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Bahrain: where tweeting can land you in jail

Many cases reflect the increasingly restrictive and dangerous environment faced by human rights activists and those willing to express their opinions inside Bahrain.

One of the most well-known cases is of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. Having served several prison sentences since 2011’s pro-democracy uprising, he is no stranger to the fundamentally unjust Bahrain judicial system. Incarcerated for tweeting about the killing of civilians by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen, in addition to allegations of government-sanctioned torture in Bahrain’s prisons, he faces a bleak and tough future ahead.  Nabeel Rajab is one of dozens of human rights defenders unjustly imprisoned for refusing to stay silent on his government’s rights abuses

A similar desire by the government of Bahrain to quash political dissent also sits front and centre in the case of Hakeem Al Araibi. His outspoken remarks against Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, is believed to have been the underlying reason for his detention in a Thai prison for nearly three months.

Instead of embarking upon a path towards progressiveness, inclusivity and reform, Bahrain has made an active decision to entrench policies of hostility and repression. Unfortunately, these attitudes will only draw further criticism towards the oil-rich state, as activists and political opposition figures will continue to be forced to flee in search of safety and security. 

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USCIRF: Bahrain as a Tier 2 country “for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations

THE U.S. COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM (USCIRF) issued its annual report in April 2019. The report was published to monitor religious freedom abroad and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress. The 2019 Annual Report documents religious freedom violations and progress during calendar year 2018 in 28 countries and makes independent recommendations for U.S. policy.

The report is divided into three sections. The first section focuses on the U.S. government’s implementation of IRFA and provides recommendations to bolster U.S. efforts to advance freedom of religion or belief abroad. The second section highlights 16 countries USCIRF concludes meet IRFA’s standard for “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, for the period covered by this report, which USCIRF refers to as Tier 1 countries. The third section of the Annual Report highlights 12 countries USCIRF categorizes as Tier 2, defined by the Commission as nations in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government during 2018 are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” CPC standard.

In 2019, USCIRF places Bahrain on its Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).The part related to Bahrain concluded with recommendations to the US  government. The most important of these recommendations was to urge the Bahraini government to clarify the terms and enforcement of the 2016 amendment to article 5 of the 2005 Political Society Law, which prohibits religious figures from “inciting hatred,” and repeal articles 309 and 310 of Bahrain’s Penal Code that impose fines and jail time for blasphemy.

Click here to read the full report

Human Rights Watch: France Should Press Bahrain King on Rights Issues

Human Rights Watch demanded the French President Emmanuel Macron not to hold back in criticizing Bahrain’s dismal rights record during King Hamad al-Khalifa’s visit to Paris on April 30.

The organization also reported that Bahrain is approaching a near total shutdown on free speech as authorities have effectively dissolved and outlawed every opposition party and shuttered independent media. Peaceful dissidents, including political opponents and human rights defenders, are being harassed, arrested, and prosecuted on abusive charges. Many of those detained have alleged severe ill-treatment and torture in detention.

In a rare move that triggered a diplomatic crisis between France and Bahrain, the French ambassador to Manama, Cecile Longe, boldly called out Bahrain on its abuse in a tweet last June. She expressed concern about the “treatment of human rights defenders and political opponents in the country,” and specifically criticized the upholding of Nabeel Rajab’s five-year sentence by the Manama Appeals Court. The Court of Cassation – Bahrain’s court of last resort – upheld his conviction in December.

Nabeel Rajab is one of dozens of human rights defenders unjustly imprisoned for refusing to stay silent on his government’s rights abuses. His five-year sentence arose from tweets alleging torture in a Bahrain prison – which Human Rights Watch has documented – and criticizing the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen in which Bahrain is a participating member. In recognition of Rajab’s courageous human rights activism, the City Council of Paris awarded him honorary citizenship during a ceremony last June.

