Bahrain has deported a United States teacher accused of writing articles for “radical groups” and banned a Bahrain rights campaigner from returning to her country ahead of planned anti-government protests this week.
The unnamed US woman was accused of writing under a pseudonym for several online publications, said the Ministry of State for Communications on Saturday. These included As-Safir newspaper, which is linked to Lebanon's Iran-backed Shia-group Hezbollah, and a newsletter published by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an advocacy group outlawed by the Bahrain government.
|Miriam Al-Khawaja, President of BCHR
The ministry also said that she had broken the terms of her employment agreement by working as an unaccredited journalist.
However, the acting head of the rights group, Maryam al-Khawaja, denied the woman was writing for them. "That was something made up by the government,” she said, adding that a journalist at As-Safir had told her the teacher had not written for that publication either..
Al-Khawaja was herself prevented on Friday from boarding a British Airways flight from London to Bahrain because of a Bahraini government order. She was planning to enter her country ahead of a number of protests planned for later this week.
Al-Khawaja said her group was attempting to contact the teacher to determine if she has been subjected to human-rights violations while in government custody.
According to Bahrain’s communication ministry, authorities were alerted to the teacher’s online activities when they received a complaint about comments she made on social media. A state investigation revealed that she used various social-media platforms to write articles “deemed to incite hatred against the government”.
Activists and citizen journalists who use social media to organise or report anti-government protests are routinely targeted by authorities in an attempt to crackdown on public dissent.
The teacher’s deportation is not the first time that an American has been expelled from Bahrain, home to the US 5th Fleet - several others have been deported for involvement in documenting protests.
Two American human-rights activists were deported in February 2012 for covering protests on the first anniversary of the Arab Spring demonstrations.
'Environment of fear'
Inspired by the “Tamarod” (rebellion) protest movement in Egypt, Bahraini activists have called for anti-government rallies to be held on August 14 - the anniversary of Bahrain’s independence from Britain.
Bahrain has been the site of mass protests since the Arab Spring gripped the Middle East in 2011, with mostly Shia citizens pushing for democratic reforms from the ruling Sunni royal family, who have met their demands with heavy-handed measures.
Despite international criticism, the government’s crackdown on dissent has continued unabated, Al-Khawaja told Al Jazeera.
“They have even increased house raids,” she said. “It used to be one every other night. But since the Tamarod announcement, the raids are day and night – up to 100 or more per day.”
“They enter, masked and in civilian clothing, backed by security forces in uniform with guns,” Al-Khawaja continued. “They break through the door or the ceiling, vandalise the home and then leave. It’s about creating an environment of fear.”
Fresh protests drawing from Egypt’s Tamarod movement could spell harsh government response.
On Saturday, Bahrain’s prime minister vowed “this island will burn to a cinder all those who seek to tamper with its security and stability.”
Dual decrees issued by King Al-Khalifa on August 6 also called for harsher sentences to be imposed on those accused of inciting dissent or protesting against the government, including the revoking of citizenship.
Amnesty International called the king’s decrees “draconian measures [that] will be used in an attempt to legitimise state violence as new protests are being planned for 14 August”.
Additional reporting by Renee Lewis