7 Apr, 2016

Ettifaq Football Player Khawouri Split Between the Bitterness of Deportation and Staying in Prison for Life

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its concern at the authorities' arbitrary policies, such as the detention of the Bahraini football player from Ettifaq FC, Mahmoud Ahmed Khawouri. He has been detained for over 23 months by the Department of Citizenship, Passports and Residency, because he does not have a passport or Bahraini citizenship.

His family has informed BCHR that Khawouri, 23 years old,  was arrested on 29 April 2013 as a result of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011. The First Tier Criminal Court accused him of unlawful assembly and rioting, and ordered him to be detained for a year. He served the sentence until April 2014 – but his family was shocked when he was then transferred to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), and then to an immigration deportation centre, rather than being released. The family learned that this was because he had not obtained Bahraini citizenship or a passport, even though he was born in Bahrain and had not left the country since birth. He has been held in the detention centre for the past two years, despite concerted efforts by his family and human rights organizations to bring about his release.

Khawouri is the third son of a Bahraini woman and a man with Iranian citizenship who has lived in Bahrain for over 50 years. Bahraini law doesn’t allow the Bahraini mother to transfer her nationality to her children. As such, Khawouri, who was born in Bahrain and lived there with his siblings, does not have not citizenship. He has studied in government schools, never traveled out of Bahrain and plays with Bahrain's Ettifaq FC. He worked with his father in the central market until he was arrested in April 2013. The Khawouri family alleges that the young man was subject to torture and ill treatment while detained at the CID, in order to force him to confess to the crimes of which he was accused. They also say he was deprived of his right to legal representation during his interrogation. Following ongoing back and forth negotiations, the Department of Citizenship, Passports and Residency ordered the family to get papers from the Iranian embassy to show that Khawouri is an Iranian national. However, the Iranian embassy refused to do this, as they consider him to be a Bahraini national, not an Iranian, because he was born in Bahrain to a Bahraini mother, and he has lived his whole life in the country. He has never set foot in Iran, and there are no official documents to support the assertion that he is Iranian.

In February 2016, Khawouri's mother took documents containing the aforementioned facts to the detention centre, but they were not taken into consideration. Khawouri has spent two years in detention despite the fact that his mother and other citizens have put forward sufficient sureties for him to remain in Bahrain, along the lines of foreign workers residing in the country. In recent months Khawouri has developed a skin condition due to the unsanitary conditions in which he is held.

The Bahraini government has prevented many people born to Bahraini mothers, including people with Iranian heritage or a Shia background, from getting Bahraini citizenship. This is clear discrimination and marginalization. At the same time, the Bahraini government is also naturalizing large numbers of foreigners who were not born in Bahrain and do not have Bahraini fathers.

The Bahraini government is forcing Khawouri to choose between two options: deportation or remaining in prison for the rest of his life, not because of a crime he committed but because the government is preventing him from accessing citizenship in the country in which he was born, and where his mother is a citizen. Bahraini law only gives fathers the right to pass on citizenship to their children, which is a clear violation of women's rights and human rights according to international conventions.

BCHR has issued a report about people denied naturalization in Bahrain, either those who have had their citizenship revoked by a court after being convicted of crimes relating to popular protests demanding political reform and human rights, or those whose citizenship has been stripped by administrative orders from the Interior Ministry. Others have been denied the opportunity to claim Bahraini citizenship because their father has been imprisoned, or is wanted by the security forces due to political activity.

In 2015, UN rapporteurs on cultural and human rights and freedom of religion said that a study carried out in 2008 showed that around 2,000 families living in Bahrain are prevented from accessing citizenship. Many of them are from the Shia community, and according to the law have the right to claim Bahraini citizenship. It is also alleged that the majority of these people are non-Arabs, the ethnic group the majority of whose members are Shia. It is probable that, due to this discrimination, Shia and non-Arab residents remain in the lowest social and economic class. They are likely to be subject to other human rights violations, such as restrictions on their right to education, healthcare and housing.

Depriving these people of citizenship is a discriminatory government policy. Imprisonment for lack of citizenship violates international agreements and laws which stress the right to naturalisation, such as Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a nationality, and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”

International human rights covenants also demand that all states put in place procedures to prevent people from being made stateless, by granting citizenship to individuals born in their territory or to citizens who would otherwise be left stateless. Those who are stateless are prevented from owning or selling property, and are not allowed to access housing, social benefits or free healthcare. They also face challenges in accessing legal representation, registering for education services and getting jobs. The biggest challenge, though, is the legal prosecution they face due to “illegal residency,” despite their efforts to find a surety to stay in the country as is the case with foreign workers. This means they are at risk of deportation.

