On the 7th anniversary of thepeaceful popular movement of the Bahraini people which started on 14 February2011, the undersigned NGOs call on the international community to help freehuman rights defenders in Bahrain, some of whom are jailed for life, and tostop the persecution of journalists simply for peacefully exercising theirrights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Bahrain now has a reputation as one of the fewcountries in which all well-known human rights defenders (who are not alreadyin jail or in exile) have been banned from working freely or travelling. Thisis designed to isolate the human rights movement and cut its links with theinternational mechanisms in particular the United Nations. A collective travelban is essentially imposed on all human rights defenders, preventing them fromparticipating in the activities of the three sessions held each year at the UNHuman Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. Likewise, international NGOs andjournalists, along with UN experts, cannot freely visit Bahrain.
Human Rights Defenders in Jail, Victims of Tortureand Ill-Treatment
Bahrain’s most prominent human rightsdefenders are in jail, facing ill-treatment. On 05 February 2018, KhadijaAl-Mousawi tweeted that she visited her husband, prominent human rightsdefender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been targeted and abused inJaw prison. He has been taken to hospital in shackles.
"When I went to visit my husband he wastalking about going to the hospital chained," she tweeted. "Iexpected him to say that he felt humiliated, but he said the opposite. He waswalking very slowly because of the weight of chains and the chain distancebetween the feet, but he was raising his head having a nice feeling.”
Al-Khawajais the Founder and Former President of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights(GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), as well as the formerMENA Protection Coordinator for Front Line Defenders. He has been held in Jawprison since his sentencing to life in prison in 2011, along with other humanrights defenders and activists, including blogger Dr AbduljalilAl-Singace, who collectively make up the Bahrain 13.
Inthe past year, Al-Khawaja and other prisoners of conscience have protestedrepeatedly about the deteriorating conditions in Jaw Prison, which mimic thegeneral deterioration of conditions in Bahrain for human rights defenders andcivil society.
Afterhe sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior in November 2017about the conditions in prison, Al-Khawaja was also denied the right to makeany phone calls until 17 December, which appears to be a reprisal against himfor raising his complaint.
Anotherprominent human rights defender who has been ill-treated in detention (includingbeing returned to unsanitary conditions following surgery, which resulted in aninfection) is Nabeel Rajab,GCHR’s Founding Director, Co-Founder and President of BCHR, FIDH DeputySecretary General and a member of the Human Rights Watch MENA Advisory Board. On 15 January 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld thetwo-year prison sentence against Rajab for talking with various media outletsabout human rights issues. On this sentence alone, he will remain in prisonuntil December 2018, even though he has now been incarcerated already for 20months since his arrest on 13 June 2016.
One of the things thatRajab is accused of falsely stating is that journalists and NGOs are bannedfrom entering the country. However, it ishard to dispute that the country is not only closed in term of civic societyspace, but equally not accessible for the international human rights observers.Among those NGOs which have not received permission to enter the country aresignatories to this letter including FIDH, Front Line Defenders and GCHR, whichhas been waiting for the green light to enter the country to do a human rightsmission since 2012.
In another case, Rajab is being prosecuted overtwo charges both related to tweets and retweets posted in 2015 about the war inYemen and also about allegations of torture in Jaw prison after a prison riot inMarch 2015. The firstcharge is “insulting a statutory body” (Article 216 of the Bahraini CriminalCode) referring to the Ministry of Interior in relation to tweets he posteddenouncing the torture of detainees at Jaw Prison. The second charge is “disseminatingfalse rumours in time of war” (Article 133 of the Bahraini Criminal Code) inrelation to tweets he published about the Saudi-Arabia led coalition airstrikes in Yemen. A verdict is expected at the next hearing on 21 February 2018and Rajab faces imprisonment of up to 15 years if convicted.
Women human rights defenders are not sparedtorture and abuse in prison. On 22 October 2017, Ebtisam Al-Saegh, themonitoring and documentation officer of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights,was released from prison pending trial. Al-Saegh was held in solitaryconfinement in Isa Town Women’s Prison since her arrest on 03 July 2017 andsubjected to harsh interrogation. The Public Prosecution ordered Al-Saegh to beincarcerated for six months pending investigation under the anti-terrorism law.In July 2017, a group of UN experts expressed “deep concern at the allegedarbitrary detention of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaeghamid reports she has been tortured and sexually abused and is now on hunger strike.”
In a previous incident, on 27 May 2017,Al-Saegh was arrested and suffered torture and abuse at the hands of theNational Security Agency (NSA). She was summoned to Muharraq police station forquestioning about her human rights activities and then tortured and sexuallyabused by members of the NSA. The security officers also threatened to murderher and her children. She was released seven hours later but had to go directlyto hospital suffering from a “severe nervous breakdown.”
During the interrogation in May, she was askedabout the work of activists inside and outside Bahrain, and about her humanrights work in Geneva during the UN HRC sessions.
In 2017, the security authorities arrested andtortured many human rights defenders and then released them after forcing themto pledge to stop their human rights activities. Other people who wereinterrogated at Muharraq police station subsequently renounced their activismon Twitter and stopped tweeting. Only Al-Saegh strongly condemned these illegalpractices, describing them on Twitter as a "crime against humanity."
All human rights defenders in Bahrain areeither in prison or exile, or prevented from freely working or travelling, suchas Zainab Al-Khamees, banned from travel since November 2016, and NedalAl-Salman, BCHR’s Acting President, banned from travel regularly since May2016, preventing her from attending UN HRC sessions. Al-Salman has been accusedof illegal gathering and was interrogated four times, with charges remainingagainst her. The ban has been lifted twice and re-imposed, often for unknownreasons.
