Imprisoned Kuwaitis form political bloc demanding reforms

A group of Kuwaitis imprisoned for taking part in anti-government protests have announced the formation of a new political bloc in defiance of their detention and charges related to their political activism.

Kuwait's Democratic Party was launched this week by four Kuwaitis sentenced to prison in late November. At the time, an appeals court found 67 people guilty of a range of charges related to 2011 rallies when protesters briefly entered the parliament chamber.

Those demonstrations came amid attempts by opposition lawmakers to question the prime minister over claims that government officials transferred state funds to accounts outside the country.

Kuwait— a key U.S. ally that hosts around 13,500 American troops— is ruled by the Al Sabah family. The country has one of the Gulf's most politically active parliaments and tolerates political groups and blocs, but does not officially allow the formation of political parties.

Among those imprisoned is Musallam al-Barrack, an opposition leader who left prison in April after serving a two-year sentence on separate charges. He was given the harshest sentence of nine years, while more than 50 other defendants were given sentences ranging from one to five years.

The defendants are awaiting a decision by Kuwait's court of cessation to grant them bail and accept their appeal of the latest ruling. The defendants were all acquitted in 2013 by a lower court, but the public prosecutor contested the ruling, which led to November's guilty verdicts.

Lama al-Fadala, the sister of one of the new group's founding members, told The Associated Press a key demand is that Kuwait allow the formation of political parties. She said the group's founding members comprise a hospital CEO, a human rights activist, a surgeon and a private school administrator. Together, they say they represent a new generation of educated Kuwaitis with a global worldview.

In a statement circulating on social media and confirmed by relatives, the Democratic Party says one of its objectives is to create a diverse bloc that represents Kuwaitis of different backgrounds who believe in reform, diversity, equality, freedom, and justice. The party criticized the status quo in the oil-rich Gulf country, saying the government must do more to fight nepotism, corruption and the misuse of public funds.

"You can't put words behind bars," al-Fadala said. "My brother and the rest of the founders of the party strongly believe in this: You can put them in jail, but you can't stop their ideas from spreading and you can't stop people from supporting their cause."

Families of those imprisoned are holding weekly meetings in homes of relatives in Kuwait, as well as rallies, saying their demands are aimed at improving the political system.