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Bahraini activist arrested for Twitter posts

From Mohammed Jamjoom and Hamdi Alkhshali, CNN
updated 5:38 AM EST, Fri December 21, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yousif al-Muhafda is accused of disseminating false information about clashes
  • A prosecutor points to a photo that went up during a demonstration Monday
  • The activist's attorney says he was observing the demonstration, not participating
  • Human rights activists say his arrest is part of a growing crackdown on social media

(CNN) -- Twitter posts about anti-government protests have landed a human rights activist in Bahrain behind bars.

Said Yousif al-Muhafda is accused of disseminating false information about clashes between security forces and protesters in the country's capital, the state-run Bahrain News Agency said Thursday.

Al-Muhafda, the head of documentation for the Bahrain Center of Human Rights, was arrested Monday during a demonstration, attorney Mohamed Al-Jishi said.

Just before his arrest, the center said a series of posts went out on his Twitter account, describing a shotgun injury, tear gas and "security forces spraying pepper spray on female protesters faces as they mock them/laugh."

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Al-Muhafda has been using the account for months to document what he says are human rights violations in Bahrain.

A government prosecutor pointed to one Twitter post, which showed a picture of an injured leg.

The image, posted Monday, "resulted in protests and acts of sabotage that disrupted security on that same day," Bahrain's government news agency said, citing Deputy Attorney General Mohammed Salah.

The activist's attorney says he was observing the demonstration, not participating.

He is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.

Human rights activists have criticized the arrest, saying it is part of a growing crackdown on social media posts.

"The authorities are placing extensive surveillance on social media, and several were arrested because of their online posts in an act that serves to intimidate others to move into self-censorship," the Gulf Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said in a statement.

Bahraini authorities imposed a ban on public protests in October, saying it was necessary because "increasing violence has resulted in death and serious injury to many."

But Amnesty International said the move breached people's right to free speech.

Violent clashes have broken out between security forces and opposition protesters on numerous occasions since protests began in the island nation in February 2011, spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Bahrain plays a key strategic role in the Middle East and is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters.

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