Dr. Ali Fadhul Al Buainain
Kingdom of Bahrain
Dear Dr. Al Buainain:
We are writing you this open letter to express our concerns about the prosecution and pre-trial detention of Sayed Yusuf al-Muhafadha, acting vice-president of the Bahrain Human Rights Centre (BHRC), on charges of “willfully disseminatingfalse news” that amounts to “incitement to violence.”
Security forces arrested al-Muhafadha on December 17, 2012, shortly after a photo of an injured protester was posted on his Twitter account while he was attending a demonstration in Manama to commemorate the death of two protesters in 1994. The message allegedly posted said in English: “I can confirm one shoutgun [sic] injury now in
#Manama.” Below the text was the photo of a man’s legapparently wounded by birdshot pellets.
On December 18 the Public Prosecutor’s Office charged al-Muhafadha on the basis of this photoand placed him in detention for one week, pending investigation. On December 25 the prosecutor renewed the detention for another 15 days.
On December 20, the official Bahrain News Agency quoted the deputy attorney general, Mohammed Salah, as saying that the photo “was contrary to the truth” and that it “resulted in protests and riots that disrupted security and order on the same day.”
Al-Muhafadha’s lawyerMohamed al-Jishi,says that he filed two motions for his client’s provisional release, both of which were denied.
Under article 168 of Bahrain’s Penal Code, as amended and signed into law by the king on October 9, 2012, anyone who willfully disseminates false news knowing that it might result in harm to national security or the public order or safety, faces up to two years in prison and a fine of 200 dinars (US$525 ). The law requires that the dissemination of the false news amount to incitement to violence, with a direct link to its occurrence or to the probability of its occurrence.
According to our information, on December 14 at about 9:15 p.m., security forces used force to disperse a group of about 30 protesters in the Al-Makharqa neighborhood of Manama. At that demonstration a protester was shot in the leg and a picture of his wounded leg was posted on several online forums. On December 17,thesamepicture was posted on Bahrain Online, a popular online forum, with the caption “picture of the injury of one of the youth in Manama with shot gun.”
The photo was firstposted on al-Muhafadha’s Twitter account on December 14. It also appeared on al-Muhafadha’s Twitter post of December 17 while he was attending a demonstration at which security forces did not open fire; this was apparently the basis for the prosecutor’s criminal charges against him.
We are concerned that the case against al-Muhafadha may be motivated by the government’s objections to his long-time human rights work, rather than a genuine determination that his actions violated the law. We note that authorities detained him last month on an accusation of participating in an "illegal gathering," after police arrested him as he was trying to photograph an injured protester. He was freed 12 days later without being tried.
While we recognize the investigatory role of the prosecutor, the information publicly available does not appear to suggest that al-Muhafadha willfully provided false news he knew might harm public order or safety and which directly amounted to incitement to violence.
Our concerns are heightened by his being placed in pre-trial detention whereas the circumstances of this case do not appear to warrant such detention.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in article 9(3) states that “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.” According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors state compliance with the ICCPR, defendants should be released pending trial except where there is likelihood that the defendant will abscond, destroy evidence or influence witnesses.
Finally, we wish to remind you that the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1999, provides that everyone has the right “freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Human Rights Watch shall continue to monitor the case of al-Muhafadha and welcomes your comments on the issues we have raised in this letter.
Thank you for your consideration.
Middle East and North Africa Division
Her Excellency Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo
Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States