18 people detained in Kuwait over pro-Bidun protest

18 people detained in Kuwait over pro-Bidun protest
Photo by Masrur Rahman via Unsplash


Hamish Brady

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

In a characteristic display of intimidation and unlawful exercise of power by Kuwaiti authorities, 18 people were detained on 31st August 2022 for participation in a peaceful demonstration in support of the country’s stateless Bidun (meaning ‘without nationality’) population. Of those 18, six were legally recognised Kuwaiti nationals and the remaining 12 were members of the Bidun community [1]. Notably, the detained also included three candidates running in the upcoming parliamentary elections due to take place later this month [2].  

The demonstration, which materialised in the Taima area of al-Jahra province, west of Kuwait City, sought to protest the (in)action of the Central System for the Remedy of the Situation of Illegal Residents (‘Central System’ hereafter), the governing body tasked with resolving the ‘Bidun issue’ and of reporting to the Ministry of Interior on Bidun-related issues [3]. De jure, the Central System is the body that investigates the nationality origins of those Bidun applying for naturalisation status in Kuwait while also seeking to promote solutions to the issue of statelessness in the Kingdom. De facto, however, the Central System has been described as ‘unaccountable and opaque’ [4] and of perpetuating the Bidun’s ‘illegal resident’ status bestowed upon them by the Kuwaiti state as a result of failing to be registered for citizenship at the time of independence in 1961 [5]. While not a homogenous group, the Bidun are largely united by an Arab Muslim Bedouin background and are viewed by the Kuwaiti state as illegal foreign nationals with nationality ties to surrounding states, namely Iraq [6]. This is despite longstanding efforts on behalf of the Bidun to make clear their historical ties to Kuwait and, therefore, entitlement to citizenship. 

As a result of their ‘illegal resident’ (stateless) status, the Bidun face stringent restrictions on rights to healthcare, employment, education, and travel (both within and without the country). Further, the issue of statelessness has become an intergenerational one, almost entirely due to Kuwait’s discriminatory and exclusive nationality laws. Indeed, nationality is passed down patrilineally, meaning a Kuwaiti mother married to a non-Kuwaiti father is unable to bestow her nationality onto her children [7]. This is further compounded by the fact the Central System initially issues foreign national status to those applying for Kuwaiti citizenship rather than assessing their claims fairly and evidentially.  

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Amna Guellali, issued this statement following the detention of those involved in the protest on September 1st 2022: 

This is a blatant attempt by the Kuwaiti authorities to intimidate people who are exercising their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly. Instead of listening to the demonstrators’ calls for the rights of stateless Bidun people to nationality, education and healthcare, the authorities are seeking to silence and punish them.” [8]  

The human rights organisation also noted the simultaneous illegality and hypocrisy of Kuwait’s treatment of the protestors, specifically, and Bidun, generally, noting the Kingdom is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (thus, should implement jus soli) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which recognises the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. One Kuwaiti source has stated the Kuwaiti nationals arrested have now been released by the Ministry of Interior while the Bidun protestors are due to be released after 21 days in custody [9].


[1] The New Arab. (2022, September 1). Kuwait detains Bidoon protesters, Amnesty calls for their release. https://english.alaraby.co.uk/news/kuwait-detains-bidoon-protesters-amnesty-calls-release  

[2] World Gulf. (2022, September 2). 14 more suspects held for illegal gatherings in Kuwait. https://gulfnews.com/world/gulf/kuwait/14-more-suspects-held-for-illegal-gatherings-in-kuwait-1.90283924 

[3] Amnesty International. (2022, September 1). Kuwait: Authorities must stop targeting pro-Bidun protesters as elections loom. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/09/kuwait-authorities-must-stop-targeting-pro-bidun-protesters-as-elections-loom/ 

[4] Andreas Bjorklund. (2020, October). The Bidoon in Kuwait: History at a Glance. https://salam-dhr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/FINAL.-Bidoon-report.pdf 

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] Equality Now. (2021). Kuwaiti Nationality Law: Learn More. https://www.equalitynow.org/kuwaiti_nationality_law_learn_more/ 

[8] Amnesty International. (2022, September 1). Kuwait: Authorities must stop targeting pro-Bidun protesters as elections loom. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/09/kuwait-authorities-must-stop-targeting-pro-bidun-protesters-as-elections-loom/

[9] CourtNewsKw (Accessed via Twitter, September 05). https://twitter.com/CourtNewsKw/status/1566759496239702018?t=TQS1T20bPfVdciicEwpO-Q&s=08