Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bahrain: Calls to Enforce Article 134 of Penal Code Prompts Fears of Crackdown on Freedom of Expression


7 November 2008

Freedom of expression threatened by enforcement of Article 134 of Penal
Code, says ARTICLE 19


(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Calls to Enforce Article 134 of Penal Code Prompts Fears of Crackdown on
Freedom of Expression

ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by a recent statement by the Bahraini Interior
minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa, reported in the local
press, 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 representatives of foreign countries, organizations or
bodies to discuss the internal affairs of Bahrain, without government

"The minister's statement is an attempt to silence human rights defenders
and severely impedes freedom of expression in Bahrain. ARTICLE 19 is deeply
concerned about articles in the Bahraini Penal Code which deprive Bahrainis
of the right to freedom of expression," said Dr. Agnès Callamard, Executive
Director of ARTICLE 19.

Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976, states that "any citizen,
regardless of 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 same punishment 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."

This renewed call for the implementation of Article 134 comes amid
increased state intimidation of human rights defenders in Bahrain,
described in some local newspapers as "traitors to Bahrain". This
accusation follows the participation on 15 October 2008 of leading Bahraini
human rights activists, in an event in Washington DC on the "Impact of
Political Reform on Religious freedom in Bahrain", as well as increased
activity from Bahraini activists raising concerns about human rights in the

This climate of increased pressure on human rights defenders in Bahrain is
evident in the most recent case of Mohammed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, founder
of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). The BYSHR
"encourages and supports young people to learn about human rights and
pushes them to participate actively in the protection of human rights
cases, and the struggle to promote human rights among young people in
accordance with international standards."

Al-Maskati is due in court on 15 January, 2009 on charges of "activating
unregistered association before issuing the declaration of registration",
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.

This is not an isolated case however. According to reports by various human
rights groups submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights in April 2008, "threats, ill treatment, torture, and all forms of
intimidation and harassment have been directed towards Bahraini human
rights defenders," in recent years.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Bahraini authorities to reverse this alarming trend of
harassment against human rights activists and to repeal provisions of its
Penal Code, specifically Article 134, which flagrantly violate Bahrain's
international human rights commitments on freedom of expression in Bahrain
and abroad. ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Bahraini government to uphold the
human rights to freedom of expression and association as guaranteed by the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain
acceded in 2006.

For further information, contact ARTICLE 19, 6-8 Amwell Street, London,
EC1R 1UQ, U.K., tel: +44 20 7278 9292, fax: +44 20 7278 7660, e-mail:, Internet:

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of
ARTICLE 19. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please
credit ARTICLE 19.
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