Bahraini interior minister threatened to crackdown on dissidents and activists who criticize the government online, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's interior minister, said on March 25, 2018, that the government was already tracking accounts that "departed from national norms, customs and traditions," and threatened unspecified new legislation and heavy punishments against "violators."
"No one can mistake the government's latest assault on the shrinking space for dissent," said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
"A vow to punish those who ‘depart from national norms and customs' is clearly aimed at anyone who criticizes the government's policies."
Bahraini authorities have gone after scores of activists, journalists, and photographers since nationwide anti-government protests in 2011.
People targeted as dissenters have been harassed, imprisoned, ill-treated, arbitrarily stripped of their nationality, and forced into exile. The authorities have also prosecuted family members of activists in trials tainted by dubious terror-related charges and due-process concerns.
Human Rights Watch documented how Bahraini authorities already actively police and punish online dissent, blocking numerous websites and publications, and arresting and harassing bloggers, journalists, and activists.
Meanwhile, the Bahrain Watch reported that Bahraini authorities have used malicious links to determine who was behind certain social media accounts that they disapproved of.
One of Bahrain's prominent human rights defenders, Nabeel Rajab, is serving seven years in prison for speech crimes after two separate trials, in 2017 and 2018. In the latest trial, a court sentenced Rajab to five years in prison on February 21 for tweets that criticized the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen.
Since June 2011, 13 prominent dissidents have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including seven sentenced to life in prison. They include a leading long-term human rights advocate, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and Hassan Mushaima, leader of the unrecognized opposition group Al Haq.
Source: HRW, Edited by website team