Bahrain government must cease judicial harassment of Faisal Hayyat and other Bahraini journalists

29/11/2016
Open Letter

46 human rights organizations have signed a letter asking King Hamad to immediately and unconditionally release imprisoned journalist Faisal Hayyat, and to cease the judicial harassment of all journalists in Bahrain.

King Hamad,

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.

Signed,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Albanian Media Institute
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Burundi Child Rights Coalition
Bytes for All
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Independent Journalism – Romania
Centre for Independent Journalism – Malaysia
English PEN
European – Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Free Media Movement
Gulf Centre for Human Rights
Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Index on Censorship
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Centre
International Press Institute
Maharat Foundation
MARCH
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms – MADA
PEN International
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Reporters Without Borders
Social Media Exchange – SMEX
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
Union de Jeunes pour la Paix et le Developpement
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters – AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

— 

To: Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
King of Bahrain

CC :
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

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