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Three writers for banned Internet site convicted of criminal defamation, fined

(BCHR/IFEX) - On 21 October 2007, the Higher Criminal Court convicted three Bahraini writers of insult and defamation, fined them 200 Bahraini Dinars (approx. US$530) and charged them 51 BD (approx. US$135) in damages, in addition to court fees.

The writers were convicted of defaming the director of Dar Al-Manar Elderly Care Centre and her husband, in an article published in the electronic journal "Al-Saheefa" ( http://www.alsaheefa.net ). The three writers are Mr Saleh Al-Amm, a journalist, writer and the editor of the journal; Muath Al-Meshari, a columnist for "Al-wasat" newspaper; and Fareed Al-Shayeb, a writer for "Al-Saheefa".

"Al-Saheefa" is one of the electronic sites banned within Bahrain by the local authorities.

The case began earlier in 2007, when the public prosecution detained and interrogated Al-Amm, later releasing him on bail of 500 BD (approx. US$1330) after charging him with insult and defamation over content on the website. The Lower Criminal Court sentenced Al-Amm to three months' imprisonment or a fine of 300 BD (approx. US$795). In addition, Al-Meshari and Al-Shayeb were fined 200 BD for writing several articles on the website related to the management of Dar Al-Manar, in which they alleged administrative and financial corruption.

The three defendants appealed this first conviction in March. However, the Appeal Court ruled non-jurisdiction and transferred the case to the High Criminal Court, which declared its ruling on 21 October, charging the three writers with defamation, as outlined by Article 365 of the Bahraini Penal Code, Article 15, of 1976.

It is to be noted this Penal Code article and the Press Code number 47 of 2002 have been used, in recent months, to interrogate and prosecute more than 14 journalists as well as bloggers and website administrators.

The BCHR expresses its concern over the systematic attack on all forms of free expression in Bahrain, through the use of notorious laws, promulgated to curtail that freedom.

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