Bahraini human rights defender Ghada Jamsheer is in danger of being re-arrested following the decision of an appeals court to increase her sentence. The charges are in relation to several tweets attributed to Jamsheer in which she accused the royally-operated King Hamad Hospital of corruption. Jamsheer leads a network of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) called the Women’s Petition Committee. She has been an outspoken critic of abuse by authorities in the Bahraini government since 2005.
Bahraini forces first arrested Jamsheer in 2014 after officials accused her of defamation for tweets she posted. She was released after spending 10 weeks at Isa Town Detention Center. Twelve hours later, Bahraini forces rearrested Jamsheer and accused her of assaulting a female police officer. Both Jamsheer and her lawyers reject this claim, stating the Bahraini government has yet to produce “sufficient evidence.” Jamsheer spent the next three months in prison until being released on house arrest in December 2014.
Jamsheer attempted to travel to France in December 2014 in order to receive medical treatment. Prior to her trip, she received assurances from the Deputy Interior Minister that she would be allowed to leave the country. Upon her arrival at the Bahrain International Airport, authorities barred her from leaving.
In May and June 2015, Bahraini courts handed down a one year suspended sentence for assault and a one year sentence for tweets. On 21 June 2016, Bahrain Second High Criminal Court upheld Jamsheer’s one year sentence on appeal. The High Court’s ruling means that Jamsheer is at risk for arrest by Bahraini authorities at any time.
Bahraini courts’ sentencing of Jamsheer is one in a number of several acts of reprisal against WHRDs. During Jamsheer’s legal proceedings, she referenced other WHRDs: “They want to jail me on my birthday just like Zainab al-Khawaja, to send a firm message.” Bahraini authorities have arrested and detained Zainab multiple times over the past several years. Most recently, police detained Zainab in March 2016 for nearly two months with her infant son before she was released from prison due to international pressure. She has since been forced into exile. Bahraini authorities have also targeted Zainab’s sister and fellow WHRD Maryam al-Khawaja. Police arrested Maryam in 2014 for allegedly “assaulting an officer.” Courts sentenced Maryam in absentia to one year in prison; if she returns to Bahrain, she would be at risk of re-arrest.
As the Government of Bahrain continues its pattern of silencing peaceful dissent, the international community must call for the charges against Jamsheer to be dropped. Additionally, Bahrain must release all political prisoners targeted for exercising their internationally-sanctioned right to free expression and peaceful human-rights activism.