Bahrain's Minister of State for Information Affairs, Samira Rajab, has announced that the government is preparing to introduce tough new laws to combat the "misuse" of social media. Like many Gulf states, Bahrain is doubling down on state censorship in response to a year of ongoing protests connected to the Arab Spring. In case the target of this upcoming legislation was in any way unclear, Ms. Rajab went on to call out human rights activists:
It is these activists who have labelled drowning victims as those killed by torture. They have labelled sickle cell victims as being killed by security forces and they have used these media to completely distort the true picture of Bahrain. This cannot be tolerated. The rule of law shall prevail."
Ms. Rajab justified the upcoming laws by pointing to sedition laws in the United States, United Kingdom, and France.
Meanwhile, the Bahraini government is already engaging in the kind of crackdown that the new law is supposed to enable. Activist Nabeel Rajab (no relation to the Minister of State for Information Affairs) was detained again on June 6 after complaints that he had made statements “publicly vilifying” pro-government individuals on Twitter. After the Prime Minister visited the small town of Muharraq, Mr. Rajab tweeted that he should step down. He referenced the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Muharraq in his message:
[E]veryone knows you are not popular and if it weren’t for the need for money, [the Muharraq residents] would not have welcomed you.
Mr. Rajab’s attorney notes that his second detention is extraordinary even in Bahrain, since The Bahraini Code of Criminal Procedure limits pretrial detention to exceptional cases. Authorities are not supposed to detain the accused in defamation cases, and the most severe penalty has usually been a fine.
Mr. Rajab had been previously released from jail after posting bail at the end of May. That time, the activist had also been arrested for inflammatory political comments from his Twitter account. The EFF joins other groups such as Human Rights Watch and the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Rajab, as well as the dismissal of all charges against him. We remain concerned we will see even more cases similar to this one once the new laws are passed.