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Two men detained, face up to seven years' imprisonment for disseminating "subversive literature"

(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is a 20 January 2007 statement from BCHR, an interim member of IFEX:

Severe infringement on freedom of expression in Bahrain
On January 31st, two detainees face a possible verdict of up to seven years imprisonment

On November 16, 2006, Dr M. Al Sahlawi (Dentist, age 35) and Mr. H. Al Hebshi (Insurance sales executive, age 32) were arrested by Bahraini authorities after being found in possession of a publication deemed by the authorities to be "subversive literature". This publication, downloaded from the Internet, called on Bahrainis to boycott the parliamentary elections held in November 2006.

Dr. Al Sahlawi and Mr. Al Hebshi had arranged for 1500 copies of the publication to be made and they intended to share it with others. Their expression of support for the ideas contained in the publication was deemed by the Bahraini Public Prosecution to be "favouring and promoting regime change by illegal means, without legitimate reason" and "spreading news and false provocative rumors, which would cause disruptions of public security and damage general interest".

As such, the two men face charges of crimes related to State Security under the Bahraini Penal Code no. 15 of 1976. (The Code has been severely criticized by human rights organizations for the excessive power it grants the government to suppress any dissent).

The Public Prosecutor set forth the charges on the basis of Articles 160, 161 and 168 of the Penal Code, which prescribe prison sentences for possessing or disseminating thoughts and ideas that could "damage public interest". If convicted, Dr. Al Sahlawi and Mr. Al Hebshi could be imprisoned for up to seven years for intending to express themselves and taking steps to disseminate this information to others.

Dr. Al Sahlawi and Mr. Al Hebshi's trial has been heard in only two court sessions, with the ruling scheduled to be heard on January 31st, 2007. In the first session on January 7th, 2007, the men faced the said charges, which they denied, before a judge of the Lower Criminal Court. The session was adjourned until January 14th, 2007, during which their attorney presented his defense, and without further deliberation, the judge stated that the ruling of the case would be made public at the end of the month.

Since then, the two detainees have been in solitary confinement, after spending a few weeks in custody with indicted criminals and drug addicts. Their families have suffered greatly, both economically and psychologically, during the two months of detention so far.

Detention and politically motivated charges are veiled threats from the Bahraini authorities to all political and human rights activists in Bahrain.

In the past, the Government of Bahrain has been responsive to public statements and requests from international bodies that have the potential to affect its global reputation.

The BCHR considers the imprisonment of Dr. M. Al-Sahlawi and Mr. H. Al-Hebshi as an infringement on their basic right to freedom of expression and urge their unconditional and immediate release.

See the BCHR website for details of the case: http://www.bahrainrights.org/leafletdets

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