28 Jan, 2016

Bahrain’s Miscarriage of Justice in Sentencing 57 Jau Prisoners

 

On Monday, 25 January 2016, Bahrain’s public prosecutor announced that a court had sentenced 57 men to additional 15-year jail terms for their alleged involvement in the Jau Prison riots last March. The prosecutor accused the men of having “unleashed acts of chaos, riots and rebellion inside (prison) buildings,” and officially charged them with a variety of offenses, including “damaging public property, attacking police, arson and resisting authorities.” According to prisoners since released from Jau, the riots were in response to the prison’s substantial overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions. Mounting evidence suggests that Bahraini authorities responded to the riots by engaging in collective punishment, subjecting the prisoners to severe, en masse human rights abuses before, during, and after the riots. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the European Center for Rights and Democracy (ECDHR), and Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO) condemn the sentencing of the 57 persons as a miscarriage of justice, and call on the Government of Bahrain to hold accountable any person responsible for acts of collective punishment and human rights violations.

As documented by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD in Inside Jau: Government Brutality in Bahrain’s Central Prison, “physical torture, prevention of medical care, and massive overcrowding remain a systemic failure of Bahrain’s prison system.” In response to the riot in March 2015 specifically, prison officials and security personnel employed excessive force to suppress the unrest, beating inmates indiscriminately and firing tear gas into confined spaces. Though reports suggest that only a minority of prisoners took part in any unruly behavior, the authorities punished them all collectively – and long after the government had re-established control of the facility. Now, the government has sentenced 57 people to lengthy prison terms amidst allegations of abuse, torture, and due process violations, not only calling into question the veracity of the convictions but also whether any security officials will be held accountable for the abuse.

“What happened at Jau was a tragedy on all sides,” said Husain Abdulla, the Executive Director of ADHRB. “While we never support violence in any case, we are very concerned that today’s convictions resulted from the collective use of torture and abuse and seems to be a means of intimidation to prevent any future protests in the prisons.”

The Bahraini government’s response to Jau has been a cause of significant concern in the international community, particularly at the United Nations. In June, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated it was “concerned about the harsh treatment of detainees in Jau Prison…” following the riot, and called on the Government to “conduct impartial, speedy, and effective investigations and to ensure that any victims of torture or ill-treatment have access to appropriate remedies.” In September, the Special Procedures of the United Nations communicated concerns regarding “Bahraini security forces using rubber bullets, tear gas, and shotgun pellets, which led to the injuries of at least 500 prisoners.”

“Although the UN called for speedy investigations into the Bahraini government’s assault on Jau’s prison population, thus far the government has yet to hold any security personnel accountable,” said Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdhah, Vice President of BCHR. “The government must conduct an investigation into what happened at Jau, and punish those responsible for human rights violations.”

Five years after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) called on the government to prevent torture and hold perpetrators accountable, the court’s decision to sentence 57 Jau inmates to additional, lengthy prison terms demonstrates the authorities’ continued unwillingness to reform. Mohammed al-Tajer, an attorney for the accused and the brother of Ali al-Tajer, who is currently arbitrarily detained in Bahrain,argued that the government ultimately disregarded the evidence of human rights violations at Jau: “We raised a complaint that our clients were beaten during the unrest in Jau prison, but the court sentenced them at the end of the day, ignoring these complaints.”

“It’s been four years now since the BICI called for the Bahraini government to hold torturers accountable,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy at BIRD. “Instead of jailing the torturers, however, the government continues to only punish the tortured.”

Read the French version here.

21 Jan, 2016

Bahrain: Travel ban of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab must be overturned so family can travel for medical assistance, say NGOs in letter to King

His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa,

King of Bahrain

Fax: +973 176 64 587

CC.  His Excellency Lieutenant General Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa 

Minister of Interior

Email: info@interior.gov.bh

His Excellency Sheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Fax: 00973 17 21 05 75; ofd@mofa.gov.bh

And Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva

Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50; Email: info@bahrain-mission.ch

 

21 January 2016 

Your Majesty, 

We, the undersigned NGOs, call on the Bahraini authorities to lift the arbitrary travel ban on human rights defender Nabeel Rajab in order that he be able to travel abroad with his family for the purpose of securing medical assistance for his wife, Sumaya Rajab.

