Among the world dignitaries that joined together in the Paris Unity Rally was Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. Incidentally, Bahrain is the second largest jailer of journalists, per capita, in the world. In fact, just nine days after the march to advocate freedom of expression, Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to a six-month prison sentence – for a tweet.
Nabeel Rajab is a prominent Bahraini human rights activist who had been freed from prison in May 2014 having served two years for taking part in “illegal gatherings”.
On October 1 2014 he presented himself to Bahrain’s General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) having been summoned for questioning. He was interrogated regarding one of his tweets, which alleged that members of Bahrain’s security services have joined up with the Islamic State in Iraq.
He was sentenced to six months for insulting public institutions, under article 216 of Bahrain’s penal code. According to PEN, this prosecution is politically motivated. Evidently, this sentence defies the promotion of freedom of expression that was ostensibly supported by Bahrain’s foreign minister in Paris. Moreover, it is illegal under Bahrain’s commitments to the international community and international human rights law.
Bahrain is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR provides everyone with the fundamental rights to opinion and expression. By prosecuting Rajab for statements that he made over Twitter, the Bahraini government violates its own commitments to the international community.
The international community has heavily criticised the ongoing suppression of basic human rights in Bahrain. In June 2014, 47 United Nations Member States signed a joint statement on Bahrain expressing concern “about the continued harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, including human rights defenders.” That being said, according to Rajab, Britain has done too little regarding matters in Bahrain. Worryingly, this claim of Rajab’s, that Britain has been too silent, rings true not only in Bahrain, but across the Middle East. Its urgent need to be rectified is all too obvious, given the increasingly concerning cases of numerous bloggers and journalists such as Saudi Arabian Raif Badawi’s, to name but one.