Global Freedom of Expression


Bahrain: An Analysis of the Legitimacy of Charges Against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman

Key Details

  • Themes
    National Security, Defamation / Reputation, Political Expression

Download Full Statement in English or Arabic 


On January 6, 2016, Bahrain’s authorities charged Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, a human rights defender and cleric, with incitement of hatred towards the system of government and expressing views on an ongoing trial with the intent to change public opinion. The charges were based on a speech Sheikh Maytham delivered on December 27, 2015, at a public event held in solidarity with Al-Wefaq’s imprisoned Security General, Sheikh Ali Salman. This legal statement is concerned with the legitimacy of the charges laid by the authorities of Bahrain against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman. This review was prompted by the repeated use of such or similar charges against human rights defenders and political opponents, including Sheikh Maythan himself.

The statement analyses the charges in line with international human rights standards and jurisprudence related to freedom of expression. Under international law, freedom of expression may only be restricted it the restrictions satisfy a three-part test: a) legality, b) legitimate grounds and c) necessity and proportionality. Accordingly, this statement analyses whether the charges (incitement and contempt of court) against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman meet the three-part test. This statement also reviews the circumstances surrounding Sheikh Maytham Al Salman detention and charges.

On the basis of a thorough discussion of international, regional and national jurisprudence, this statement concludes that the charges of incitement to hatred against the system of government and of expressing views on an on-going trial fail both the legality and the necessity test. The statement also finds that Bahrain’s Government, by subjecting Sheikh Maytham Al Salman to repeated detention, interrogation and unsubstantiated charges, is creating in terrorem conditions, aimed at instilling fears and self-censorship, and amounting to harassment.

In conclusion, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression calls on the authorities of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman and put an end to its harassment of the human rights defender and inter-faith activist.

This Legal Statement received international support from freedom of expression scholars, lawyers, and activists. The Signatories list is live and new signatories are added as the come in.


Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director, Bytes for All, PAKISTAN

Galina Arapova, Director, Senior Media Lawyer, Mass Media Defence Centre, RUSSIA

Catherine Anite, Head of Legal Department, Media Lawyer, UGANDA

Romel Regalado Bagares, esq., Executive Director, Center for International Law, PHILIPPINES

Samir Behmeda, Lawyer and Member, Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, TUNISIA

Mishi Choudhary, Executive Director, Software Freedom Law Center, Lawyer, INDIA

Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University, U.S.A

Sandra Coliver**, Senior Legal Officer for Freedom of Information and Expression, Open Society Justice Initiative, U.S.A.

H. R. Dipendra, Media Defence Lawyer, MALAYSIA


Charles Glasser**, Lawyer, Adjunct Professor of Media Ethics and Law, Arthur Carter Graduate School of Journalism, New York University, U.S.A

Frédéric Gras, Attorney at Law at the Bar of Paris with Media Law Specialization and Member of the Editorial Committee of LEGIPRESSE, French Media Law Review, FRANCE

David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes, ARTICLE 19, UNITED KINGDOM

Dr. Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director, Free Expression Programs, PEN America, U.S.A.

Gregg P. Leslie, Legal Defense Director, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, U.S.A

Catalina Botero Marino, Lawyer, Professor at the Universidad Externado Law School, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2008-2015), COLOMBIA

Dario Milo, Attorney and Partner at Webber Wentzel, and Visiting Associate Professor at Wits University, SOUTH AFRICA 

Peter Noorlander, Chief Executive Officer, Media Legal Defense Initiative, UNITED KINGDOM

Karuna Nundy, Advocate, Supreme Court of India, INDIA 

K.S. Park, Professor, Korea University Law School, SOUTH KOREA 

David A. Schulz, Director, Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic, Law School, Yale University, U.S.A.

Carey Shenkman, First Amendment and Human Rights Lawyer for Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, U.S.A.

Damian Tambini, Associate Professor, London School of Economics, UNITED KINGDOM

Dr. Dirk Voorhoof, Professor of Media Law, Ghent University, BELGIUM

Richard N. Winfield, Lecturer in Law, Law School, Colombia University, U.S.A.


*Affiliations are for purposes of identification, not necessarily institutional endorsement

Signatories list was last updated on February 17, 2015 at 13:15 EST.