Bahrain- Systematic crackdown on human rights defenders
Human Rights Defenders AbdulHadi Alkhawaja and Nabeel Rajab
19 November 2012
The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) express their grave concern at the continued systematic crackdown by the authorities in Bahrain on human rights defenders. In the second half of 2012 alone, several cases have been reported that include arrests, detention, ill-treatment, unfair trials, and physical attacks on human rights defenders due to their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.
Detention, prosecution and unfair trial
On the 8th of November 2012, the Court of Appeal refused to release leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who is currently serving a 3 year sentence on three charges related to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly guaranteed by the Bahraini constitution.
The hearing was dedicated to the screening of videos, including videos of international human rights observers that show the peaceful nature of Nabeel's activities. There were signs of undermining the right of defence in the case as at least one international defence witness was denied entry into Bahrain and the defense team has not had access to all the evidence filed in the criminal case in due time. The hearing was adjourned, and a final verdict is expected on the 11th of December 2012.
Nabeel Rajab has been in detention since the 9th of July 2012 after he was sentenced to 3 months for a Tweet in which he criticized the Prime Minister. While in detention, the prominent human rights defender was only allowed to attend the first day of a three day funeral procession for his mother.
(For more details on trial see our previous appeal at: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/5480).
Jaleela Al Salman and Mahdi Abudeeb
On the 7th of November 2012, the Vice President of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA), Jalila Al-Salman was arrested to serve the remaining portion of her prison sentence, after she was summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department. She was originally sentenced to 3 years by a military court for her role in the Bahrain Teachers Association which called for a strike in March last year following attacks by security forces on peaceful protesters. On the 21st of October 2012 an appeal court reduced the sentence to 6 months. Although Al-Salman's lawyer has requested in the second appeal to the Court of Cassation that the charges be dropped and her sentence dismissed, the authorities decided to arrest Al-Salman, who had already served 163 days in prison last year, following her first arrest in March 2011. According to her brother, Al Salman has completed her sentence and was due to be released on 18 November 2012. After being taken for health check-up and receiving her belongings, the authorities refused to release her stating that she had not served her entire sentence. The BTA President, Mahdi Abu Deeb, has been in prison since March 2011 and is serving a 10 year sentence.
Human rights defender and Acting Vice-President of the BCHR, Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha, was held in detention between the 2nd and the 14th of November 2012, after he was arrested while documenting the details of an injury allegedly caused by the riot police in Al-Duraz village. Although Al-Muhafdha was accused of "illegal gathering", he was interrogated about speeches that he has given in connection with the Human Rights Council during the recent Bahrain UPR in September 2012.
Human rights defender and President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights Mohamed Al-Masktai has been arrested and kept in custody for approximatly 24 hours between October 16th and 17th, 2012, as he was interrogated on charges of “rioting and participating in an illegal gathering” in reference to the Friday protest in Manama which took place on 12 October 2012 and entitled “Self determination”.
Zainab Alkhawaja getting violently arrested for protesting peacefully
Human Rights activist Zainab Al Khawaja has been arrested several times since December 2011, and she was recently detained by the Bahraini authorities for two months from the 2nd of August to October 2011 for ripping off the King’s photo. She has had as many as 13 simultaneous cases against her and was sentenced in several of them to either imprisonment or fines. Six of those cases are still active in the court and awaiting upcoming hearings, which could result in more prison time for exercising freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,
1. Tearing a photo of the King: first appeal hearing on 11 December 2012. 2. Insulting a public official (Bahrain Defence Hospital): Acquitted, however, the office of the Public Prosecution appealed against acquittal and the first hearing will be held on the 4th of December 2012. 3. Disturbing traffic while protesting on the sidewalk (Bahrain Financial Harbour): Pleading session on 28 November 2012. 4. Illegal gathering and rioting (Al Aali Roundabout): she was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment and BD300 bail to suspend the sentence, pleading on 11 December 2012. 5. Participating in an un-notified demonstration and entering restricted zone (Pearl Roundabout): Pleading on 20 November. 6. Insulting a public official before the Lower Criminal Court: Pleading on 4 December 2012.
On 4 September 2012, the High Court of Appeals in Bahrain ruled to uphold the sentence against Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in addition to 12 detained activists and political leaders, on charges that include breaching the Constitution, conspiring to overthrow the ruling regime, and having intelligence contact with foreign entities. The trial witnessed several violations of the international standard of a fair trial, including the use of confessions extracted under torture.
The Three HRDs before getting arrested
On 21 Oct 2012 human rights defenders Said Yousif, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Naji Fateel were briefly arrested while walking and holding symbolic amounts of food and medical supply to Al Eker village in order to break a siege imposed by security forces on the area.
Physical attacks outside detention
On Sep 2012, Human rights defender Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha, was arrested in a checkpoint while he was in the car with his two little daughters, 3 and 4 years old. They asked him to stop at a checkpoint, as soon as he stopped 3 security force officers beat, punched and slapped him in front of his crying daughters. His eldest daughter said “they beat my father and pulled his hair” describing what they had witnessed.
