Tag Archives freedoms

Bahrain Journalists Sydicate Statement of Support

I am very grateful for the statement by the Bahrain Journalists Syndicate released to the press today in which they express unequivocal support to Bahraini journalists and writers who have been penalised for simply voicing their opinions which are supposed to be be guaranteed by our Constitution.

I am also very grateful indeed to everyone who called and wrote to offer their support both locally and internationally. This support is much needed at the moment.

I am also indebted to the Bahrain Human Rights Society who not only offered their moral support, but also have placed their legal representation team on alert to take up and defend the case on my behalf.

نقابة الصحافين تتضامن مع حسن، «العرادي»، السواد واليوسف

تابعت نقابة الصحافيين البحرينية (قيد التأسيس) بقلق شديد جملة من التطورات والإجراءات التي مست صحافيين وكتابا بحرينيين في الآونة الأخيرة وتعبر في مجملها عن مؤشرات مقلقة للغاية حيال حرية التعبير وتضييقا على الصحافيين والكتاب في عملهم.

وقالت النقابة في بيان أصدرته أمس إنها تابعت ”بقلق ما تعرض له الزميل مكي حسن عضو الأمانة العامة للنقابة والصحافي في أخبار الخليج من هجوم من قبل افراد على خلفية قيامه بعمله وآرائه السياسية (..) كما تابعت النقابة بقلق أيضا استدعاء النيابة العامة للزميل احمد العرادي والزميل محمد السواد من صحيفة ”الوقت” والتحقيق معهما على خلفية نشرهما اخبارا في الصحيفة (..) وتابعت النقابة أيضا خبر استدعاء محمود اليوسف للتحقيق على خلفية قيامه بنشر أخبار في مدونته على شبكة الانترنت”.

وأوضحت نقابة الصحافيين على انها ”اذ، ترصد هذه التطورات، فإنها ترى ان التعرض للصحافيين على خلفية القيام بأعمالهم وعلى خلفية معتقداتهم السياسية مثلما جرى مع الزميل مكي حسن مساس وانتهاك صارخ لحرية التعبير وحرية الرأي يزيد في خطورته انه صادر من مواطنين مما يضاعف من خطورة شيوع نزعات الاقصاء وعدم الاعتراف بحق الآخرين في الاختلاف او التعرض لهم بسبب قيامهم بأداء واجبهم.

وأكدت النقابة أيضا ”أن استدعاء صحافيين يقومون بتأدية واجبهم في اطلاع الجمهور على ما يجري من أخبار وتطورات لا يمكن الا ان يثير القلق من المقاييس التي تتعامل بها الجهات الرسمية مع النشر، ويثير أيضا مخاوف من اتجاه للتضييق على النشر والحق الثابت دستوريا للناس في المعرفة”.

Al-Waqt :: 12 Feb, ’07

Thank you.

bin rajab libel archive

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Freedom of Speech on the wane in Bahrain

Al-Wasat‘s cartoon today is rather appropriate and indicative of what a large part of society is feeling:

Freedom of Speech cartoon at Al-Wasat newspaper 11 Feb 07

Two supposed journalists are asking the person in the middle for a statement, and you can see what the poor guy in the middle (society?) is thinking of if they do dare open his mouth.

Has treading carefully become a way of life for Bahrain now? Whatever happened to the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech?

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Out on bail

UPDATE: [email protected]:28 It seems that this story is coming to an amicable conclusion due to sincere efforts of intermediaries in the next couple of days, where the plaintiff is said to have accepted to drop the case against Mahmood Al-Yousif in return for removing certain words from the original post published on Dec 22nd, 2006.

Thanks to everyone for their unstinting support and friendship.

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.

Public Prosecution

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.

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INTERROGATED!

I was a guest of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Adliya this morning. I was called yesterday and asked – very politely – to present myself at the CID’s Anti-Economic Crimes Unit “for a chat and some tea” which I accepted with alacrity and with not a little trepidation. The fear; however, was unfounded.

I was received in a professional manner and the gentleman chatting with me – I can’t call it an interrogation really, there were no plastic hoses in sight and I was offered tea and sat on a comfortable sofa in his office.

The questions were like those received from a journalist or a friend: when did I leave Gulf Air, why did I do so, how is the business doing and that sort of chit-chat. The the questions came into the “libel” area and how I understood the law concerning libel, needless to say the warning bells increased in intensity at this point! I asked the captain where he was going with this stream of questions and if there is actually a charge being levied against me, by whom and why.

