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UN condemns Bahrain’s expulsion of Omani resident for exercising her right to freedom of opinion and expression

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News briefing

Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice

Geneva: November 22

United Nations human rights experts denounced the position of the Bahraini authorities regarding the expulsion of the Omani citizen, Buthaina Ahmed, in connection with the exercise of her right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Imprisonment and deportation because of WhatsApp messages:

According to a memorandum sent to the Bahraini government on September 16, 2021, Buthaina, is an Omani national and was a permanent resident of Bahrain by virtue of being married to a Bahraini national. On November 11, 2020, she sent sarcastic messages via the instant messaging application WhatsApp, regarding the death of former Bahraini Prime Minister, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. On the same day, she was summoned by the Anti-Cybercrime Unit for interrogation about the messages, and after she admitted that the messages were from her, she was arrested and brought to the Central Investigation, where she was charged with causing nuisance to third parties by misuse of telecommunication devices, under Article 290 of the Criminal Code.

The experts added in their memorandum that Buthaina was transferred to the women’s prison in Isa Town, where she remained in pretrial detention. On November 18, 2020 she was sentenced by the Court of First Instance to six months in prison. The ruling also determined her definitive expulsion from the country, under article 64A of the Criminal Code.

Suppression of freedom of opinion and expression:

The experts expressed deep concern about the use of criminal legislation to limit  Buthaina’s legitimate exercise of freedom of opinion and expression, which led to her imprisonment and final expulsion from the country. The experts are also concerned that the penalty has a disproportionate impact on her life and that of her family, including her four children, and that it may have a chilling effect on everyone’s exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression in the country, and especially on that of foreign citizens.

UN demands from Bahrain:

The experts called on the Bahraini government to provide information on the legal and factual basis for the arrest of Buthaina Ahmed, the charges against her, as well as the legal and factual basis for her final expulsion, given that the deportation had led to the separation of her family members, including her four children, and an explanation of how this decision was necessary and proportionate regarding Bahrain’s obligations to protect families.

The experts also called on Bahrain to provide information on measures taken to integrate a gender perspective into the analysis of complaints relating to the exercise of freedom of expression, in particular women’s political participation in Bahrain.

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