Journalist Faisal Hayyat Facing Prison for “Defamatory” Tweets

3 November 2016 – Journalist Faisal Hayyat appeared in court today on charges related to a “defamatory” tweet. His sentencing was postponed to 29 November 2016. We, the undersigned, consider this a violation of his freedom of expression and condemn his prosecution as well as the Bahraini government’s continued criminalization of free speech.

Authorities arrested Faisal Hayyat on 9 October 2016 for a tweet alleged by the prosecution to defame the Sunni sect in Bahrain; ‘insulting religion’ is a charge that carries a one-year prison sentence. Hayyat’s prosecution formally relates to tweets he posted on 7 October during the religious month of Muharram.

Before his arrest, on 1 October, Hayyat had also written an open letter to Bahrain’s Minister of Interior, in which he wrote “as a citizen” urging for an end to restrictions on civil and political freedoms and a solution to the country’s crisis. We are concerned that Hayyat’s prosecution for his tweets may be a reprisal against this public criticism.

Hayyat’s 7 October tweets refer to the historical figure, Caliph Yazid, a controversial figure in Islam due to his role in the killing of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The government’s decision to prosecute him may therefore infringe on Hayyat’s religious freedom as well as his expression. Regardless of the contents of the tweets, defamation should not be a criminal offence.

Hayyat is a former sports journalist and a social media activist who directs and presents short video programs online which provide critical perspectives on local politics. He is also a torture survivor. In 2011, he attended protests criticizing state control of the media and calling for the resignation of the head of the Information Affairs Authority, the state’s media regulator, Sheikh Fawaz Al Khalifa. Sheikh Fawaz is today Bahrain’s ambassador to London.

Hayyat was arrested on 7 April 2011 and held until 29 June 2011, during which he was subjected to torture and humiliation. During interrogation, officers physically beat Hayyat on his back, head, and shoulders. They hit him with their guns and subjected him to sexual abuse. A court case was filed against him, but eventually dropped in December 2011.

We, the undersigned, condemn Faisal Hayyat’s continued prosecution. We call on the Government of Bahrain to cease his prosecution on expression-related charges and respect the rights to expression and religion as protected under articles 19 and 18 respectively of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the latter of which Bahrain acceded to in 2006.

Signed,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

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