STATEMENTS

Twitter targets Saudi fake news, Bahrain urged to free political prisoners

Twitter has removed a network of 5,350 accounts linked to the Saudi monarchy operating out of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Together they had tweeted 36.5m times praising the Saudi leadership or criticising Qatar, Turkey and Iran. The takedown of the accounts followed a tip from the Stanford Internet Observatory, which said that network had also generated tweets supportive of the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar. “Prominent narratives included discrediting recent Libyan peace talks, criticizing the Syrian government, criticizing Iranian influence in Iraq, praising the Mauritanian government, and criticism of Houthi rebels in Yemen,” the observatory said in a blogpost. Twitter said that the fake accounts had been used to “amplify messaging critical of Iran, Qatar and Turkey”.

Amnesty International has called on Saudi Arabia to free jailed activists. It said: Our research shows that through the deeply instrumentalized ‘Specialized Criminal Court’ peaceful activists, religious clerics, and members of the Shi’a minority are often unfairly tried, given lengthy prison sentences, and even sentenced to death based on “confessions” extracted under torture. Several have been executed. This court is the government’s tool for muzzling critical voices in Saudi Arabia. In November 2020 Saudi Arabia will host the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Riyadh, where the wealthiest and most powerful countries come together to address global issues. This is an opportunity to increase the pressure on King Salman and the Saudi government to undertake meaningful human rights reforms, not just a PR campaign. If enough people act to show their support of Saudi heroes being prosecuted by the government, the King will have to listen.

On 6th April The Committee to Protect Journalists joined other human rights and free expression organizations in a letter calling on the Bahraini government to release all imprisoned journalists and other political prisoners. The letter notes the notoriously poor conditions in Bahraini prisons, including overcrowding and lack of medical care, and cites the Bahraini government’s recent decision to pardon 1,486 prisoners (including 250 political detainees) to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s penal system. At least six journalists were imprisoned for their work in Bahrain at the time of CPJ’s most recent prison census. CPJ has documented the cases of Abduljalil al-Singace, who has repeatedly been denied access to adequate medical care despite his deteriorating health, and Ahmed Humaidan, who has suffered persistent eye infections in Jaw Central Prison.

Last night Bahraini people mobilized their efforts to get the prisoners released amid the worrying news that the virus is spreading fast among inmates. They engaged in a campaign on social media with the hashtag #FreeBahrainiprisoners. Mothers, sisters and other relatives tweeted calls for their release. Heartbreaking pleas were made, video clips of weeping mothers were distributed and calls by opposition figures inside the country and exile were highlighted. Fear is gripping the country as the regime attempts to suppress the news of the real extent of its spread. On 4th April citizens chanted “Allahu Akbar) from rooftops as part of the campaign to release the political prisoners. While the khalifi tribal regime insists that it has the capacity to deal with the pandemic, it has refused to repatriate thousands of citizens abroad with over 2000 in Iran. Bahraini students in India have been asking to be repatriated but the regime refused to make adequate arrangements to bring them back. In this context it says that it does not have the capacity to test them.

On 6th April an open letter was signed by 19 international NGOs including Human Rights Watch calling on the Bahraini authorities to release human rights defenders, opposition activists, journalists, and all others imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. “Authorities must now speedily release those who never should have been in jail in the first place, namely all prisoners of conscience who remain detained solely for exercising their right to peaceful expression”, said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of research. “We also urge the authorities to step up measures to ensure full respect for the human rights of all those deprived of their liberty.” Opposition leaders imprisoned for their roles in the 2011 protest movement remain behind bars. These include Hassan Mushaima, Abdulwahab Hussain, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, Sheikh Ali Salman, Nabeel Rajab and Naji Fateel.  Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Despite the coronavirus crisis, the khalifi tribal regime has continued to jail citizens who oppose its dictatorship. On 1st April three native Bahrainis were sentenced to 15 years jail and fines of over half a million dollars. Hussain Hammad, 22, Mohammad Essa Al Muhandis and Sayed Ali Sayed Jalil, 20 were severely tortured.

Bahrain Freedom Movement

8th April 2020 (info@vob.org, www.vob.org)

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