Kuwait police fired tear gas and stun grenades in a busy historic market to disperse several thousand protesters calling for the release of an opposition activist and a purge of corrupt judges.
Defying government orders not to hold unauthorised protests, more than 2,000 people marched from Kuwait’s Grand Mosque after traditional evening Ramadan prayers and into the old market, where police broke up the demonstration.
It was the fourth consecutive day that police have used tear gas to break up unauthorised anti-corruption protests in the Gulf Arab monarchy.
Kuwait has the most politically empowered parliament among the Gulf Arab states, with opposition lawmakers often directly challenging government officials over corruption and power abuses. Kuwait’s political tension has deepened rifts in one of Washington’s most important Gulf allies.
A picture circulated on social media of activist Abdulhadi Al-Hajeri in the back of an ambulance in a blood-soaked garment. His head was wrapped in a bloodied sheet.
Human rights activist Hadeel Bugrais said al-Hajeri was wounded when a tear gas canister hit him in the head. She said the police were firing “randomly” at the crowd of marchers and that many bystanders were caught up in the mayhem.
Burgais said dozens of protesters were arrested. She accompanied several lawyers to a police station to inquire about the detainees.
A brief statement by Kuwait’s Interior Ministry released late on Sunday said the protest was dispersed by police and that no injuries were immediately recorded. The statement made no mention of arrests, saying only that the protest was unauthorised.
The protesters are demanding the release of Musallam al-Barrack, a former opposition lawmaker who was detained in an investigation into allegations he insulted the judiciary. Al-Barrack revealed documents he alleges prove huge sums of illicit financial transfers were made to senior officials, including judges.
Kuwait’s prime minister, Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, a member of the ruling family, has dismissed the documents, saying they have no value and do not stand up to scrutiny.
Al-Barrack’s group is urging that citizens be allowed to run for the prime minister’s post. Kuwaiti prime ministers are currently appointed by the emir and are from the ruling family.
Many protesters on Sunday were members of his tribe, but many others joined the call for greater government accountability and transparency. They say they are fed up with the pace of economic development in Kuwait, which was once a main hub for tourism and investment in the region but has now been shadowed by neighboring Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Violent protests have also been taking place since al-Barrack’s arrest in his hometown province of Jahra in the neighbourhood of Sabah Al-Nasser, south-east of the capital Kuwait City. Protesters there have burnt tires and some have fired flares at security officers.