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BCHR’s President Nabeel Rajab faces worsening mistreatment, denied access to lawyers and family

The Bahraini authorities should immediately ensure that the President of Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Nabeel Rajab, whose health is deteriorating has immediate access to his family and lawyers. His family reported that they have not been able to communicate with him since last week. BCHR is highly concerned over its President’s mental and physical health  as Rajab has been held in pre-trial detention for over a year now, which has taken a grave toll on his health. BCHR reiterates its call on the Bahraini authorities to release him on humanitarian grounds.

Rajab’s health condition has steadily worsened during his lengthy detention; on 5 April he underwent surgery for bleeding ulcers. In that instance, he was allowed a minimum time in the medical facility before he was sent back to his prison cell. Due to the unhygienic detention conditions, Rajab developed a post-surgery infection and was rushed back to the Ministry of Interior hospital three days later. He has been slowly recovering ever since. Recently, however, his family reported that Rajab was facing harassment in the hospital and new orders to be transferred back to prison so he can be sentenced.

It is unclear exactly what his health condition is at the moment as no calls or news of his condition have been released for the past week. As no information is known, the concern of BCHR is that Nabeel Rajab is unfit to be released from hospital and his health may suffer again if he is send back too soon.

16 June 2017 marked one year in pre-trial detention based on charges related to tweets and re-tweets related to allegations of torture among political inmates in Bahrain’s Jau prison, and on charges based on his interviews with the foreign press. The trial related to the press interviews was postponed from 12 to 13, and yet again to 14 June, the same date he was scheduled for his trial on tweets and re-tweets. On 14 June, his lawyers walked out of the trial in protest of Rajab’s absence in the Court. The trials have been postponed to 2 July and to 7 August.

Members of the European Parliament, human rights groups and media have expressed public outcries at his incarceration, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, called for his release from prison at the 35th UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

 

Duraz Remains Under Siege One Year Later

On 20 June 2016, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) revoked the citizenship of a top Shia Muslim Leader, Sheikh Isa Qasim. Sheikh Qasim is the religious leader of the Shia Muslim community, and has been a leading figure in the introduction of democratic reform in Bahrain since the 1970s. Sheikh Qasim was sentenced on 21 May 2017 to one year in prison, suspended for three years, and ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 BHD on charges of alleged money laundering.  

The MOI cited Article 10(c) of the Bahraini Nationality Law to justify its decision to revoke his citizenship. The law states that citizenship can be revoked if individuals “cause damage to the interest of the state or take action contrary to duty or loyalty to it.” The MOI further accused Sheikh Qasim of having “exploited the religious pulpit for political purposes.” The decision of the MOI to arbitrarily revoke the citizenship of the leading Shia cleric resulted in thousands of supporters spontaneously gathering in front of his house in Duraz in solidarity and in protest of the decision. The gathering turned into a sit-in towards the end of June 2016 and after people vowed not to leave the area, has continued for a whole year.

Since the outset of the protests, Bahraini security forces have responded harshly. Arrests were made from the start, and countless individuals have been charged with illegally gathering in Duraz, in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The authorities have made numerous attempts to limit participation in the protests in Duraz, have limited access to the town, and have employed deterrent methods such as issuing summons, and arresting individuals who take part in protests - or even who visit the area.

In July 2016,  police established blockades closing most roads into and out of Duraz, all major and minor entrances have therefore been sealed off. Other entrances and exits were blocked with concrete slabs, sandbags, police cars, and barbed wire. Only two entrances were left open, and people were queueing to enter and exit the town. Checkpoints were controlled by various security personnel. Restrictions on free movement were intensified during Eid Al Fitr in July 2016; the celebration at the end of Ramadan, families were unable to visit relatives, and many were unable to participate in celebrations. Usually busy sites during Eid, such as Abu Subh beach, were virtually empty. The blockades have also had a social impact; clerics are not allowed to enter the area, affecting Friday prayers, and family members are not allowed to enter. Schools have also been affected, the school bus is not allowed to enter Duraz without authorisation by the MOI. This has resulted in children having to walk long distances to school.

Since 23 June 2016, all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs), including the three largest, Batelco, Zain, and Viva, have enforced a daily Internet shutdown, most probably as a result of a device restriction order from the authorities. By limiting access to the Internet, e-commerce traders, IT professionals, and office workers are prevented from working effectively. Card payment machines have also been rendered useless during the shutdown, economically impacting businesses in the Duraz area. On 1 July 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a new resolution for the protection of freedoms on the Internet which “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and call on states to refrain from and cease such measures.”

Despite these increasingly harsh tactics protesters have continued to show their support to Sheikh Qasim.  

