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Bahrain’s assault on independent journalism: Nazeeha Saeed’s conviction upheld

On 18 July 2017, a Manama appeals court confirmed the verdict of a lower Bahraini court in the case of Nazeeha Saeed, correspondent for Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya and France 24, who was charged on 17 July 2016 with “practicing journalism without a license.” Saeed was met with a fine of 1,000 dinars (2,320 euros) which the appeals court has now confirmed. Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Government of Bahrain to revisit her case and to immediately cease all intimidation and judicial harassment of journalists and media. 

Nazeeha Saeed had a Bahraini press accreditation for 12 years. She applied to renew this in March 2016, in accordance with the Bahraini press law. The Ministry of Information Affairs rejected Saeed’s license renewal without providing legal grounds.

She continued her work and was met with a fine of 1,000 dinars (2,320 euros) in a Bahraini lower court. She was also banned from leaving the country without explanation. She appealed the case. 

Saeed was charged under the “publishing crimes” chapter, in Article 88 of Law 47/2002, under which all Bahraini journalists working for foreign news agencies are prevented from freely conducting their work without first acquiring a license from the Ministry of Information Affairs, which must be renewed annually. The law provides no criteria or definitive timelines for the renewal process, nor does it provide any means for transparency of the process. For more background information on Saeed’s case see here.

On 18 July 2017 a Manama appeals court confirmed the fine. According to Saeed’s lawyer the court disregarded the fact that Saeed had kept working only whilst awaiting official notification of the decision not to renew her accreditation and, thus, had committed no offence. Her lawyer is now planning to file an appeal with Bahrain’s Court of Cassation but the court may not agree to hear it.

Saeed is a torture survivor. Describing her torture in police custody in 2011, Saeed said she was blindfolded, kicked, punched, and slapped. Her hair was pulled, she was whipped with plastic tubing, had a shoe forced into her mouth and her head dunked into a toilet. An unknown, caustic liquid said to be urine was poured onto her face, she was repeatedly insulted and mentally abused and asked to make a false confession. Although she had three independant medical reports - two of them issued by Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior - and she was also able to identify her five torturers, no one was held accountable for her torture. During June and July 2016 Saeed faced further harassments and the government imposed a travel ban on her without any explanation. The ban was later lifted.

Saeed’s trial is just one out of many examples of Bahrain’s systematic crackdown on the press. Most recently, in June this year, Al Wasat, the last independent newspaper in Bahrain was shut down by way of a court order. Most of Bahrain’s television and newspapers are state-controlled and this new wave of media repression is taking place in a broader context of shrinking space for any dissenting voice, criminalization of activists and a significant rise of credible allegations of torture in police and military detention.

Ebtisam Al-Saegh charged under anti-terrorism law, while UN asks for Bahrain to investigate torture and sexual assault allegations

On 19 July, woman human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh, member of Salam for Democracy and Human  Rights, was charged by Bahrain’s Terrorism Crimes Prosecution office with “using human rights work as a cover” in order to provide the NGO Al Karama Foundation with information and fake news about Bahrain in order to undermine the country’s prestige abroad. Under this charge, Al-Saegh faces up to six months detention, while her case is being investigated.

On 18 July, one day before Al-Saegh was charged under the anti-terrorism law, the United Nations published an urgent appeal to Bahrain’s government to investigate the allegations that the defender has been tortured and ill-treated while in detention. The Special Rapporteurs stated: “we express the gravest concern at these allegations of torture and ill-treatment by Ms. Al-Saegh and we fear that she may be currently subjected to further acts of torture”. Prior to this appeal, on 13 July, the US State Department also called for her release, and the Office the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Bahrain to investigate the allegations of torture and mistreatment surrounding her case.

According to reports, Al-Saegh’s health has dramatically worsened during her detention, as she allegedly has been tortured and sexual assaulted. According to updates from the ground, Al-Saegh is interrogated by security officers daily for up to 13 hours in an undisclosed location and then returned to Isa women’s detention center where she is kept in solitary confinement. In protest of her mistreatment and of the fact that she has not been given access to her family, or to her lawyer during interrogations, Al Saegh has started a hunger strike.

The defender was arrested on 3 July from her home without a warrant. On 6 July her house was raided for electronic equipment by the National Security Agency (NSA). The reason that was given for the raid to family members was that  "your mother didn't cooperate with us".

This is the second time in 2017 that Ebtisam Al-Saegh is arrested. On 26 May, Al-Saegh was summoned to the NSA building in Muharraq where she was interrogated for seven hours. Afterwards, she was immediately hospitalised as she was in a shock and unable to walk. She later stated that she was kept standing for the whole duration of her interrogation. She was blindfolded, hit all over her body and head. Al-Saegh also stated that she was tortured and sexually assaulted, and that she was threatened with the safety of her family and children if she did not stop her human rights activism or being part of the SALAM organization.

The Bahraini government must immediately stop abusing woman human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh and put in measures to protect her. Those who have assaulted and sexually abused her must be held accountable. The BCHR calls for her immediate release and of all nonviolent activists and detainees held arbitrarily due to their human rights work.

 

How the assault on independent media in Bahrain silenced a trusted regional watchdog

Last month in Bahrain, one of the Gulf region's few truly independent media outlets, Al Wasat, closed its doors.

