Prominent Kuwaiti opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak was released from prison Friday after serving a two-year sentence for insulting the emir in public.
Barrak, 61, walked free from Kuwait’s central prison to a frenzied reception by relatives and supporters who broke through tight security fences and surrounded his vehicle.
The former lawmaker, who served six consecutive terms from 1999 to 2012, openly critiqued the government upon his release.
“One day I said and I repeat: History will jail those who sent me to jail,” Barrak, still dressed in a beige prison uniform, shouted to the cheering crowd.
Hundreds of family members and supporters braved scorching heat and dusty winds and waited over three hours for Barrak’s release outside the central jail, 25 kilometres southwest of Kuwait City.
The jubilant crowd sang and chanted slogans praising Barrak, hailing him as “the conscience of the people”.
Barrak gave a brief speech before a long motorcade drove him to his residence, where more supporters were waiting.
In February 2015, Barrak was sentenced to two years in prison for comments he had made at a 2012 public rally which undermined the status of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
Barrak had been protesting changes to the kingdom’s electoral law which he argued would allow authorities to manipulate election results. He has denied that his speech amounted to undermining the ruler of the Gulf state.
He is the most senior, and the most popular, opposition leader to be jailed in an unprecedented government crackdown on dissent in the kingdom.
Dozens of opposition activists in Kuwait are either in jail or are facing trial for insulting the emir, including via social media.
Barrak’s release comes months after a majority of his partners in the opposition alliance ended a four-year boycott of general elections.
The alliance won about half of the 50 parliamentary seats in snap polls in November.
The oil-rich emirate of Kuwait is widely viewed as a pioneer in operating a parliamentary system among the Gulf monarchies.
The OPEC member state sits on about seven percent of global crude reserves and pumps around 2.8 million barrels of oil per day.