Bahrain Roundup 2020: 111 Violations of Media Freedoms, 51 Judicial Measures, 25 Arrests and 12 Summonses
2021-02-13 - 5:44 p
Bahrain Mirror (Roundup 2020): 2020 witnessed 111 violations of media freedoms and freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain's public and virtual spaces. According to the annual monitoring conducted by the Bahrain Press Association, the cases were divided into 51 judicial procedures or referrals to the public prosecution, 25 arrests, 12 summonses to interrogation, and 23 other violations, including threats, suspension of websites, dismissals and the introduction of legislation that restricts freedoms. The majority of these violations are linked to comments made by citizens or residents on the internet and social media platforms, both related to either internal or regional events. The most prominent pretext used by the Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate to drag tweeters into interrogation, and sometimes turn them over to the public prosecution and courts, is the "misuse social media outlets". It is a broad charge that may include criticizing the performance of state officials or the work of ministries, as well as publishing pornography, defacing of national currency notes, criticizing a social phenomena or publishing historical information that contradicts the official state version. Any form of expression online could be made to fit under the "social media abuse" charge. Here are the details:
Investigation and Interrogation
The Interior Ministry summoned (January 3, 2020) journalist Akil Swar, leader of dissolved Wa'ad Society Yousif Al-Khaja and e-activist Nader Abdulimam after publishing tweets related to the US military operation that led to the death of Iranian military general Qassim Soleimani. The Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate summoned (January 6, 2020) at 1 a.m. Twitter user Khalil Edrabo for publishing a Quranic verse on his Instagram account, commenting on the US military operation. The public prosecution summoned (March 24, 2020) political activist Rida Ali for interrogation over a campaign he had launched on social media demanding the return of Bahrainis stranded in the Iranian city of Mashhad after the closure of airports due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The Interior Ministry summoned (April 7, 2020) the singer known as Hind Al-Bahrainiya and accused her of "publishing false information regarding the conditions of delivery workers". The security authorities summoned (April 27, 2020) journalist photographer Mazen Mahdi for interrogation over tweets he posted on his social media account related to Saudi relation with the Palestinian cause. The public prosecution summoned (June 1, 2020) renowned lawyer Fatima Al-Hawaj for interrogation over expressions she posted on one of her social media accounts which were deemed as "glorification of Qassim Soleimani". The Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate summoned (July 5, 2020) psychiatrist Dr. Sharifa Siwar after she published a video in which she said that she has evidence proving that the Lyrica pills distributed in Bahrain come from the health ministry stores. The prosecution summoned (October 15, 2020) nutritionist Dr. Alia Al-Muayed for interrogation after she published information and advice on alternative medicine following a complaint filed by the National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA). The Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate summoned (November 4, 2020) journalist Jaafar Al-Jamri for posting a tweet critical of the Ministry of Education's project, called "Schools of the Future", following a complaint filed against him by the Ministry of Education. The Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate summoned (December 14, 2020) the former president of the Muharraq Sports Club Fan Association, Saad Mahboub, without presenting any justification.
Public Prosecution and Courts
The First Instance court accused (January 9, 2020) blogger and former candidate Abdullah Al-Sahli and sentenced him to one month in jail with the execution of sentence due to airing a video on social media outlets in which he criticized the president of civil service bureau, dubbing him "Rambo". A Bahraini court sentenced two foreign females (January 16, 2020) to 6 months in jail and ordered their deportation after charging them with "prostitution and promoting prostitution as well as publishing pornographic materials on social media outlets". The Court of Appeals replaced (January 30, 2020) the one-year jail sentence and fine issued against psychologist Dr. Sharifa Siwar, with an alternative sentence for the same period in the case known as the Hamad Town School Incident. The Bahraini Interior Ministry referred (March 16, 2020) 41 notices against citizens (whose IDs remained unknown) to the public prosecution over "spreading rumors" about the Coronavirus. The Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate announced (April 11, 2020) taking legal measures "which it didn't disclose" against a Bahraini citizen, 39, over reposting an old video clip on his social media account related to the desecration of the sanctity of mosques months prior. The first minor criminal court sentenced (April 27, 2020) an Asian national (resident) to 6 months in jail with the execution of sentence and ordered his deportation after the execution of the sentence over the charge of publically assaulting a certain sect. The Cassation Court upheld (August 24, 2020) a one-year jail term against Shiite cleric Abdulmohsen Mullah Atiya Al-Jamri over "insulting Umayyad Caliph Muawiya bin Abi Sufyan". The Court of Cassation overturned (September 21, 2020) the sentence issued against a Bahraini politician who wrote a comment deemed "insulting to the Divine Self" and decided to return the case to the court that issued the sentence in order to issue a new ruling against him. A local court sentenced (October 15, 2020) a 50-year-old citizen to one year in prison and fined him 1,000 dinars for "refusing to wear a mask and filming a video while refusing to do so and challenging a policeman." A local court acquitted (September 29, 2020) lawyer Abdullah Hashem of the charge of "deliberately broadcasting false news". The Third Minor Criminal Court sentenced (November 18, 2020) psychologist Dr. Sharifa Siwar to seven months in jail for posting a video on social media "in which she tried to gain the sympathy of the audience and claim injustice is being practiced against her by accusing staff of perjury made against her."