 

Based on the above, BCHR demands the authorities do the following:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Mahmoud Khawouri from his arbitrary and unlawful detention;
  • Grant Khawouri Bahraini citizenship, which is his legitimate right due to his mother's Bahraini nationality and his birth and life-long residency in Bahrain;
  • Release all those detained under similar circumstances;
  • Provide fair and just treatment of people involved in nationality and naturalisation cases, which must be considered fairly regardless of ethnic or religious background; and
  • Respect international laws and human rights covenants and their stipulations around rights to nationality and to change nationality.
5 Apr, 2016

Bahrain: Impunity and light sentences for the killers and torturers of protesters and prisoners

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the continued policy of impunity and the lack of accountability for the abusers of human rights in Bahrain, as indicated by several cases during the month of March 2016.

On 27 March 2016, the Bahraini Higher Court of Appeal reduced sentences of one officer and two policemen from five years to two years’ imprisonment for the murder of 36-year-old Hasan Majeed al-Shaikh who was tortured to death on 6 November 2014 at Bahrain’s Jaw prison. The wounds that caused his death were caused by severe physical torture inflicted on him by six Interior Ministry affiliates. Another three policemen who were sentenced to periods between one and three years in the same case were all acquitted. Reducing the sentences of six officials who had been found guilty of ill-treatment, torture and murder shows the lack of independence of the Bahraini judicial system.  

In another case, on 1 April 2016, an officer was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for shooting and killing 19-year-old protester Fadhel Abbas, as well shooting and injuring Sadiq Alasfoor, causing him injuries that disabled him for over 20 days in 2014. The officer was originally sentenced to a three months only which has been now raised to three years, a sentence that is still not adequate to the level of the crime of extra-judicial killing.

On 9 March 2016, nine policemen who had been accused of severely beating 13 detainees using hoses and wooden sticks at Jaw prison, were acquitted, an order upheld by the Court of Appeals. Nabeel Rajab, the leading human rights defender who was in prison at the time in May 2013, was a witness to this prison assault. He reported it immediately and as a consequence he was subject to further restrictions on his movement and communication in prison. He provided his testimony to the court along with another witness. It’s shocking to see how the courts are blatantly protecting abusers, says BCHR.

In March 2016 alone, there have been at least five cases of officers who have not been held adequately accountable for their crimes. On 7 March 2016, an officer who severely beat a detainee saw his sentence reduced from two years in prison to only three months.  On 21 March 2016, a detainee who had been accused of burning tires on the streets was severely beaten, causing him several serious injuries. The court found the policeman who was involved in this case not guilty. On 17 March 2016, the court  acquitted a policeman who was involved in severely beating a detainee on 30 June 2015.

While such officials see their sentences reduced, human rights defenders and protesters receive harsher sentences for merely making use of their freedom of expression by for instance, tweeting. Zainab al-Khawaja was arrested with her 15-month-old son on 14 March 2016 after being sentenced to prison solely related to her activism and exercise of free expression. She was sentenced to combined sentences of three years and one month imprisonment and a BHD 3,000 fine. Hussain Mahdi, a satirical twitter user has received a five-year prison sentence for “insulting the king” in posts on the social media website Twitter.  

In 2012, the Government of Bahrain established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) which concluded in its report that “the lack of accountability of officials within the security system has led to a culture of impunity, whereby security officials have few incentives to avoid mistreatment of prisoners or to take action to prevent mistreatment by other officials.The commission received evidence indicating that, in some cases, judicial and prosecutorial personnel may have implicitly condoned this lack of accountability.” Based on these findings and in order to end the culture of impunity, BICI presented several recommendations, including:

“1247. In the light of the “pattern of impunity” for torture and mistreatment in the past, the appropriate prosecution should be initiated with a view to ensuring punishment consistent with the gravity of the offence.

1719. To adopt legislative measures requiring the Attorney-General to investigate claims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and to use independent forensic experts.”

The Government of Bahrain has not fully implemented any of these recommendations and ended the ongoing impunity of security forces, and the bodies that it has established to hold human rights abusers accountable have failed in their role.

