Free expression on Twitter carries a heavy penalty in Bahrain

Expression

Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, remains jailed for his tweets and human rights activities after a judge postponed his trial on 31st October. Despite his ill health, he was not released on bail and a new trial date was set for 15th December.

On 3rd November, journalist Faisal Hayyat appeared in court on charges related to a 'defamatory' tweet. He had been arrested on 9th October for allegedly defaming the Sunni sect in Bahrain. Domestic and international human rights groups publically condemned his prosecution as well as the Bahraini government’s continued criminalisation of free speech.

Women’s rights defender, writer and blogger Ghada Jamsheer also remains in jail serving a combined ten-month sentence for exercising her right to free expression on Twitter. On 7th November 2016, Jamsheer appeared before a judge of the High Criminal Court of Appeal and requested to be allowed to serve out the remainder of her sentences outside of jail due to severe pain from rheumatoid arthritis. After her hearing, however she was returned to Isa Town women’s prison, where she lives in cold and unsanitary conditions. A coalition of twenty human rights groups are currently circulating a petition for her release.

On 13th November leading opposition politician Ibrahim Sharif was charged with inciting hatred under article 165 of the penal code, a charge carrying a three-year prison sentence. The accusation comes in the aftermath of Prince Charles’ visit to Bahrain, which Sharif, the former leader of the secular National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), had warned would be used to 'whitewash' human rights abuses in the country.

On 17th November Hussain Radhi, a member of Bahrain Center for Human Rights documentation team was summoned to appear before the Public Prosecutor in relation to a case brought against him by the Cyber Crime Directorate, a part of the Ministry of the Interior's General Anti-Corruption Directorate. He was charged with allegedly 'inciting hatred against the regime and spreading false news threatening civil peace'. The charges stem from his tweets and retweets about protests in Bahraini villages, suppression of protests by the authorities, arrests, the siege on Duraz village, and UN experts' statements about religious discrimination in Bahrain.

Peaceful Assembly

The freedom of peaceful assembly remains heavily restricted in Bahrain. An indefinite ban on all public gatherings continues in Manama, and gatherings elsewhere are routinely suppressed by the authorities. Several staff members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) were judicially harassed in early November for various attempts at exercising this freedom. Nedal Al-Salman, the organisation's Head of International Relations and Women & Children’s Rights Advocacy was interrogated on charges of illegal gathering. Enas Oun, BCHR's Head of the Monitoring and Documentation Section, was summoned on 13th November for her part in organising an assembly in the Al-Dair area on 20th June. A BCHR activist, Ahmad Al-Saffar, was also interrogated by the Public Prosecutor on 13th November and charged with illegal assembly. They were all subsequently released.

Association

On 22nd September, CIVICUS, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) made a joint submission to the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, ahead of Bahrain’s review scheduled for 2017. The submission called upon the Bahraini authorities to implement the recommendations on the freedom of association made under the previous UPR. Despite accepting the ten recommendations received in 2012, the Bahraini authorities failed to take adequate measures to implement them and have instead deliberately targeted civil society organisations. According to the submission, 30 civil society organisations have been dissolved since 2000 - 11 of them in 2016 alone.