MP Waleed Al-Tabtabaei

KUWAIT: In a stunning ruling, the Court of Cassation yesterday sentenced two current lawmakers and six former MPs, all of them leading opposition figures, to three and a half years in jail for storming the National Assembly building in 2011, practically ending their political future as they will be deprived from running for public office.

Islamist MPs Waleed Al-Tabtabai and Jamaan Al-Harbash were among those who were handed the tough sentence and are highly expected to lose their parliamentary seats triggering by-election. Former MPs who received the same term include leading opposition figure Mussallam Al-Barrak, in addition to Mubarak Al-Waalan, Salem Al-Namlan, Fahad Al-Khannah, Faisal Al-Muslem and Khaled Al-Tahous. A third Islamist MP, Mohammad Al-Mutair, who received a one-year term by the Court of Appeals, got the sentence removed and was among those acquitted.

The court, whose rulings are final, also sentenced five opposition activists to the same sentence and penalized three others to a two-year sentence. At the same time, the court, presided over by judge Hisham Abdullah, acquitted 16 activists and one lawmaker and refrained from issuing any sentence on 34 others although it found them guilty. Constitutional experts said the National Assembly will look into procedures to revoke the membership of Tabtabai and Harbash, both of them believed to be outside the country.

Mohammad Al-Faili, a leading constitutional expert, said the Assembly's legal and legislative committee should meet as soon as possible to study the issue and then recommend to the Assembly revoking the membership of the two lawmakers. He said the final decision will be made by the National Assembly when it meets in the new term next October.

Constitutional expert Hesham Al-Saleh said the Assembly is expected to declare the seats of the two lawmakers vacant and call for by-election within two months of the decision. The by-election will be held in the second and third constituencies, the seats for Harbash and Tabtabai, respectively. The case began in November 2011 when hundreds of opposition demonstrators, who were protesting against corruption, entered the National Assembly building at night.

Two years later, the Criminal Court acquitted all the 70 activists on the grounds that they had no criminal intention from entering the Assembly but to express their demands against corruption. The protesters had demanded the resignation of the then prime minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah who resigned at the end of the month. But in November last year, the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, passing harsh jail terms against all but two of the activists, handing them jail terms ranging from one to nine years. Opposition members and groups expressed angry reactions over the sentences describing them as "shocking".

MP Faisal Al-Muslem, one of those jailed, said Kuwait before July 8 will be different from the period afterwards, a reference to expected actions. MPs Tabtabai and Harbash both issued brief statements, declaring they accept the ruling. Activist Rashed Al-Fadhalah, who was acquitted, said all will not rest before they see that situation in the country has improved to the best.

Pro-government MP Ahmad Al-Fadhl, however, welcomed the rulings saying that the dark chapter in the country's history has now been closed. He said the ending proves that the tribes and parties are not above the country. Opposition MP Riyadh Al-Adasani strongly blasted Fadhl for issuing the statement accusing him of attempting to make political gains and by undermining Kuwaiti tribes.

Islamist opposition MP Mohammad Hayef said the case is political and it has not ended here because there will be more political moves. Only the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah can commute the sentences or pardon those sent to jail. But they are not likely to be politically and legally repatriated to be able to fight the election any more.