2021 Panorama: 49 Violations against Media Freedom and Tweeters, 31 Summonses, 6 Arrests and 7 Judicial Measures
2023-10-06 - 7:47 p
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): In 2021, Bahrain witnessed 49 violations against freedom of media, opinion, and expression, with half of these incidents related to Internet cases, specifically 26 cases. As revealed by the annual monitoring conducted by Bahrain Press Association (BPA), the majority of documented cases involved summonses for interrogation at police centers and the public prosecution. These summonses targeted citizens expressing their opinions through various channels, notably social media platforms. BPA documented 31 summonses, six cases of detention related to opinion, and seven instances of judicial measures, along with four cases of various violations. Charges brought against those investigated or detained and subsequently convicted in courts or through administrative measures included "criticizing normalization," "questioning the efforts of the National Task Force for Combating the Coronavirus," "insulting the judiciary," "criticizing the interior ministry," and "going against public morals."
The recorded number of violations in 2021 marked a nearly 50% decrease compared to the 111 violations documented in 2020. This decline is attributed to activists and citizens within Bahrain exercising caution in discussions, utilizing pseudonyms, and being mindful of the way they express their opinions, avoiding surveillance by security authorities.
The passing of a parliamentary decree on April 20, 2021, prohibiting members of parliament from "criticizing, blaming, or accusing" the government is a notable example reflecting the stifling atmosphere prevailing in the country. This law, implicitly endorsed by the government, adds to a series of measures that have made criticizing the government, its authorities, and officials exceptionally costly, if not virtually impossible.
The year 2021 saw several summonses for interrogation, including instances such as journalist Jaafar Al-Jamri's interrogation by the Anti-Cybercrime Directorate on January 4th. This was related to a tweet criticizing Bahrain's normalization of relations with Israel. On February 11, 2021, the Directorate summoned Al-Jamri for a second time for interrogation concerning complaints against him by the Ministry of Education after tweeting about "Future Schools." Summonses extended to various individuals, such as nutritionist Dr. Alia Al-Moayad. She was summoned on January 27, 2021, by the Public Prosecution, who accused her of "working against the efforts of the national team to combat the Coronavirus" after she had published a blog about the vaccines used in Bahrain. On March 24, 2021, the Anti-Cybercrime Directorate summoned lawyer Abdullah Hashem for interrogation upon a complaint filed against him by Al-Arabiya's correspondent after he had criticized him in a tweet. On May 11, 2021, the Public Prosecution summoned former MP Mohammad Khaled, a member of the Islamic Minbar Association, for interrogation about retweeting the Kuwaiti writer, Dr. Jassem Al-Jazza, who criticized the Gulf regimes for normalizing relations with Israel. On May 24, 2021, the Anti-Cybercrime Directorate summoned a 52-year-old woman for a tweet that the Directorate deemed as "an insult to a denomination in the country and incitement to hatred of a religious sect." The Anti-Cybercrime Directorate summoned on July 25, 2021 an 18-year-old citizen over charges of "misusing social media platforms" after he photographed mall visitors and negatively spoke about them. The security authorities summoned, between August 10 and 20, 15 eulogy reciters and clerics, interrogated them over charges related to commemorating the Ashura season. Among the summoned were: Sheikh Mahmoud Rayyash, Sheikh Abdulmohsen Mulla Atiya Al-Jamri, Eulogy reciter Mohammad Al-Qallaf, eulogy reciter Saleh Sahwan, eulogy reciter Hasan Nowrouz, eulogy reciter Sayed Ahmad Al-Alawi, Ali Mohammad Al Abbas, Hussein Ali Mohammad Ashour, Kazem Ibrahim Al-Mahdi, Mohammad Abdulhalim Fardan, Ali Ahmad Mahdi, Yousif Ahmad Mahdi, Ahmed Khalil Zainuldin and Sadiq Abdulwahed Marhoun. On October 4, 2021, journalist Saad Rashid was summoned over a lawsuit filed against him by a member of the civil society, and on October 29, 2021, members of the Bahrain Anti-Normalization Society were summoned for organizing an event in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners. Ghassan Sarhan, Ibrahim Kamal al-Din, and Ammar Siyady were interrogated about their invitation to hold an event in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. The Capital Governorate's Public Prosecution summoned (December 8, 2021) 4 defendants for interrogation over accusations of "incitement to commit immorality". They were charged after posting videos on social media that the Prosecution deemed to go against public morality. Moreover, the Public Prosecution summoned (December 14, 2021) the manager of the "Disney nursery", Maryam Rady, after she had filmed a video of the nursery's children discussing domestic social and political issues.
