Deported from Bahrain over a WhatsApp message

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Buthaina Ahmad Mahmoud, a 54-year-old Omani woman who lived in Bahrain with her husband and children, has been deported to Oman, where she has nowhere to live and no means of supporting herself – all because of a comment she made in a WhatsApp message.

In a statement to the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR), Buthaina explained that she was arrested on 11 November 2020 because of a WhatsApp message she had sent, in which she commented on the death of the former prime minister of Bahrain, Khalifa Al Khalifa, and expressed hopes that it might lead to positive change in the country.

On 18 November the Lower Court in Bahrain charged her with “slander and calumny”, and sentenced her to six months in prison followed by deportation from the country, in blatant violation of international laws relating to protection of the family; the verdict was upheld by the Court of Appeal. Buthaina said that during the trial her lawyer was not allowed to attend any of the hearings. She challenged the ruling of the Court of Appeal in the Court of Cassation, but her challenge was rejected.

Buthaina told the OCHR that everyone else who was arrested for the same reason was subsequently released and had the items that were seized from them returned, and only she was tried, imprisoned and then deported.

According to Buthaina, deportation has not only separated her from her children and her home but also had a psychological impact that has helped to worsen pre-existing health conditions like depression and sickle cell anaemia. She also said that while detained she suffered seizures that resulted in her being placed in intensive care, where she was diagnosed with heart disease, and that while she was in intensive care her family were prevented from visiting her.

After completing her six-month sentence Buthaina was released on 9 May 2021, and arrived in Oman on 12 May. She is currently living in the home of a family member and has nowhere of her own to live.

Given all this, the Omani Centre for Human Rights urges the Bahraini authorities to respect the right to family life and family unity, stability and protection, and retract their decision so as to allow Buthaina to return to live with her family in Bahrain. The Centre likewise urges the Omani government to intervene diplomatically with a view to persuading the Bahraini authorities to go back on their decision. The Centre also points out that the decision to deport Buthaina has affected the family’s economic position: they cannot afford the cost of living outside Bahrain, as she and her family are reliant on her husband’s pension.

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