By Ahmed Hagagy
KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait released a group of prisoners on Sunday pardoned by the emir in an amnesty intended to defuse a political row, including Shi’ite Muslim Kuwaitis convicted in 2016 for spying for Iran and Lebanon’s Iran-allied Hezbollah.
The amnesty, which also included former MPs in self-exile abroad, was a key demand of opposition lawmakers locked in a dispute with the government over the prime minister’s refusal to be questioned in parliament. Earlier on Sunday the emir accepted the government’s resignation in another step to end the feud.
Women threw flower petals as more than 10 prisoners were seen exiting a bus in a parking lot outside the central prison, where more than 200 relatives and friends gathered to meet them, embracing amid chants of “There is no god but God”.
Authorities have so far not disclosed how many convicts were released on Sunday, but one lawyer said 20 had been freed.
“I feel as would anyone wrongly accused who has been released,” said Hassan Daoud, among those convicted in the ‘Abdali cell’ spying case.
The trial of the alleged cell, named for the place where a weapons cache was discovered in a 2015 raid, had been described as possibly unfair by Amnesty International and opened up rare sectarian divisions in the majority Sunni Gulf state, where relations with the minority Shi’ite community have been mostly amicable.
“This amnesty includes all sects in an equal manner,” Fawaz Alkhateeb, a lawyer of one of the men released on Sunday, said at the parking lot, where Shi’ite clerics also gathered.
The emir on Saturday issued two decrees granting pardons and reduced sentences to 35 people, including former lawmakers in self-exile in Turkey sentenced for storming the parliament building in 2011 protests against corruption.
The decrees pardoned two members of the alleged cell, along with four convicted of covering for the group, and halved the sentences of 18 others, some of whom had already served the commuted term.
Hassan Hajiya, whose death sentence was overturned in an appeals process, was not named in the amnesty. The others in the case had received jail terms of five years and life.
Their lawyers had said the charges were based on confessions extracted under torture, which authorities rejected.
Kuwait, which has maintained balanced ties between neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iran, at the time accused Tehran of seeking to destabilize it. Iran denied any connection.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)