Bahrain - Call to enforce Article 134 of Bahraini Penal Code threatens human rights defenders
Front Line is deeply concerned following reports received of a statement by the Bahraini Interior Minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa, published in the local Arabic press on 6 November 2008, calling for the enforcement of Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code against any citizen who attends meetings, conferences or seminars abroad or meets with representative of foreign countries, organisations or bodies to discuss the internal affairs of Bahrain, without government authorization.
Further Informationposted 12/11/08 The Minister based his statement on Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 which states that “any citizen, regardless of his profession, who attends without government authorization, a conference, meeting or seminar abroad discussing the political, social or economic situation in Bahrain, likely to weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations, is punishable by imprisonment of no less than three months and subject to a fine of no less than one hundred dinars, or both.” The Minister also mentioned that the same penalty applies to any citizen who "deliberately broadcasts false news, statements or rumours on the internal situation in Bahrain which could weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations."
Front Line is particularly concerned that Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa´s call to enforce Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code comes at a time of increased state and media harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. On 30 October 2008, Front Line issued an appeal concerning the media harassment of human rights defenders, Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja in which local Arabic newspaper described them as “traitors to Bahrain and stooges of the United States.” This accusation followed their participation on 15 October 2008 in an event in Washington DC on the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain” which the media interpreted as a call for foreigners, specifically the United States Congress, to interfere in local affairs.
On 15 January 2009, human rights defender Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), will face trial on charges of “running an unlicenced association” under the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 and the Association Law of 1989. This charge carries a sentence of a maximum of six months in jail and/ or a fine of five hundred dinars.
Front Line sees the call to enforce Article 134 as part of an ongoing trend of harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain and believes it is directly related to the legitimate and peaceful activities of Bahraini human rights defenders in defence of human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.