After a few minutes more of chit-chat about the law and how we should all respect each other, and that practically I should understand that the level of freedoms we enjoy in Bahrain – although not as high as Europe and the States – they are still high enough but we should also understand when to stop. We also have customs and laws against besmirching people’s reputation, etcetera.

I agree, I said. Those were all facts and my understanding of the law – although superficial – is still solid enough to understand the conditions of libel. For instance, if you claim that someone is a rapist, you better have the proof ready to back your claim up, otherwise you should be penalised in some way for besmirching that person’s reputation. That’s all common sense, otherwise we will have chaos. For the life of me I cannot fathom what the captain was going about, I have become a lot more careful how I write in this blog, because whether I like it or not, it has got some degree of fame and following and I strive to be more responsible in my writing and even think in a journalistic sense. It’s not as fun as the early days of course where I can rant and rave like the best of them… but I learnt the hard way that showing respect to those you write about, even if I do not agree with them, packs a stronger punch than calling them names.

I also hope, as I have emphasised time and again, that public figures – especially – should accept criticism, no matter how hard that becomes, because people are actually criticising the position more than the person himself in most cases. Over-sensitivity of public figures is uncalled for and counterproductive. Just imagine for instance if HH the Prime Minister or HM the King responded with libel cases for every time they came under harsh (and sometimes very impolite – to say the very least) criticism, the courts will overflow with these cases, would they not?

HE Mansour bin Hassan bin Rajab, the Minister of Municipalities & Agriculture, Bahrain

Well, a public figure has taken umbrage with what I have written against him, and rather than contacting me to complain, or even entered a public comment refuting what I have written, he went through the legal route and lodged a case against me with the police, which is fully his right of course; however, that is not going to change the subjectivity of calling someone “stupid” or any other adjective used to describe someone or change the fact of his performance in the previous Shura council nor the fact that he has had business cases levied against him at some point of his life.

I am rather disappointed with this situation of course and I am unsure what The Right Honourable Minister His Excellency Mr. Mansour bin Hassan bin Rajab, Esquire, is going to gain from this. This action to me is nothing more than trying to shut his critics up by force of law – if any of these cases actually go to court in the first place – waste the courts’ time and efforts as they do have much more important cases going through them that take years, or at best terrorise his critics into submitting to never criticising him again! Well, this ain’t gonna work with me! I criticise to better this country as a concerned citizen, and shall continue to do so regardless of these frivolous cases.

And why pick on me? Well, I am known! Hence, I am an easy target. I am sure I can bring out several comments and posts written by anonymous persons in the multitude of fora within and without Bahrain which he just could not touch; but Mahmood Al-Yousif, ah! he’s exposed! un-anonymous! known! and we have his full contact details, his family and his points of views, so let’s attack him! Let’s make an example of him!

Further, I have suspected that ministers of the realm do not have the time of day to scratch an itch, let alone cruise websites and personal blogs routing through them with fine tooth combs looking for perceived libelous material against their exalted personalities. Judging by this incident, I know now that I am sorely mistaken. But as I have criticised other ministers over the lifetime of this blog, and none bothered to take me to court or lodge a complaint against me with the police, let me revise that assessment and not generalise but specify that maybe, actually in all probability, understand that only this particular minister is not being kept busy enough! Mr Prime Minister, can you give him more “portfolios” to fill his time? Please? Maybe then he would pay more attention to his job, better his ministry and staff to get them all (including himself) to provide the necessary services to the community with alacrity and expeditiously.

Driving back from Manama an hour or so ago I was caught in an almighty downpour. I am sure he could utilise his time (stop reading here Your Excellency and get your job done!) and provide the necessary services and funding for the municipal councils or contracted companies to remove the resulting stagnant waters, and maybe use your position to think of practical solutions to utilise this precious water rather than wasting it as usual in a country suffering from virtual drought?

I shall present myself at the Public Prosecutor tomorrow morning at 8AM promptly as instructed, and it will only be my pleasure to talk to the assigned person to this case and shall come back and write about my experience so that people will see how you personally have contributed to the “betterment of Bahrain.”

Your Excellency (I know you are still reading this) accept this as advice from a concerned citizen: concentrate on doing your job and do it well and wealth of reputation will come to you uncalled for and unbidden. Pursue your differences with opinion writers (professional or normal concerned citizens) and all you will do is damage your already frayed reputation.

