HRW slams Bahraini threat to crack down on online dissidents

File photo of anti-government protesters in Bahrain

Human Rights Watch has censured the Bahraini regime for threatening to crack down on activists and dissidents that criticize the despotic Al Khalifah regime online.

The US-based rights body was referring to a statement by Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, who said on March 25 that Manam was already tracking accounts that “departed from national norms, customs and traditions,” and threatened unspecified new legislation and heavy punishments against “violators.”

“No one can mistake the government’s latest assault on the shrinking space for dissent,” said Deputy Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Eric Goldstein in a Saturday statement.

 “A vow to punish those who ‘depart from national norms and customs’ is clearly aimed at anyone who criticizes the government’s policies,” the HRW official added.

This is while the HRW has already documented how Bahraini authorities actively track and punish online dissent, blocking numerous websites and publications, and detaining and harassing bloggers, journalists, and other activists.

Moreover, the Bahrain Watch, a nongovernmental group, has reported that officials of the Saudi-allied regime have used malicious links to determine who is behind certain social media accounts that they disapproved of.

One of Bahrain’s preeminent human rights defenders, Nabeel Rajab, is serving a 7-year prison term for alleged speech crimes after two separate trials, in 2017 and 2018.

In the latest trial, a court sentenced Rajab to five years in prison on February 21 for tweets that criticized the Saudi-led military aggression against neighboring Yemen.

Additionally, the UK-based Bahrain Press Association (BahrainPA) reported that the Bahrain Cassation Court on March 27 upheld a 10-year prison sentence and stripping of citizenship for Sayed Ahmed al-Mousawi, a photographer, arrested in 2014 after covering anti-government protest rallies.

His father told HRW at the time that interrogators questioned his son about his work, which included photographing the 2011 protest actions.

Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011. They are demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.

Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.

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