Bahrain: Extended Detention for Human Rights Defender Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha for Exposing Human Rights Violations During a Protest via Twitter

Photo: HRD Said Yousif Muhafdhah holding a poster in a protest Date : 09 Jan 2013 Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah, human rights defender and the Acting Vice President and Head of Documentation Unit of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was arrested while monitoring a protest in Manama on 17 Dec 2012 and tweeting about the attacks on protesters and violations to their rights. 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 received a detention order of 7 days pending investigation. On the end of his 7-day detention, the public prosecution extended his detention for another 14 days. Today (9th of January, 2013) Al-Muhafdha stood in front of the Lower Criminal Court on, on the same charges, which is the same process that the President of the BCHR Nabeel Rajab went through before he was first sentenced to 3 years in prison. The Lower Criminal Court adjourned for another session on 17th Jan 2013 with continued imprisonment. Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah is being kept in Hoora police station , according to his family members. The BCHR believes that his detention is an attempt to prevent his work as a human rights defender where he has exposed many of the systematic human rights violations ongoing in the country.

The charges against Al-Muhafdhah’s of “disseminating false news over Twitter” claim that he published a photo of an injured protester, which was allegedly altered.

The photo seen in a report mentioned by the BCHR was confirmed by members of the BCHR to have happened and was documented. The injured protester was being reviewed by several medical staff volunteers away from government hospitals fearing arrest.

In the lead-up to his arrest, Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah wrote through his Twitter account @SAIDYOUSIF about statements and accusations made by high officials in the Bahraini regime, as well as prominent members of society, that were found by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), international human rights organizations, or local independent investigations to be not true, and consequently caused enormous damage to the society in Bahrain. Some of the authority figures and government agencies that Said Yousif mentioned in his postings, and were found by the (BICI) or other independent investigations to be disseminating false news, are:

• The Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs: Khalid Bin Ali Al-Khalifa

• The Minister of Social Affairs: Fatima Al-Balloshi

• The Ministry of Interior official twitter account

• The Bahrain Information Affairs Authority official twitter account

The false news published by these officials were in the form of: official statements, personal statements, press conferences, photos and video publications. None of the authority figures or government agencies mentioned above or any other figure of authority working for the Bahraini government, or in support of the authorities, has been investigated or held accountable for the damages caused to the Bahraini people and Bahraini society by disseminating false news.

The BCHR believes that Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah has been targeted in this campaign of judicial harassment mainly due to his human rights activities in reporting and documenting human rights violations and that his arbitrary detention is intended to suspend these legitimate activities, at a time that other leading human rights defenders are also imprisoned including the co-founder of the BCHR and the GCHR Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and the President of the BCHR and the Director of GCHR Nabeel Rajab.

The BCHR reiterates their 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 BCHR believes 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, and Nabeel Rajab.

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 are free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.