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Article Bahrain: Lawyer Charged with Insulting Government

(Dec. 7, 2016) On November 10, 2016, public prosecutors in Bahrain brought three charges against Mohamed al-Tajer, an attorney and human rights activist.  The charges are insulting government institutions, inciting hatred against a religious group, and misusing telecommunications. (Bahrain: Human Rights Lawyer Charged, Human Rights Watch website (Dec. 1, 2016).)  These charges are based on three separate articles of the Penal Code. (Id.; Bahrain Penal Code 1976, arts. 172, 216, & 290, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website.) No trial date has yet been set; if convicted, al-Tajer could be sentenced to up to five years of imprisonment. (Elizabeth Lowman, Bahrain Human Rights Lawyer Charged with Insulting Government, PAPER CHASE (Dec. 1, 2016).)

One of al-Tajer’s private messages, sent via WhatsApp earlier this year and cited by prosecutors, stated “[i]t’s clear that there’s a team in the public prosecution and Cybercrimes division whose only job is to sit at computers and intercept every word about Sunnis, Saudi Arabia, hatred of the regime, or insults against the king.” (Bahrain: Human Rights Lawyer Charged, supra.) Al-Tajer stated that prosecutors also focused on tweets he sent in January and February 2016, which called the government a “regime of prohibition” and stated “history tells stories of falling dictators, but the lesson is never learnt #bahrain.” (Id.)

Human Rights Watch has criticized the Bahrain government for making peaceful opposition to the regime a serious violation of freedom of expression. Following the arrest, the organization’s Deputy Director for the Middle East, Joe Stork, noted:

Bahraini authorities have targeted journalists, activists, clerics, and politicians for peaceful dissent in the last few months, so it was only a matter of time before they came for the lawyers. …  Al-Tajer is facing charges because he stated the obvious: Bahraini authorities are snooping on their citizens and anyone who steps out of line online faces jail time. …  These charges against Mohamed al-Tajer appear to confirm his suspicions about the authorities’ surveillance activities and betray their woeful disregard for free speech.  (Bahrain: Human Rights Lawyer Charged, supra.)


In 2011, following the uprising in the country that was associated with the “Arab Spring” movement, Bahrain responded to criticism of the state of human rights in the country by establishing two oversight bodies, the Ombudsman in the Ministry of the Interior and a Special Investigations Unit. While the government has pointed to these organizations as being successful in protecting human rights, Amnesty International disagrees, recently stating that “[m]uch work is still needed to break the country’s long-standing culture of impunity. The Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit need to urgently address their failings if they are not to lose credibility.” (Id.; Bahrain: Window-Dressing or Pioneers of Change?: An Assessment of Bahrain’s Human Rights Oversight Bodies, Amnesty International website (Nov. 21, 2016); for background on the 2011 uprising, see Kelly McEvers, Bahrain: The Revolution That Wasn’t, NPR (Jan. 5, 2012).)

Al-Tajer was previously detained for four months and convicted in 2011 of inciting hatred against the government, and although the conviction was overturned on appeal, he has asserted that he was tortured in detention. The same year his brother, a safety engineer working in construction, was arrested on charges of  “joining an illegal terrorist organization to overthrow the government by force” and “training individuals on the use of weapons for terrorist purposes.” (Bahrain: Human Rights Lawyer Charged, supra.) He, too, has alleged that he was tortured. (Id.)

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