Further developments in 2017

On 26 January 2017, Bahraini security forces fired live ammunition at protesters in Duraz. It is unclear what branch the security officials involved in this attack operate. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) reported that the type of ammunition recovered from the area was consistent with the types of ammunition used by Bahrain’s riot police. During the attack several people were reported injured. Mustafa Ahmed Hamdan, aged 18, was shot in the head, and was taken to Salmaniya Medical Complex to receive emergency medical treatment. Hamdan died on 24 March, two months after the incident. He had been comatose since the shooting and suffered from numerous injuries including a skull fracture, concussion and internal bleeding. The Bahraini government failed to release any publicly available information on Hamdan’s shooting. The security forces were not made to accept responsibility, and no public investigation has taken place. Bahrain’s National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) issued a statement on 30 January acknowledging Hamdan had suffered a head injury, but blamed the incident on “two groups of masked men exchanging rockets and fires shooting.”

Ahead of Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations in May 2017, 32 people were summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecution. As many as 24 of these individuals were charged with “illegal gathering in Duraz.” The majority of those charged are not residents of Duraz, and non-residents have been prevented from entering the town since 20 June 2016. The charges appear to have been used to stop them, and act as a deterrent to others, from criticising Bahrain during its UPR. Eight of those charged were told that they had been placed under a travel ban, and were therefore unable to leave the country. 19 of those summoned were human rights activists, others were journalists, members of the political opposition, and bloggers.  The protest in Duraz is being utilised by the Bahraini authorities as a ‘go-to’ charge for individuals who engage in civil society and human rights mechanisms, and prevented human rights activists from participating in the UPR.

One year on from the revocation of Sheikh Qasim’s citizenship protesters continue to gather in Duraz in support of the cleric, and the Bahraini government still maintains a heavy security presence.

Violent attacks in May 2017

In May 2017, two days after United States President Donald Trump said international relations between Bahrain and the US were set to improve, and following the sentencing of Sheikh Isa Qasim, the government of Bahrain escalated its campaign in the besieged village of Duraz.

On 23 May 2017, national security forces, including members of the special forces, entered Duraz and opened fire on the peaceful sit-in supporting Sheikh Qasim. The Bahraini Ministry of Interior has confirmed that five individuals were killed; reports also indicate that dozens of people were injured with bird shot pellets. Internet access was shut down during the raid on Duraz by security forces, effectively preventing individuals from easily disseminating information using social media platforms. On 25 May, it was reported that security forces remained in Duraz, and that house raids were still ongoing; the house of Sheikh Isa Qasim remains surrounded by police officers. According to information received from Qasim’s family members, residents of the house were prevented from accessing water. Individuals were being denied access to the town. There are also reports that many individuals have disappeared, and that family members are unaware of their whereabouts. In one case, a woman called her husband, and was told by the woman that answered that she had found mobile phones thrown on the streets.

The families of those who were killed were taken to Budaiya police station, one member of each family was called in, had their mobile phone removed, and was asked to identify the victims. The five men were subsequently denied funeral rites, and buried in secret on 28 May, without the presence or consent of family members. The deceased have been named as Mohammed Al-Ekri, Mohammed Hamdan, Mohammed Alsari, Mohammed Zain Eldin and Ahmed Al-Asfoor.

It is is believed that one of the victims, Ahmed Jameel Alasfoor, died from injuries sustained after his arrest. Mohamed Hasan Hamdan is the brother of Mustafa Hamdan, also killed in Duraz earlier this year. 

The effect of this incident has been wide ranging; prisoners detained in Jau prison have been allegedly subjected to reprisals. Detainees have been stripped of their clothes, and subjected to beatings. All calls from inmates to their families have been stopped. Additionally, woman human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Sayegh was summoned to the National Security Agency  (NSA) and interrogated for seven hours without her lawyer being present. During the interrogation, Al-Sayegh reported being verbally abused and sexually assaulted. Following her release, Al-Sayegh was admitted to hospital, suffering from a nervous breakdown.  Other human rights activists who wish to remain anonymous have also reported being summoned to the NSA and interrogated in recent days. Those summoned were documenting and monitoring violations on the ground in Duraz  

On 2 June, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on the Government of Bahrain to launch an independent and effective investigation into the deaths of five protesters during the operation in Duraz. Zeid urged “the government to investigate the events of 23 May, in particular the loss of lives, to ensure that the findings are made public and that those responsible are held accountable.” He also called on the authorities to release any individuals being detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

 

 

U.N. Experts Warn Repression in Bahrain Will Breed Unrest

GENEVA — A crackdown on human rights in Bahrain, including a resumption of executions and suppression of dissent, is likely to spark increased unrest, U.N. rights investigators said on Friday.

U.S.-allied Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, crushed mass protests by the Shi'ite Muslim majority in 2011 and the Sunni-led monarchy has kept a lid on unrest since then by closing Shi'ite-led opposition groups and prosecuting activists.

Read the article here

Bahrain: Only Independent Newspaper Shut Down

 
(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities on June 4, 2017, ordered the immediate indefinite suspension of Al Wasat, the country’s only independent newspaper, Human Rights Watch said today. The Bahrain authorities should immediately revoke the order. Al Wasat is one of the very few independent news sites in the entire Gulf region.
Read the article here

Bahrain must end worsening human rights clampdown, UN experts say

GENEVA (16 June 2017) - A group of United Nations human rights experts has urged the Government of Bahrain to halt its orchestrated crackdown on civil society.