Nabeel Rajab is President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights and on the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division.

A public prosecutor imposed the travel ban on Nabeel Rajab without any judicial determination on July 13 2015, the day that Your Majesty pardoned him and ordered his release following his conviction for “publicly insulting official institutions” by criticizing the government on social media. The travel ban is related to two other speech-related charges that led to his arrest on April 2 2015, charges which prosecutors have not dropped.

The first outstanding charge is for allegedly “insulting a statutory body”, under article 216 of Bahrain’s Penal Code, based on his social media comments about the alleged torture of detainees in Jaw Prison in March 2015. The second accuses him of “disseminating false rumours in times of war,” under article 133 of the Penal Code, based on social media posts criticizing Saudi Arabia-led coalition air strikes in Yemen. Violations of articles 133 and 216 carry maximum sentences of 10 and three years in prison, respectively. Neither of the alleged acts upon which these charges are based were in any way recognisable criminal offences under international human rights law, and both involved the peaceful exercise of internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and to promote and protect human rights.

In November 2015, Sumaya Rajab was diagnosed with medical conditions requiring urgent and highly specialized treatment according to the medical expert team monitoring her condition. She was told that this treatment is not available in Bahrain.

In December 2015, Nabeel Rajab’s lawyers submitted their fourth appeal against the travel ban – they have submitted two requests to the attorney general, one request to the investigating prosecutor and one request to the Public Prosecution Office - requesting that it be lifted so he could accompany his wife. The Bahraini authorities have not responded to these appeals and the travel ban remains in place.

In November 2015, 81 Members of the European Parliament called on Your Majesty to lift Nabeel Rajab’s travel ban. The European Parliament passed a resolution in July 2015, shortly prior to Nabeel Rajab’s pardon, calling for his immediate and unconditional release alongside other prisoners of conscience. The same month, 44 members of the UK Parliament called on the government of Bahrain to drop Nabeel Rajab’s current charges and to release all political prisoners and those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression. After his release, three UN human rights experts – Michael Forst, David Kaye, and Maina Kiai – called for Nabeel Rajab’s charges to be dropped. This followed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, call for the release of all those detained in relation to their peaceful activities in Bahrain in June.

We, the undersigned, therefore call on the Bahraini authorities to:

  • Drop all pending free speech-related charges against Nabeel Rajab;
  • Lift the travel ban immediately and unconditionally, thus allowing Nabeel and Sumaya Rajab to travel; and
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

 

Signatories:

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Amnesty International

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)

CIVICUS

English PEN

European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)

European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Freedom House

Front Line Defenders

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

Human Rights Watch

Index on Censorship

International Media Support (IMS)

International Service For Human Rights (ISHR)

Lawyer's Rights Watch Canada (LWRC)

Maharat Foundation

No Peace Without Justice

PEN International

Physicians for Human Rights

Rafto Foundation for Human Rights

Salam for Democracy and Human Rights

SENTINEL Human Rights Defenders

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

Read the French version here.

 

15 Jan, 2016

Activist Fadhel Radhi Abbas in danger of extradition to Bahrain

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses serious concern about the Armenian authorities’ arrest of activist Fadhel Radhi Abbas to have him extradited to Bahraini authorities over politically motivated charges, which could put Fadhel at a high risk of being tortured by the Bahraini authorities.

In 2013, the authorities arbitrarily arrested Fadhel Radhi Abbas, 25, from his workplace. He was then transported to the Ministry of Interior’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) where he was kept in custody for a day, during which, security forces reportedly subjected him to torture. They beat him and forced him to stand for long hours. Bahraini public prosecution charged Fadhel with illegal assembly, vandalism of public vehicles, deliberately setting fire to a public property for terrorist purposes and setting an explosion for terrorist purposes. Fadhel was not allowed legal representation during the interrogation. After a few months, Fadhel was released and he and his brother Ahmed fled the country three weeks before the sentence was issued. In 2014, a Bahraini court sentenced Fadhel to seven years in prison, which based conviction of crimes on the defendant’s confessions extracted under torture.

