- By Katie CellaKatie Cella is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
Bahrain’s government may have avoided the fate of Egypt, Libya, or even Syria, but it can’t be feeling all that secure if it’s jailing people for tweeting and detaining small children.
Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to jail for three months on Monday for posting a tweet that criticized Bahrain’s Prime Minister Khalifah ibn Sulman al-Khalifah. Rajab, who is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested in June on charges of "insulting in public" after tweeting:
"Khalifa, leave the residents of Al Mahraq, its Sheikhs and its elderly. Everyone knows that you are not popular here, and if there wasn’t a need for money, they wouldn’t have gone out to receive you. When will you step down?"
The country’s chief prosecutor stated in the official media that residents from Al Mahraq, a city on northeastern Bahrain’s Muharraq Island, had complained that Rajab’s tweet "tarnished their reputation" and "cast doubts" on their patriotism. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab’s organization, suggested that these complaints were filed by individuals close to the regime’s security forces.
This wasn’t the first time that Rajab has felt the wrath of Bahraini authorities after speaking out against the regime’s human rights abuses and subordination tactics throughout the Bahraini uprising. Rajab led several of the anti-government protests that began in 2011, and was detained the same year after publicly criticizing the Bahraini security forces for attacking demonstrators.
Rajab’s most recent prison sentence is not even the most extreme example of the growing paranoia of Bahrain’s Sunni-controlled regime. In May, authorities arrested an 11-year-old boy, Ali Hasan, for alleged participation in a protest — the youngest person ever detained for activism.
Hasan told al Jazeera that he had been playing with other children on a street that authorities had blocked off the day before, and had been chased by police officers and detained. The Bahrain Information Affairs Authority stated that to assume Hasan was only playing was "incorrect," and that he was accused of burning tires and participating in an illegal gathering.
Hasan was held in custody for one month before the court allowed him return home. Hasan’s charges were not dropped, though, and the court ordered a social worker to monitor the boy for another year.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.| Marc Lynch |