(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities arrested four people over social media posts in early March 2023, Human Rights Watch said today. One of those arrested had called for reform of Bahrain’s parliamentary system ahead of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in Manama.
The IPU Assembly, an annual gathering of parliament members from around the world, is taking place in Bahrain from March 11 to 15. The theme for this year’s Assembly is “Promoting peaceful coexistence and inclusive societies: Fighting intolerance.” IPU leaders and delegates to the Assembly should publicly demand that Bahraini authorities abide by the Assembly’s theme, including by dropping all charges against the four men, along with the many other people currently imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
“Holding an assembly that claims to promote inclusive societies in a country that regularly arrests people for speaking their minds has only served to embolden the Bahraini government to continue repressing free speech,” said Niku Jafarnia, Bahrain and Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The current silence of the parliamentary group’s leadership and of the parliament members attending the Assembly is deafening and contributes to Bahrain’s efforts to whitewash its egregious human rights abuses against political opponents.”
The four men arrested include Ebrahim Al-Mannai, a lawyer and prominent activist on Twitter. On March 6, Al-Mannai made a post on Twitter stating that the Bahraini government should reform its parliament if they are “interested in highlighting the Bahraini parliament to the world.” He was subsequently arrested, along with three others for their posts on social media. On March 9, Bahrain’s Public Prosecutor’s Office posted a statement on its Instagram that the four had been arrested for “abusing social media platforms.” Al-Mannai has since been released, while the status of the other three people remains unclear.
The arrests occurred the same week as Bahraini authorities revoked visas that they had previously issued to two Human Rights Watch staff members to attend the IPU, despite Human Rights Watch’s permanent observer status with the IPU.
The arrests, as well as the revocation of Human Rights Watch’s visas, are examples of Bahrain’s restrictions on expression, association, and assembly that violate the country’s international human rights obligations. Opposition voices are systematically excluded and repressed in the country, including through “political isolation laws,” which bar former members of the country’s opposition parties from running for parliament or sitting on boards of governors of civil society organizations, among several other restrictions. Elections are neither free nor fair, and independent media has been effectively banned from the country since 2017.
Bahraini authorities have systematically imprisoned activists, political opposition members, and human rights defenders, including two former parliament members. Human Rights Watch has documented many cases of torture and the denial of medical care for many of those being held. Most recently, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a Danish-Bahraini dual citizen and prominent human rights defender, was denied access to a cardiologist despite urgent heart issues he experienced on February 28. Authorities have further stripped other political opposition members of citizenship, including four former members of the Bahraini parliament.
“The parliament members attending this Assembly should be using these arrests as an opportunity to speak out against Bahrain’s human rights abuses on behalf of the many who cannot,” Jafarnia said. “As long as they do not, the Bahraini government will continue to arrest and abuse those who speak out.”