On 4 June, the Bahraini Ministry of Information informed Al Wasat that it would immediately suspend the newspaper’s online and print editions over a column that included “a defamation of a sisterly Arab country.” The opinion piece in question, published on 4 June, addressed the wave of protests calling for jobs and economic development in Al Hoceima and other cities in Morocco.

Al Wasat, which covers Bahrain and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa regions, is unique in that it has no ties either to government or to individuals close to a ruling family.

Read the article here.

Bahrain charges activist with 'terrorism'

Bahrain has slapped terrorism charges on an activist who tweeted criticism of the government's treatment of women, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

Ebtisam al-Saegh was accused of "using human rights work as a cover" to communicate with the Geneva-based Al Karama foundation, and of undermining Bahrain's "status abroad", Amnesty reported.

Read the article here.

Terrorism charges against human rights activist Ebtisam al-Saegh condemned

The Bahraini authorities’ decision to bring terrorism charges against Ebtisam al-Saegh, a human rights activist detained earlier this month, is a chilling blow to human rights in the country, said Amnesty International.

Yesterday, Ms al-Saegh was charged by Bahrain’s Terrorism Crimes Prosecution office with “using human rights work as a cover to communicate and cooperate with Al Karama Foundation to provide them with information and fake news about the situation in Bahrain to undermine its status abroad”. 

Read the article here.

Bahrain: Human rights defender charged with terrorism

The Bahraini authorities’ decision to bring terrorism charges against Ebtissam al-Saegh, a human rights defender detained since 3 July 2017, is a chilling blow to human rights in the country, said Amnesty International.

Ebtisam al-Saegh was previously tortured, including by being sexually assaulted by members of the Bahrain National Security agency while she was held in custody last May.

“Ebtisam al-Saegh is a prisoner of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released. Her only ‘crime’, is her bravery in challenging the government’s appalling human rights record. By charging her with terrorism for her work on human rights, the Bahraini government is itself attempting to intimidate and silence civil society in Bahrain,” said Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns for the Middle-East at Amnesty International.

Read the article here.

Rights group: Bahraini activist charged under terrorism law

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Bahraini rights group says a female activist has been charged under an anti-terrorism law amid a crackdown on dissent in the U.S.-allied Gulf island nation.

The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said Wednesday that Ebtisam al-Sayegh was one of four people accused of using human rights work as a cover for terrorism-related activities.

Read the article here.

RSF calls for Bahraini journalist’s conviction to be overturned

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Bahraini authorities to overturn journalist Nazeeha Saeed’s conviction on a charge of working illegally, which has been upheld on appeal. RSF also calls on the authorities to stop violating media freedom.

A Manama appeal court today confirmed the fine of 1,000 dinars (2,320 euros) that a lower court imposed on Saeed on 24 May for working as a correspondent for foreign media without authorization. She used to be the Bahrain correspondent of two French media outlets, France 24 and Radio Monte-Carlo Doualiya.

Read the article here.

The Middle East needs 'more independent media, not less'

The Bahraini government recently shuttered the country's only independent newspaper. Exiled journalist Nazeeha Saeed writes that the media can no longer hold the region's leaders accountable.

In June the Bahraini Ministry of Information Affairs shut down the Arabic-language daily Al Wasat, the country's only independent media outlet, "until further notice" because it was in "violation of the law" and had repeatedly published "information that sows division in society and affects Bahrain's relations with other states," according to a statement by the ministry that was published by a Bahraini news agency.
 
Read the article here.

UN experts urge Bahrain to investigate reports of torture and ill-treatment of rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh

GENEVA (18 July 2017) – A group of United Nations experts* has expressed deep concern at the alleged arbitrary detention of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh amid reports she has been tortured and sexually abused and is now on hunger strike. 

Read the article here.

“Ms. Alsaegh has been denied her fundamental right to due process from the very moment of her arrest to this day,” the experts said. “We are very worried at information that her health has dramatically deteriorated in the last few days.” 

According to reports received by the experts, Ms. Alsaegh was detained on 4 July when Bahraini security forces raided her home. She is reportedly being held in solitary confinement at Isa Town women’s prison, and is being transported daily to an unknown location where she is interrogated for up to 14 hours without access to a lawyer. 

Previous to her detention, on 26 May, Ms. Alsaegh was subjected to a seven-hour interrogation by officers of the National Security Agency, during which she was kept blindfolded and forced to stand up, while reportedly being beaten all over her body and sexually assaulted. 

“We express the gravest concern at these allegations of torture and ill-treatment suffered by Ms. Alsaegh and we fear that she may be currently subjected to further acts of torture,” the experts said. 

“The use or incitement of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is absolutely prohibited, under all circumstances.” 

The experts called upon the Government of Bahrain to strictly abide by its obligations under international human rights law. 

“The Bahraini authorities have a duty to investigate all allegations of human rights violations committed against Ms. Alsaegh, including torture by security forces during interrogations, and to prevent their re-occurrence,” they emphasized. 

Ms. Alsaegh’s alleged treatment comes amid an ongoing campaign of attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders and political activists in Bahrain. 

“We reiterate our serious concerns regarding the wider context of a general crackdown and mounting pressure exerted on civil society and dissidents in Bahrain, the ongoing prosecution and punishment of human rights defenders, and especially intimidation and reprisals against people who have cooperated with UN human rights mechanisms,” the experts underscored. 

The experts are in contact with the Government of Bahrain about Ms. Alsaegh’s situation.   

(*) The experts: Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mrs. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, current Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

ENDS