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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bahrain Jails Activist for Covering Protests on Twitter

Bahrain jailed a leading rights activist for posts on Twitter documenting a protest on Monday in the capital, Manama, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said in a statement.

The activist, Said Yousif al-Muhafdah, is the center's head of documentation and the second member of the group to be jailed for using the social network in the past six months. A photograph of Mr. Muhafdah's arrest was later posted on Twitter.

In July, Bahrain sentenced Nabeel Rajab, the rights center's president, to three months in prison for joking on Twitter that supporters of Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa, who was appointed to his post in 1971, cheered him only after being bribed.

Mr. Muhafdah was arrested for reporting on Monday's protest as it came under attack from Bahrain's security forces. A look at his @SAIDYOUSIF Twitter feed shows that he covered the protest in detail, transmitting photos of protesters engulfed in tear gas and displaying gory injuries from shotgun pellets to his 77,000 followers.

On Tuesday, Mr. Muhafdah was interrogated by the public prosecutor on charges of “disseminating false news over Twitter” and given a seven-day temporary detention order, the rights center said. Last month, the group added, Mr. Muhafdah was detained for 12 days for “documenting a case of injury caused by the police.”

Bahrain is home to the United States Fifth Fleet and enjoys a close relationship with the United States, which has been criticized for not doing enough to condemn huma n rights abuses committed on the island. The arrest of Mr. Muhafdah came at a potentially awkward time because a delegation from the European Union arrived in Bahrain on Wednesday to discuss human rights issues. Less than two weeks ago, the International Federation for Human Rights reported, Mr. Muhafdah had traveled to Brussels to attend a human rights event at the European Parliament.

Twitter has become a particularly important outlet for activists and rights advocates in Bahrain because the government makes it difficult for international journalists to obtain visas to work in the country, particularly those who have reported on the government's repression during previous visits.

On Monday, Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist who reported in vivid detail on the first, bloody stages of the crackdown on dissent last year, was denied entry to the kingdom at the airport in Manama and later deported.

American citizens are legally permitted to transit in Bahrain for 72 hours, but officials at the airport informed Mr. Kristof that he was on a blacklist, he reported on Twitter from the airport.

Unfortunately for Bahraini officials, who recently welcomed the reality television star Kim Kardashian as part of an attempt to change its image, Mr. Kristof used the opportunity of being stranded at the airport's Starbucks all night to write a series of indignant updates on the kingdom's human rights record to his 1.3 million Twitter followers.

Bahrain's information ministry released a statement on Wednesday headlined “Bahrain Welcomes All Journalists,” apparently in response to Mr. Kristof's long series of tweets from the airport as he waited to be deported. The statement, issued in the name of Sameera Rajab, said, “The Kingdom, like all countries, applies its own laws and regulations to govern visits by journalists and media delegations.” The statement added, “On the claims that some foreign journalists had been prevented from entering the Kingdom, the minister denied the claims as false and intended to caused prejudice to the country's reputation.”

Before he was expelled from Bahrain, Mr. Kristof drew attention to the case of Mr. Muhafdah, who had been arrested the same day.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 20, 2012

An earlier version of this post misspelled on some references the surname of an activist who was jailed in Bahrain. He is Said Yousif al-Muhafdah, not Said Yousif al-Muhafdhah.