On 2 January 2016, Fadhel and a friend travelled to Armenia, planning to go to Germany from there in order to apply for political asylum. However, Fadhel was arrested before leaving Armenian territory as a result of an international warrant issued by the INTERPOL based on a request from the Bahraini authorities. Following his detention, Fadhel is now under custody of the Armenian authorities awaiting an extradition to Bahrain.

Before his arrest, Fadhel had also gone on a trip to Thailand with other friends. On this trip, Thai authorities arrested Fadhel’s friend Ali Haroun, a Bahraini political activist Ali Haroun, and extradited him to Bahrain, following an arrest warrant that had been issued against him. Ali was violently detained and he was allegedly subjected to torture at the hands of the Bahraini authorities at Jau Central Prison. It is feared that Fadhel will face a similar treatment as his friend Ali Haroun in case he is extradited to Bahrain.

Bahrain has a proven history of abusing and torturing detainees with the acquiescence of the authorities, as Human Rights Watch warned on their November 2015 report. The BCHR urgently appeals to the international community and the Armenian authorities to release Bahraini activist Fadhel Abbas Radhi.

 

Based on the above, BCHR issues the following requests:

To the Government of Armenia:

-Not to comply with Bahrain’s requests to extradite Fadhel Radhi Abbas, without making sure there is a clear criminal case against him that came about through an impartial and independent judiciary that possesses capabilities to administer fair trials;

To the Government of Bahrain:

-Vacate the original convictions of Fadhel Radhi Abbas and Ahmed Abbas and properly re-conduct their criminal trial by excluding all information obtained by the commission of acts of torture, including any and all confessions found to be coerced;

-Impartially investigate all credible allegations of torture in the country, with the goal of vacating all sentences of those convicted on the basis of coerced confessions.

15 Jan, 2016

AGS Middle East Society Hosts Talk on Human Rights in Bahrain

For its last event of the Fall semester, on December 3rd, the AGS Middle East Society hosted a talk on the Human Rights Situation in the Gulf Region, highlighting Bahrain as one of the countries that participated in the Arab Spring in 2011.

The guest speakers were three human rights activists from Bahrain: Hussein Jawed, Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights, Said Yousif, Vice-president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and his fellow activist Mohamed Sultan.

Below is an excerpt from the recount that they shared during the event. This quote reflects the perspective of its author. The American Graduate School in Paris respects freedom of expression and diversity of opinions (see AGS mission).

“Bahrain was influenced by the Arab Spring in 2011. Many of the people protested to demand true democracy and human rights. They were confronted with excessive force and violence by the government institutions, which received the support of Saudi Arabia. Over 140 people were killed either under torture during police custody, or by tear gas suffocation or extra-judicial killings. Amongst them were kids. Thousands were arrested and still linger behind prison bars, some of them serving harsh sentences of death penalty or life imprisonment. All human rights defenders in Bahrain are now either in jail or forced into exile, like myself. (…) Bahrain is a State Party of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which establishes the right of everyone to freedom of association and participation in the conduct of public affairs, allowing for only very narrow restrictions ‘necessary in a democratic society’ to protect national security and the rights and freedoms of others. However, these recommendations were never implemented by Bahrain in a responsible manner. (…) Bahrain authorities have to act in a responsible manner by respecting and guaranteeing human rights in every aspect.”

The AGS middle East Society is a platform for information and discussion about Middle Eastern politics, culture, and current issues. It was started as a student initiative in Fall 2015, with the support of AGS faculty members. Activities include regular guest talks, screenings or debates and are open to students, faculty and the wider public. More information at info@ags.edu.

