On 23 July 2016, Bahraini authorities arrested Khalil al-Ismael as he was leaving the village of Diraz, where many Bahrainis are protesting the government’s revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s Bahraini citizenship. Bahraini authorities charged Ismael with attending an “illegal demonstration” and reading a “political poem” out loud. Al-Ismael’s lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer, who himself is under a travel ban, claims al-Ismael is a resident of Diraz and was arrested at a checkpoint as he was leaving the village. Al-Tajer stated that al-Ismael knew he “would be arrested eventually” due to his poetry, the content of which, frequently addresses human rights violations in Bahrain.
Khalil al-Ismael’s arrest is the latest in a series of attacks on free expression and free speech in Bahrain. On 13 June 2016, Bahraini authorities arrested founder and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Nabeel Rajab, for tweets critical of the Bahraini government. Bahraini authorities placed Rajab in solitary confinement. After fifteen days in solitary confinement, Nabeel was hospitalized due to heart complications.
On 29 June 2016, Bahraini authorities stopped France24 journalist Nazeeha Saeed from leaving Bahrain. On 17 July, 2016, Bahraini authorities charged Saeed with practicing journalism without prior official permission from the Information Affairs Authority, thereby violating Article 88 of Bahrain’s Press Law 47/2002. Bahraini authorities previously detained and tortured Saeed in 2011 for her coverage of the mass protests at the Pearl Roundabout.
The Government of Bahrain’s prosecution of journalists, poets, and human rights defenders for their speech contravenes its international human rights obligations. Bahrain is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The ICCPR provides that everyone shall have freedom of expression through art, oration, or writing. Parties to ICESCR are expected to respect free creative activity. The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) also states that all human beings should enjoy freedom of speech. Bahrain should take steps to protect free speech for ordinary citizens, journalists, and artists. Bahrain should heed the concerns expressed by the United Nations, the United States, and the United Kingdom regarding its persecution of free expression.
Jaskirat Singh is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB