On 6 April 2017, Bahrain Center for Human Rights took part in the pre-session event organized by UPR Info, ahead of the 27th UPR session organized at Palais des Nations in Geneva. BCHR's Vice President Said Yousif al-Muhafhda attended the event delivering a speech on reprisals and repression against human rights defenders (HRDs) in Bahrain. Read his speech below.

Human Rights Defenders in Bahrain Under Attack  

Mr President 

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) would like to discuss concerns about the ongoing harassment, intimidation and attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Bahrain.  

Article 12 of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders mandates states to take necessary measures to ensure their protection.  

During the 2012 UPR review cycle, Spain, Norway and Denmark made recommendations that directly concern human rights defenders. A total of five recommendations concerning harassment, intimidation and attacks on human rights defenders, journalists and civil society representatives were presented. The Bahraini government accepted four and noted one. The joint submission made by BCHR, Civicus and the Gulf Center for Human Rights in September 2016 concluded that none of the five recommendations were implemented. 

Among others, the Bahraini government committed to ensuring “that human rights defenders must be protected and allowed to conduct their work without intimidation and harassment.” However, this commitment has not materialised into action. Human rights defenders, journalists and civil society representatives are continuously punished for their work.  

In spite of its international commitments, Bahrain has employed systematic modes of harassment and reprisals against human rights defenders and members of civil society. The most common methods include unlawful arrests, forced exile, citizenship revocations and travel bans imposed on human rights defenders cooperating with UN mechanisms

BCHR’s president Nabeel Rajab was arrested on 13 June 2016, the opening day of the 32nd UNHRC session. He has been kept in pre-trial detention for over 290 days on multiple charges for which, if convicted, he could be sentenced to 18 years in prison.  
 
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, former president and co-founder of the BCHR was sentenced to life imprisonment for his pro-democracy activism during the 2011 Bahraini uprisings. He is currently suffering from a severe deterioration in his health, including his vision, and needs urgent access to medical care. 

Human rights defenders are being sentenced in absentia, with the expectation that they will be arrested if they return to Bahrain, thus actively forcing them into exile. Such is the case of Maryam Al-Khawaja, who was sentenced to one year in prison in absentia for allegedly assaulting airport security officers, forcing her to remain in exile.  

Hussain Jawad, Chairman of the European Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights, is on trial for charges including ‘insulting the king’ while living in exile.  

Social media activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, as well as myself, have been forced into exile due to our human rights work. 

Another common form of reprisals against human rights defenders is the use of citizenship revocation. Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a human rights defender exiled in London, had his citizenship revoked. The government also arrested two of his family members, which is symptomatic of new methods being used. 

I, myself, received messages through a social network platform, where a Bahraini police officer threatened to target my family members in Bahrain if I continue to speak out about the ongoing human rights abuses in kingdom.  

Reprisals are also being levied against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN.  

In June 2016, during the UNHRC’s 32nd session, Bahraini human rights defenders including BCHR staff, and family members of victims of extrajudicial killings were banned from traveling to Geneva. BCHR’s Nedal Al-Salman was banned from travelling to Geneva to participate in a UN roundtable in August 2016. 
 
Ebtesam Alsaeg was arrested last month upon her return to Bahrain from the UNHRC in Geneva and interrogated for six hours about her activities at the UN. 

Pro-government newspapers continue to defame human rights defenders as ‘agents’, and work to incite the arrest of those who participate at the UN. 

We urge UN member states to call on Bahrain to implement, and enforce the five recommendations related to human rights defenders. We ask member states to request the government of Bahrain to release all jailed human rights defenders. And, finally, we urge member states to call on Bahrain to allow human rights defenders to work freely without fear of retaliation and reprisals, and to implement measures to prevent the judicial system from punishing human rights defenders.