It’s notable that most if not all the above mentioned cases against police officer were investigated and prepared by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) that was established on 28 February 2012 as a specialized unit at the Public Prosecution for the investigation of torture crimes, abuse and ill-treatment that may have been committed by government officials. The light sentences and the acquittals easily passed by the courts on the above mentioned cases provides doubt about all the cases and how they are officially handled, and indicate that the SIU is not preparing strong cases with required evidence and justification to secure justice for the abuses.

The BCHR calls on Bahrain and the international community to:

  • End the systematic torture of detainees and inmates;
  • End the impunity of security forces;
  • Hold accountable all the officials involved in such criminal practices;
  • Bring to justice those who break the law, independently of their position, political affiliation or connections;
  • Ensure independent and unbiased investigations and trials;
  • Repair all damage caused to victims of torture and their families;
  • Comply with the international human rights standards and legality.

The BCHR calls on the Bahraini government to put an end to the authorities’ political and judicial impunity and their lack of accountability.

 

4 Apr, 2016

Immediate and Impartial Investigation Needed After Death of Teenager

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) alongside the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) and the Justice Human Rights Organization(JHRO) call for an immediate and impartial investigation into the death of 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani after he died from injuries sustained during his arrest by Bahraini security forces.

Ali, who was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment on charges related to his participation in demonstrations, succumbed to his injuries on 4 April at the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital (BDF). According to witnesses, security forces hit him twice with their car as they attempted to arrest him.

An eye witness who spoke to the BCHR, reported that on 31 March 2016 at approximately 11:00am, riot police raided a property belonging to the victim’s aunt where Ali was present in Shahrakan. When officers attempted to arrest him, Ali ran away and a vehicle driven by government agents drove into him. When he continued to run, the vehicle slammed into him and he fell to the ground. Ali then got back up and ran into another property approximately 200 meters away from his aunt’s house.

A few moments later, the victim was seen and photographed by other witnesses lying on the ground with blood spilt from a serious head injury. Images obtained by the NGOs show the victim to be severely injured, lying in his own blood, and surrounded by police. The authorities then reportedly transferred Ali to the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital as police cordoned off the area where he had been injured. When the mother of the victim arrived at the scene, police took her to the Hamad Town Police Station where she was kept briefly before being released.

A video seen by the NGOs appear to show a member of the security forces tampering with the crime scene by burying Ali’s blood with sand.

After the family called for an official investigation, police informed them that Ali was present at the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital. Details of the incident and information on how he was injured were not made clear. Ali’s family has informed the NGOs that when they visited him, he was in a coma and suffering from severe internal bleeding and a head injury. There were also bruises under his eyes.

On 4 April, when they traveled to the hospital to visit, the family was informed by police that Ali had succumbed to his injuries and passed away. Authorities did not inform them when he had died.

The Ministry of Interior is yet to comment on the case.

Ali’s death comes during the 2016 Formula One race and as authorities threaten to increase security across the country. He is the second to die during the event after Salah Abbas, a father of five who was killed by police on the eve of the 2012 race after being tortured and shot. His corpse was found on the roof of a building. Despite promises by authorities to open an investigation, no one has ever been held responsible for Salah’s death. According to figures collected by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the authorities have killed at least 97 people since 2011. That year, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) found that authorities had used excessive force to suppress the protests and that torture was systemic. Five years later, Bahraini authorities have failed to implement the majority of the BICI’s recommendations, including those meant to increase accountability for serious abuses such as torture and extrajudicial killings. Institutions established by the government under international observation have failed to bring a single torture case relating to the unrest as the authorities continue to operate under a culture of impunity.

If the above account is true, the excessive and disproportionate use of force by Bahraini authorities may have led to the death of another teenager – ultimately constituting extrajudicial killing. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Bahrain is obligated to protect the right to life. Force must only be used when strictly unavoidable, and must be exercised with restraint and proportionality. The Government of Bahrain must launch an immediate investigation into the death of Ali Abdulghani and it must hold all those implicated in his passing to account.

Read the French version here

1 Apr, 2016

Formula 1 Overshadows Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain, Even as They Spike During the Race

By Said Yousif Al-Muhafdah

 

While Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen were closing the final lap of the 2015 Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain, and then celebrated with teammates and engineers, they were probably unaware that they were gifting Bahrain’s authorities with another image of success since Formula 1 landed in the tiny Gulf Island in 2004. Another success masking abuses the regime is committing against its own people. Human rights violations are the norm, freedom of speech is prosecuted and those who speak their minds end up jailed, imprisoned without a trial, and tortured.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa was in the picture when awarding the British racer with the winning driver's trophy at the podium. The royal house has managed to keep its rule over the country by crushing the opposition, especially since the 2011 popular uprising; the year when the Bahraini Grand Prix was cancelled. The following years carried brutal crackdowns on protesters in order to have this race back up and running.

