Australian deported from Bahrain over Facebook posts

Australian deported from Bahrain over Facebook posts

Summary: An Australian English instructor went to Bahrain to teach at the state-run Polytechnic University. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave the country for posts he made on Facebook.

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Australian English instructor Tony Mitchell recently moved to Bahrain where he was offered a job at the state-run Polytechnic University. He described himself as a witness of the various horrifying events in the struggling country (see The Atlantic's four-part series). Mitchell was eventually fired, evicted, and forced to flee because of posts he made on Facebook.

Bahrain's government has been extremely thorough when trying to suppress any form of uprising. It has reached the point where the country is getting rid of anyone it can, just in case.

At the university, investigations began in May 2011. Bahraini teachers were being identified from photographs taken at demonstrations showing they had attended the protests: Facebook was used to display them and pro-government supporters were asked to identify the circled faces so that they could be traced and detained.

One of the non-teaching staff was arrested and severely beaten, but was able to resume work. Students were also victimized: some were arrested while others were simply expelled. The rest tried attending class by passing through various check points as they commuted from their villages, which were being raided by police who regularly arrested suspects and damaged property.

A few were called to the administration building at the Polytechnic and taken to the nearby military building where they were all put in a room. They stayed in there all night and were interrogated the next morning. Some were handcuffed, hooded, and taken away on a bus, never to be seen again.

Mitchell believed he was safe since the comments he had made on Facebook were not critical of the ruling family or the government. He said his posts simply tried to correct false or misleading information. On the other hand, he was unsure if he could continue working at the university if it was run by a government that resorted to unlawful arrests, torture, as well as identification from social networks.

Mitchell eventually received a text message asking him to visit John Scott, the Director of Human Resources, in the CEO's office. The Ministry of Education knew all about Mitchell, and the comments he had made on Facebook. A number of his Facebook "friends" had kept copies of his posts, and they were presented to him, although he insists none of them could seriously be used to show that he was critical of the government.

Since classes finished in four weeks, Scott allowed Mitchell to continue teaching until June 30. He agreed to not making further comments on Facebook, as he did not want the university or anyone from management to get into trouble for his actions. Here's how Mitchell felt about being fired:

I had been sacked from my job, not because of my teaching ability or for any normal disciplinary reason, but because I had taken videos and made comments on Facebook. I now had to think of my future after June 30, look for a new job somewhere and tell my wife that we had to leave our beautiful apartment and the life we enjoyed together in Bahrain. On the other hand, I felt a huge sense of relief that I had been freed from having to work for the Bahraini government and that I would no longer have any association with them whatsoever.

Despite his promise, Mitchell couldn't resist monitoring Facebook to keep track of the students that were being expelled. Some comments criticized Scott for the expulsions and for going back on his word that the Polytechnic would remain neutral. Mitchell knew Scott's hands were tied by the Ministry so he posted the following comment: "I will tell you more about this after June 30th."

Mitchell's Facebook "friends" immediately informed the Minister of Education and the next morning, on June 14, he was called to the human resources director's office and asked to leave immediately. The university had previously booked flights to Thailand for Mitchell and his wife. They were for July 1, but the university was willing to exchange the tickets. Mitchell asked if he could stay through the end of June as planned, but was quickly told he should seriously consider leaving the country as soon as possible. Mitchell and his wife flew out of Bahrain on June 23.

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Topics: Social Enterprise, Government, Government US

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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Talkback

13 comments
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  • Why do we support these oppressive regimes?

    Why do we support this oppression by the unelected dictators mercilessly imposing their will on an innocent population. The Government of Bahrain is corrupt and the royal family wallows in their corruption like a baby in a dirty diaper. The entire royal family should be taken out in the desert and buried up to their necks in the sand and left there.
    kawabago
    • RE: Australian deported from Bahrain over Facebook posts

      @kawabago <br>Because dollar has no real backing and is only as valuable as other countries are willing to trade with it and keep it as their reserve currency. That itself is reliant on OPEC agreement from the 70s to provide pseudo-backing of dollar by having oil-market be priced in dollars only. It is these oppressive regimes that keep that backing as a favor to us and is also the reason why we support them. If they were to decide to price oil in other currencies (or if they were toppled by regimes that would do that) we'd be in a whole lot of trouble. It all boils down to money - simple as that.
      chi_vman
    • lrn/2 history

      -because when we DID spend all our time and effort toppling regimes we didn't like- say up until the 1970s, the locals tended to get even more upset.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Revolution
      beau parisi
  • RE: Australian deported from Bahrain over Facebook posts

