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Bahrain Criminalizes Freedom of Artistic Expression & Creation: Poet Khalil Al-Ismaeel Arrested Over Political Poem


The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses concern over the ongoing targeting of poets and writers for merely excising their freedom of artistic expression and creation.

On 22 July 2016, poet Khalil Al-Ismaeel was summoned to Budaiya police station, where he was arrested. The following day, he was taken to the public prosecution. He was interrogated over a poem he wrote and recited in a public gathering. Consequently, the authorities charged him with allegedly “reciting a political poem” and “illegal gathering” at Duraz. The public prosecution remanded him for 15 days in detention pending investigation of these charges.

Al-Ismaeel is well-known in Bahrain for his political poems – in which he expresses his support for the popular pro-democracy movement.

At least one other individual has been targeted over freedom of artistic expression recently. Religious singer Sayed Hasan Al-Alawi is being tried over a poem he recited during a funeral service. He served three months in pre-trial detention until he was finally released on 20 July 2016. His trial is ongoing.

BCHR has recorded other cases during the past year, including the past few months, of poets being summoned or arrested for writing and reciting poetry. This is a direct violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which contends that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of the frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”This right includes the right to all forms of art and artistic expression.


The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release poet Khalil Al-Ismaeel and all political prisoners, arrested for merely exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression;
  • Abide by international legislation upholding the right to freedom of expression without any restrictions or arbitrary legal procedures;
  • End the politically-based retaliation against poets or singers and other artists, and allow them to freely exercise their rights to free speech; and
  • End the practice of imposing arbitrary restrictions on freedom of speech.
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