During the month of Formula 1 in Bahrain, human rights violations are often at their peak both in terms of severity and the amount documented. The number of arrests increases considerably compared to other months of the year. Most arrests are carried out illegally while suppressing ongoing protests. Protesters are usually subjected to severe torture during and after arrest

During the 2013 Grand Prix, Rayhana Al-Mosawi and Nafeesa Al-Asfoor were arrested while protesting at the circuit. The two young women were taken from there straight into custody, beaten, tortured and forced to sign a confession. Their forced confessions were used to convict them in a sham trial in which they were sentenced to five years in prison. Additionally, the number of injuries documented among protesters escalates as security forces use excessive force to suppress calls for democracy and freedom. Forced confessions, severe torture, and excessive use of force are common practices in Bahrain. However, not even such practices could stop the race in 2012, when human rights activists pushed for the Grand Prix to be cancelled, drivers agreed but only because they selfishly felt their own safety was endangered.

A country that currently keeps more than 3000 people under arbitrary arrest, tortures detainees, bans freedom of speech and sentences people to jail for “misuse of social media” should not be celebrated, let alone get such positive media attention. But this is exactly what the Formula 1 is doing for the regime. It is the perfect distraction, not for Bahrainis, but for international media to focus on sports in Bahrain and overlook the blatant human rights violations happening at the very same time as the superstar drivers warm the tires in the heat of the track.

The Formula 1 organization and the International Automobile Association (FIA) acquiesce with the Bahraini regime when allowing them to host the Grand Prix, as a silent approve of the various violations of human rights that are acted out by the regime. Flashes of the celebrities at the paddock and the glitter of Mercedes and Ferrari outshine the dark and gloomy jails where prisoners are beaten, have their citizenships revoked and are sentenced to life imprisonment and death.

Journalists from all over the world will visit Bahrain this weekend, to see whether McLaren has managed to engineer a car which can compete head to head with both Ferrari and Mercedes. However, they should bear in mind that on the same soil they are stepping on, journalists and photographers like them are targeted and prosecuted. Even unlawfully imprisoned for doing their job to inform about and protect the human right to freedom of speech.

The flashes and luxury of the Formula 1 circus are always a great chance for a country to sell itself as the perfect tourist destination and to make powerful contacts in the highest spheres, while the suppressed population falls off the priority agenda. They are left to be tortured, prosecuted or extradited. As long as the show goes on, no one seems to care. The real dilemma here is that the Bahraini regime and the international community ignore the suffering of regular civilians basically in favor of the profit of TV entertainment on a Sunday afternoon.

23 Mar, 2016

Sheikh Maytham Al Salman Clarifies Blasphemy Laws in Bahrain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this video, Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman explains the illegitimacy of charges brought against him by the Bahraini authorities.

Inter-faith leader, human rights advocate and Columbia Global Freedom of Expression expert, Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman faces new charges of defamation of religious symbols. The charges, punishable under Article 309 of the Bahrain Penal Code with a fine and imprisonment stem from a sermon Sheikh Maytham delivered in November 2015.

Click here to continue reading the article here.

21 Mar, 2016

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Press briefing note on Bahrain

From UN OHCHR

 

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location:     Geneva
Date: 18 March 2016 
Subject:       Bahrain

We are deeply troubled by the arrest on Monday in Bahrain of the social media activist and human rights defender, Zainab Al Khawaja, who was detained along with her one-and-a-half year old son. Ms. Al Khawaja was previously convicted on a number of charges, including insulting the King. Her father, who co-founded the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been in jail since 2011, serving a life sentence. There are also unconfirmed reports that Ms. Al Khawaja’s infant son has been denied a birth certificate.

In 2014, amendments to the citizenship law enabled the Government to revoke the citizenship of any Bahraini who “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom,” fails in his or her duty of “loyalty,” or assists “a hostile state.” At least 250 people have reportedly been stripped of their citizenship as a result, including 72 people in January alone this year. Those who lose their citizenship are forced to return their passports and ID cards and apply for residency permits or alternatively leave the country. Four such people have been deported since the beginning of February.