On 27 June 2012, human rights defenders Zainab Al-Khawaja and Yousif AL-Mahafdah were shot at directly with 4 stun grenades and from a close distance by a security forces while they were trying to document the attack on a protest in Buri. Security forces also shot a tear gas canister directly at Zainab AL-Khawaja after identifying her, causing her serious injury in the right thigh after which she was taken to the hospital. As a result, Zainab had a fracture, torn muscles and laceration and she was required to walk using crutches for a long period of time. Until today no one has been held accountable for this attack.
Ill-treatment in detention
Several human rights defenders reported that they have been subjected to ill-treatment that occurred while in police custody. On 4 September 2012 leading human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab informed his family and the defense team that he was kept in solitary confinement with a dead cat for several days, in addition to being subjected to other forms of ill-treatment at the central prison (Jaw).
In August 2012, activist Zainab Al-Khawaja reported that she was verbally assaulted by an officer after being arrested. She was dragged out on the ground to a jeep despite her caste and broken leg. Again, on 2 Oct 2012 it was reported that Al-Khawaja was knocked to the ground by a police woman at the police station. The police woman continued kicking, punching, and verbally assaulting Al-Khawaja while on the ground. The police woman then dragged her to the police jeep, and continued to verbally assault her during the drive to the police station in which she was held overnight.
Reprisal and intimidation
From left: Hussain Jawad, Mohammed AlTajer and Mohammed AlMaskati
On 8 November 2012, human rights defender and chairman of the European-Bahraini organization for human rights (EBOHR) Hussain Jawad was called for interrogation at the Criminal Investigation Department. He was accused of participating in riots, a charge which he denied.
After tweeting that he was in Geneva attending the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council which took place in September 2012, Mohammed Al-Maskati, a human rights defender and president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, received more than a dozen anonymous phone calls threatening his life and the safety of his family. Threats to Al-Maskati’s life have been made following an oral intervention he delivered during a panel discussion on intimidations and reprisals, where he informed the Human Rights Council of the intimidations against him.
In June 2012, prominent human rights lawyer Mohammed Al-Tajer was subjected to a campaign of public humiliation when his privacy was violated as private photos and videos of him and his former wife were circulated online on a pro government website, Bahrain Forums, which has played a huge role in spreading sectarianism and conducting attacks and defamation campaigns on people who are part of the opposition and/or activists. The humiliation campaign started few days after his participation in the UPR process on Bahrain which took place at the HRC in Geneva. Al-Tajer was previously threatened with these videos during his detention period by police officers.
Harassments and other violations
Right: Maryam Alkhawaja and Nada Dhaif at the UNHRC, Left: Faisal Hayatt
Human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who is currently imprisoned in the central prison of Bahrain “Jaw”, has been denied the right to get information regarding his health. The court continues to reject the request by his family and lawyer to get a copy of the medical report or the BICI findings related to his health, which prevents the family from seeking medical advice outside the prison. Al-Khawaja has reportedly been subjected to physical, psychological and sexual torture following his arrest on 9 April 2011; as documented by the BICI report.
Human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja faced the same treatment following her arrest on 2 August 2012, as she was not given access to her specialist doctor to monitor the condition of her injured leg despite being detained for over 2 months.
On 15 November 2012, human rights defender and Chairman of Bahrain rehabilitation & anti-violence organization (BRAVO) Dr Nada Dhaif was interrogated upon arrival with her family at Kuwait international airport before being denied entry to the country and forced to return to Bahrain. The first question posed to her during the interrogation was whether she is Sunni or Shiaa. She was informed at the immigration desk that her name is on a black list which includes human rights defenders and activists who are denied access to Kuwait. The list was reportedly prepared and sent by the Bahraini authorities in July 2012.
On 8 November 2012, human rights defender Faisal Hayat, who is the head of the Bahrain Committe for the Protection of Athletes, has been suspended for 10 days from his work at the Bahrain Training Institute (under the ministry of education umbrella) after he spoke at UN HRC side sessions regarding the massive human rights violations in Bahrain. This was despite the fact that he had received official authorization from work for the vacation he requested to go on the trip to Geneva.
Acting President of the BCHR, Mariam Al-Khawaja was denied entry into Egypt in August 2012 during which she was threatened to be sent to Bahrain were Egyptian authorities claimed she has a warrant issued for her arrest. The Bahraini "blacklist" extends beyond GCC borders as has been seen in several cases where Bahraini's were refused entry into Egypt and interrogated in Jordan.
The GCHR and BCHR believe that the above mentioned human rights defenders have been solely targeted for their human rights activities. We further believe the crackdown orchestrated by the government of Bahrain on activists with arrests and prosecution aims to hinder and/or stop their activities, and is in violation of the UN declaration on human rights defenders.
The GCHR and the BCHR call on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and all other allies and international institutions to put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to: 1. Call for the immediate release of human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Jalila Al-Salman, and Mahdi Abu Deeb as well as all other prisoners of conscience. 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. Immediately stop all arms sales to the Government of Bahrain due to the continuous human rights violations. 4. Put pressure the Government of Bahrain to guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
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