8 Jan, 2016

NGOs condemn death sentences in Bahrain after record year

8 January 2016 — Bahraini and international NGOs strongly condemn the repeated use of the death penalty by Bahraini authorities and call for the government to commute the death and life sentences.

On 31 December 2015, Bahrain’s Fourth Criminal Court sentenced a man to death and 22 others to life imprisonment, bringing the total number of persons on death row in the country to ten. The government additionally revoked the nationalities of all the defendants, raising the number of denaturalizations in the country to over 200 in 2015 alone. On the same day, death row inmate Salman Isa’s first appeal was rejected.

The criminal court sentenced 12 of the 23 defendants in absentia, including Hussein Abdullah Khalil Ebrahim, 27, who was sentenced to death. The court found him and defendant Ahmed Isa Abdulhussein Hussein guilty of forming a terrorist organization, recruiting agents, engaging in rioting and planting explosives to disturb the peace and targeting police officers, and killing a police officer in 2014 with the aim of the violent overthrow of the regime. However, only Hussein Ebrahim was sentenced to death.

Eleven of the defendants, including two juveniles aged 16 and 17, were arrested in December 2014 in connection with the death of a police officer killed in an explosion in Demistan village on 8 December 2014. Police subjected most of the arrested defendants to enforced disappearance for over ten days and denied them access to their lawyers during interrogation. The defendants have reported that government agents tortured them during their disappearances.  The court found all 23 defendants guilty of terrorism and killing a police officer. Two defendants were additionally fined 200,000 Bahraini Dinars (USD $530,000).

Mohsen Ebrahim Hasan al-Majed is one of defendants who was subjected to severe torture following his overnight arrest on 14 December 2014. Following his arrest, the government transferred al-Majed to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) for interrogation. While there, officers physically beat al-Majed, focusing on his head and genitals, and subjected him to electrocution. Al-Majed told his family that officers beat him with a wooden plank with nails. Officers insulted his faith and subjected him to sexual assault. After three days of sustained torture, al-Majed confessed to the charges. Despite this, he continued to receive beatings. Police then transferred al-Majed to the Public Prosecution, who threatened physical violence if he recanted. Al-Majed was sentenced to life and fined BD 200,000.

Bahrain has seen a rise in the use of the death penalty and denaturalization in 2015. Bahraini courts passed seven new death sentences last year. On the same day Hussein Ebrahim received the death sentence, the First High Appeals Court rejected the case of Salman Isa Ali, who in April 2015 the Fourth Criminal Court sentenced to death in a bombing case.

In November 2015, the Court of Cassation, Bahrain’s highest court of appeal, rejected the appeal of death row inmates Mohammad Ramadan and Husain Moosa. Ramadan and Moosa are the first people since 2010 to have exhausted all legal avenues of appeal, and stand at risk of imminent execution. Human rights activists on the ground fear that this risk has heightened following Saudi Arabia’s execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others inflamed tensions last week.

Meanwhile, an independent Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) investigation found that the government had stripped the citizenship of 208 persons in 2015 after amendments in the law empowered courts to denaturalise defendants found guilty of terrorism charges. The majority of such individuals were subjected to unfair trials, tortured, and left stateless.

The documented unfair trials, use of torture and death sentences Bahrain has carried out may be in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain acceded to in 2006, in particular article 6, which protects the right to life; article 7, which protects the right to not be tortured; and article 14, which protects the right to a fair trial. Bahrain may also have breached article 15.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to a nationality.”

We the undersigned organizations strongly condemn the use of the death penalty in Bahrain, especially in light of the unfair trials and use of torture which many death row inmates have been subjected to. In light of this, we call on the Government of Bahrain:

  •  To commute all death sentences.
  • To establish a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolition.
  • To investigate and prosecute all acts of torture, mistreatment, enforced disappearance.
  •  Establish procedures to ensure the fairness of all criminal trials and appeals.

Signed:

  • Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture (ACAT)
  • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  • Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
  • Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  • European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Redress
  • Reprieve

Get pdf file here or read the French version here. 