Under international law, loss or deprivation of nationality that does not serve a legitimate aim, or is not proportionate, is arbitrary and therefore prohibited.  And Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says explicitly: “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality…”

In addition to being rendered stateless, human rights activists are also facing problems travelling abroad.  The prominent religious and human rights figure, Maytham Salman, who works in Bahrain and abroad to prevent the incitement of hatred and violence, has reportedly been waiting for his passport to be renewed for more than two months. And another co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabil Rajab, still faces a travel ban, after being convicted – and then pardoned – for tweets he wrote in 2014.  He faces further charges for more tweets he allegedly posted in March 2015.

We are also concerned about recent laws that seriously curtail the right to freedom of expression in Bahrain. A 2014 law amending the penal code provides for up to seven years in jail, and a fine, for offending the King, the flag or national emblem. It is also a crime to offend the National Assembly, the army, courts or government agencies or to develop hostility towards the system of government. These provisions are regularly used to censor and intimidate human rights activists and journalists documenting or raising awareness about abuses. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the Interntional Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by Bahrain, has made it clear that the mere fact that remarks might be considered insulting to a public figure in Bahrain is not sufficient to justify penalties.

In addition to restrictions on freedom of expression there is also a serious issue regarding the right to freedom of assembly in Bahrain. Gatherings in the capital have been indefinitely banned since 2013, and dozens of people – including minors -- who have participated in protests have been prosecuted.

21 Mar, 2016

Bahrain: Stop Deportations of Nationals

From Human Rights Watch

 

(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities have deported five stateless Bahrainis, whom they had previously stripped of their citizenship, since February 21, 2016. Another nine people stripped of their citizenship will be at risk of deportation if a court of appeal does not overturn the decision to strip them of their citizenship, which is based on a vague accusation that they had “damaged state security.”

On December 7, 2015, the court of appeal, upholding a decision to strip eight people of their citizenship, ruled that the authorities can exercise their discretion and need not provide “specific means of proof” when revoking the citizenship of nationals who “cause harm to the state” or fail in their “duty of loyalty” to it.

“These unlawful deportations are ripping families apart and causing untold suffering,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Bahrain should stop the deportations immediately and restore citizenship to those who have been left stateless, especially when this was done without justification or because they criticised their government.”

The Bahraini Center for Human Rights told Human Rights Watch that, on the afternoon of March 15, 2016, 54-year-old Ali Esfandeyar became the fourth Bahraini whom authorities have deported since February 21, when they deported Shi’a cleric Mohamed Khojasta. On December 7, 2015, a court of appeal upheld the decision to strip Esfandeyar and seven others of their citizenship – a decision that has left at least five of them stateless.

Nine others are at risk of deportation after March 22, 2016, if a court of appeal upholds the decision to strip them of their citizenship. The nine were among a group of 31 Bahrainis whose citizenship the authorities revoked on November 6, 2012, claiming that they had caused “damage to security of the state.”

One of the nine, Taimoor Karimi, a lawyer, received a court summons on August 10, 2014, from the public prosecutor, citing “violations of asylum and immigration law” that include remaining in Bahrain without the residence license that all non-nationals over 16 are required to have. Karimi has four children, the youngest of whom is 14. He told Human Rights Watch that he is concerned that he may have to go to another country, away from his family and with no other nationality. “I am not a young man,” he said. “This does not make sense.”

 

These unlawful deportations are ripping families apart and causing untold suffering. 

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East director

The others are Sayed Mohamed Ali al-Musawi, Sayed Abd al-Amir al-Musawi, Adnan Kamal, Habib Darwish, Ebrahim Darwish, Ismail Darwish, Maryam Sayed Ebrahim, and Sayed Abd al-Nabi al-Musawi.

The court’s decision cites a 2014 amendment to article 10 of the Bahraini citizenship law of 1963, which allows for the revocation of citizenship from persons who “caused harm to the interests of the Kingdom or behaved in a way inimical with the duty of loyalty to it.” The judgment, which Human Rights Watch has reviewed, states that:

It is established that the state has the right to assess what is and is not harmful to its domestic and foreign affairs. … It has the discretionary authority to take all measures to ensure its security and safety, and these measures may broaden or narrow in accordance with the circumstances surrounding the state. … It is established that the decision to revoke citizenship may be proved by any incident or evidence without a requirement for a specific means of proof. The administrative body possesses broad discretionary authority in this regard that is not subject to judicial review provided its decision is free of the abuse of authority.

