Human rights conditions deteriorated in Kuwait last year as police used excessive force against protesters and the government clamped down on online activists, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The setback in the human rights situation came amid a bitter political crisis in the oil-rich Gulf state between the opposition and the government, HRW said in a statement.
"Kuwait’s political crisis had a negative impact on the country’s human rights record as security forces cracked down on protests and the government grew intolerant of dissident speech," Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW told a news conference.
Kuwait's information ministry blasted the New York-based rights group, saying it was "out of touch" with reality.
"Human Rights Watch is clearly out of touch with the reality on the ground in Kuwait. These are the same, tired accusations we saw last year and they continue to show a lack of understanding of Kuwait," the ministry said in a statement.
Since mid-2012, prosecutors have charged at least 35 online activists and former MPs with speech-related crimes such as "offending the emir" and for posting remarks on Twitter or giving speeches during protests, HRW said.
"The government should reverse this trend in 2013, by dropping all speech-related charges against online activists and former members of parliament...," said Houry.
But the information ministry dismissed the HRW claims.
"Human Rights Watch wrongly claims the government has become ‘intolerant of dissident speech'. In reality Kuwait’s strong democracy was founded on freedom of speech," the ministry said.
"We have also seen in recent months the government repeatedly grant permits for peaceful demonstrations," it added.
Kuwaiti rights activists who attended the HRW news conference said that "at least 300" opposition activists are being prosecuted.
Kuwaiti courts have in the past few weeks sentenced at least seven opposition activists and former MPs to between two and 10 years in jail on charges of insulting the emir.
HRW called on the the Kuwaiti government to drop the charges against the activists.
It also urged the government "to address the citizenship claims of bidoons (stateless Arabs), and protect migrant workers by ratifying the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers."
The information ministry said Kuwait is "dedicated to providing services and opportunities to all our people, citizens and illegal residents (stateless Arabs) alike," in addition to a "set of social services to all people living in Kuwait including education and health care."
The opposition has been demonstrating in protest against the amendment of the electoral law and to demand the dissolution of the parliament elected on December 1 on the basis of the amendment.