Shafaqna Pakistan: The London-based Bahrain Press Association (BPA) documented 15 cases of abuses against journalists, media professionals and tweeters during the first half of 2021. BPA said that the total number of violations since the beginning of the political and security crisis in the country in early 2011 until the end of June 2021, amounts to about 1,721 violations of freedom of opinion and expression. The recorded cases documented by BPA between January and June 2021 were as follows: 6 summonses to police stations or public prosecution offices for questioning, 5 arrests and 4 judicial proceedings and penalties.
The most prominent charges against interrogators, detainees or convicted in the courts or through administrative proceedings were “criticism of normalization”, “questioning the efforts of the National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus”, “insulting the judiciary”, “criticizing the Ministry of the Interior” and “violating public morals”.
Decrease in Violations and Public Affairs Discussions
Compared to previous years, one can notice the decrease in number of cases that can be classified as violations of media freedom and freedom of opinion and expression (78 violations recorded by Bahrain Press Association for the same period last year 2020).
This decrease, according to the association’s report, is not due to the high level of freedoms or easing restrictions imposed by the authorities on criticizing the state and its institutions, but to the withdrawal of most activists and citizens from engaging in public discussions in their names and explicitly and preferring the use of the cautious expressions to avoid being monitored by the security services.
Perhaps the most remarkable example that reflects the country’s stifling atmosphere is the passage of the House of Representatives on April 20, 2021, under the government’s desire, of a decree preventing members of parliament from “criticizing, blaming or accusing” the government. This step is among other steps that have made it very costly, if not impossible, to criticize the government, its bodies and administrators.
“Despite the progress made by the Bahraini government in the alternative penalty law, which has resulted in the release of hundreds of convicts from prisons, those convicted in cases related to freedom of opinion and expression, particularly from opposition political leaders and journalists, are still excluded from this conditional release, although some of them suffer deteriorating health conditions.”
Monster of Electronic Crimes
The report adds: The Department of Cybercrime of the Ministry of Interior plays the greatest role in monitoring and prosecuting government critics, especially on the Internet and virtual public space. The department has broad powers to call, question and stop tweeters on Twitter (the country’s most popular platforms), social media activists and those who express their views on virtual media.
The Bahrain Press Association urged “the government, especially under the new presidency of Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, to take a bold decision to stop the deterioration in media freedoms that has been going on since 2011 by allowing freedoms and reforming the work of the cybercrime department.”
The association called on the relevant government agencies to include opposition leaders and journalists sentenced in cases related to freedom of opinion and expression in the alternative penalty law. It also urged the state to quickly correct the situation of journalists whose nationalities have been revoked abroad, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and law.
Investigation and Interrogation
The association specialized a chapter in its report on investigation and interrogation. It said “on January 4, 2021, the Department of Cybercrime summoned journalist Jaafar Al-Jamri to investigate over retweeting a tweet criticizing Bahrain’s normalization of its relationship with Israel.”
“The Department of Anti-Cyber Crime (February 11, 2021) also summoned Al-Jamri for the second time to investigate him over a complaint filed against him by the Ministry of Education after he posted a tweet about future schools.”
The public prosecutor summoned on (January 27, 2021) nutritionist Alia’a Al-Muayyad and accused her of “working against the efforts of the National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus” after she published a blog post about the used vaccines.
The Department of Anti-Cyber Crime summoned on (March 24, 2021) lawyer Abdullah Hachem to investigate over a complaint brought against him by an Al-Arabiya correspondent after he posted a tweet criticizing him.
On May 11, 2021, the public prosecution also summoned former MP Mohammed Khaled, member of Al-Menbar Society, to investigate him after retweeting a tweet for a Kuwaiti writer, Dr. Jassim Al-Jaza’a, critical to the (Persian) Gulf regimes that had normalized relations with Israel. The Department of Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate summoned on (May 24, 2021) a 52-year-old woman after posting a tweet considered “an insult to one of the country’s sect and incitement to hate a sect.”
On January 7, 2021, the Interior Ministry arrested a 44-year-old woman for broadcasting with others, on her Instagram account, what the interior described as “incitement to degeneracy”.
The Interior Ministry arrested on (February 23, 2021) a 35-year-old woman over the same charge after posting a video on social media containing what it called “expressions contrary to public morals”.
The Ministry of Interior arrested on (May 13, 2021) Mortada Al-Laith after criticizing a statement issued by the ministry in response to the Qatari “Al-Jazeera” channel in which it claimed that there are no political prisoners in Bahrain, where he said “the media in the Ministry of Interior declares that there is not a single political prisoner, is it reasonable? International human rights organizations, the U.S. Congress and European Union say that there are political prisoners.”
On June 23, 2021, the Interior Ministry arrested retired Marine Colonel Mohammad Al-Zayani for posting a video on his Instagram account in which he indirectly addressed corruption in the judiciary.
The security authorities arrested on (June 30, 2021) former MP Osama Al-Tamimi from the hospital, a day after he posted an audio clip accusing the authorities of “injecting him with a toxic substance during his arrest which led to a stroke”.
Judicial Proceedings and Sanctions
The Association reported that the General Department of Investigations and Criminal Evidence obliged on March 22, 2021, the Secretary General of the Al-Wahdawi, Hassan Al-Marzouq, to pay a fine after a sentence was issued against him. Meanwhile, Al-Marzouq said” he knew nothing about the verdict”.
A Bahraini court sentenced on (March 31, 2021) a 44-year-old woman to six months in prison over charge of “advocating and inciting on prostitution” after posting a video on social media.
On April 6, 2021, the Lower Criminal Court sentenced Ahmed Saad to three years in prison over “insulting the judiciary” after he posted a video complaining about members of the judiciary following a case he had in court.
Bahrain Press Association also noted the decision of the Disciplinary Council of Lawyers to prevent lawyer Abdullah Al-Shamlawi from practicing law for one year on the background of a tweet discussing a religious subject related to fasting in Ashura, based on a lawsuit filed by Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa against Al-Shamlawi.
Source; Shafaqna English