ARTICLE 19 signed a joint letter from 48 human rights organizations to King Hamad of Bahrain asking for the immediate and unconditional release imprisoned journalist Faisal Hayyat, and for Bahrain to cease the judicial harassment of all journalists.
UPDATE: On 29 November Faisal Hayyat was sentenced to 3 months in prison for his tweets.
The full letter is reproduced below.
To: Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
King of Bahrain
Hon. Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein – High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mr. John F. Kerry – United States Secretary of State
Frederica Mogherini – High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
The Right Honorable Boris Johnson – Foreign & Commonwealth Office
We, the undersigned, express our deep concern with the Government of Bahrain’s campaign targeting journalists and activists exercising their right to free expression. On 9 October 2016, the Public Prosecution charged Faisal Hayyat, a sports journalist and social media activist, with insulting a sect and a religious figure. The government’s repeated harassment of Faisal and other online activists demonstrate the ongoing criminalization of free expression in Bahrain.
Faisal Hayyat is a renowned journalist and has appeared on various sports channels and has written for local Bahraini newspapers, Alalam, Albilad, and Akhbar Al Khaleej. He directs and presents short video programs online that provide critical perspectives on local politics.
Bahraini officials previously arrested Faisal in April 2011 for his involvement in the 2011 pro-democracy protests. The Bahraini security forces detained him for 84 days. During his detainment, authorities subjected Faisal to physical and psychological torture, including sexual harassment and degrading treatment. He has been vocal about this and recently published a letter on social media to the Bahraini Minister of Interior detailing the torture to which the government had subjected him. Government authorities never provided compensation for the abuse and never held any officials accountable. In the letter Faisal mentions, “I write this and I know it may cost me my freedom.”
On 7 October, Faisal published tweets commenting on events from early Islamic history. Two days later, Faisal was arrested and charged with “insulting a sect.” The government is therefore treating Faisal Hayyat’s opinion on events of Islamic history as a criminal liability. The government’s decision to prosecute him infringes both his freedom of expression and religion.
The undersigned NGOs believe Faisal has been targeted as part of a silencing campaign against critical voices of the government. Recently, the Bahraini government has brought further criminal charges against human rights defender Nabeel Rajab for an open letter published in the New York Times, and against political opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif for an interview he gave with the Associated Press. Furthermore, the opposition politician Fedhel Abbas received three years in prison for tweets criticizing the war in Yemen.
We, therefore, call on the authorities to respect Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which mandates that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.” The Bahraini government must also respect Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which mandates that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontier.”
As organisations concerned with the right to freedom of expression, we call on the Government of Bahrain to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Faisal Hayyat, Nabeel Rajab, and all internet users arrested and imprisoned for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression; and
- Abide by international human rights standards, including the ICCPR and UDHR, by upholding the right to freedom of expression without any restrictions.
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Burundi Child Rights Coalition
European – Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
Union de Jeunes pour la Paix et le Developpement