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Bahrain Live Coverage: Detaining Activists --- The "Twitter Excuse"

See also Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Elections Today --- Sham or Substance?
Bahrain Live Coverage: Prominent Activist Nabeel Rajab Arrested

Cartoon: Carlos Latuff1653 GMT: The regime-linked Gulf Daily News has announced police reforms, including the construction of a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory, a "crime academy" to train officers, and 500 additional "community officers".

1035 GMT: The press release of the day comes from Bahrain's legislature and the State news agency:

The Shura Council praised the speech His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa gave on the occasion of his ratification of the constitutional amendments, his determination to continue in pursuit of the path of reform, and his keenness for the Kingdom's continuous progress and prosperity.

The Shura Council expressed their congratulations to the wise authorities and people of Bahrain on this occasion in a statement made this morning during the Council's session, headed by the its Chairman Ali Saleh Al-Saleh, confirming that the constitutional amendments represent a step forward in the path of democratic reform, and further progress for the legislative authorities for a greater representation of the people's needs, and an increase of the parliamentary observation of the government's performance, considering these constitutional amendments a national achievement that will pave the way for many more, of which the people will benefit the most.

0605 GMT: On Sunday, the regime effectively admitted its political motivation in seizing Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Having taken 24 hours to give any meaningful statement as to why Rajab had been arrested at the international airport, jailed, and then brought into court on Sunday morning, prosecutors tried this line

[We] filed a case against the defendant after compiling compelling evidence of his involvement in inciting illegal rallies and marches online on social networking websites....The defendant's cyber-incitement proved detrimental as [it] fuelled rioting, road blocking, arsons, acts of sabotage targeting public and private properties, in addition to the use of Molotov cocktail incendiary bombs. The inquiry has also revealed compelling evidence on the defendant's role in instigating, online, acts targeting policemen whilst on duty, leaving some of them injured.

Ludicrous is too kind a word for the legal charade. Rather than offering any substance to the claim that Rajab had called on Twitter for violence, the State news agency "proved" guilt with ""[Rajab] admitted posting the defamatory and humiliating material on his account.".

Analyst Marc Owen Jones picks up the story of the regime's hypocrisy, citing the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry:

"The Harghum Twitter account targeted anti-government protesters and even disclosed their whereabouts and personal details. Harghum openly harassed, threatened and defamed certain individuals, and in some cases placed them in immediate danger. The Commission considers such harassment to be a violation of a person’s right to privacy while also amounting to hate speech and incitement to violence."

The report also clearly states that @7areghum broke both national and international law: "The GoB [Government of Bahrain] uses firewalls to block certain social media and other websites. However, the GoB has not permanently shut down Twitter feeds such as Harghum even though they produced material that international law requires to be prohibited and which is in fact prohibited under Bahrain law."

However, nothing has been done. There has also been no condemnation from any senior government officials. As far as I know, no investigation has been carried out, nor has the Bahrain government asked the US to subpoena Twitter to release information about the account.

But, of course, consistency of treatment and justice are not the objectives here, as Rajab is held for at least seven days and returns to court on 22 May.

The question instead is political: why is the regime moving now to detain Rajab? Why are he and other prominent activists such as Zainab Alkhawaja joining leaders of the opposition --- some serving life sentences --- such as Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Ibrahim Sharif behind bars?

The answer, I suspect, is an attempt to "decapitate" the activists by keeping top figures off the streets and out of the village, trying to fragment the opposition so it can be represented as nothing more than a violent threat to national security.

That, in turn, points to another possibility. In preparing this strategy, the regime is preparing for any event that might galvanise anger and protest. Such an event might be the death of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, now on Day 89 of his hunger strike and reportedly refusing any sustenance other than water.

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