Photo: Nabeel Rajab (left, in white) and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja (right, in blue) at a protest in 2011.

14 Feb 2013

Bahrain on the 2nd anniversary of 14 February 2011 protests: Bahrain- Human rights defenders are targeted by the government due to their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.

On the second anniversary of the Bahraini uprising for human rights and democracy, The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) renew their calls for the immediate release of all the detained human rights defenders in Bahrain. We call for the immediate release of the co-founder of both the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who worked for years locally and on the international level to promote and defend human rights in MENA region and Bahrain in particular. We call also for the immediate release of the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the newly elected –while in prison- General Secretary of the GCHR Board, Nabeel Rajab, who have been targeted for his peaceful human rights activities especially after the crackdown on protesters during February and March 2011. We call as well to put an end to the ongoing crackdown on all other human rights defenders and activists who are either in jail, in exile, in hiding or awaiting trials that probably will be resulted in prison sentences against them.

On Feb 14, 2011 the Bahraini people took to the streets demanding freedom, human rights recognition, and democracy for their own country. The peaceful protesters were met with sever repression that included the use of excessive force against. As a result of that many innocent citizens either lost their lives or got wounded. Also, during the same period from 16 March to the end of May 2011, the country was placed under the state of National Security, giving full power to the army and security forces. This was the time when some human rights defenders such as Nabeel Rajab have played vital roles in reporting and documenting and publishing information about the massive human rights violations in Bahrain and the indiscriminate attacks on people. By talking directly to the media, using the social media networks at time of travel ban, communicating with international human rights organizations and the UN various human rights bodies, Nabeel Rajab and his colleagues were able to keep the eyes on Bahrain and expose the violations to the world, which have eventually resulted in a sufficient pressure that succeed in both ending the emergency status and the set up of Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) by order from the King of Bahrain himself. Leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has become a target for the authorities' crackdown from the very beginning, due to his huge human rights work in the years before including founding the BCHR. On 9 April 2011, Al-Khawaja was brutally arrested and knocked down unconscious. He was bleeding due to deep cuts close to the left eye and suffered a number of fractures in the jaw, cheek and nose that required a four hours surgery immediately after his arrest in order to treat his injuries. He was later subjected to sever torture that was documented by the BICI[1] and which was described in details to the Court of Appeal in May 2012 [2]. He was put on a military trial and got life sentences in June 2011 for alleged charges of “attempt to overthrow the Government by force" along with another 20 human rights defenders and activists. In January 2013, the Court of Cassation has upheld the sentences despite all evidences of torture including the fact that Al-Khawaja still suffers from his jaw injury [3]. Between February to May 2012 Al-Khawaja went on a hunger strike that lasted 110 days for freedom, however he was force-fed by the authorities to which he decided to end his hunger strike after he succeed to shed light on the ongoing human rights violations happening in Bahrain. Today, Al-Khawaja is going through another hunger strike started on 2 February 2013 demanding the removal of all the restrictions imposed on the on communications between the detained activists and their families and lawyers [4]. Al-Khawaja has been awarded in 2012 the freedom award from Freedom House along with his two daughters Maryam and Zainab in addition to the Danish newspaper Politiken’s annual Freedom Award which honours "exceptional individuals or organisations struggling to defend or win freedom under hazardous conditions"[5].

In much the same way, Human Rights defender Nabeel Rajab has paid a heavy price due to his determination during the period of the highest repression and beyond to defend the people’s right in Bahrain to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. He was briefly arrested in March 2011 [6], his house was attacked twice in April and May 2011 with tear gas canisters that endangered the life of his family and sick mother who passed away last year [7]. He was pulled to military interrogation in May 2011 for his tweets which documented human rights abuses [8]. The security forces physically attacking him during a protest in Manama in Jan 2012 [9]. Then they started to prepare a large set of lawsuits against him, in which all charges were directly linked to his peaceful and legitimate practice of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Nabeel Rajab was eventually sentenced to 3 months in prison in July 2012 for a tweet [10] , and then to 3 years in prison for participating and calling for peaceful protest. His sentence was later reduced to 2 years in prison. Nabeel Rajab is still held in prison since 9 July 2012, in isolation from the rest of prisoners of conscience. He was reportedly ill-treated during detention [11]. Nabeel Rajab is a winner of the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award in 2011, presented annually by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. Also, he is a winner of the British Silbury Prize in 2011 for his humanitarian and human rights activities. The BCHR, led by Nabeel Rajab, won the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Advocacy Award in 2012 in recognition to "campaigners or activists who have fought repression, or have struggled to challenge political climates and perceptions."

Several other human rights defenders are facing trials and possible prison sentences including Zainab Al-Khawaja with at least 7 active cases against her [12] and Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha who is on trial for a tweet [13].

The most prominent Bahraini blogger, and the internet pioneer, Ali Abdulemam, owner of the most popular Web Site in Bahrain "" where the first calls for the February 14 protests emerged is still missing today after his disappearance on 16 March 2011. Abdulemam was previously detained between September 2010 to February 2011 and was subjected to severe torture which he has later exposed to the media (watch minute 09:20 of this video He went missing since the crackdown on protests in March 2011 and his whereabouts is unknown. He has a military sentence against him of 15 years in prison for the very same alleged charges of “attempt to overthrow the Government by force". It’s believed that Abdulemam was targeted mainly because of his work to promote freedom of expression through his Web Site.

The GCHR and the BCHR believe that the Bahraini authorities are targeting these human rights defenders solely for their role in exposing the massive human rights violations and communicating it to the world. The government of Bahrain lacks the will to start a real reform in the country after more than a year that passed after the publication of BICI recommendations. The human rights defenders who worked so hard to document and report the massive violations are the ones imprisoned and prosecuted today while the perpetrators walk free in the streets away from being held accountable for their actions.

The GCHR and the BCHR call on the Bahraini government to immediately and unconditionally release all the detained human rights defenders and drop the charges against them. We also call on the government of Bahrain to meet its obligations according to the international human rights treaties to which the Bahrain government is a signature in particular in relation to the protection of human rights defenders.

The GCHR and BCHR respectfully remind the government of Bahrain that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”, and to Article 12 (1 and 2): “(1) Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (2) The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”


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