18 January 2007
Woman receives death threats, faces defamation charges, for speaking out about divorce case, criticising courts and authorities, in television interview
(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is an abridged statement from BCHR, an interim member of IFEX:
A 29-year-old divorcee in Bahrain has been receiving death threats and anonymous telephone calls after being interviewed about her case on Al Hurra television on 25 November 2006.
During the interview, mother-of-three Suad Mohammed Fathalla spoke alongside Women's Petition Committee head Ghada Jamsheer and Bahrain Center for Human Rights president Abdulhadi Al Khawaja. While speaking on Al Hurra television, Ms Fathalla gave details of her case - she told how her eldest son chose not to live with his father.
She also spoke about how he was told by an Interior Ministry employee that if he left his father he would be sent to a juvenile detention centre. She criticised the Sharia Courts and politicised judges for their handling of the case, and blamed the Interior Ministry for failing to take any disciplinary action against their employee (her ex-husband) for his illegal actions.
Following the television interview, Ms Fathalla started to receive threatening telephone calls and messages. One example, she says, was a call asking her to choose the graveyard in which she would like to be buried, saying that she "would be going there soon".
A case was filed at the Muharraq police station, but no action has yet been taken. Ms Fathalla is also now being accused of defamation.
On 9 January, Ms Fathalla received an aggressive telephone call from an official of the Public Prosecutor's Office. The official allegedly shouted at her and ordered her to attend a court hearing on the charge of defamation. "Because I spoke to the media, they are trying to pressure me to shut my mouth," Ms Fathalla said.
"What scares me most of all is that they may try to take my children away - or jail me on the charges of defamation and then take my children away as a result of that. But I will keep speaking."
The BCHR condemns the attacks on Ms Fathalla, who is being vilified only for exercising her right to freedom of speech, and:
- calls on Bahraini officials to drop the defamation charges against her and to ensure that her children remain in her custody.
- calls on the government to stop using the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Sharia Courts as pressure tools to silence victims and activists;
- calls for the Kingdom of Bahrain to work towards developing an independent and honest judiciary that can be trusted to protect victims;
- calls on the Interior Ministry to take responsibility for dealing with their employee, Ms Fathalla's ex-husband, who has so far acted with impunity because of his position;
- asks all international and local NGOs and human rights organisations to stand with Ms Fathalla, and with the BCHR, in their demand for a written personal status law.