In efforts to dispel any criticism towards the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen, Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) warned in 2015 that it would take steps against anyone expressing opinions “against the approach that Bahrain has taken.” Bahraini authorities acted on the warning when they arrested and imprisoned political leader Fadhel Abbas for posting on social media.
Abbas posted a tweet that criticized Bahrain’s involvement in the Saudi coalition. In the tweet, Abbas stated that the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen violated international law, a claim that UN experts now echo. On 26 March 2015, security forces from the MOI arrested Abbas. On 28 June 2015, Bahrain’s criminal court sentenced Abbas to five years in prison for “spreading false information that could harm the military operations of Bahrain and its allies” in Yemen. Since his arrest, Abbas has been navigating a lengthy appeals process where courts continue to postpone his trials. Abbas’ next court is currently scheduled for 26 October 2016, where Bahrain’s High Court of Appeals will issue a verdict. Abbas is currently serving his sentence in Jau Prison.
Abbas is one of a number of individuals targeted by the Bahraini authorities. On 31 October, prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab is set to face trial on charges that carry up to 15 years in prison. One of the charges for which Rajab faces trial relates to a tweet he posted calling attention to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as a result of the Saudi-led war. Other charges are for tweeting about the systematic practice of torture in Jau Prison. Similar to Abbas’ case, the charges violate Rajab’s right to free expression.
Before the Bahraini government arrested him, Abbas was the Secretary-General of the al-Wahdawi opposition society. The government has also targeted other prominent politicians from opposition groups. Among those Bahraini authorities have targeted who’ve been targeted for exercising free speech include Sheikh Ali Salman, head of Al-Wefaq political society, and Ebrahim Sharif, head of the Wa’ad political society.
Fadhel Abbas is one of thousands of prisoners of conscience in Bahrain who remain behind bars for exercising their internationally sanctioned right to free expression. The Government of Bahrain should immediately release Abbas and drop all charges against him, in line with international obligations under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Additionally, the Bahraini government should drop all charges against those sentenced solely for exercising their rights to free speech and release those in prison.