“Over the past year, there has been a sharp deterioration of the human rights situation in the country,” the experts* said. “This has included unacceptable restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, aimed at muzzling any discordant voice and suppressing dissent.”

Read the statement here.

Arbitrary pre-trial detention of Nabeel Rajab set to continue past one year as trials postponed

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) remains deeply concerned about the ongoing pre-trial detention of its President, Nabeel Rajab, which contravenes international standards in regard to the length of time individuals should be detained prior to legal proceedings. Nabeel Rajab, who is still hospitalized, should be released on bail on medical grounds.

Rajab’s most recent trials were on 12 and 13 June for charges relating to televised interviews given to members of the international media and comments made on social media. The trial scheduled for 12 June was postponed to the following day. On 13 June, Rajab therefore faced two trials in absentia; one in the morning for comments on social media, and in the afternoon for interviews to international media. In both cases the Court postponed Rajab’s case, he now faces trial on 2 July for interviews given to the media, and on 7 August for charges relating to comments made on social media. Rajab’s arbitrary detention is therefore set to continue. In total Rajab faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted of all the charges against him.

Rajab’s lawyers and diplomatic observers from the United Kingdom and Australia walked out of the courtroom during proceedings.

Rajab is President of BCHR, as well as Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Committee. Rajab has been relentlessly persecuted for his human rights activities and jailed repeatedly on charges in violation of his right to freedom of expression.

Rajab has been detained since his arrest on 13 June 2016. He has spent much of his time in solitary confinement in Rifa’a police station. Conditions in the jail were at times deplorable, and are thought to have contributed to the deterioration of Rajab’s health. At the time of writing Rajab remains in hospital after being admitted on 8 April for complications relating to a surgical procedure.  

In May the United Nations Committee Against Torture noted with “deep concern” the arbitrary imprisonment and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, including Rajab. Fourteen human rights groups, including BCHR, BIRD and Index on Censorship wrote to UN member states urging them to call for Rajab’s release. On 13 June, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, called for the release of Rajab. On the same day 37 MEPs called on High Representative Federica Mogherini to call for the release of Rajab. In the United States, Congressman Jim McGovern addressed congress also calling for Rajab’s release.

BCHR strongly condemns the continued detention of Rajab and calls on the government of Bahrain to release the human rights defender. BCHR further urges the international community to continue to press the Bahraini government for the release of Nabeel Rajab and all other human rights defenders that are targeted and imprisoned in Bahrain.

 

The world is watching - Bahrain must release Nabeel Rajab

IFEX member Nabeel Rajab has endured 1 year in pre-trial detention, with a further possibility of up to 18 years imprisonment, for exercising his right to freedom of expression.
On the 1-year anniversary of his arrest, the IFEX network calls on Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab.

Read the article here.

UNHRC35 Oral intervention addressing the UN Special Rapporteur

Oral Intervention at 35th UN Human Rights Council

Julie Gromellon, BCHR's Senior Adovacy

Address made to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye.

Mr. President, Mr. Special Rapporteur,

I am making this statement on behalf of FIDH, OMCT Reporters Without Borders, IFEX,the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

One year ago, on that day, Nabeel Rajab was arrested from his home, one day before he was due to participate in the UN Human Rights Council. One year on, Nabeel Rajab remains in jail; his health is gravely deteriorating, he has been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, denied appropriate health care and he has spent extensive periods of time in solitary confinement. And still, this Council remains silent.

Nabeel Rajab is a leading human rights defender in the Arab world, who is President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Founding Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Committee.

He has been held illegally pending trial for one year, only for expressing his opinions on social media, for tweets and retweets he made regarding the war in Yemen and allegations of torture in Bahraini prisons, in addition to media interviews. He faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Last year, human rights experts, including yourself, Mr. Special Rapporteur, called on the Bahraini government for Nabeel Rajab’s immediate release, and for all charges against him relating to freedom of expression, to be dropped. A year ago there was some hope that the international community would support your call and pressure the Bahraini authorities to set him free. We are still waiting for this Council to act.

This sad anniversary comes in the context of unprecedented harassment and violent pressure directed at all critical and independent voices in the media, political parties, and trade unions, which are fighting now simply to be allowed the right of peaceful expression. The numbers of individuals arrested over charges related to free expression on the Internet and social media websites have significantly increased. Journalists, human rights defenders, bloggers, and active members of civil society have been targeted by the government, including being interrogated, sexually assaulted and tortured and forced to stop their human rights activities. Foreign members of the media are being denied entry to the country, whilst Bahraini journalists are being denied licenses to work for foreign media outlets, like Nazeeha Saeed, an award-winning Bahrain correspondent for France 24 who was recently found guilty of reporting without a license. The crackdown directed at the human rights movement and the persecution of independent, critical voices in Bahrain is not only a challenge faced by activists like Nabeel Rajab and others. It is a decisive moment as well for the cohesion and stability of Bahrain. The targets of the government are currently all those critical and independent voices standing against social violence, violent extremism, terrorism, and sectarianism.

Thank you