10 October 2016 – Bahraini authorities arrested journalist and social media activist Faisal Hayyat yesterday after he was summoned over a tweet. The Public Prosecution today remanded Hayyat in custody for one week on charges of insulting a sect and a religious figure. The undersigned NGOs condemn Bahrain’s ongoing criminalization of freedom of expression and targeting of opposition activists. His case has been transferred to the Criminal Court.
Hayyat is a former sports journalist and a social media activist who directs and presents short video programs online that provide critical perspectives on local politics. On 9 October 2016, Hayat tweeted at 4AM that he had been summoned via a phone call to immediately present himself to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID). He was subsequently arrested. In a statement, the Ministry of Interior announced the arrest of “a man suspected of publishing a Tweet containing defamatory statements against a particular sect in Bahrain.”
Hayyat is a previous political prisoner. The Bahraini government detained him in 2011 for 84 days. Hayyat suffered physical and psychological torture, including sexual harassment. He has been vocal about this and recently published a letter on social media to the Bahraini Minister of Interior detailing the torture to which he was subjected in 2011. Government authorities never provided compensation for the abuse and never held the officials accountable. In the letter Hayyat mentions, “I write this and I know it can cost me my freedom.”
The official charges are in relation to a tweet on Hayyat’s twitter account around a controversial historical figure. However, the undersigned NGOs believe Hayyat has been targeted as part of a silencing campaign against critical voices of the government. There are currently at least 18 internet users detained for charges related to freedom of expression online, including the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)’s President Nabeel Rajab. (Read BCHR’s report: “Digital Rights Derailed in Bahrain.”)
The Ministry of Interior added that “the arrest comes as part of an effort to reduce sectarian language on social media.” BCHR has been monitoring the increasing hate speech over social media and the selective measures taken by the authorities targeting certain political opponents and activists with arrest and imprisonment for mere personal opinions while ignoring thousands of messages containing hate speech.
Hayyat could face charges under article Article 309 of the Penal Code, which states: “A punishment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding BD 100 shall be given to any person who commits an offense by any method of expression against one of the recognized religious sects or ridicules the rituals thereof.”
The Government of Bahrain’s actions are in direct violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression over any platform. It states that “this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of the frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of his choice.”
The undersigned NGOs call on the Bahraini government to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Faisal Hayyat, Nabeel Rajab, and all internet users arrested and imprisoned for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression; and
- Abide by international human rights standards, including the ICCPR, by upholding the right to freedom of expression without any restrictions.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)