On eve of 16 March, I rushed to studio to take part in a live TV program dedicated to the 7th anniversary of the “Arab Human Rights Day”. Being very transparent and honest about the fact that I hardly remembered this occasion, I have taken the liberty to discuss failure to protect basic rights in liberties in Arab countries. Nonetheless, the theme of this year’s anniversary –Freedom of Expression- sounded surreal.
For countries like Bahrain, it is challenging to understand how its Shura Council interprets the government crackdown on dissent and online expression as “.. achievements made at the human rights level and freedom of expression and opinion, which constitute the human rights fundamentals..”. The Council’s statement of March 15 provides only a further evidence of a determined state policy to mocking right to free expression. Case of Bahrain prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, presents a sad evidence on government’s insistence to punish peaceful critique and opinion.
Seven years ago, the Arab Human Rights Committee established the Arab Human Rights Day the same day in which the Arab Charter for Human Rights was entered to force in 2008. That is effectively three years before the eruption of uprisings and revolutions in a range of Arab countries. It is not a product of the “Spring”, therefore, and has hardly been recalled in the wake of mass protests and demonstrations on streets of many Arab capitals.
You just need to take a look around and assess what Freedom of Expression means in the today Arab world. Egypt’s courts has been packed with cases against activists and dissents from right to left while the country’s jails continue to host thousands of the political prisoners (intl and local NGOs put the figure around 41,000 prisoners since 2013).
Freedom of Expression does not flourish and does not go well with a shrinking political space. Countries like Egypt took the path of legislating repressive instruments to crush that space. Laws imposing restrictions on the right to demonstrate and assembly are only tokens of such legislative weaponry. But countries of the Gulf chose to simply crackdown, jail, arrest and persecute individuals with no need for laws and legislations- unnecessary luxury while no so-called “international community” is/are speaking out against these states awful practices.
Most importantly, Freedom of Expression does not go well with murder, assassination and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Regardless If you accept the term that Libya is a state or not, for instance, its lawlessness environment made possible the killing of political activists and rights defenders for what they speak and what they are.
My tweet on March 16 was: Today was “Arab Human Rights Day” which no one remembers including myself. This year’s theme “Freedom of Expression” deserves only a laugh. With a bitter laugh, sadly!