08 November 2012

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses concern over the recent charges and prison sentences against twitter users for posts published on the social media site. The harassment of online activists and twitter users is a step in the continuation of the criminalisation of freedom of expression online.

On November 1, Abdullah Alhashemi was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment for defaming the king over Twitter[1]. On November 5, Salman Darwish was sentenced to 1 month imprisonment and Ali Mohamed Watheqi was sentenced to four months of imprisonment, both on the charges of defaming the king via social media. On November 12 Ali Alhayki expects to receive a verdict on the same charges[2]. The four men were all arrested during house raids on October 16 and the Ministry of Information announced the search for a fifth defendant.

Last month, the Minister of Justice announced an approach to enact further legislations which will restrict the use of the Internet, including social networks and modern mobile technologies[3].

In July 2012, the leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was jailed after receiving a 3 month prison sentence for a tweet in which he criticised the Prime Minster of Bahrain[4]. The prominent blogger Ali Abdulemam is missing since March 18, 2011 and was last year sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by a military court[5]. Bahrain was considered “not free” in the recent “Freedom of the Net”-report published by Freedom House[6]. Alarmingly, Bahrain has gone from a score of 62 in the 2011-report to 71 in the 2012-report, where 0 indicates the countries with the most internet freedom and 100 indicates the countries with the least internet freedom[7].

Bahrain Center for Human Rights considers the recent trials and sentences of online users for opinions expressed over online social networks as a direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 states that: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers[8].

The authorities are using the prosecution of the internet users as an intimidation act to stop other internet users from spreading information and expressing views at time when internet may be last resort for people to express their opinions and exposing human rights violations.

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

1. Immediately release of Abdullah Alhashemi, Salman Darwish and Ali Mohamed Watheqi, Ali Alhayki and Nabeel Rajab as well as all detainees, including the activists and human rights defenders because they have been arrested based on reasons related to them practicing their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembling which are guaranteed to them by international laws.

2. The withdrawal of all actions that would restrict freedom of opinion and expression, or prevent the transmission of information.

[1] BNA: Six-month jail term for Bahraini man convicted of defaming HM the King on Twitter [2] gate.ahram.org.eg [3] BCHR: Minister of Justice Uses Coercive Force against Preachers and Looms Further Procedures that Affect Freedom of Expression [4] BCHR: Update: Bahrain: Leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab imprisoned for three months over twitter [5] RSF: One blogger sentenced to life imprisonment, another to 15 years in jail [6] FreedomHouse.org [7] FreedomHouse.org [8] UN.org