8 Jan, 2016

Bahraini Authorities Continue to Harass Human Rights Defenders

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned about the Bahraini authorities continued harassment of human rights defenders and its policy of restricting their right to free expression. Human rights defender Sheikh Maytham al-Salman was again summoned for interrogation over a speech he delivered in a public event last month.

On 31 December 2015, the Bahraini authorities handed Sheikh Maytham al-Salman, and others, a summons to be present at the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) later on the same day. At the CID, al-Salman was interrogated about his participation in an event a few days earlier on the anniversary of Sheikh Ali Salman’s arrest, during which he delivered a speech. He was later released, only to be summoned again by the public prosecution on 6 January 2016. At the public prosecution, the interrogation focused on the content of the speech he delivered on 27 December during the aforementioned event, which the prosecution claimed to have incited hatred against the regime and incited people to disobey the law. Not only that, he was questioned about his activism, including his international human rights ties, relationships and activities, as well as his views on some controversial issues. At the end of the interrogation, the prosecution accused him of “expressing views regarding a case still at court" and "inciting hatred against the regime."

The speech over which Sheikh al-Salman was charged aimed to bring into focus the deceptions about international standards for fair trials Bahraini authorities have committed in the trial of Sheikh Ali Salman, whom he considered to be a prisoner of conscience. (Find the full text of the speech at the end of this statement.) This is not the first time Sheikh al-Salman has been summoned and interrogated by the authorities for similar reasons related to his work and his right to free speech.

It is important to point out that Sheikh al-Salman is an international spokesperson and a human rights defender, particularly on topics related to freedom of religions, anti-extremism, anti-violence and strengthening positive relations between cultures and religions. He has taken part in a number of human rights conferences, as well as meetings with the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The BCHR believes that the Bahraini authorities’ actions are an indication of its increasingly harsh policies aimed at further harassing human rights defenders in order to silence them, in addition to its continued implementation of further restrictions both in law and practice on the right to free expression. Moreover, human rights defenders and activists in Bahrain have been ongoing targets of the authorities who have attempted countless times to silence them, stop their work and oppress their right to freedom of expression, including BCHR President Nabeel Rajab, activist Zainab al-Khawaja, and human rights defender Naji Fateel, to mention but a few.

Accordingly, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the government of Bahrain to:

  • Drop all charges pending on Sheikh Maytham al-Salman for exercising his freedom of speech
  • Release all prisoners who have been convicted for their political opinions; and
  • Fully comply with the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) recommendations and international laws.

Sheikh Maytham al-Salman’s speech of 27 December 2015:

"The joint letter sent to the authorities in Bahrain by the Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Consciousness, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers clearly revealed that United Nations experts consider the arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman as a direct response by the authority to his public expression of political views.

The international consensus on the invalidity of the trial of Sheikh Ali Salman and its breach of the tenth article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: 'Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him', is clear and not in doubt by international experts, legal scholars and international human rights organizations.

There is a consensus that the trial is a retaliation against Sheikh Ali Salman for expressing his political views publicly. Those views clearly call for the improvement of the political system in the country, so that the people become true decision makers in the political process. Sheikh Ali Salman has constantly called for activating the first article of the constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain which states that 'the system of government in the Kingdom of Bahrain is democratic; sovereignty being in the hands of the people, the source of all powers'.

In order to conduct a fair trial the following principle has to be applied: 'a crime or penalty can only be determined by law'. Is there anything in law that criminalizes someone who calls for activating the first article of the constitution - which says 'the people are the source of all powers'? Is there a legal provision that criminalizes the call for democracy and developing the political system to address the social and economic challenges the country is facing?

Does it make Sheikh Ali Salman a criminal to call for the implementation of the UN Periodic Review and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry [BICI] recommendations? There is no single provision in law that criminalizes Sheikh Ali Salman for his pro-democratic views and calls to end human rights violations and implement the international human rights commitments on Bahrain.

