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Kuwaiti opposition figure arrested, sent to serve two-year jail sentence

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwaiti security forces have detained a prominent opposition politician who is due to serve two years in jail after being convicted of insulting the emir, his lawyer said on Saturday.

Kuwaiti lawmaker Musallam al-Barrak gestures while speaking to journalists at Parliament's media center in Kuwait City November 20, 2011. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Musallam al-Barrak, a former member of parliament, has long been at odds with the authorities over changes made in 2012 to the election law which he and other opposition politicians said were intended to prevent them getting power.

Lawyer Mohammed Abdel Kader al-Jassim told Reuters that as well as Barrak himself, nine of his relatives had been detained.

The former member of parliament was placed in solitary confinement in a section of the central prison usually used to hold inmates convicted of serious drugs offences, and he began a hunger strike to protest against the conditions of his imprisonment, the lawyer said.

His relatives were being held at the criminal investigations department, he said.

Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai and news website said Barrak was had been arrested at a farm in Kabed, an area southwest of Kuwait city.

The case goes back to 2012 in the run-up to changes to the electoral law by the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, which the opposition saw as favouring pro-government candidates.

Barrak was found guilty found of insulting Sheikh Sabah and was sentenced to five years in jail. An appeals cut that to two years.

That sentence was confirmed by the court of cassation last month. Barrak, who said that ruling had deprived him of a level of the litigation process.

Kuwait, a Western-allied oil exporter, avoided massive protests during the 2011 “Arab Spring” when some rulers in the region were overthrown, but citizens held large street protests in 2012 over changes to the electoral law.

The government had said it would strike with an “iron fist” against dissent.

While Kuwait allows more freedom of speech than some other Gulf Arab states, the emir has the last say in state affairs.

Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy, Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy