Said Yousif Interview

28 Jun, 2013

Bahrain: High School Student Sentenced to One Year Imprisonment for a Tweet

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses concern in regards to the ongoing crackdown on freedom of speech on the internet, as another twitter user receives prison sentence.

On 25 June 2013, the lower criminal court headed by a member of the ruling family, Shaikh Rashid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, sentenced child Ali Faisal Alshofa (17 years old), a high school student, to 1 year in prison for insulting the king, Hamad Al-Khalifa, on Twitter.

Ali Al Shofa was arrested in a house raid at dawn on 12 March 2013. He was kept in detention for two months pending investigation, until he was released on bail of BHD 100 on 8 May 2013 while still on trial. Ali was accused of posting an insulting tweeting using the account @alkawarahnews, which he denied relation with, and his lawyer Merfat Janahi submitted evidence that the account is still running by other persons.

The BCHR again points to the blatant absence of any form of independent or fair judiciary system according to international standards; as the judge presiding in the case stems from the same family as the king, the subject of the lawsuit.

Last month, on 15 May 2013, the court sentenced five other twitter users to one year imprisonment each, also on the charge of insulting the king on twitter. (Details on http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/6122). In total, more than 106 months of imprisonment were collectively delivered since June 2012 against twelve online users for charges related to freedom of expression on social network websites. Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, Head of Documentation and Monitoring at the BCHR and acting Vice President, has a case pending in court for disseminating false news on Twitter. He was acquitted by the court, but the public prosecution appealed the acquittal, and the trial will resume on 1 July 2013.

Earlier this month, the BCHR reported the abduction and incommunicado detention of online user Jaffar Al-Demstani on 20 June 2013 for tweeting about the torture of his father, Ebrahim Al-Demstani. (Read more on http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/6188).

The ongoing crackdown on online users and the use of the judicial system to limit their freedom of speech is in direct violation with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19: “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.”

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

  • Immediately release all persons sentenced to prison for their online activities, as well as all other political detainees who are being held for practicing their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are guaranteed by international law.
  • Guarantee the basis of free trials and independence of the judicial system according to international standards.
  • Drop all charges related to freedom of expression in cases that are currently ongoing in court.
  • Withdraw all national and local laws that would restrict freedom of opinion and expression, or prevent the transmission of information.
23 Jun, 2013

Bahrain: Joint Letter from the BCHR and the BYSHR to the High Representative of the European Union

 

Baroness Catherine Ashton

High Representative of the European Union

For Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Vice-President of the European Commission

242, Rue de la Loi

1049 Brussels

 

Manama, 23 June 2013

 

 

Dear High Representative,

 

Ahead of the European Union (EU)-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ministerial meeting scheduled to take place in Manama on 1 July 2013, the undersigned organisations are writing to urge you to make a determined effort in pushing for improvement in the human rights situation in Bahrain, including through the release of all prisoners in Bahrain who are detained solely for peacefully exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. As a first step, we ask you to provide leadership and work together with the 27 EU member states to ensure the adoption of Foreign Affairs Council conclusions on the human rights situation in Bahrain.

Since February 2011, the human rights situation in Bahrain has dramatically worsened, with widespread and serious human rights violations carried out against those who have partaken in or are perceived to have supported pro-democracy protests in the country. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) found evidence of torture, deaths in custody, and arbitrary detention, and concluded that the abuses “could not have happened without the knowledge of higher echelons of the command structure” of the security forces. The government has so far failed to ensure a process of independent review and accountability for individuals, particularly at the command and supervision level, who may be responsible for these violations.  Instead the government has continued a widespread campaign of harassment against opposition activists, demonstrators, and human rights defenders.

On 7 January 2013 Bahrain’s highest court upheld the convictions of 13 leading activists for their role in promoting pro-democracy demonstrations, despite the fact that their offenses consisted solely of peacefully advocating political change. Investigations led by human rights NGOs into the trials of these and other individuals lead us to share the concern expressed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights about the lack of fairness and due process afforded to the defendants and the especially harsh sentences handed down, including seven life sentences   for prominent human rights defenders as well as political opposition leaders such as Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdul-Jalil al-Singace.

The government of Bahrain has attempted to deflect international criticism by accepting 143 of the 176 recommendations during its recent Universal Periodic Review, but for the most part, the authorities deny that human rights violations have occurred and avoided putting its promises for reform into practice, including seriously addressing continuing violations and accountability for past abuses. We remain highly concerned over the lack of independent, effective and transparent investigations with regards to allegations of torture, lack of due process and killings of protestors. Contrary to the government’s assertions, in our assessment the key recommendations made by the BICI are not being implemented.

Bahrain’s imprisonment of dissenting voices has continued with the imprisonment of numerous prominent activists and human rights defenders. These included the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for participating and calling for “illegal gatherings” and Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, sentenced to three months in jail in March 2013 for “insulting and humiliating a public employee”.  Although the Bahrain court of appeal overturned the convictions of 21 medical professionals on March 28, 2013, other medical professionals remain in detention for their role in the protests in 2011, including Dr. Ali Al-Ekri who the court of appeal sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in November 2012.

We express our serious concern over ongoing campaign of judicial harassments against human rights defenders in Bahrain that includes the very recent trial of defender Mohammed Al-Maskati, the President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights on freedom of assembly related charges.

We take note that you have regularly called on the Bahraini authorities to implement the BICI recommendations and have expressed concerns around the sentencing of opposition activists. However, your public statements have failed to make explicit calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the activists. We therefore call on you to use the leverage provided through the upcoming EU-GCC meeting hosted by Bahrain and explicitly call for the immediate and unconditional release of anyone imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights, name the individuals in question and publicly and privately press for their release in advance of the joint EU-GCC meeting.

On 17 January 2013, the European Parliament called on you and EU member states to “actively push for the release of the imprisoned activists” and “to ensure the adoption of Foreign Affairs Council conclusions on the human rights situation in Bahrain, which should include a specific call for the immediate and unconditional release of the imprisoned activists". We urge you to implement the European Parliament’s call and to work together with EU member states for the adoption of Foreign Affairs Council conclusions calling on the government of Bahrain to:

·Release immediately and unconditionally those held for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly;

·Conduct independent, effective and transparent investigations, by an independent body outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office, into all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, and make the results public;

·Ensure that anyone, at any level of the chain of command, who committed, ordered, condoned, or knowingly or negligently failed to investigate alleged human rights violations is held accountable, including through criminal prosecutions;

·Refrain from further use of unnecessary or excessive force against protesters and ensure any members of security forces who use such force are held accountable.

With the adoption of the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy in June 2012, the EU pledged to “place human rights at the centre of its relations with all third countries, including its strategic partners” and to throw its “full weight behind advocates of liberty, democracy, and human rights throughout the world”. In line with this new framework and the EU guidelines on human rights defenders, the EU and its 27 member states have a responsibility to turn these important pledges into concrete action by ensuring a strong and principled EU policy vis-à-vis Bahrain that specifically addresses the situation of human rights defenders and other activists who have been unjustly imprisoned.

Thank you,

Sincerely,

 

Mr. Mohammed Al-Maskati   &n