people to freedom. In the years following the liberation however Kuwait’s government has repeatedly shown that real freedom was confined to its ruling family and not average Kuwaitis. The sentencing in absentia of Rana Jassem al-Saadun is only the latest example. The female rights activist was given three years in jail for simply repeating parts of a speech by an opposition leader that was critical of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Kuwait’s authoritarian leader.
Prominent opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak was given two years for his speech and it appears that even quoting from it is a criminal offense in “free” Kuwait. Barrak was originally given five years for simply warning Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah against amending the electoral law to help the government control parliament.
Saadun is a founding member of rights group the National Committee for Monitoring Violations and told the “court” that she and others read from the speech to support free expression rather than any agreement with its content. The court however also sentenced some 21 other activists for participating in the free speech protest. In other words, there is no free speech in Free Kuwait . . . except for the Emir and his family.