from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Bahrain: Jail for Insulting the Ministry of Interior

October 3, 2014

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A number of states still imprison people for offending the head of state. When Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was president of Egypt, he did it all the time. As I’ve written here before, Bahrain still jails people for insulting the king.

Such laws have an ancient provenance: many countries jailed people for insulting the monarch--at least until the twentieth century. The laws remain on the books in several monarchies and there was a prosecution in Spain as recently as 2007. (The crime was a cartoon on a magazine cover portraying the Crown Prince--now King--Felipe and his wife having sexual intercourse, and the punishment for each of the two cartoonists was a fine of three thousand Euros.)

But there is a related and in a way even more grotesque version still extant in communist countries and a few others: jail for insulting some institution like the communist party, or the army, or "the nation."

In Bahrain, you can be jailed for insulting the Ministry of the Interior. That’s not a misprint, and this week the human rights activist Nabeel Rajab returned home from abroad (after having served a two year prison sentence already) and was hauled in by the police immediately. His crime was this tweet:

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

His lawyer stated that "The crime which they are alleging he committed is offending or insulting the MOI. This crime is punishable by a fine and also punishable by a prison sentence that could go up to three years." According to Reuters, "Bahrain’s Public Prosecution confirmed it had charged a person with publicly insulting a government institution on social media and had detained him for questioning...."

For most Americans this is ludicrous and Kafkaesque. Every member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee would be in jail now if the United States had similar laws, for every one of them insulted the Secret Service at their hearing this week. Americans have had a great time insulting government institutions right from the start. One recalls Mark Twain’s remark made over a century ago that "There is no native criminal class except Congress" and "Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." In Bahrain he’d be a goner.

No government can legislate respect for government institutions, and Bahrain will fail here. The Ministry of Interior will be respected when it respects the rights of citizens. Jailing citizens who comment on the performance of their government is backward, repressive, and self-defeating.

 

 

 

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