Sheikh Ali Salman's trial does not comply with the principle of 'a crime or penalty can only be determined by law', and therefore, it is not a fair trial in accordance with international standards.

Sheikh Ali Salman's arrest is another proof that authorities have not implemented the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry recommendations. The report, in paragraphs 1279 and 1281, stated that some Criminal Code Articles are used to punish the opposition and violate the right of freedom of expression contrary to Bahrain's international commitments. The report found that these articles are being used to ban and suppress freedom of expression regarding the country's governance structures and system or even the call to develop them.

The report has clearly recommended abolishing all the sentences against the opposition members who peacefully expressed their political views, because that clearly contradicts article 19 of the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights.

Sheikh Ali Salman’s imprisonment as well as Ibrahim Sherif's trial reveal the unwillingness of the government in implementing Professor Bassiouni's recommendations as head of the BICI commission.

If you are serious and eager to implement the BICI recommendations invite Professor Bassiouni to officially visit Bahrain again in order to verify the implementation of his own recommendations.

One year has passed and Sheikh Ali Salman still calls on the authority, from his prison cell, to engage in a serious, meaningful dialogue process which could achieve political, social and economic stability. The government must utilize these calls. Continuously ignoring them does not serve Bahrain. If the government continues to refuse to open doors for dialogue, the international community will clearly understand that the authorities are responsible for the continuance of the political crisis and the ongoing human rights violations. It is also important to point out that any future dialogue should include the imprisoned leaders who have constantly called for dialogue as the only means to resolve social and political disputes in the country."

Read this statement in French. 

7 Jan, 2016

Champions for Justice: Victims of Government Reprisals

Since Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising began in 2011, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) have documented numerous cases of government retaliation against human rights defenders and activists. Less well-known, however, are cases of retaliation against these individuals’ families and friends – those targeted simply for knowing or being related to an activist or a victim. This retaliation can take many forms, from arbitrary detention and torture to recurrent harassment. For the relatives of those killed by the authorities, the experience is one of injustice compounding injustice – an additional act of intimidation meant to discourage them from seeking accountability for the death of a loved one. January’s Champions for Justice highlights victims of government reprisal who were targeted because of their association with victims and activists.

Ali Isa Ali al-Tajer is a manager at the Al Khunaizi Group construction company and the brother of Mohamed al-Tajer, a prominent human rights defender and lawyer who has worked with the United Nations Secretariat on the situation in Bahrain.

On 5 November 2015, Bahraini security forces surrounded Ali’s home with more than nine vehicles. Ten masked men forcibly entered the house and arrested Ali. They failed to present a warrant or provide any reason for the raid and arrest. With the exception of two brief phone calls, officials held Ali incommunicado for 25 days.

On 30 November, without prior warning, the public prosecution called Mohamed al-Tajer to represent his brother in court. By the time Mohamed arrived, the hearing had already begun, and Ali had not had access to any counsel. The public prosecutor claimed that Ali confessed to joining an illegal terrorist organization for the purposes of overthrowing the government. Ali maintained his innocence, telling the court that the authorities had tortured him into providing a false confession. Moreover, he stated that he had been blindfolded when he was forced to sign the document; he never knew what he was signing. The prosecutor told Ali to stop explaining his torture, stating that he would refer the allegations to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), a branch of the public prosecution purportedly dedicated to pursuing cases of government abuse. 

After the proceedings concluded, Ali told Mohamed that security officials severely tortured him while he was in detention, subjecting him to humiliation, physical beatings, and sexual assault. He also revealed that the prosecutor had threatened him prior to Mohamed’s arrival at court.

As of 4 January 2016, Mohamed was able to see his brother twice more since the original hearing. Ali has developed several long-term injuries as a result of the torture he has suffered while in detention, including a bulged disc, a hernia, and the loss of hearing in his left ear. Authorities took Ali to a forensic medical examiner, who reportedly recommended Ali see an orthopedist and urologist. Although the forensic examiner has not released a report on Ali's examination, the Public Prosecutor stated to the court that the forensic examiner found no evidence of torture.  