The Interior Ministry apprehended (March 15, 2020) a person (whose identity it didn't disclose) over the charge of "spreading a rumor about imposing the National Safety law and encouraging people to quickly stock up on food, claiming the exacerbation of the Coronavirus crisis". The security authorities arrested (January 30, 2020) historical researcher, Jassim Hussein Al-Abbas, owner of the famous historical blog "Sanawat Al-Jareesh" for 5 days over the charge of publishing wrong information on social media outlets. The security authorities arrested (May 5, 2020) a foreign woman over what they described as "inciting the practice of acts of public indecency by posting immoral photos on social media outlets." The Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate in the Interior Ministry announced (May 6, 2020) arresting an Asian national who "misused social media outlets" by posting a video involving money defacement while in a car. The Central Investigation Department arrested (May 25, 2020) two Asian nationals (35) over publishing a video which it deemed is "against public decency". The security authorities arrested (May 28, 2020) lawyer Rashid Al-Binali and accused him of "publishing false news via his social media account on the Coronavirus after he said that the virus is a mere lie." The Interior Ministry arrested (June 19, 2020) two Asian nationals over publishing a video that included what it called "currency defacement". The Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate announced (July 18, 2020) arresting an individual (Ahmad Al-Binkhalil, 35) over "publishing a tweet deemed insulting to a certain sect and inciting hatred against it". The security authorities apprehended (August 28, 2020) Dr. Wissam Al-Orayed over the charge of "publicly insulting one of the companions [of the Prophet]" because he read Ziyarat Imam Al-Hussein which Shiites recite, especially in Muharram. The Public Prosecution ordered (September 17, 2020) the arrest of a Bahraini woman pending investigation over "publishing a tweet that infringes on Islam and promotes atheism." The security authorities arrested (September 25, 2020) a 50-year-old man for posting a video in which he "misused social media outlets" after he posted a video showing his refusal to wear a mask. The Interior Ministry arrested (November 11, 2020) 10 people, including director Yasser Nasser, over "publishing offensive and illegal expressions after the death of former Bahraini Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa." The security authorities arrested two people (November 24, 2020) on charges of "misusing social media outlets by posting indecent images."
Threats and other Violations
The Interior Ministry threatened (January 3, 2020) to take "legal measures against everyone who uses social media outlets in violation of public order, to incite sedition and undermine security and stability in Bahrain." Al-Watan newspaper, the mouthpiece of Bahrain's Royal Court, dismissed (January 26, 2020), 12 journalists and employees due to the operational conditions of the company, which had to be restructured. Journalist Nasser Zain lost his job (February 13, 2020) at "Layalina" magazine after it was closed and he lost all his financial dues (8 years) after the Arab-national administrative staff of the magazine left the country. Detained journalist Mahmoud Al-Jaziri, who is serving a sentence in Jaw Central Prison, was punished (April 9, 2020), by being transferred to solitary confinement after a leaked audio clip in which he denounced the claims of the National Institute for Human Rights about the prison's readiness to prevent COVID-19. On April 24, 2020, the Ministry of Interior called for not publishing and circulating a leaked audio message by prisoner Isa Al-Jassim in which he called for amnesty for prisoners to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus in the prison. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development banned (May 9, 2020) an online seminar on anti-normalization with Israel that was broadcast live. The English-speaking Gulf Daily News (July 6, 2020) dismissed two of its photographers, Hawraa Marhoun and Ahmad Rajab, due to the "current economic conditions," as it claims. On July 17, 2020, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (the current PM) issued a decree amending the executive regulations of the Civil Service Act preventing civil servants from criticizing government policy. The General Directorate of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security threatened (October 2, 2020) to pursue what it describes as "suspicious accounts" on social media outlets that "aim at fomenting sedition, threatening civil peace and social fabric, undermining security and stability in the Kingdom of Bahrain", as well as prosecuting followers of these accounts. The Anti-Cyber Crime Directorate of the Ministry of Interior, in coordination with the competent parties, closed (November 11, 2020) a website over disseminating false information about the Coronavirus. The security authorities also blocked (November 22, 2020) the alternative website of the opposition newspaper Bahrain Mirror, whose blocked content visitors inside Bahrain had access to since 2011.