The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses grave concern for the continued criminalization of freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain under implausible pretexts such as the 'insulting the King' charge. In this context, poet Ayat Al-Qurmuzi was interrogated regarding one of her poems, and the journalist Abbas Al-Murshid was summoned to court.
On 3 February 2014, the Bahraini poet Ayat Al-Qurmuzi, 23, was summoned for interrogation at the Central Governorate Police Station regarding a poem she recited on 24 January 2014 at an opposition rally in the area of Sitra.
The poet said that the interrogators, one male and one female police officer had asked her about the 'meanings of the verses and people or bodies intended by them', when no name, person or body was mentioned in the poem which generally addressed injustice.
Her lawyer was not permitted access to the interrogation room although she was present at the police station. The poet was charged with two accusations 'insulting the King' and 'incitement to hatred against the ruling regime' before she was released and after signing a pledge to appear before the police station upon request. The complaint against the poet Ayat Al-Qurmuzi came as an order from the Office of the Deputy of Public Security.
The Bahraini poet had faced arrest before in March 2011 given the poems she recited during public gatherings in Pearl Roundabout in February 2011, she was sentenced to a year in prison in June 2011 by a military trial, however she was released in July 2011 under massive pressure from human rights organizations.
Al-Qurmuzi stated after her release that she was subjected to torture and maltreatment during her arrest by officers, one of whom is a member of the ruling family named Noura Al-Khalifa. Although a show trial had taken place for the officer Noura Al-Khalifa on the charge of 'assaulting the integrity of the body of (torturing) Ayat Al-Qurmuzi' since 2012, a verdict has not yet been made in the case so far.
The independent journalist and writer Abbas Al-Murshid received a summoning to appear for trial on the charge of 'insulting the King' on 27 March 2014, although he was not interrogated before by any official body regarding the charges against him.
Al-Murshid publishes his articles and studies critical of the political situation in Bahrain on several electronic websites, among them the Bahraini electronic newspaper (Bahrain Mirror) which has been blocked in the country.
Al-Murshid had been arrested in May 2011 where he stayed in detention until July 2011 when he was released under international pressure from human rights organizations. Prior to that, and for years, Al-Murshid was a frequent target for harassments by the Bahraini authorities; his electronic newspaper, which he was the editor-in-chief of (Al-Manama Newspaper), was closed by the Ministry of Information in 2002, and he was hit by rubber bullets used by the riot police in 2009. They banned his books from being sold and published in Bahrain.
BCHR had mentioned in a previous report documenting approximately 30 cases in 2013 where individuals were charged with 'insulting the King' due to speeches they gave, or writing on social media networks on the Internet, or even for sticking the King's picture on the ground and walking on it, among them are seven people who were sentenced for a total of 7 years in prison, while the majority of them face trial with the same charge.
BCHR believes that criticizing the country's king falls within the framework of freedom of opinion, and pursuing individuals with trials and prison under a broad charge such as 'insulting the King' as a result of using peaceful means to express opinion is a direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, '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 frontiers'.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights urges the international community and especially the close country allies of the government of Bahrain to pressurize the Bahraini government to:
- Drop the charges against the poet Ayat Al-Qurmuzi and the journalist Abbas Al-Murshid and stop prosecuting them for expressing their opinion, and release all the prisoners of conscience in Bahrain;
- put an end to all forms of harassments and restrictions that threaten freedom of expressing opinion;
- guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental liberties in all circumstances according to the international standards of human rights and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.