from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Bahrain: "Insulting a Public Institution" Means Prison

January 21, 2015

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Americans who complain about the post office, or more seriously the police, or (God forbid) whoever happens to be president do not expect to be jailed, but Bahrainis do.

This week a leader of the (peaceful) opposition and founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, was sentenced to six months for the crime of "insulting a public institution." His criminal act was publishing a tweet last September that said, in full, this:

many men who joined & came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator

Rajab’s tweet was in part a response to a Global Voices article that noted a tweet by a Sunni Muslim military officer Mohamed Albinali saying "I Mohamed Isa Albinali, a lieutenant in Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior declare my defection from this regime since over four months." More broadly, one recent HuffPo article stated that "members of the state security apparatus have expressed sympathy with Daesh and other Sunni extremist groups." An analysis last fall noted that "books printed and distributed by the Bahraini Army itself have promoted the takfiri thought that underpins IS and other extremist groups."

Presumably, if the authors of those last two pieces were in Bahrain they too would be arrested for "insulting a public institution." The Bahraini royal family is pursuing a path that cannot lead anywhere good. Not only is the government narrowing the rights of Bahraini citizens, it is watching as Bahraini Sunnis become radicalized and attracted by violent Islamist groups. The royal family’s dangerous game, which is to deepen the fissures among Bahrainis along Sunni vs. Shi’a lines, lends itself to Sunni extremists--whom the government does too little to combat. The HuffPo article explains the risks:

The monarchy of Bahrain -- led by the Al Khalifa family, which has ruled the island nation for more than 200 years -- faces a unique threat from Daesh. Last September, Daesh released a propaganda video containing four Bahraini members of the group walking on a desert hill, carrying Kalashnikovs, and calling on Bahraini Sunnis to abandon loyalty to the monarchy and pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi. The video, which was released in response to Manama’s decision to join the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Daesh in Syria, accused the Al Khalifa family of having "inserted themselves as gods next to Allah" by not imposing Sharia law in Bahrain.

And if a Bahraini comments on any of this and worries about it, he is arrested for "insulting a public institution." Instead of jailing Rajab, the Sunni royal family ought to realize that all he wants is free speech and a vote. The Sunni extremists want the royals in exile or dead.

 

 

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