    I expect when people move to my country to live/work, they conform to our national laws and learn to fit with our cultural expectations. They should not always expect to live exactly how they would live in their own country. Similarly, if one moves to another country, especially an oppressive one, they should realise things are going to be different and they will have to make vast changes to adapt to the culture. This article to me seems like someone didn't adjust very well, or expected to remain living as an Australian in a country that has vastly different values to our own. I have no sympathy in cases like this, similarly to those that smuggle drugs into countries with harsh penalties (life in prison or death penalty) and expect to get of lightly as they would here. Either example is pure choice of the person making the move.
    Anach
    • RE: Australian deported from Bahrain over Facebook posts

      @Anach <br>Clearly you have no idea of the paranoia and sheer panic that a totalitarian regime exhibits!<br>In Thailand (a faux Democracy) you can serve a long jail term for posting "The King needs a Haircut" on a blog.<br>N. Korea (no pretense of anything but thugs ruling) More than 20 people were arrested and murdered by the authorities because an activist painted "Death to the Divine Leader" in a storm drain under a road.<br><br>Probably the best examples of this extreme paranoia come from the Nazi Third Reich, where just about everything has now been declassified and is publicly available. The real horror is hearing first hand that these really are true stories. and the very worst have never been told.
      My family has several such expeirences that pale in comparison to other events, but are still part of the overall horror.
      pearl298
    • Evil prevails when "good" men remain silent.

      @Anach
      Your comment is contemptible. Evil dictators have no legitimacy. An evil law should ALWAYS be broken.
      allis0
  • You're not in Australia.

    The guy knew what he was getting into. Bahrain is by no stretch of imagination the land of the free. If you decide to move to a totalitarian country, you better be prepared to play by their rules or get out. It's like moving to North Korea and complaining about the lack of internet.
    kraterz
  • RE: Australian deported from Bahrain over Facebook posts

    I don't see why this tutor is complaining. When you teach in a foreign country (which I did for more than 10 years) it's a given you don't get involved in local internal politics and NEVER let politics into the classroom. His lapse showed lack of judgment and lack of expertise in controlling the environment he was responsible for. Now it seems he's just angry and has a grudge, obvious by what he's written on his blog, twitter & this article series. <br><br>When you work outside your home country, it's good to remember this wise quote from Wizard of Oz: I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
    Ex-Prof
  • This is ridiculous.

    The amount of people saying "he should have known better" are MISSING THE POINT.

    Regardless of whether or not he made a smart political move, this guy has been DEPORTED for comments made on a social networking profile.

    This is just one of many instances (some are much worse!) where governments around the world are intentionally searching the personal profiles of both citizens and non-citizens of their country, in order to excercise control and dominate physical space through the use of online space.

    It is unacceptable, it is a violation of human rights, and unless someone is making explicitly dangerous and public threats, this kind of response should not be tolerated by the international community.

    "He should have known better" is NOT an adequate response.

    OUTRAGE is.
    AskBekky
    • NO U

      Yes, it is all of these things but it is in fact YOU who is missing the point. The point is that oppressive regimes HAVE NO LIMITS on what they can do, and WILL use underhanded tactics and YOU as a human being have to be aware of that. People today think that because the Internet and modern communications and information systems exist they no longer have to show any restraint, no longer have to be circumspect about their opinions and behavior and that anything they do can and will be excused or justified by 'human rights' or societal change.

      HUMAN RIGHTS DON'T EXIST, THERE IS NOTHING INHERENT OR INTRINSIC ABOUT THEM. They are merely a polite convention MOST of us agree to, and when they become inconvenient for a regime like Bahrain they go out the window. If this Australian thought his Facebook chatter was personal and private, maybe he should be questioning the relationship he has with his Facebook 'friends' as much as anything else, because his purportedly private opinions clearly became public when his so-called friends ratted him out. The Bahraini government clearly had the ability to leverage that information and did, whether it is legal or justified is irrelevant.

      People who have grown up in the nice, safe lazy suburbia of Western democracy have no idea just how quickly the world can throw out their ideals. And if you aren't prepared for those circumstances, then don't leave your safe secure home.
      beau parisi
      • that's exactly what oppresive regimes are counting on

        the fact that people aren't going to leave their secure homes (or that they're going to be too frightened to do or say anything).

        so people think that they are protecting themselves or their families by being cowards, when they actually protect the dictators and their families and friends
        ggheorghiu@...
  • Looks just like Libya and Afghanistan

    No better than Guddafi.

    People getting attacked for no good reason. How can people even teach??
    RJARRRPCGP
  • ..

    And these people wonder why the western world views them as backwards simpletons living in tents in the desert chopping each other's heads off
    Scarface Claw