Amnesty International: “New move to crush dissent ahead of Grand Prix”

Amnesty International has strongly criticised plans by the Bahrain government to increase the sentence for anybody found guilty of insulting King Hamad to five years imprisonment. In a statement, Amnesty writes:

According to state media, Bahrain’s cabinet – chaired by the Prime Minister and the newly appointed deputy Prime Minister, the Crown Prince – on Sunday endorsed an amendment to Article 214 of the Penal Code, increasing the penalty for offending King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah or the country’s flag and other national symbols.

The amendment, which has now been referred to the National Assembly, would make such offences punishable by up to five years in prison in addition to steep fines.

“Increasing the punishment for criticism of Bahrain’s King is a further attempt to muzzle activists ahead of the upcoming Grand Prix,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“The authorities’ reliance on a vaguely worded criminal ‘offence’ to avoid scrutiny of their record says a lot about their own failures and lack of commitment to reform.

“Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Bahraini authorities to repeal articles of the Penal Code used to criminalize freedom of expression, including Article 214 which this measure would amend to increase the punishment to up to five years in prison.”

Read full statement

Six people were arrested on March 12th for “defaming the King on Twitter”. In November 2012, three citizens received jail sentences up to six months for tweeting insults against the King.

NGOs launch campaign to highlight human rights abuses in Bahrain

A group of NGOs, led by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), launched a campaign to “raise awareness of the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain”. From the press release:

ADHRB and participating organizations sent a letter to Formula One drivers asking them to pledge their support for a free and just Bahrain by publicly condemning the ongoing human rights abuses. Drivers are encouraged to state their support during interviews at the Grand Prix, publish a statement on their website, express their solidarity via social media, or publicly dedicate their race to one of the many prisoners of conscience still imprisoned in Bahrain.

“While in Bahrain, we hope that participants of the Bahrain Grand Prix will take the time to learn about the ongoing human rights abuses and arbitrary detention of prisoners of conscience,” said ADHRB Director Husain Abdulla. “Although the President of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, said that he received reports that everything is back to normal in Bahrain, it is clear that his information comes from unreliable sources,” Abdulla added. “The truth is that the Bahrain government has been engaged in many of the same abuses that the international community condemned it for after Bahrain’s security forces launched a brutal crackdown against peaceful protests in 2011.”

The letter was signed by ADHRB, along with International Federation for Human RightsFreedom HouseHuman Rights First, Just Foreign PolicyPhysicians for Human Rights, and the Project on Middle East Democracy. It includes a table with details on some of Bahrain’s prisoners of conscience. Drivers are invited to: “publicly dedicate your race to one of the many prisoners of conscience held under lock and key for exercising their rights to free speech, expression, association, and assembly.”

Alongside the letter, the NGOs also launched a Twitter campaign, encouraging people to tweet to the drivers, teams and other relevant people using the hashtag #ReformsF1rst. A spreadsheet of Twitter handles is available to download at this link.