King Hamad al-Khalifa can, with the stroke of a pen, quash the charges against Rajab and other political prisoners and order their immediate release. Earlier this month, the king issued an order reinstating the citizenship of 551 individuals who had been unfairly stripped of their nationality through court orders.

Macron should hold the line on Bahrain’s abuses and ask the king to once again use his powers to correct the injustice perpetrated by the judiciary and release Nabeel Rajab.

Protection of Religious Freedoms: A Human Duty

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Bahrain Interfaith (BI), in cooperation with Media Association for Peace (MAP), organized a conference entitled " Protection of Religious Freedoms: A Human Duty ". The conference was organized in light of the deterioration witnessed by Bahrain in religious freedoms, in conjunction with the National Day of Religious Freedom in Bahrain and the commemoration of the demolition of the mosque Mohammed al-Barbighi. Religious scholars from various communities and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Maharat Foundation, and a number of activists and researchers have participated. 

The conference was held in Beirut, on the 17th of April 2019. It focused on religious pluralism, civil coexistence among the different, religious diversity in Bahrain and the persecution of Shiites, as well as an assessment of the conditions of religious freedom in Bahrain. The speakers were: Dr. Ghassan abu Deeb the member of Global Forum for Religions and Humanity (GFRH), Sheikh Souhaib Habli the member of Tajamoo of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon, Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman the President of Bahrain Interfaith, Vanessa Bassil the founder of Media Association for Peace,  Ghiwa Farroukh the researcher at Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and Hussein Al-Shareef member at Maharat Foundation, in addition to Amnesty International’s Gulf researcher Devin Kenny. 
The Center called again at the conference to make the 17th of April a National Day for religious freedom in Bahrain. That helps to find a new reality based on respect and appreciation for the beliefs of citizens, and the creation of a legislation deterrent to infringement or tampering with those beliefs. 
The most important statements in the conference were: 
Abu Deeb stated that “If we want to extract from the holy gospel or the Qur’an the theology of war we can, and if we want to extract the theology of peace we can also”. Sheikh Habli commented that “if Bahrain permits Buddhists for example to practice their religious rituals while do not permit Shiites… the problem then is political and has nothing to do with the doctrines and their differences”.  Hussein Al-Shareef spoke of a report issued by Maharat Foundation in 2018 entitled “"Hate speech on social media”. The report concluded that there is no conflict between the sects. Rather, the difference is political and this is what the media contributes to.  About Shiites in Bahrain, Kenny said “it is an issue of demanding democracy, and the violation is a violation of the same religion. The authorities prohibit the practice of religion in prisons. We as an organization do not follow the religious discourse, but call for equality at all levels”. At the end, sheikh al-Salman commented that “making the 17th of April a National day for Religious Freedoms in Bahrainis a reaffirmation of the need of Bahrain to protect the religious freedoms of all components and communities and provide legislative and legal immunity to all places of worship”. 
The conference issued recommendations after discussions:
Allowing the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom of the United Nations to Bahrain to examine the deterioration of the religious freedoms of citizens; The formation of an international team of United Nations experts and specialists in the crimes of demolition and erasure of cultural, heritage and religious landmarks to study the crime of the demolition of 38 mosques in Bahrain; To put pressure on the Bahraini government to enact laws protecting religious freedoms, as well as to address the effects of the political crisis in Bahrain and to open the doors of serious dialogue leading to comprehensive national reconciliation; In addition to many other recommendations that were signed by the attendees so to be presented to the United Nations later on. 
The conference also included a musical part presented by Israa Quaeq and a painting by the artist Hassan Qambar.

Human rights groups called for Formula One to seek the immediate release of Najah Yusuf and Ahmed Humaindan

Jean Todt,

President Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)

8, Place de la Concorde

75008 Paris, France

Dear Jean Todt,

We, the undersigned organisations, write to draw your attention to the human rights and press freedom violations committed by the Bahraini authorities, including against people protesting the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Bahraini Government attaches great importance to the Bahrain Grand Prix as a glamor status symbol of progress and international prestige. For this reason, the race has become a focal point for protests calling for political reform as well as a pretext for the authorities to further crack down on free speech and assembly.