After one of his visits with Ali, Mohamed informed the SIU that clothes he took from his brother at the Criminal Investigative Directorate (CID) had bloodstains on them. The SIU summoned Mohamed for questioning, which he reported was routine in nature. The authorities continue to postpone Ali's appointments with the medical specialists, and he has since missed three appointments. This delaying tactic has been previously documented by ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHRAmnesty International and Human Rights Watch as a way for the SIU to report that an investigation has been opened to satisfy the courts.

Mohamed describes Ali as an apolitical person and suspects that the government is prosecuting him in retaliation against Mohamed’s own human rights work. Though Ali’s family has filed a complaints on his case with the Bahrain National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), the Ministry of Interior’s Office of the Ombudsman, and the SIU, they worry that the complaint process will be a futile exercise at best. At worst, they fear that the authorities may exploit the mechanism’s lack of independence as a means for further reprisal. ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHR have found that several victims have been targeted for additional torture in retaliation for filing complaints with the Ombudsman, for example. If the government is actively targeting Ali as a reprisal against Mohamed, he and his family may be at risk of further abuse simply for submitting a complaint.

Abdulhadi Mushaima is the father of Ali Mushaima, a 21-year-old Bahraini citizen who was shot and killed by security forces on 14 February 2011. Ali was the first demonstrator to be killed during the pro-democracy protests that began in 2011.

Since the death of his son, Abdulhadi has faced repeated harassment by the authorities. On 22 August 2013, security forces raided his home without warrant or permission. They arrested Abdulhadi without providing any reasons and held him in custody for a week before his eventual release on 29 August.

Almost a year later, on 9 May 2014, Abdulhadi received a summons to appear at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on 12 May. When Abdulhadi arrived, the authorities ordered him to refrain from participating in any demonstrations, specifically those calling for government accountability for Ali’s death. The officials demanded that Abdulhadi sign a pledge stating that he would never take part in any marches or demonstrations again.

Makky Abu Taki is the manager of a real estate company and the father of Mahmoud Abu Taki, a 22-year-old student who was shot and killed by Bahraini authorities on 17 February 2011 when security forces stormed the Pearl Roundabout.

Like Abdulhadi Mushaima, Makky experienced persistent government harassment after the loss of his son. On 26 November 2013, security officials summoned Makky to the Al-Naim police station and arrested him. The next day, authorities took him to the Public Prosecutor’s office for interrogation. When the prosecutor finished with his questions, he charged Makky with unlawful assembly and inciting hatred against the government, ordering his detention at Dry Dock (Al-Howdh Al-Jaaf) Prison pending further investigation.

While in custody, security officials severely mistreated Makky. In a phone call to his family, Makky said that prison guards regularly beat and humiliated him. Makky’s family reportsthat the Dry Dock administration infringed on their visitation rights, consistently preventing them from seeing Makky without providing any justification. The government held Makky for nearly a year, until 9 January 2014, when he was released.

Four months after his release, Makky received the same summons as Abdulhadi Mushaima, requiring him to appear at the CID office on 12 May. There, he faced the same harassment: the authorities told him that he could no longer participate in any marches or protests – particularly those related to his son’s killing or the current political situation – and forced him to sign a corresponding pledge. 

Read this in French. 

4 Jan, 2016

Human Rights Watch: Bahrain: Travel Ban on Rights Activist

(Beirut) – An arbitrary travel ban is preventing a prominent rights activist from leaving Bahrain. The ban against Nabeel Rajab is based on charges that violate his right to free expression. Prosecutors should immediately drop the charges and lift the travel ban. 

Activist Nabeel Rajab has played a key role in condemning human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Rajab’s lawyers told Human Rights Watch that because prosecutors have not formally closed the investigation into these charges, Rajab could be arrested at any time and face a criminal trial. Rajab’s lawyers have filed appeals to the travel ban with the investigating prosecutor on September 2, 2015, the attorney general on September 16, and the office of the Public Prosecution on October 1. After receiving no responses, the lawyers submitted a second appeal to the attorney general on December 3.

