On March 18, Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, called on the Government of Bahrain to immediately release Zainab al-Khawaja and to drop all charges against her. Bahraini authorities arrested Ms. al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini women’s rights and social media activist, on March 14 in connection to charges she was facing for tearing up a picture of the King. Mr. Forst expressed his concern regarding Bahrain’s Penal Code Articles 214 and 216, which mandate prison sentences or fines for any person who offends the Amir, national flag emblem, or official institution.
Imprisonment for expressing negative opinions regarding these institutions is an ongoing practice in Bahrain used by authorities to silence domestic critics. Zainab al-Khawaja is just the most recent prisoner arrested for expressing her views. With the imposition of the 2002 Press Law and its 2014 amendment, Bahraini authorities have worked to suppress and criminalize any dissent or free political expression. In addition to the anti-terror law, Bahrain has constructed a web of legislation that criminalizes free expression. The Special Rapporteur stated that “the mere fact that a view is considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.” However, Bahraini legislation allows the authorities to do just that: arrest and convict someone based solely on expressing a view deemed insulting.
Tyler Pry is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB
Photo courtesy of Daily Mail