In the Absence of International Consequences, High Court of Appeal Upholds Politically Motivated Sentences
Against Leading Human Rights and Political Leaders
Joint Statement Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Gulf Center for Human Rights September 5th, 2012
On September 4th, 2012, the High Court of Appeal in Bahrain ruled to uphold all of the sentences against the so-called “accused conspirators” in the case of the 13 human rights defenders and political leaders serving time in prison and the 7 tried in absentia.
Before looking into the details of the flawed appeal process, it is crucial to note that according to reports and statements made by international human rights organizations, these prisoners of conscience should not have been imprisoned to begin with, let alone made to go through several prolonged judicial processes. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights have previously noted that these processes are used as a tool for judicial harassment and used to buy time and keep these prisoners of conscience in prison for longer periods.
The BICI report in November 2011 clearly stated that all charges against defendants relating to freedom of speech or freedom of expression must be dropped. This decision is a clear rejection of that principle, and a serious violation of human rights. All of the charges brought against these defendants are related to freedom of expression, and must be thrown out.
All sentences against the prisoners of conscience were upheld, as well as charges such as breaching the Constitution and participating in a plot to overthrow the regime and having intelligence contact with foreign entities. For case background please refer to: bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/5272
Three of the prisoners of conscience, namely Abdullah Isa Mahroos, Mohammed Hasan Jawad and Salah Abdullah AlKhawaja, were acquitted of the charge of participating in plot to overthrow the regime. Their sentences, though, were not amended.
Hasan Radhi, one of the leading lawyers involved in this case, spoke during a press conference today, and pointed out many of the outstanding violations that characterized the appeal process:
1. Not all of the defense witnesses were heard. 2. The confessions that were extracted under torture were not thrown out. 3. There was no investigation into the torture allegations, which were detailed in some of the statements made by leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and other prisoners of conscience at the beginning of the appeal process. The failure to investigate these allegations implicates the officials who were made aware of these violations. 4. The last several hearings were held in secrecy, with a gag order on the press () 5. The court appointed new lawyers after the defendants requested their own lawyers to withdraw from the process in protest of the deeply flawed process. The new lawyers were assigned against the will of the defendants, which was a violation of their constitutional rights. 6. The appeal process was unusually swift.
Statements from Governments:
President Obama made clear in a speech on 19th May, 2011, when referring to Bahrain, that “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.” Link: whitehouse.gov
In a statement yesterday, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the White House stated that the US is “troubled” by the appeal verdict: Link: state.gov
UK “disappointed” at verdicts in Bahrain activists’ cases: Link: fco.gov.uk
The BCHR and GCHR welcome the statement from Jeppe Kofod, the foreign policy spokesperson for the Social Democrats – Denmark’s ruling party – who stated in regards to the court’s decision that “It is deeply tragic and deplorable. I had hoped the Bahraini rule had deliberated further and released Al-Khawaja. It is deeply disappointing, and we need to think about what kind of sanctions we can take against Bahrain.” Link: i-m-s.dk
The BCHR and GCHR have previously stated that the continuation of human rights violations in Bahrain are a result of international silence and a general lack of consequences for the government in Bahrain. A discussion on possible economic and/or diplomatic sanctions will have a huge influence on preserving human rights in Bahrain.
The Danish Foreign Minister, Villy Søvndal, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “the decision to uphold the life sentence “very disappointing” and said he would discuss possible further international action from “the very broad range of countries that in the spring supported Denmark in the demand for the release of Al-Khawaja and the other human rights and democracy fighters in Bahrain.” Link: washingtonpost.com
Statements from International and Local Human Rights Organizations:
The Human Rights Watch report on the original trial process and charges: hrw.org Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch stated that the initial court ruling “only compounds the travesty of justice that has characterized this case from the beginning.” Their report calls attention to the fact that all of the charges were related to the defendants exercising their right to peaceful expression, association, and assembly.
The international community was quick to respond to the court’s announcement. Amnesty International called these defendants prisoners of conscience, and demanded their immediate release. Link: amnesty.org
Human Rights First: Reform Claims Shattered as Bahraini Court Confirms Sentences Against 13 Leading Dissidents Link: humanrightsfirst.org
The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights: Appeal Court Upholds Previous Sentence of 20 Prominent Activists and Opposition Leaders. Link: byshr.org
In May 2012, an appeal signed by more than 100 organizations called to end the assault on freedom of speech, and to free all detained human rights defenders and citizens. Link: ifex.org
The BCHR and GCHR call on the US administration as well as other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU and leading human rights organizations to:
1. Call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain. 2. Increase the pressure on the Government of Bahrain to stop the ongoing daily human rights violations as well as escalating attacks on human rights defenders. 3. Put pressure on the Government in Bahrain to allow journalists and human rights organizations access to the country to document human rights violations and to report on the ongoing situation. 4. Immediately stop all arms sales to the Government of Bahrain due to the continuous human rights violations. 5. Initiate a discussion on international consequences, including but not limited to diplomatic and economic sanctions, towards the Government of Bahrain due to the continuation of human rights violations.
The BCHR and GCHR urge the United Nations to:
1. Hold a special session on Bahrain at the Human Rights Council, and a session to follow up on the implementation or lack thereof of the recommendations of the BICI report. 2. Call for a follow up fact-finding mission to look into the widespread and continuous human rights violations that have taken place since the issuing the BICI report November 2011. 3. Put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to accept requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs.