and BD500 poorer.
I went to the Public Prosecution office this morning and was there for 8am with plenty to spare. I was led through the corridors and levels of justice up to the 4th floor around 8.30am and sat in a waiting room to await my turn. I invested this time in reading Al-Wasat newspaper which covered this story very well indeed. The GDN and the Bahrain Tribune did too, so thanks go to all of them for their support.
Eventually, the Chief Public Prosecutor for Capital Mr. Wael Buallai invited me to his office to start the proceedings. This is the same gentleman who was given the overall responsibility of overseeing the recent elections in November of last year and I was honoured to meet him. He is a gentleman, very nice and with a charismatic personality. He not only explained to me the charges levied against me and suggested that I could be tried under the Penal Code and/or the Press & Publications Law 47/2002. He then gave me enough time to review the full charges folder before asking me if I needed a lawyer present.
Judging from the charges folder, I thought it would be in my favour to have a lawyer present. I called the lawyer I usually use – who I understand now has not handled a case such as this before – and was grateful for his prompt arrival. He was next door in the courts building.
Soon thereafter the questioning started. It is worth noting that in Bahrain’s law, lawyers present are not allowed to interrupt the public prosecutor during questioning, at all, object to a question nor advise their clients not to answer a particular one! They just sit there until the end of the session at which time they are given the chance to register any complaints and make any demands like asking the prosecutor for a copy of the file and to release the defendant on his own recognizance or on bail, rather than rot in jail over the weekend for instance.
Mr. Buallai is anything but not thorough, he has gone over every word and every sentence written in the original article as well as some of the comments. The whole article and comments were translated into Arabic in the claim’s folder, some of that translation I felt was not correct and he was good enough to register my complaint and record my own translation the article and comments in my words, which I obliged.
At the end of the 3 hours of questioning, he asked us to adjourn to the waiting room for him to deliberate. He did, and decided that this case should be regarded as a misdemeanor and set bail at BD500 (US$1,325).
My lawyer insisted on paying that on my behalf and we walked out.
That’s the end of the story currently. What comes next is that the file goes through to the general prosecutor’s office for them to decide whether to accept the case and go through with it to the courts, or refuse it and close the case. That all remains to be seen over the next few days. Unless of course, the plaintiff drops the defamation case against me, then although his case will be dropped, it is again up to the public prosecutor and in the interest of general public whether to go ahead with it or drop it.
What’s next though? What is Mahmood Al-Yousif going to do? Am I going to change the direction of the blog, will I concentrate on non-political articles, will I stop criticising public officials and government performance, will I go underground, should I have refused to post bail and get thrown into prison for a few days in order to be a martyr for the cause? What’s next?
Next is business as usual as far as I am concerned. One thing I would strongly urge Bahraini bloggers to do is go underground. It is not worth getting yourself known as that will only invite suits as I am experiencing now. They can never sue anonymous persons of course and they know it. But I am absolutely gob smacked that a newspaper owner like the right honourable gentleman here actually going ahead with this suit. It is as if he is inviting chaos to his own paper and journalists.
Regardless; what we need to do now, and particularly I, is find ways in which I can criticise, but also hide under the legal umbrella too in order to allay the chances of this happening again. Therefore, although (in this country particularly) it is much better to stay anonymous and not become legally responsible for your words, I cannot – personally – allow myself to do that. I have always been a known entity, and stand fully behind the words I publish here and elsewhere. Therefore, let me announce that I shall arrange for a workshop to be held as soon as possible and to be run by professional journalists to teach us how to criticise, but not get legally caught for our efforts.
I also firmly do not believe that in order for one to make a point, one must “sacrifice” and spend some time in jail. I believe in working within the system, and as such, I welcome fighting the case in court if it ever gets to that stage, in order to set a legal precedent which could be used as a benchmark for the future, rather than allow myself to be thrown in jail and create a fuss which does not create the required legal precedent, but might satisfy some egos.
Thank you again for your very valuable support.