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Cablegate: Gob Suspends Charges Against Six Arrested for Sectarian Web Postings

VZCZCXRO9311
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0442/01 1851321
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 031321Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7969
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0236

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000442

SIPDIS

BAGHDAD FOR AMBASSADOR ERELI

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/03/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR KISL BA
SUBJECT: GOB SUSPENDS CHARGES AGAINST SIX ARRESTED FOR SECTARIAN WEB POSTINGS REF: A. MANAMA 420 B. MANAMA 430 Classified By: DCM Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Bahrain's interior ministry ordered two Sunni websites and one Shi'a site to shut down June 26, accusing them of inciting sectarianism and failing to register, in violation of the 2002 Press and Publications Law (ref B). When the Shi'a site ignored the order, Bahrain's lead intelligence service detained and questioned six contributors. The intervention of Wifaq leaders secured the release of the six after 22 hours in custody. Prosecutors subsequently suspended the charges. Print editors have not felt any increase in pressure from the government. End summary.

2. (U) Following the GOB's announcement June 22 that a committee of the interior, information, and justice ministries would "monitor" media for sectarianism, sedition and lese majeste (ref B), interior summoned the moderators of three websites deemed to have permitted the posting of sectarian insults and insults against the King and ruling family. The ministry instructed them to refrain from this in the future and to shut down pending their registration with the information ministry. The two Sunni sites complied, but the Shi'a site, Awaal.net, remained on line and continued to post new content. Awaal is formally independent, but most Bahrainis view it as a mouthpiece of Sheikh Isa Qassim, Bahrain's most popular Shi'a cleric.

3. (C) On June 28, the Bahrain National Security Agency (BNSA) summoned six individuals, three of whom were affiliated with the Awaal site. The six were all members of the Wifaq party. Saeed Al Majid, Foreign Affairs and Security Adviser to Wifaq Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman, told poloff that Salman sent him to BNSA director Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Khalifa that same evening with a request that BNSA not mistreat the detainees, and release them promptly. The next morning, the six were released and charged under Bahrain 2002 press law with defaming the King and the state, inciting sectarianism, and spreading false information.

4. (C) On July 2, Attorney General Ali Al Buainain informed the six that the charges would be suspended in exchange for their promise to post no more inflammatory content. An attorney for the accused confirmed to poloff that the case had been suspended.

5. (C) Local daily al-Wasat, (liberal, identified with the Shi'a community), reported that two of the six alleged that they had been "tortured" at the hands of the BNSA. Wifaq MP Jawad Fairooz told poloff that detainee XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed BNSA officers suspended him by his handcuffs and anklecuffs and then beat him about the torso. Detainee XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed that BNSA officials "slapped him around." (NOTE: Since December, most Shi'a arrested in connection with political or sectarian controversies have alleged they were tortured. To date, none of these claims have been convincingly documented by independent physicians. End Note.) When asked by poloff about the allegations, Al Majid waved dismissively and said that he had visited with the six and had no reason to believe they had been "tortured." He added, however, that he believed the GOB had been unnecessarily aggressive and that "someone wanted to send us (Wifaq) a message." Al Majid did not believe that King Hamad was to blame for the arrests be cause he had recently expressed thanks to Ali Salman and Wifaq for keeping a tight rein on the June 19 march in Diraz (ref A).

6. (C) Mansour Al Jamri, editor in chief of Al Wasat, told DCM the monitoring committee's actions appeared to be directed exclusively against the three websites. Al Jamri said that he and other editors were not feeling any heat from the monitoring committee.

7. (C) Comment: Traditionally, the interior, justice, or information ministries have quietly reasoned with writers, bloggers and preachers whose rhetoric crossed GOB red lines. Bahrain's leadership was clearly provoked by the fact that Awaal.net continued operating after the moderators were warned. The very public establishment of the monitoring committee, and BNSA's open role, are new developments. ********************************************* ******** MANAMA 00000442 002 OF 002 Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI

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