In contentious case, Kuwait deports Jordanian over protest

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Authorities in Kuwait deported a Kuwaiti-born, Jordanian national for joining an unauthorized protest, an official said Monday, the latest case to spark outrage over the treatment of foreign workers in the Gulf Arab country.

Police arrested the Jordanian man at a protest last week in Kuwait City against the government’s new restrictions on unvaccinated people. Asked on live TV about the demonstration, the man vented his anger over Kuwait’s decision to ban the unvaccinated from public places, including restaurants and malls. The television clip ricocheted across social media, racking up thousands of views.

It comes just days after controversy erupted over the arrest of an Egyptian man who ranted on social media about the country’s bad weather. Local news channels later reported his deportation.

Following days in detention, the Jordanian man was deported on Sunday for his participation in the outlawed protest, Tawheed al-Kandari, a media official at Kuwait’s Interior Ministry, confirmed to The Associated Press.

In the past few days, the case has drawn intense media attention in Kuwait, exposing fault lines over the situation of migrant workers in the country. When the Jordanian man’s televised complaint spread online, scores of citizens lambasted him for what they viewed as his ingratitude for Kuwaiti largesse. Lawmakers rushed to his defense, lamenting what they called the government’s mistreatment of foreigners and an assault on freedom of expression in a country with a long reputation for some of the region’s most vibrant politics.

As across the desert sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf, legions of low-paid foreign laborers from the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia power Kuwait’s economy and serve its tiny population of 1 million citizens. Rights groups say the lopsided labor system, which links migrants’ residency status to their jobs, leaves expatriates particularly vulnerable to arrest, deportation and abuse. On Monday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior announced the government had deported over 7,800 foreigners in the first half of 2021 alone for various “violations.”

Hostility toward migrants in Kuwait has burned even hotter during the coronavirus pandemic, as expats allege stark inequalities in the country’s vaccine distribution and in virus-induced travel restrictions. Although vaccinated citizens may come and go, foreigners with valid residency permits have been barred from entering the country for months. The government has promised to lift the ban for vaccinated residents next month.

Last week, the Jordanian man’s father released a statement to Kuwaiti news media, pleading for his son’s release from detention.

“Abdullah considers Kuwait as a piece of his own heart,” he wrote of his son, who he said was born and raised into a proud, decorated military family in Kuwait, with an uncle in the Kuwaiti resistance during the 1990 Iraqi invasion. He claimed his son had no intention of insulting the country and simply spoke his mind about vaccines when reporters put him on the spot.

“Despite the heartbreak, I believe in what God wills,” he wrote.

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