Leading human rights organisations have documented the spike in human rights abuses that occur each year around the time of the race. The Bahraini government uses such events, and the lack of global concern about such abuses, to sanitise—or “sports-wash”—its image abroad while continuing to abuse its citizens domestically.

Since 2015, Formula One has had a human rights statement, which it adopted after a mediation process when Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) filed a complaint in the United Kingdom, where the main Formula One companies are based, under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The guidelines emphasise the corporate responsibility to carry out human rights due diligence and cooperate with legitimate processes in remediating impacts they have caused or contributed to. Its “Statement of Commitment to Respect for Human Rights” pledges: “The Formula 1 companies are committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally.”

One case of Bahraini abuse is the imprisoned mother of four and Bahraini activist, Najah Yusuf, who was arbitrarily arrested and said she was tortured and sexually assaulted a week after Facebook posts criticising the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix were published on an account she comanaged.

The posts in question called for “No to Formula races on occupied Bahraini land,” and criticised the Bahrain Grand Prix for being“nothing more than a way for the al-Khalifa family to whitewash their criminal record and gross human rights violations”. They also called for a “Freedom for the Formula 1 Detainees” march to put the spotlight on protestors jailed for criticising the Bahrain Grand Prix. These posts were all included in the evidence submitted by the Public Prosecution against her, and her social media activity opposing the Grand Prix was referenced in her court judgement.

Formula One publicly expressed concern in November 2018 about Ms. Yusuf’s case. The Bahraini Government continues to claim that her arrest and conviction “has nothing to do” with her protest of the Grand Prix. The Bahraini Government made similar claims in relation to other high-profile political prisoners, including Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and the family members of Bahraini pro-democracy activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Both Rajab and Alwadaei were present during the OECD mediation process that led to Formula One adopting its human rights policy in 2015.

Moreover, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there are several reporters serving prison sentences who were arrested for activities and coverage related to the event. Ahmed Humaidan is a priority case due to his deteriorating health and because the timing of his prison sentence appeared to be related to the run-up to the race in 2014. The arrest of Sayed Ahmed al-Mosawi also appears to be linked to an effort to restrict protests and journalism in the lead up to the race in 2014. It is noteworthy that award-winning photographer Mohammad al-Sheikh was also detained shortly before the race in 2017. Together there is a clear pattern of repression and detention of journalists and restriction of press freedom by the Bahraini authorities around the races.

With the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix fast approaching, we suggest Formula One take immediate action on these cases by:

a. Publicly calling for Ms. Yusuf and Mr. Humaidan’s immediate and unconditional release; and

b. Sending a high-level delegation from Formula One and Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) leaders to visit Ms. Yusuf and Ahmed Humaidan in Isa Town Prison and Jau Prison, which are only 20 km and 24 km away from Bahrain’s International Circuit, respectively. This is consistent with the actions of other sports federations, for example, FIFA’s sending senior staff to monitor the hearing in Thailand of Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi.

Sincerely,

1.Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

2.Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)

3.Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

4.Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

5.European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

6.Football Supporters Europe

7.Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

8.Human Rights Watch (HRW)

9.International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

10.International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

11.PEN International

12.Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

13.Transparency International Germany

14.Women's March Global

15.World Players Association, UNI Global Union

 

Copy to Ms. Sacha Woodward-Hill, General Counsel to F1

Bahrain: Athletes Being Targeted

The detention of Ali Marhoun and Mohammed Khalil reveals the continued targeting of athletes by the authorities

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its deep concern over the continued targeting of athletes by the Bahraini authorities, and their ill-treatment. The security services recently arrested Mohammed Khalil, a player in Bahrain Bowling Team, and the player of the Al- Ma'ameer Volleyball Club Ali Marhoun and his brother, the sports photographer Hassan Marhoun. They were arrested on the background of charges related to the political and legal situation in the country.

