Procedures that Restrict the Flow of Information which Reveal Violations through the Internet

The Minister of Justice Deals in Double Standards by Turning a Blind Eye to the Loyalists and Issues Decision against the Opposition and Yet Assists in Defaming them

17 Oct 2012

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its deep concern for the Authority's persistent in imposing further restrictions on freedom of expression and misusing the judicial procedures as a political tool to silence voices and terrorize the opponents who practice freedom of speech whether during religious sermons, seminars, on social networks or the Internet. This concern takes place after statements made by the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa, where he threatened to use coercive force to stop the preachers whose speeches are not consistent with the Authority's approach. He also declared a new approach to enact legislations that legalize the use of social networks and modern mobile technologies.

Restricting religious preachers:

In a meeting with the journalists on Monday evening (8 October 2012), Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa said in his statement, which was spoken in a warning tone, "With the crisis we started to find that verbal offenses took place between the sects, and the religious podium lost its respect. Four months ago we started to follow the Friday sermons more closely and a committee was formed to gather the sermons. We advised some clerics, and gave warnings to other, and issued an order to suspend another. Soon, we will start using coercive force to suspend anyone who does not abide by those decisions"[1].

The statements of the Minister of Justice were not devoid of hints of targeting certain opposition figures or religious figures that are considered as opposition who criticize the authorities and its performance and who support the movement demanding freedom and democracy in their speeches, as the Minister swore that no one was above the law and he selectively quoted some of the terms used in their speeches. The Minister's threats ran parallel with the terror and defaming campaigns in the local pro-government newspaper that affected those religious figures and some well-known opposition figures.

These statements and threats come within a series of continuous transgressions against the religious preachers as a consequence of their opinions, where the Minister of Justice issued a decision on 12 August 2012 to suspend the preacher Sayed Kamel Al-Hashimi, who is considered opposition, in the 'Ali bin Hammad' Mosque in Barbar area, as a result of criticizing the judiciary and describing it as unfair and politicized[2], while the Minister of Justice considered it as "an insult to the Judicial Authority and not respecting the judiciary", in an apparent reference to that the punishment was only as a result of expression. On 26 August 2012, the Minister issued another decision to relocate Sheikh Adel Al-Hamad, preacher at Nusuf Mosque in Riffa who he has been preaching and praying in for 25 years to another mosque as a result of a sermon in which he criticized the King's decision to build the largest church in Bahrain, however, the Minister drew back the decision at a later time. [3]

While the Authority restricts preachers who express opinions that do not correspond with their official opinion, it at the same time overlooks the obvious transgressions of loyal and pro-government preachers and figures. Some of them, and for months, have been attacking very significant components of the Bahraini society by publicly cursing and insulting them, accusing them of treason and stirring people up against them (the Friday sermons of Sheikh Jassim Al-Saeedi as an example [4]), without the Ministry of Justice taking any actual measures against them despite the certainty of committing the offense of slander and contempt and sectarian incitement in his speeches. In March 2012, following a Friday sermon by Sheikh Jassim Al-Saeedi where he described the Shiite sect as 'bastards'[5], which is an extremely insulting and derogatory term, the Ministry only sufficed by passing on a news release [6] that claims that a demand was made to open an investigation into the incident, while in reality no measures were taken to stop this type of transgression and by the same person.

Restricting freedom of expression on the Internet:

In the same meeting, the Minister announced an approach to enact further legislations which will restrict the use of social networks, the Internet and modern mobile technologies [7]. The Ministry of Interior, represented by the General Directorate for Combating Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security, had already asserted in the past that they would address the defamation and insult happening through the Internet's social networks and they would prosecute cyber users [8]. This could be directly related to the information the cyber users send about the security officers who are involved in the human rights violations and especially torture and maltreatment in prisons or abusing protestors on the streets.

While these statements claim that it is for the protection of the users from defamation, practice says that the Authority neglects taking any measure to deter these insults when the victim is an opposition figure. Many tweets on the social network 'twitter' which are written by people who are affiliated with the Authority or who are pro-government – among them are those who write with known names – publish incitement of sectarian violence, insults, defamation and spread hatred, and even send death threats to prominent human rights activists without having any measures taken against them [9]. Even almost a year after releasing the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report which indicated that one of the electronic pro-government accounts was defaming and inciting against the demonstrators (Section 1597), this account remains active and still uses the same approach. This takes place at a time when activists, such as the prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab are put into prison for three months because of a tweet in which he expressed his opinion. (Before being acquitted after the term of imprisonment ended).

Noteworthy, the Minister of Justice himself is responsible for defaming activists, and most importantly the medics, where the Minister claimed in a press conference recorded in May 2011 that the medics caused the death of two demonstrators after amplifying their injuries and performing unnecessary surgeries on them [10], which is something the Court refuted later when it announced acquitting the medics and referring some police officers to interrogation in the case, while the Minister was not questioned about committing the offense of defamation.

Based on all the above mentioned positions taken by the Minister of Justice, the dominance of the political mood of the Authority is apparent on applying the law and taking measures, which makes it seem like that the law is above all while implementing it is done in an immensely discriminatory manner in order to oppress and repress a part of the society that opposes the Authority.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that the statements of the Minister of Justice reflects a unceasing policy of terrorizing preachers and opinion holders from the opposition in order to prevent them from expressing their opinions, especially the critical ones that support the freedom demanding movement. The Minister of Justice implements this through a political agenda by taking advantage of legal procedures. The double standards in implementing procedures reflects the futility of the Authority's claims about rejecting violence, defamation, cursing and incitement against civil peace, as it is implemented in a selective and obvious manner that targets a certain segment of the society; the one that practices freedom of expression and criticizes the Authority.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that the escalating restrictions against electronic activity are there to tackle the flow of information that reveals the continuous violations of human rights in Bahrain and that expose those responsible for it with their names at a time when the international media neglects the events taking place in Bahrain.

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the following: • It holds the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs the responsibility of any serious consequence for his discriminatory speech and the selectivity and threats it included against those who express an opinion that contradicts the Authorities in Bahrain. The BCHR also demands that he puts an end to his threat of using force to silence voices and depriving them from freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of Bahrain and also guaranteed by all International charters. • The freedom of expression is guaranteed by constitution and through rights, and it should not under any circumstance be compromised as long as it is within the international human rights principles and it should not affect, contempt or include defaming others. • Not to use judicial or legal procedures to silence voices or terrorize and threaten the critical opposition of the Authority in Bahrain. • Put an end to the systematic discrimination in using the tools of law and dominating it to target opposition and preachers who express an opinion that challenges the Authority. • Put an end to the obvious turning of a blind eye to the pro-government media and platforms that incite violence, sectarianism, and contempt against the Authority's opposition, midst a total absence of accountability.

[1] [2] [3] [4] – 14 Sep 2012 – 28 Sep 2012 [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]