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17 May 2013

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its deep concern over the Bahraini authorities’ escalated targeting of freedom of expression. Recently, five social media activists were sentenced to one year imprisonment for criticizing the King. In total, more than 106 months of imprisonment was collectively delivered last year on charges against twelve online users for charges related to freedom of expression over social network websites.

In March 2012, Mahdi AlBasri, Mahmood Taresh, Ammar AlAli, Hasan Abdali and Mohammed Abdali were arrested at dawn for messages they had uploaded to twitter; they were held on charges for criticizing the King. On 15 May 2013, the court sentenced five of the bloggers to 1 year imprisonment. As stated by the head of public prosecution, Naif Yousif, the five were charged for exercising their right to freedom of expression beyond the values and traditions of the Bahraini society against the King of the country through the social network website twitter (for more information, see: www.alwasatnews.com/3903/news/read/772574/1.html). Ali Al Shofa, 17 years old, was also arrested in March and detained for 2 months pending investigation. He was released on 8 May and is still on trial. The next hearing on his is case is on 8 June 2013.

The government’s targeting of freedom of expression has noticeably escalated in the past year, with at least 10 cases brought to court with sentences ranging from several months to one year imprisonment. Among these cases is Nabeel Rajab’s, President of the BCHR, who is currently serving a two year sentence in prison, and served a three month sentence last year for insulting a statutory body over twitter, tweeting about the unpopularity of the Prime Minister, and calling for an illegal gathering over twitter. Just a few days ago, Nabeel witnessed the torture of eight prisoners, he requested to talk to the International Committee of Red Cross to testify through family members on social media, however, he went missing and is reportedly kept in solitary confinement to silence him (Read: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/6121). Also, Said Yousif, Head of Documentation and Monitoring in the BCHR, has a case pending in court for disseminating false news over twitter. In November 2011, Abdullah Al Hashemi, Salman Darwish, Ali Watheqi and Ali Al Haiki were sentenced to terms from 1 to 6 months imprisonment for defaming the king over twitter after being arrested during house raids on 16 October 2012. (Read: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/5507).

The BCHR believes that the authorities are escalating the repression on freedom of expression. We are witnessing a progression of harsher prison sentences compared to the cases sentenced last year. The BCHR believes that the government’s aim is to pressure citizens into silence, and particularly end freedom of expression when it’s related to criticism of the King, the Prime Minister and other high standing figures in the government, all of whom come from Al Khalifa family.

Based on the above information, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands that the Government of Bahrain:

  1. Immediately release all activists sentenced to prison for their online activities, including Nabeel Rajab, as well as all other political detainees who are being held for practicing their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are guaranteed by international law.
  2. Drop all charges related to freedom of expression in cases that are currently ongoing in court.
  3. Withdraw all national and local laws that would restrict freedom of opinion and expression, or prevent the transmission of information.