On Tuesday, 29 January 2019, the police forces arbitrarily arrested the player in Al- Ma'ameer Volleyball Club, Ali Jafar Marhoun (22 years old) and his three brothers, Mohammed, Houssein and Hassan (a sports photographer). They broke into their house in Al-Ma'ameer by climbing the wall, and arrested them without presenting an arrest warrant or legal authorization for inspection.

Public prosecution accused Ali of participating in placing a fake bomb on the highway. The three brothers were accused of the same charge before they were released on 19 February 2019. Ali remained in prison until the date of issuing this statement. Ali's family reported to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights that the police officers responsible for the arrest of Ali had beaten him during the house raid. Ali told his family that he was beaten during the interrogation for the purpose of enforced confession. He was subsequently detained for 30 days on pending investigation.

On Friday, 08 March 2019, the police forces arrested the player in Bahrain Bowling Team, Mohammed Khalil Ebrahim. He was leaving Bahrain International Airport for official participation in an international championship in the UAE. Mohammed is facing a previous sentence of one-year imprisonment for gathering with others after his arrest in 2015. His family reported the invalidity of judgment against Mohammed, being that he was on duty at the time of the alleged gathering.

Since the beginning of 2019, authorities have arrested four athletes, including Jawad Al-Khabbaz, a football coach and a former press photographer. He was fired from his job in Al-Watan after the peaceful protests in Bahrain in 2011, before his release after 20 days of detention.

Bahrain has been under intense international criticism for its targeting of athletes and journalists, the most recent of which was the case of Bahraini player Hakeem Al-Araibi. Hakeem is a refugee in Australia who was arrested in Thailand on the orders of the Bahraini government before being released following an international campaign to support his cause.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) strongly condemns the Bahraini government's continued targeting of activists, journalists and athletes as well as the various human rights abuses ongoing in the country. The Bahraini government usually accuses activists of cases where confessions are extracted under degrading treatment during interrogation.

 

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the international community to put pressure on the government of Bahrain to:

• Immediately release all detained athletes and journalists in Bahrain

• Stop targeting activists, athletes and journalists

• Commit to international conventions and covenants ratified by Bahrain

• Investigate allegations of torture and hold the responsible accountable  

 

Detention robs the freedom of children in Bahrain

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the arbitrary detention of children Hussein Radhi Abdullah and Ali Hussein AbdulWahab. They were detained for five days after being charged with illegal gathering. These children were among the 10 cases of detention of children under the age of 18, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) monitoring from 11 to 17 February 2019.

Arbitrary arrests were carried out during the same period. Some children were arrested by raiding their houses at early morning without a legal warrant. Others, including Hussein and Ali, were arrested from the street without knowing the reason for the arrest or even presenting the warrant. They are often investigated without a legal representative and are not allowed to communicate with the outside world. They are often subjected to psychological torture to force them to confess to the charges against them, thus arrest and imprison them, depriving them of their freedom and education.

The centre asserts that the international law obligates the authorities of any State to respect and treat the child as a minor while Bahraini authorities classify those children as “terrorists” in an attempt to justify their detention. The government of Bahrain has signed to the convention  on the Rights of Child that guarantees the safety of children which states in its 37th article that no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Based on the above, Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the authorities in Bahrain to:

 -Immediate and unconditional release of detained children
- Commit to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the application of its provisions
- Stop targeting children and allow them to complete their education and exercise their rights guaranteed by international covenants and conventions
-Ensure fair trial for children who are found to be involved in cases in front of specialized courts and guarantee all their rights

Wave of arrests as Bahrain marks anniversary of 14 February uprising

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned by the wave of arrests that have been carried in the run up to and on 14 February, which marks the anniversary of the 2011 uprising.

