Bahraini authorities should provisionally release a human rights activist who faces charges over his tweet reporting about a wounded demonstrator.The activist, Sayed Yusuf al-Muhafadha, has been charged with “willfully disseminatingfalse news”amounting to “incitement to violence.”
In a letter to Attorney General Ali Fadhul Al Buainain, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that al-Muhafadha’s arrest on December 17, 2012, may have been motivated by objections to his work for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and that the circumstances of his case did not appear to justify pretrial detention. A judge has twice rejected requests from al-Muhafadha’s attorney to release him provisionally. Al-Muhafadha had been held for 12 days in November after being arrested while monitoring an anti-government protest but was released without charge.
“Detaining the activist Sayed Yusuf al-Muhafadha twice in as many months raises serious concerns that Bahraini authorities are trying to silence people monitoring human rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If authorities pursue this questionable case, al-Muhafadha should be released pending trial.”
Security forces in December arrested al-Muhafadha, acting vice president of the human rights group, while he was monitoring a demonstration in Manama to commemorate protester deaths in 1994. On December 18 the public prosecutor accused him of posting on his Twitter account a photograph showing a leg with apparent multiple birdshot pellet injuriesand stating in English: “Ican confirm one shoutgun [sic] injury now in #Manama.” The prosecutor placed him in detention for one week, pending investigation. On December 25 his detention was renewed for another 15 days.
The photograph that appears to be the basis for the charges against al-Muhafadha was widely circulated in Bahrain prior to his arrest, Human Rights Watch said. At about 9:15 p.m. on December 14, security forces had used force to disperse a group of about 30 protesters in the Al-Makharqa neighborhood of Manama. At that demonstration a protester was shot in the leg and a photograph of his wounded leg was posted that day on several online forums as well as al-Muhafadha’s Twitter account. On December 17, the same picture was posted on Bahrain Online, a popular online forum, with an Arabic caption that read: “picture of the injury of one of the youth in Manama with shotgun.”
The same photo appeared again on al-Muhafadha’s Twitter post on December 17 while he was monitoring a demonstration at which security forces did not open fire.
On December 20 the official Bahrain News Agency quoted the deputy attorney general, Mohammed Salah, as saying that the photo posted on December 17 “was contrary to the truth” and that it “resulted in protests and riots that disrupted security and order on the same day.”
Under article 168 of Bahrain’s Penal Code, as amended in October, anyone who willfully disseminates false news knowing that it might result in harm to national security or the public order or safety faces up to two years in prison and a fine of 200 dinars (US$525 ). The law says that the dissemination of the false news must amount to incitement to violence, with a direct link to its occurrence or to the probability of its occurrence.
The information publicly available does not suggest that al-Muhafadha willfully provided false news with the intent of harming public order or safety, or that incited violence, Human Rights Watch said.