KUWAIT CITY – Kuwait revoked the citizenship of 10 people on Monday including an influential young sheik who has openly criticized the government of bowing to pressure from Washington to clamp down on financial assistance to Syrian rebels.
Just last week, the U.S. sanctioned three Kuwaitis it said helped finance terrorist groups and urged its ally to do more to stem such financing.
A few days before that, the Gulf country stripped five critics of their citizenship in what appears to be part of a larger crackdown on dissent that casts a net on both suspected financiers of extremist groups and people calling for political reform.
Human Rights Watch over the weekend criticized the Kuwaiti government's decision to strip citizens of their nationality, and called on authorities to "drop this malign policy."
"No government has the right to strip away its people's citizenship simply because it disapproves of them, their opinions, or their actions," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. "This is yet another downward step in Kuwait's assault on the right to free speech."
The official Kuwait News Agency reported the Cabinet's latest decision, which said that the 10 had been naturalized citizens but failed to meet requirements for the status. The Cabinet statement did not list the names of the people whose citizenship was revoked and did not specify which requirements for naturalization they had failed to meet.
Sheik Nabil al-Awadi, however, confirmed on Twitter that he was among those affected and wrote, "To God we belong, and to God we will return" along with a video about how good can come from hardship.
Al-Awadi, who has nearly 4.5 million followers on Twitter, is part of a collective of religious Sunnis in the Gulf who raise funds for Syria. He has advocated for supporting Sunni rebels and foreign jihadi fighters in Syria battling President Bashar Assad's Shiite-backed forces.
Two of the men sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for allegedly helping finance al-Qaida and the Islamic Front in Syria and Iraq have close ties to al-Awadi.
Washington called on its Western Gulf ally to do more to curb the financing of such groups, and the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. responded last week by saying that his country is committed to fighting terrorism.
In a recent interview on television, al-Awadi said he was under mounting pressure from the Kuwaiti government to stop collecting even humanitarian aid for Syria, but said that money is still finding its way through back channels.