 

Around 40 arrests have been carried out so far as Bahrain marks the uprising anniversary. In the two days leading up to the anniversary, 28 arrests were carried out, with 11 further arrests in the morning of 14 February, including three minors. It is likely that further arrests will follow.

 

The majority of these arrests, which took place in over ten different areas, were carried out following unlawful house raids. A further arrest was carried out against a protestor.

 

Also in the lead up to the anniversary, dozens of peaceful protests have taken place in many cities, including Al-Manama. In the afternoon of 14 February, one protest was met by tear gas.

 

BCHR: “Each year, we see a growing crackdown at this time of year. In 2017 we saw excessive force used against protestors, leading to many injuries. So far this year, we have seen a wave of arrests carried out, and expect that more could follow”.

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, the European Union and all international human rights organizations to put more pressure on the government of Bahrain to:

• Immediate and unconditional release of those arbitrarily detained

• Immediately put an end to violations of human rights, in particular the right to express opinions and freedom of peaceful assembly

• Accountability of those responsible for violations, regardless of their position

• Compensation of victims in fair compensation pursuant to the size of their injuries. 

 

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Bahrain: 8 years on from 2011, Reform and Accountability Remain a Mirage

Beirut, February 13th, 2019Human Rights Organizations call for Accountability Regarding Human Rights Violations in Bahrain

A conference on the human rights situation in Bahrain was held in Beirut, on the 13th of February 2019 with the participation of international human rights organizations, experts, CSOs, activists and researchers. Members of prominent organizations such Human Rights Watch, FIDH, Amnesty International, Index on Censorship, and others have participated in the discussions of the topics of the conference.

All participants have agreed on the need for accountability to deal with the ongoing deterioration of the human rights situation that has been happening since 2011.

Some of the topics discussed revolved around the status of women HRDs, the shutdown on Freedom of Expression, the forms of electronic repression, the failure in implementing the BICI recommendations, and the lack of accountability in Bahrain.

Among the participants, some of the important statements were:

The head of FIDH, Dimitris Christopoulos, said that “Treating Nabeel Rajab the way they did shows that human rights defenders threaten their system by advocating peace".

The Advocacy Officer at Salam DHR, Joshua Cooper, said that “it is clear that BICI process has long come to a halt. To answer why, involves answering why human rights as a whole have regressed in Bahrain, including in the absence of any political transition, the use of sectarian and security narratives, and a lack of international support.”

Jodie Ginsberg the CEO at Index on Censorship commented that “I expect to see a clear commitment from Bahrain's allies that continued cooperation is dependent on Bahrain's commitment to uphold universal human rights.”

Aya Majzoub, the researcher at Human Rights Watch, declared that “the recent victory in Hakeem Al-Araibi’s case proves that the effort to put pressure on Bahrain has been successful in order to reform its human rights record .”

Bahrain Center for Human Rights: We thank the people and the government of Australia for their support of Al-Araibi

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) welcomes the decision of releasing the Bahraini football player, Hakeem Al-Araibi, detained by the Thai authorities, after Bahrain dropped extradition proceedings.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights considers his release a result of cooperation between human rights organizations, governments and the football community in the past two months. Therefore, BCHR thanks Australia, people and government, and all other countries that contribute in his release.

BCHR: “We have worked hard with many members of human rights organizations around the world to reach this result”.

The case of the 25 year-old player who was a refugee in Australia since 2014, and a member of football club in Melbourne had become widely known. He was detained by Thai authorities in last November at Bangkok airport when coming from Australia to spend the honeymoon with his wife. Al-Araibi’s detention was in response to an international arrest warrant requested by Bahrain.

The Thai judiciary began to consider the Bahraini authorities request to extradite him to carry out a previous sentence of 10 years imprisonment. The charges were a result of participating in the “Arab Spring” events in 2011 that included Bahrain, which the player completely denies.