A court on January 7, 2013, convicted al-Harbi, a columnist for the local independent news website Sabr, on insult charges in connection with a series of tweets and retweets on his personal Twitter account, starting in October 2012, in which he criticized the government and called on authorities to stop oppressing Kuwaiti citizens, according to news reports. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment under Article 25 of the Kuwaiti penal code, which outlaws public criticism of the “rights and authority of the emir” and finding fault in him, news reports said. He was taken into custody immediately.
In May 2013, an appeals court suspended al-Harbi’s sentence pending a constitutional challenge to Article 25 and he was released on bail, news reports said. Two months later, Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a pardon for those sentenced to jail terms for insulting him. The pardon was in commemoration of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
On December 2, 2013, Kuwait’s Constitutional Court upheld the constitutionality of Article 25 and said that Article 54 of the constitution, which states that the emir is “immune and inviolable,” proved that “it is not acceptable that the highest position in the country should be treated like other individuals,” according to news reports.
After the Constitutional Court’s decision, an appeals court on May 22, 2014, upheld the original two-year sentence for al-Harbi, news reports said. He was arrested on October 22, 2014, and taken to Central Prison, southwest of Kuwait City, his newspaper reported.
Al-Harbi wrote opinion pieces for Sabr, which publishes news and commentary. He wrote extensively about local issues, including corruption and freedom of speech, in the run-up to the December 2012 parliamentary election. He has also written articles that called on the Shia minority to revolt against corruption and criticized the government’s attitudes on freedom of speech and women’s rights.
On October 28, 2014, al-Harbi was beaten and left in a prison corridor with his hands and feet bound for hours, according to his lawyer, al-Humaidi al-Subaie, and Sabr. His mistreatment set off an outcry on social media, with Kuwaitis tweeting under Arabic hashtags that translate to “The torture of Ayad al-Harbi in Prison” and “The beating of Ayad al-Harbi.” Sabr reported that al-Harbi’s lawyer filed two official complaints, and the Ministry of Interior summoned two officers over the beating.
Kuwait’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, upheld al-Harbi’s sentence on April 5, 2015, Sabr reported.