Osama Muhana al-Tamimi, a former member of the Bahrain Council of Representatives who is known for his criticism of the government, has been a target for ongoing harassment and intimidation since 2012. His treatment unfortunately comes as no surprise, as it reflects the current state of repression experienced by Bahraini citizens and is indicative of the Bahraini government’s need to silence any independent thinking or dissent.
Al-Tamimi entered the Bahrain Council of Representatives in 2011, and during a 2012 speech to Parliament he called for the resignation of Bahraini Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman AlKhalifa – the world’s longest serving unelected Prime Minister who has held the position since 1971. Several days following his speech, one of his businesses, Caliber Gym, was struck with roughly 30 bullets by an unknown assailant. Then, a few months later, al-Tamimi was shot at by an unknown assailant while driving on the highway. No suspects were identified and no charges have been raised in either of the shooting incidences. Since 2012, the Bahraini government has also subjected al-Tamimi to a smear campaign – using government-linked news outlets to fabricate accusations against him.
The efforts of Bahraini authorities did not silence al-Tamimi, and in another Parliamentary speech on 11 February 2014, he called for the release of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison on charges of “illegal gathering” and “disturbing public order” for organizing and taking part in three demonstrations in Manama without prior notification. On 20 May 2014, the Council of Representatives removed al-Tamimi from Parliament in a secret vote following deliberations that were closed to the press.
Though he was no longer a Member of Parliament, al-Tamimi continued to be targeted for his activism. In November 2016, he was sentenced to a month in prison for “insulting” a police officer. Upon his release in 2017, after completing his sentence, he was forced by Bahraini officers to pay a fee to the police station or risk being re-imprisoned.
On 15 June 2019, police in uniform and driving unmarked cars stopped al-Tamimi on a public road and demanded his national ID and cellphone. While he gave over his ID, he refused to give over his cellphone without a warrant. He left the scene in his car and was followed aggressively by police vehicles. Later that day, al-Tamimi went with his family to the United States (US) Embassy, seeking physical protection and political asylum. The Embassy instead called the police to remove him from the premises. Over the past two months, government agencies have arbitrarily summoned al-Tamimi for questioning.
The targeting of former Members of Parliament (MP) is not just limited to al-Tamimi. On 8 November 2018, former Bahraini MP Ali Rasheed al-Asheeri tweeted his decision to boycott the upcoming Parliamentary elections on the grounds they would be neither free nor fair. The Bahraini government deemed these tweets to be “critical of the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections” and on 13 November 2018, al-Asheeri was summoned to the Public Prosecutors Office for interrogation. Ali Rasheed al-Asheeri was arrested and released three days later after paying BH500 for bail.
The lengths taken to suppress freedom of expression in Bahrain will only exacerbate the repressive climate of the country. The Government of Bahrain should end their crackdown on civil society and allow avenues for peaceful criticism. The continued harassment faced by former MP al-Tamimi, including smear campaigns, shooting incidents, removal from office, prison sentences, and targeting by police, have all been attempts to silence his activism and must stop.
Tia Jackson is an Advocacy intern at ADHRB.