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Bahrain: Release activist detained for ‘insulting’ government on Twitter

3rd October 2014, 15:28:45 UTC

The Bahraini authorities must immediately release a prominent human rights activist who has been detained for posting tweets deemed insulting to the country’s Ministry of Interior, Amnesty International said today.

Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, could face up to three years in prison for comments he posted online about reports that members of Bahrain’s security forces had joined the Islamic State armed group in Iraq.

“The detention of Nabeel Rajab is yet another serious blow to freedom of expression in Bahrain and entrenches growing attempts by the authorities to muzzle dissenters,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“He must be released immediately and these outrageous charges against him must be dropped.”

Nabeel Rajab, who is also the Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, was summoned for questioning by Bahrain’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) on Wednesday afternoon and remanded in custody overnight.

Yesterday, the Public Prosecution ordered his detention for seven days, pending investigation under an article of Bahrain’s Penal Code that criminalises “offending government authorities, institutions and agencies”.

Laws that prohibit insults or the disrespect of heads of state, public figures, the military, government institutions, flags or symbols are contrary to international law and standards.

“Such repressive laws create an environment where freedom of expression is permanently stifled. These laws should be abolished,” said Colm O’Gorman.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Bahraini authorities to repeal articles in its Penal Code that criminalise freedom of expression.

Nabeel Rajab returned to Bahrain on 30 September after a two-month advocacy tour to a number of European countries to highlight the human rights situation in Bahrain. This included him chairing a panel at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Rajab was released from Jaw Prison in May 2014 after serving a two-year sentence on charges of “illegal gathering”, “disturbing public order” and “calling for and taking part in demonstrations” in Manama “without prior notification”.

Other activists in Bahrain have faced similar persecution.

Maryam Al-Khawaja is on trial on a charge of “assaulting police officers” at Bahrain International Airport. Amnesty International believes she is being targeted for relentlessly exposing the human rights violations taking place in Bahrain since 2011.

Nader Abdulemam is currently detained in Dry Dock Prison after comments he posted on Twitter were interpreted as derogatory towards Khalid bin al-Waleed, a companion of the prophet Muhammad and a renowned Islamic commander. He is charged with “publicly insulting a religious figure of worship”.