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Enemies of the State

Bahrainis Dr. Mohammed Saeed and Hussain Al-Habshi start serving their time in prison today for voicing their political opinions. The first for a year, the second for 6 months. Isolated from their jobs, their families and their community simply for voicing a political opinion which the government interpreted as tantamount to carrying arms and forcibly mounting a coup to change the ruling regime.

For just printing and wanting to distribute a document written by a dissident – a national figure nonetheless – calling for the boycott of the recently held national elections.

Even after more than 160 people signed a petition and 49 prominent human rights organisations from all over the world have demanded their release as they believe this was a political case or opinion suppression which countermands Bahrain’s signed and accepted UN Human Rights agreements, it being on the UN Human Rights Council and heading the United Nations. Other than countermanding our own charter and constitution, that is.

For those who say that this is not a politicised case and that the judiciary is in fact independent, let me remind you of a few things that might call that opinion into question: known and documented torturers still walk freely amongst us with impunity, someone who had a gun and live ammunition with probable intent to use them gets 8 days remand in custody and released, high-level embezzlers get rapped on their knuckles – by the same court – and let go, wife abusers get fined BD20 and let go, child rapists get lenient sentences, thieves probably get less time for burglaries and many more examples you read in the papers almost every day.

Yet, call for a boycott – which is a valid and legitimate political opinion – even on a second-hand basis as in this particular case, and you get to be the guest of His Majesty for up to 7 years. I suppose we should be thankful that Mohammed Saeed only got 1 year in prison while his companion Hussain Abdulaziz gets only 6 months.

I wonder how many years I would get to be a guest of His Majesty if they rifled through my posts on this site… That’s a prospect I do not relish finding out.

Maybe it’s time to shut up, keep our heads down, and mind our own business.

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Bahrain jails political activists

A court in Bahrain on Wednesday sent two political activists to jail for possessing leaflets calling for a boycott of recent legislative elections, their lawyer said.

Mohammed Saeed Al Sahlawi, a dentist, received a one-year jail sentence while insurance executive Hussein al Hibshi was sentenced to six months in prison, lawyer Mohammed Ahmad told AFP.

“This ruling is unfair and illogical. It bypassed the defence argument… that the defendants were only exercising their right to free expression and that the material seized in their possession stressed the need to abide by peaceful means in expressing views,” Ahmad said.

“We have no choice but to appeal the ruling,” the lawyer added.

New York-based Human Rights Watch had on Tuesday urged Bahrain to drop the charges against the two political activists, who went on trial on January 7 on charges of possessing unlicensed leaflets ”containing inflammatory material and false information.”

The pair were arrested last November 16 after being found with leaflets that called for a boycott of the November 25 legislative polls.

They were charged under articles of Bahrain’s penal code which ”criminalise the dissemination and possession of materials that could “damage the public interest’,” HRW said.

The Shiite-led opposition won control of more than 40 percent of seats in parliament, which however has to share its legislative powers with an upper chamber appointed by the king.

The arrangement prompted a boycott of 2002 polls, the first since the parliament was scrapped in 1975. Some of Bahrain’s opposition kept up the boycott because demands for constitutional changes were not met.
Khaleej Times :: 31 Jan, ’07

Disgusting. Another blow for freedom of speech in Bahrain.

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Please sign the petition to release the Bahraini prisoners of conscience

Dr Mohammed Saeed, Bahraini detainee of conscience

A letter is being sent to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa petitioning his majesty to stand with the freedoms of expression guarantees by his constitution and to release the two prisoners of conscience: Dr. Mohammed Saeed and Hussain Abdulaziz.

Both gentlemen are being accused of a plethora of traitorous offenses which could land them in prison for a long time and ruin their chances of ever becoming productive and patriotic elements of the Bahraini society, simply for voicing their opinions as guaranteed by human rights declarations and our constitution.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Voltaire

Regardless of how we stand ourselves on political issues, we must recognise, accept and support the right of others to voice their points of view even if we do not agree with them. Throwing people in prison for voicing their opinions only aggravates and already very tenuous situation, rather than ameliorate passions and support voices of reason to find ways out of bottlenecks.

Please do read the petition and sign your name if you wish. Everyone’s support is valuable. I hope the right thing is done in this situation by releasing the detainees. We need good news in this country for a change.

Release Mohammed and Hussain please!

