19 Dec 2012

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) express grave concern over the continued attacks on human rights defenders with arrest and intimidation, as well as attacks on freedom of the internet, in the form of in arrests and incarcerated for sharing information and expressing opinions online.

The latest arrest was that of Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdhah, Acting Vice President and Head of Documentation Unit. On 17 Dec 2012 human rights defender Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha was arrested while monitoring a protest in Manama and tweeting about the attacks on protesters and violations to their rights. On his twitter account @SAIDYOUSIF wrote before he got arrested:

“I can see security forces spraying pepper spray on female protesters faces as they mock them/laugh” [1] “I can confirm one shotgun injury now in #Manama pic.twitter.com/D9pKvQzR” [2] “tear gas now in #Manama pic.twitter.com/0euQXsOG”[3]

On 18 Dec 2012 he was sent to the public prosecution where he was interrogated on the charge of “disseminating false news over twitter”. He was given detention order of 7 days pending investigation.

Al-Muhafdhah has been very active in tweeting about violations of human rights in Bahrain, supported with photos and videos. He tweets in Arabic and English and has 77,738 followers. Last month he was detained for about 12 days after getting arrested while documenting a case of injury caused by the police[4].

The internet websites and in particular social media websites like twitter are playing a critical role in exposing human rights violations committed by the authorities in Bahrain, especially at a time when access to the international media is still very restricted. In many cases, Bahrain authorities have only felt obliged to start an investigation into police abuses after the viral distribution of the documented crimes over social media.[5]

The authorities are placing extensive surveillance on social media, and several were arrested because of their online posts in an act that serves to intimidate others to move into self-censorship. This month, on 11 Dec 2012 an online user was sentenced to 4 months in prison for “insulting” the king over twitter[6]. Last month four online users were sentenced between 1 to 6 months in prison for “insulting the king” over twitter[7].In July 2012, the President of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab served a 3 months prison sentence for his tweets before the court overturned the verdict[8].

The GCHR and BCHR believe that by arresting human rights defender Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdha for exposing the Bahrain regime’s violations over twitter while monitoring a peaceful protest, the authorities have violated the human rights conventions it has signed including article 19 of the universal declaration of human rights: “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.” And article 6 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on December 9, 1998 “The right to receive and disseminate human rights information, and to draw public attention to human rights issues.”

The GCHR and BCHR call on the United States, the United Kingdom, the UN and all other close allies and international institutions to put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to:

1. Immediately release detained human rights defender Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdhah and drop all charges against him. The above mentioned groups believe that these measures have been taken against him solely due to his legitimate and peaceful work in defense of human rights, and freedom of expression in accordance to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; 2. Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and activists including leading human rights defenders Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja. 3. Immediately stop all actions that restrict freedom of opinion and expression, or prevent the transmission of information online. 4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

[1]twitter.com/SAIDYOUSIF/status/280668286281203712 [2]twitter.com/SAIDYOUSIF/status/280664270885240832 [3]twitter.com/SAIDYOUSIF/status/280663305297752064 [4]bahrainrights.org/en/node/5497 [5]marcowenjones.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/soc... [6]alwasatnews.com/3749/news/read.. [7]bahrainrights.org/en/node/5507 [8]bahrainrights.org/en/node/5352