Bahrain: Facebook posts are synonymous with illegal assembly, incitement, and disturbing the peace

by Laura VanVliet    /  November 19, 2011  / 1 Comment

2 Bahraini students studying abroad protesting the loss of their scholarships. They are among 100 students who had their scholarships withdrawn.

In the past year, social media has been a useful tool to organize protests around the world. In Bahrain, however, Facebook, Twitter and other sites have resulted in the opposite for students. They became a convenient digital paper trail for government officials to expel and prosecute perceived offenders and protesters in accordance with Bahraini Emergency Laws.

In April hundreds of students attending Bahrain University and Bahrain Polytechnic were investigated by the Ministry of the Interior for participating in protests and criticizing the government via Facebook photos and “likes,” Twitter posts, YouTube videos, and other social media sites. Over 500 students were initially expelled from the two universities on the basis that the students violated Bahrain Law No. 27, which calls for “the loyalty of institutions to the homeland and its rulers.” Ironically, the same law also upholds critical thinking and freedom of expression.

At the conclusion of the investigation over 100 professors and university officials were dismissed, and at least 60 students remain permanently expelled. The expelled students continue to write letters and publish their defense on personal blogs (http://emanoun.wordpress.com/, http://nooralderazi.wordpress.com/). Students studying abroad also lost their scholarships for protesting at Bahraini embassies and signing a Change.org petition.

In August King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa invited the rest of the students to return to classes, but only if they signed a pledge swearing loyalty to their school, and swearing off all future participation in protests—even off-campus. Although the atmosphere on campus was described as tense by several students and professors, events seemed to return to some degree of normality. However, outside the university students have faced other consequences.

Bahrain Polytechnic Student Code of Conduct Agreement: "Bahrain Polytechnic is a government institution, and students are advised that participation in any activities of a political nature could lead to disciplinary action or your dismissal from Bahrain Polytechnic."

On November 12 the Bahrain Center for Human Rights reported that six students from the University of Bahrain have been officially sentenced to fifteen years in jail and fines equaling $925,000 for participating in the protests early this year. They are charged with attempted murder, arson, and vandalism. The sentenced claim that the violence that day was carried out by Bahraini security forces and government supporters, none of whom have been charged.

More than 100 students and professors are to be tried later this month in Bahrain’s Lower Criminal Court as a result of their participation the March and February protests. They face charges of illegal assembly, incitement, and disturbing the peace.

The Tehran Times also reported that on November 15 dozens of school girls were arrested from a school bus. Their families are demonstrating for their release outside of the detention center where they are being held. The reason for their arrest has not been disclosed.

While the government continues to crack down on protesters with such arrests —including the pre-dawn arrests of university professors by masked security forces —more people are taking to the streets in protest, calling for the end of King al Khalifa’s regime and what the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has called “a campaign against all anti-government and pro-democracy protesters.”

As of November 3, 44 people have died in clashes with government forces.

Read an expanded timeline of the investigations at Bahrain Polytechnic: http://www.scribd.com/doc/61190426/REPORT-Related-Background-Information-on-the-Expulsion-of-the-Students

Read Brian Dooley’s in-depth analysis of the expulsions and Bahraini law: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-dooley/bahrain-student-protests_b_1069405.html

Visit the Bahrain Student Facebook Page: http://ar-ar.facebook.com/expelledpolys

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