Several arrests took place in 2021, including that of a 44-year-old woman on January 7th for content posted on her Instagram account deemed by the Interior Ministry to "promote immorality." On February 23, 2021, the Ministry of Interior arrested a 35-year-old woman for the same charge after posting a video clip on social media including what the Ministry called "statements that go against public morals."
The Ministry of Interior arrested the Bahraini citizen Mortada Al-Laith on May 13, 2021, for criticizing a Ministry statement about political prisoners. It claimed that there are no political prisoners in Bahrain. Al-Laith said, "the Ministry of Interior states that there is not a single political prisoner. Is it possible, brothers? [...] International human rights organizations, the US Congress and the European Union declare that there are political prisoners."
These incidents highlight a trend where expressing dissenting opinions, especially on social media, led to arrests. On June 23, 2021, the Ministry of Interior arrested the retired naval colonel Muhammad Al-Zayani for posting a video on his "Instagram" account, in which he indirectly addressed corruption in the judiciary, saying, "If a person is corrupt and the judge helps him, then there is corruption." On June 30, 2021, the security authorities arrested the former parliamentarian Osama Al-Tamimi from the hospital, a day after he had published an audio clip accusing the authorities of "injecting him with a toxic substance during his arrest that led to a brain stroke."
The Anti-Cybercrime Directorate arrested (December, 9 2021) a 21-year-old young man it claimed had "offended the Divine Self and incited engagement in acts of immoral behavior by posting immoral images on social media."
Judicial Measures and Penalties
The year 2021 witnessed various judicial measures and penalties, including fines imposed on individuals like Hassan Al-Marzouq, the secretary-general of the Unitary National Democratic Assemblage. Al-Marzouq was ordered to pay a fine after a court decision was issued against him. He was charged over an old tweet he posted about the Diraz siege.
Additionally, a Bahraini court sentenced on March 31, 2021 a woman to six months in prison on charges of "advocating and inciting the practice of adultery" based on a video clip posted on social media. A minor criminal court also sentenced (April 6, 2021) citizen Ahmad Saad to 3 years in prison over "insulting the judiciary". Saad had published a video clip in which he complained about a member of the judiciary following his case in court.
On March 22, Lawyer Abdullah Al-Shamlawi faced a one-year ban from practicing law for tweeting about fasting on the 10th day of Ashura, following a lawsuit filed by the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs and Endowments, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa.
The Minor Criminal Court sentenced (July 8, 2021) activist Muhammad Al-Zayani over charges of showing contempt against a judicial body. The Supreme Court of Appeal (August 3, 2021) upheld his sentence, but later, on October 31, it commuted it to half of the term. The executive judge granted him (November 3) a conditional release under the Alternative Penal Code.
Notably, detained academic and blogger Dr. Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace initiated an open hunger strike on July 8, 2021, after Jaw Central Prison officer, Mahammad Yousef Fakhro, confiscated research he had written in prison on popular proverbs. The Bahraini government's surveillance of Twitter user Yousef Al-Jamri and photographer Musa Abdali, as revealed by a report from the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, Canada, further underscores the challenges faced by individuals expressing dissenting opinions. The report revealed (August 24, 2021) that the Bahraini government had spied on the phone of Al-Jamri, owner of @YusufAlJamri account, as well as Abdali. The government uses an iPhone spyware developed by the Israeli NSO Group.
Ibrahim Al-Sheikh, a former columnist in "Akhbar Al Khaleej" newspaper, confirmed on September 27, 2021, that he remains banned from writing in the newspaper since 2019. Additionally, the Ministry of Justice ordered the cancellation of a webinar on November 10, 2021, titled "The Economic Recovery Plan: An Analytical Vision," in which Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of the dissolved Wa'ad Society, was scheduled to participate.