The court’s reasoning effectively grants the authorities full discretion to revoke the citizenship of any Bahraini in the knowledge that the courts will not require them to provide any proof to justify their decision. The decision can be based on vaguely worded offenses such as “damaging state security” or failing in a “duty of loyalty” to the state.

Another of those affected by the decision was Masaud Jahromi, 46, who was deported on March 7, 2016. He was among a group of 72 Bahrainis whose citizenship the authorities revoked on January 31, 2015. The Interior Ministry statement announcing the decision stated that those involved had either been involved in “illegal acts” that included a range of terrorist offenses, “spying for foreign countries,” “defaming the image of the regime,” and “inciting and advocating regime change through illegal means.” At the time, Jahromi, who has a 3-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, was chairman of the Computer Science Department at Ahlia University in Manama.

Jahromi told Human Rights Watch that he received a phone call on March 7, 2016, telling him to report to the General Directorate of Nationality, Passport and Residence. He had appealed to the authorities in writing and in person to delay any deportation until June, saying that his wife was in ill-health and that the deportation would have a negative impact on his 12-yearold son’s education.

The authorities did not respond to his appeal. Instead, they drove him to the airport, gave him a Bahraini passport that identifies him as a Bahraini resident, not a citizen, and placed him on a plane with a passport issued the same day. Jahromi asked Human Rights Watch not to divulge his current whereabouts. But he said that his one-year passport expires on March 7, 2017, and he does not know if he will be able to renew his entrance visa when it expires. He said he has no idea why the authorities decided to revoke his citizenship: “I attended [anti-government] rallies in 2011, but everyone attended rallies in 2011,” he said, referring to anti-government protests that the authorities repressed with disproportionate and sometimes lethal force.

In 2015, authorities stripped 208 Bahrainis of their citizenship. They can be classified into three broad categories: human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, doctors, and religious scholars; Bahrainis known to be fighting alongside the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria; and individuals convicted of domestic terrorism offenses. With regard to the last category, Human Rights Watch has described Bahrain’s courts as playing “a key role” in maintaining the country’s highly repressive political order” and the Supreme Appellate Court held in September 2012 that terrorism need not involve the use or threat of violence but can be the result of “moral pressure.” Article 29 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, states that “Every person has the right to a nationality, and no citizen shall be deprived of his nationality without a legally valid reason.”

Article 21 of the Arab Charter states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.” There is no Arab Court of Human Rights to interpret the charter and offer guidance on its implementation, but other international human rights bodies have applied a three-part test to determine whether the state’s actions violate the right to family life. They have said that decisions must be made in accordance with law, must pursue a legitimate aim, and must be proportionate (and necessary in a democratic society), taking into account the impact of the deportation on the person’s family.

Although the Bahraini authorities have followed a legal procedure, the court of appeal’s reasoning appears to grant the authorities absolute discretion to make decisions without considering the impact on the family life of those affected, no matter how arbitrary or unreasonable.

“Bahrain’s allies can and should press Manama to end this policy of banishing peaceful dissidents,” Stork said.

14 Mar, 2016

NGOs Call for the Release of Activist Zainab al-Khawaja

14 March 2016 – Bahraini security forces today raided the house of human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja and arrested her with her 15 months old son. The undersigned NGOs condemn in the strongest terms the arrest of Zainab and her son over charges merely related to her activism and exercise of free expression.

On 14 March 2016, at 3:45 P.M., security forces raided the house of Zainab al-Khawaja’s in-laws’ house asking for her. When they did not find her, they raided Zainab’s apartment where she was arrested with her 15 months old son, Abdulhadi. She was then taken to Al-Hoora police station. Her family were informed that she will be transferred for a medical checkup before transporting her to Isa Town women's prison.

Zainab was sentenced to a total of three years and one months in prison and BHD 3,000 fine over several charges related to her exercise of freedom of expression and her peaceful dissent against the Bahraini government. On 2 February 2016, the court of appeal upheld a 9 months prison sentence against Zainab for trying to visit her father, human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja in Jau Prison when he was on hunger strike in August 2014. In December 2015, the court amended a prison sentence against Zainab to one year and four months instead of three years and three months on charges related to tearing up a picture of the King and allegedly insulting a public officer during a peaceful protest in Bahrain. In October 2015, the court reduced her sentence to one year in prison instead of three years over the same charge of insulting the Kings.

