Bahrain Minister of Justice Should not Use Disciplinary Proceedings to Sanction Lawyers Exercising their Freedom of Expression


In a hearing held on March 22, 2021, the Lawyers’ Disciplinary Board in Bahrain decided to prohibit prominent human rights lawyer Abdullah Alshamlawi from practicing his profession for one year.

The decision followed a complaint filed with the Lawyers Disciplinary Council against Mr. Alshamlawi by Minister of Justice Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, who is the only one authorized to file disciplinary actions before the Council.  

This case stems from a tweet published by Mr. Alshamlawi from his personal Twitter account, wherein he criticized the religious practices of a Muslim sect. As a result of that tweet, a criminal proceeding was brought against Mr. Alshamlawi, at the behest of an individual who allegedly was a victim of the tweet, charging him with two criminal acts: (1) Publicly inciting hatred and disrespecting a community group, and (2) deliberately inconveniencing others by misuse of his communication devices. 

On June 30, 2020, Mr. Alshamlawi was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, with bail imposed in lieu of execution of the punishment.

Following the sentence, the alleged victim on whose behalf the criminal charges were brought reconciled with Mr. Alshamlawi and agreed to waive his complaint. Subsequently, Mr. Alshamlawi appealed the judgment before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result of the waiver, the Court of Appeals agreed to close the case with respect to the charge of deliberately inconveniencing others by misuse of communication devices but upheld the conviction on the first charge of public incitement of hatred and disrespecting a community group. The Court, however, suspended the sentence for three years.

Mr. Alshamlawi challenged this judgment before the Court of Cassation, but on January 11, 2021, the Court of Cassation affirmed the appellate judgment.  

Following the resolution of the criminal case, the Minister of Justice then sought disciplinary action against Mr. Alshamlawi in his capacity as a lawyer. The Minister referred the matter to the Lawyer’s Disciplinary Council, alleging violation of Article 43 of the Bahraini Advocacy Law, which provides that any attorney who violates the principles of this law, breaches his professional duties, or commits an act that degrades the profession or affects the honor or traditions of the profession, will be subject to one of the following disciplinary punishments:


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