Bahrain must end judicial harassment of Faisal Hayyat

On 29 November Faisal Hayyat was sentenced to 3 months in prison

On 29 November Faisal Hayyat was sentenced to 3 months in prison

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

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.


Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Albanian Media Institute
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bytes for All
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Independent Journalism – Romania
Centre for Independent Journalism – Malaysia
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 of Journalists
International Press Centre
International Press Institute
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms – MADA
PEN American Center
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
Social Media Exchange – SMEX
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters – AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Burundi Child Rights Coalition
English PEN
European – Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
Union de Jeunes pour la Paix et le Developpement

Delusions of freedom: The FCC, the internet and John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo: AAP Images via Demotix)

US Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo: AAP Images via Demotix)

The US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech before the fourth annual Freedom Online Coalition conference has all the makings of anti-censorship agitprop. “The places where we face some of the greatest security challenges today are also the places where governments set up firewalls against the basic freedoms online.”

Indeed, like his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, he has taken to banging the drum of internet freedom as if it is a transforming given of modern life.  On January 21, 2010, Clinton made the remark at America’s “interactive museum of news” otherwise called Newseum, that “information freedom supports the peace and security that provide a foundation for global progress.”

As the Belarussian writer and researcher Evgeny Morozov put so eloquently in The Net Delusion, such sentiments promote two delusionary sentiments, the first being cyber-utopianism itself, and the second, being that all problems of the modern world must somehow be tied to matters of the internet.

The philanthropist and high-tech investor Esther Dyson exemplifies both streaks. Writing in 1997, she claimed in Release 2.0 that, “The Net offers us a chance to take charge of our own lives and to redefine our role as citizens of local communities and of a global society.”  It provides opportunities of self-governance and autonomy, “to work with fellow citizens to design rules we want to live by.”

The obvious point lacking in Dyson’s analysis is that behind every utopia is a dystopia waiting to happen.  All governments, whatever their creed, have been guilty of the same vice.

Freedom provides its own vicious subversions – the open use of Twitter and social media sites invariably allows for infiltration, trolling and forms of cyber counter-insurgency.  The simple suggestion that authoritarianism is somehow an enemy of Internet freedom is naïve in so far as it suggests a total misunderstanding as to what such regimes can, in fact, do. All states, autocratic or otherwise, have made it their business to stifle Internet freedoms. They just disagree on how best to do it.

Sounding much like the former Soviet minister of culture, Andrei Zhdanov, Kerry claimed that, “Today, we’ve learned that walls can be made of ones and zeros and the deprivation of access even to those ones and zeros, and that wall can be just as powerful in keeping us apart in a world that is so incredibly interconnected.”  This is somewhat ironic – Kerry himself is obsessed by the behaviour of authoritarian regimes and those who would police internet content, ignoring exactly what might be happening at home.

So many myths have been bound up with the Internet, it has become almost mandatory for Kerry to fall into the rather unreflective pose of technology as freedom.  Zeros and Ones do nothing to liberate a people, let alone facilitate revolution and institutional change.  This is another form of dastard cyber-utopianism – extolling a system of freedom that is merely the straw man of liberty.

Kerry and his colleagues, in truth, are all about regulation and the velvet glove of policing. They decry efforts to control the net in Venezuela, Russia and China, the traditional bogeymen of cyber-freedoms, but prove happy with puritanical measures that police inappropriate content or regulate traffic via private enterprise.

The recent move by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to initiate what it terms a “net neutrality” plan is even more indicative of the scope of control being exerted by the powers that be.  Initiated by its chairman, Tom Wheeler, the proposal came about in response to failed efforts by his predecessor, Julius Genachowski, to defend net neutrality.

More than 100 technology companies, including Facebook Inc, Google Inc, and Inc, have expressed concerns about the proposal that regulates the way Internet providers manage traffic.  They have urged the FCC to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce.”

The cardinal warning here is that any suggestion that finds home with the label “open” is bound to be only slightly ajar, if not closed altogether.  The Wheeler plan, which purports to be an “open Internet” idea, imports commercial reasonableness into the management of the web. In other words, companies responsible for content would be able to purchase greater speeds on the Internet from broadband providers, within the bounds of commercial prudence.

The consequence of such a superficially liberal plan is that the Internet will be carved up, a case of managing traffic on the “fast lanes” via such companies as Verizon Communications or Comcast Corp, leaving others to languish in their use.  The green light to discriminatory deals is being suggested.  Even one FCC commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, felt that, “Rushing headlong into a rulemaking next week fails to respect the public response to his [Wheeler’s] proposal.”

An internal revolt in the FCC may well be on the cards.  But what is an even more striking note is that internet freedom will be dealt a blow, not only by the orthodox authoritarians, but by closet regulators with their fingers on the switch.

Brian Merchant, writing for Motherboard is certainly right to note the fallacious binary embraced by Kerry: “Democracies with private internet service providers, good.  Autocrats who block Twitter, or say that the CIA invented the internet, bad.”

This article was posted on May 14, 2014 at