On25 January 2016, human rights defender and board member of the Bahrain YouthSociety for Human Rights (BYSHR) Naji Fateel was among 57prisoners sentenced to additional 15-year terms for allegedly being involved indisturbances in Jaw prison in March 2015. The public prosecutor accused the menof having “unleashed acts of chaos, riots and rebellion inside (prison)buildings,” and they were charged with “damaging public property, attackingpolice, arson and resisting authorities,” among other offences. Fateel wasalready serving a 15-year prison sentence for “establishing a group for thepurpose of disabling the constitution,” and has been in prison since May 2013.He was badly tortured in prison, and it is believed that his imprisonment stemsfrom his human rights work, including his interactions with the UN.
Journalists Tortured and Jailed, Media Shut Down
Journalists in Bahrain are not able to workfreely and have suffered terribly for covering human
rights violations. Journalist Nazeeha Saeed,former correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, reportedbeing tortured in 2011. She is no longer able to work as a journalist inBahrain and forced to leave the country. On 18 July 2017, an appeal court inManama upheld the sentence imposed for “working without a license” againstSaeed. She was fined 1,000 Bahraini dinars (approx. USD$2650). Saeed wascharged with unlawfully working for the international media under Article 88 ofLaw 47/2002. Saeed had applied for renewal of her license but her applicationwas rejected without any basis. It was the first time in 12 years that heraccreditation was not renewed. She was also placed under a travel ban.
Previously, Saeed was arrested and tortured inMay 2011 after covering protests. She was repeatedly beaten and subject toelectro-shocks 10 times while in police detention. One of the policewomenresponsible was brought to trial but acquitted in October 2012. In November2015, authorities decided against charging other identified officers because of“insufficient” evidences.
On 30 October 2017, human rights defender and “Al-Wasat” journalist Mahmoud Abdul-Ridha Al-Jazeeriwas sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and hisnationality was ordered to be revoked. On 28 December 2015, Al-Jazeeri was arrestedduring a raid on his home by security forces in plain clothes. His arrest cameone day after he wrote an article reporting on the regular consultative (Shura)council’s session, during which an MP asked authorities to punish Bahrainis whohad their citizenship revoked on political grounds by depriving them ofgovernment housing. He was charged with supporting terrorism, inciting hatredof the regime, having contacts with a foreign country, and seeking to overthrowthe government by joining Al-Wafa and theFebruary 14 Youth Movement. He was subjected to ill-treatment in detentionincluding being blindfolded and not being allowed to sit or sleep for almostthree days. He is appealing the sentence.
On 24 June 2017, “Al-Wasat” newspaper notifiedits employees in an e-mail of the decision to lay off all 160 staff members. On04 June 2017, Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority (IAA) suspended“Al-Wasat” for allegedly violating the law and repeating the publication of andbroadcasting news that stirs up the community and affects the relations of theKingdom of Bahrain with other countries. The suspension relates to an articlepublished about protests in Morocco on 04 June 2017, which was accused of“abuse of one of the Arab countries."
Editor-in-Chief Mansoor Al-Jamri said, "After 15 years of journalism, wereaffirm that the success of “Al-Wasat”’s unique project would not have beenachieved without the confidence of its constituents, which it considered acivilised means of reform, a bridge of understanding, cooperation, coexistenceand acceptance of opinion and the opposite opinion, depending on theloyalty to the whole nation of all groups of society, while adhering that isinternationally acclaimed to media professionalism." He added, "Themost important of all: honesty in saying and acting."
Recommendationsto the International Community:
We, the undersigned NGOs, appeal to the UnitedNations mechanisms, the European Union, in addition to all governments withinfluence - in particular the United States and the United Kingdom - to applyserious pressure on Bahrain to demand the immediate release of all detainedhuman rights defenders as well as all prisoners of conscience; and to protectpublic freedom, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of assembly andfreedom of association; and to stop the security forces from practicing anyform of torture or ill-treatment on detainees, a practice which is welldocumented in recent years and regarded as systematic in Bahrain.
We further call on the Bahrain authorities toallow the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, freedom ofexpression and torture to visit Bahrain immediately in order to meet representatives of civil society, meet detainees,assess the human rights situation in the country as well as to convey theirrecommendations to solve the crisis facing human rights defenders andjournalists.
In addition, wecall on the government of Bahrain to fulfill its promises made during Bahrain’sUniversal Periodic Review to uphold international standards protecting therights to freedom of expression and assembly, including by taking immediatesteps to:
- Overturn the convictions, following unfair trials, of demonstrators and human rights defenders and activists, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, and immediately and unconditionally free them;
- Guarantee in allcircumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rightsdefenders in Bahrain, bring an end tothe practice of torture and ill-treatment in prison, police stations or secretlocations and bring perpetrators to justice immediately;
- Allow human rights defenders to work freely inside of Bahrain, and travel abroad, including by removing travel bans against Nedal Al-Salman, Zainab Al-Khamees, and Ebtisam Al-Saegh;
- Allow foreign NGOs, journalists and UN representatives to freely visit Bahrain;
- End the harassment of journalists and allow all journalists to carry out their work without fear of reprisals;
- Respect the right to freedom of expression and opinion for all people in Bahrain, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Bahrain Constitution.
Arabic Network for HumanRights Information (ANHRI)
Bahrain Center for HumanRights (BCHR)
Cairo Institute for HumanRights Studies (CIHRS)
CIVICUS: World Alliance forCitizen Participation
Committee to ProtectJournalists (CPJ)
FIDH, under the Observatory forthe Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for HumanRights (GCHR)
International Service forHuman Rights (ISHR)
OMCT (World Organisation AgainstTorture), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)