Zainab AlKhawaja has been previously detained several times since 2011 for various periods, and has had over 13 cases brought against her at Bahrain courts. At one time she spent over 12 months in prison between February 2013 to February 2014  serving multiple sentences on different charges related to her human rights work and exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. She has previously suffered from ill-treatment and poor prison conditions during her previous detention.

Zainab was determined to exercise her right to free expression, she tweeted: “Ripping his picture is a first step to let him know that we are not afraid, that we are determined to gain our rights, to live as free ppl Bahrain.” Bahraini authorities targeting and prosecution of human rights activists is a part of a wider crackdown against whoever exercises their freedom of expression in Bahrain, including journalists, bloggers, social media activists, and opposition figures. Bahrain has failed to uphold its international commitments and continues to violates its people’s fundamental rights.

Zainab’s family believe the arrest was timed as a retaliatory act against her sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights and former Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Maryam Al-Khawaja recently attended the 31st Session of the UN Human Rights Council, and in February attended the FIFA presidential elections in Zurich, Switzerland, which saw the Bahraini candidate Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa lose, in part due to human rights allegations related to the February 2011 “Arab Spring” events.

 

We, the undersigned, therefore call on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Zainab al-Khawaja and her son;
  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Zainab related to freedom of expression; and
  • End the systematic targeting of individuals for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression.

 

Signed

  • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
  • Bahrain Center for Human Rights
  • Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  • Justice Human Rights Organization
  • European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
10 Mar, 2016

Bahrain: Media Coverage 2016

Bahrain Human Rights updates

Coverage by the media and NGOs around the world

 

The Telegraph

02.01.2016

Tear gas fired at protesters in Bahrain after Saudi Arabia executes top Shia cleric

Sputnik

04.01.2014

Bahrain’s Interior Ministry press center said that Police in the Shiite-majority kingdom of Bahrain have detained an unspecified number of people protesting the execution of a prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia

Middle East Eye

05.01.2016

The forgotten story

BMA

14.01.2016

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10 Mar, 2016

Bahraini Authorities Violate the Right to Privacy and Suppress Freedom of Expression

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its deep concern at the Bahraini authorities' continuing policy of suppressing an individual's right to freedom of expression and violating the right to privacy. They have recently imposed harsh new security restrictions that target people's discussions and messages on short-messaging social media platforms.

On Sunday 6 March, the Education Ministry – specifically the department responsible for secondary education – sent a message to all secondary school heads demanding that the contents of messages sent by teachers and students in WhatsApp groups be examined. The Ministry threatened to take legal action against anyone found to have sent messages that “insult authorities.” These are the kind of bombastic expressions the authorities have used over recent years to target political activists, opponents and critics.

This announcement came just days after a landmark speech by Hayat Abdel Majid, the head of the sector targeting electronic crime at the Ministry of Interior's Department for anti-corruption and economic and electronic security. In this speech, Abdel Majid said that the administrator of any WhatsApp group would be responsible and legally culpable for any defamatory news, rumours or inaccurate information circulated in that group. She also stated that members of a group could be held responsible for its content. She announced that the punishment could extend to a period of two years in prison and a fine of 200 Bahraini dinars, or one of these, in accordance with Article 168 of the law governing the spreading of defamatory information.

The Ministry of Interior had previously announced, on 7 February 2016, the arrest of a group of people who had participated in the “al-Busta” WhatsApp group. The Ministry confirmed that they were supported by foreign powers in connection with terrorist activities within Bahrain. A number of people were also arrested over allegedly insulting statements about the authorities that they shared on WhatsApp. AbdAli Khair is still serving a 10-year prison sentence for forwarding a WhatsApp message.

BCHR considers the surveillance of the contents of private WhatsApp groups and messages a violation of an individual's right to privacy, one of the fundamental rights stipulated by Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” BCHR also considers these new restrictions part of the arbitrary use of power used by authorities to prevent people from exercising their right to expression in a healthy and peaceful environment. It prevents people from sharing news and ideas as outlined by several international agreements and conventions, particularly Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states: “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

BCHR calls on the government of Bahrain to do the following:

  • Respect human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression and to information sharing without restrictions, conditions or arbitrary legal procedures;
  • Respect privacy and stop surveillance of messages sent by users of social media platforms and forums;
  • Release all those detainees arrested for peacefully expressing or publishing their views using social media; and
  • Stop imposing arbitrary restrictions on social media platforms and repeal all laws that hinder the right to free expression.