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30 Violations and 14 Arrests of Journalists in Bahrain This Year

The Bahraini Press Association has documented 30 cases of violations against journalists, media professionals, writers, and internet activists in Bahrain during the first half of 2023.

Among these cases, 14 resulted in arrests or interrogations, while 8 cases led to legal proceedings.

The documented violations include instances of mistreatment, obstruction of work, and threats against media professionals.

The charges brought against these individuals include “broadcasting materials contrary to public order,” “disparaging the Islamic faith,” “insulting a governmental entity or official,” “reciting a poem in solidarity with Palestine,” and “broadcasting false news.” These charges are often loosely used to target individuals expressing opinions contradicting government agendas.

With this, the total documented cases of violations of freedom of expression since the outbreak of protests in mid-February 2011 until the end of June 2023 have reached around 1841.

In May 2023, the Ministry of Education and Training summoned a social media user on charges of “spreading false news” after the user criticized the ministry’s changes to school curricula that appeared to endorse government normalization efforts.

However, following intervention from the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who ordered the suspension of these changes, the ministry acknowledged its mistake. It withdrew the controversial textbooks, initiating a committee to review them.

The Bahraini Press Association emphasized the growing number of cases escalated to investigations or court proceedings following complaints from the Ministry of Education and Training.

The new Minister of Education and Training, Mohamed bin Mubarak, who assumed office in March 2021, does not seem tolerant of dissenting opinions. He adopts policies that are extreme when it comes to critics of his ministry, despite being a former journalist himself until recently.

The association pointed out that such actions only contribute to increasing tension in the country and exacerbate existing deep-rooted problems.

The Bahraini Press Association stressed that the ministry could have taken a different approach and set an example of national education by allowing open dialogue and differing opinions. However, this seems to be a distant possibility for now.

Interrogations and Arrests:

On February 7, 2023, the Cyber Crimes Unit summoned the President of the Bahrain Journalists Union, Younis Al Muharraqi, after the company he criticized filed a complaint against him on his social media account, demanding overtime pay for employees.

On March 8, 2023, seven individuals were arrested and interrogated for seven days by the Cyber Crimes Unit, including lawyer Ibrahim Al Manae and three others, on charges of “misusing social media by broadcasting materials contrary to public order.”

On March 15, 2023, the Cyber Crimes Prosecution ordered the seven-day detention of a suspect. It referred him to the Lower Criminal Court, Third Circuit, for “using inappropriate language that discredits lawyers” on social media.

On April 13, 2023, the security authorities arrested Islamic singer Abdul Amir Al-Buladadi for seven days, later extended to 15 additional days, for reciting a poem in solidarity with Palestine.

On April 13, 2023, security forces arrested prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed Sanqoor for “delivering, broadcasting, and disseminating a sermon on social media.”

On April 19, 2023, the Public Prosecution ordered the detention of tribal leader Mutsheer Rafe Dindel on charges of “collecting money without a license and spreading false news and claiming authority.”

On May 8, 2023, the Ministry of Education and Training referred a social media user to the General Directorate of Cyber Crimes for publishing information about changes to school curricula to promote normalization with Israel.

On May 22, 2023, the security authorities arrested Shia religious figure Sheikh Mohammed Sanqoor for “reciting a poem and broadcasting it on social media.”

Legal Proceedings:

On February 22, 2023, the Third Minor Criminal Court sentenced a woman to two months in prison with immediate effect. It confiscated her mobile phone for “publishing indecent images on her personal social media account.”

On March 30, 2023, the Court of Cassation sentenced an unidentified citizen to one month in prison for “insulting an official from a government entity” on Instagram.

On March 30, 2023, the Fourth Minor Criminal Court convicted three members of the Bahrain Renewal Cultural and Social Association, Radha Rajab, Mohammed Rajab, and Jalal Al Qasab. It sentenced them to one year in prison for “offending one of the religions and deriding its rituals” in connection with a previously upheld court ruling.

On May 4, 2023, the Fourth Minor Criminal Court sentenced a suspect to three months in prison, suspended, on charges of “intentionally annoying lawyers through social media.”

On June 30, 2023, the Court of Cassation upheld the final sentence of one-month imprisonment for a Twitter user for “insulting a governmental entity, the Ministry of Education and Training, via Instagram.”

These incidents illustrate the ongoing challenges journalists and media professionals face in Bahrain, who continue to threaten their freedom of expression and face arbitrary arrests and legal harassment for expressing dissenting opinions.

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