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2006 Press Freedom Index released

There is marginal improvement in this year’s Bahrain Press Freedom Index released by RSF. In 2006 we gained a few places up to 111, but to put this rank in perspective, I have compiled the following table to show how bad our position is compared to Kuwait, the Emirates and Qatar:

Press Freedom Index 2006

Country20062005200420032002
Bahrain11112314311767
Kuwait738510310278
Saudi Arabia161154159156125
Qatar8090104115-
Emirates77100137122-
Oman---152-

What affected our rank in 2006 is mainly the vicious attack by the Ministry of Information on websites and blogs which it arbitrarily blocked without any recourse to the judicial authorities. Their are about 20 sites blocked now (listed in the sidebar) most probably due to their political or (ir)religious content, thereby, the Ministry continues to try to control our thoughts through the use of telex-age modes of thinking in the Internet 2.0 age!

What can we deduce from these rankings now?

Very basically, it seems that a “non-democratic” countries like Qatar and the UAE are outstripping us consistently. Their rankings are improving year on year. The only other democracy on this side of the Gulf, Kuwait, is also exhibiting wonderful improvements over the last 5 years. While we, in Bahrain, the supposed democracy that was once lauded by the Almighty Bush are continuously on the decrease, our current position of 111 is no where near the Euphoric rank of 67 achieved in 2002.

We have a lot to do to regain that rightful position, and the formula for re-achieving that position is rather simple in theory and practice:

  • remove the current Press & Publications Law by Decree number 47 of 2002
  • remove jail penalties on journalists and freedoms of expression
  • ensure that only the independent judicial authorities have the power to shut down papers and judge libel cases rather than the Minister of Information
  • remove the restriction on Internet sites completely, any blocking attempt is futile anyway as it is extremely easy to go beyond a block in the first place using simple and available tools

Is anyone listening?

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First ministerial lapse of reason of the season

And it belongs to (tat tarat taraaaaa):

Mansour bin Rajab with Municipal officials

أكد وزير شؤون البلديات والزراعة منصور بن رجب حق أعضاء مجلس النواب في‮ ‬مساءلة الوزارة،‮ ‬قائلاً‮: »‬لا‮ ‬يوجد أي‮ ‬تقصير من وزارة البلديات بخصوص تجمع الأمطار التي‮ ‬هطلت على المملكة مؤخراً‮«‬،‮ ‬مضيفاً‮ ‬أن‮ »‬أي‮ ‬تقصير من الوزارة سنعترف به‮«.‬
جاء ذلك على خلفية ما‮ ‬يتوارد من أنباء حول مساءلة وزيري‮ ‬شؤون البلديات ووزير الأشغال والإسكان من قبل مجلس النواب بسبب الأضرار التي‮ ‬خلفتها الأمطار على بعض الأسر البحريني

Al-Ayam :: 22 Dec, ’06

DISCLOSURE:
6 May, ’07: Due to a libel case brought against me by the Right Honourable Minister of Municipalities and Agriculture, the exalted Mr. Mansour bin Hassan bin Rajab, Esq. I have had to amend the original article by altering some descriptive words and removed an explanatory sentence He has taken umbrage with.
This is part of the agreement to rescind the libel court case brought against me by the RH Minister.

The honourable brand new minister (it’s the guy in the middle with the rather fetching grin), who was an insignificant member of the previous Shura council with nary a proposition to his name, declared thus in the above paragraph during an award ceremony for previous municipal officials he patronised that “There is no default whatsoever from the Ministry of Municipalities and Agriculture in removing the various collections of water due to the recent rains“.

CLOSE YOUR MOUTH GODDAMMIT! The minister said so didn’t he?

He obviously hasn’t been out to the various villages and even the Capital since those rains. And he most certainly didn’t come and have a look at our very own Al-Yousif de lac.

Well, if this is the first he comes out with, we can rest assured that the state of his ministry by the time he leaves will be as good as those non-present bodies of water we are not suffering from!

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Release Abdelkareem Soliman

Abdulkareem SulaimanAbdelkareem Nabil Soliman is a 22-year-old Egyptian blogger who has been arrested by authorities in Alexandria, Egypt.

Abdelkareem first received international attention in early 2006 when he was kicked out of Al Azhar University for posts he wrote on his blog. During that first incident, he was detained by police but eventually released. Despite his first arrest, he has continued to speak his mind on women’s rights, religious freedom, and academic freedom.

On November 6, Abdelkareem was again interrogated over his blogposts. A human rights lawyer from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information was present to represent Abdelkareem. But the police still decided to arrest him.

Please sign the petition directed to the relevant Egyptian authorities to demand Abdelkareem’s immediate release.

A “FreeKareem.org site has been created to act as a central point to disperse information about Kareem’s case.

Thank you very much for supporting the freedom of speech in the Middle East.

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