“Nabeel Rajab is not at liberty to speak his mind or to leave the country,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “This travel ban against Rajab is just the latest unlawful effort by Bahrain’s government to keep a critic quiet.”

A public prosecutor imposed the travel ban on Rajab on July 13, the day Bahrain’s King Hamad-Bin-Isa-Al-Khalifa pardoned and released him for “offending national institutions” by criticizing the government on social media. The travel ban is based on two speech-related charges that led to his arrest on April 2, which prosecutors have not dropped.

One of the outstanding charges is for insulting a statutory body, under article 216 of Bahrain’s penal code, based on his social media comments about the alleged torture of detainees in Jaw Prison. The second accuses him of “disseminating false rumours in times of war,” under article 133, based on social media posts criticizing Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen. Violations of articles 133 and 216 carry maximum sentences of 10 and three years in prison, respectively.

Rajab posted numerous tweets about the violence in Jaw Prison. On March 17, Rajab tweeted that he had met with a recently released inmate. The photographs accompanying the tweet “will tell you how they were treated,” he wrote. They show abrasions and contusions on the man’s back and injuries to his right arm.

In the weeks before his arrest, Rajab also posted numerous tweets purporting to show the effect of Saudi Arabian air-strikes in Yemen. On March 26, the Interior Ministry cautioned against criticism of the government’s decision to send eight fighter jets to take part in air-strikes in Yemen as part of a Saudi Arabia-led, US-backed coalition against Houthi forces. It warned against “any attempt to exploit the situation through division or sedition, or issuance of statements against the approach Bahrain has taken.” The ministry “would take appropriate steps against individuals that put the safety and security of the country at risk,” the statement said.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, issued an authoritative interpretation on the scope of the right to freedom of expression and opinion. In its General Comment 34, the committee stated that, “In circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions, the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high.” It also stated that “states parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”

Article 12(3) of the covenant states that the right of any person to leave their country, provided for in article 12(2), can be restricted to protect “national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others,” or if the restriction is “consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.” Given that the charges on which the travel ban is based manifestly violate Rajab’s right to free expression under article 19 of the convention, the travel ban violates his right to free movement, and Bahraini authorities should lift it immediately, Human Rights Watch said.

Rajab is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa advisory committee.

Read this report in French. 

 

31 Dec, 2015

Further Harassment of Human Rights and Political Activists

Today, 31 December 2015, Bahraini authorities summoned five prominent activists for interrogation over speeches they delivered at an event for solidarity with detained opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn the Bahraini government’s continued targeting of human rights defenders and political opposition leaders.

On 26 December 2015, human rights defender Sheikh Maytham al-Salman, Al-Wefaq political society leaders Khalil Marzooq, Sayed Jameel Khadem and Sayed Mohammed al-Ghuraifi, and Wa’ad political society Secretary-General Radhi al-Mosawi delivered speeches at a public event at Al-Wefaq headquarters. The event was held in solidarity with Al-Wefaq’s detained Secretary-General, Sheikh Ali Salman. Following the event, government loyalists called for the prosecution of those activists for insulting the king. On New Year’s Eve, security forces summoned the four political opposition leaders and the human rights defender for interrogation at the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID). According to their lawyers, Khalil Marzooq and Sayed Mohammed al-Ghuraifi were taken to the public prosecution over charges of inciting hatred against the regime.

This is not the first time that these activists have faced harassment by Bahraini authorities. Sheikh Maytham al-Salman, who is known for his human rights work in relation to religious freedom and anti-extremism, was arrested earlier this year from the Bahrain airport. He was transported to the CID, where government agents interrogated him for hours regarding remarks in which he expressed concern over the government’s use of collective punishment. He was later accused of inciting hatred against the regime. Sayed Jameel Kadhem was arrested, detained and sentenced to months in prison over a tweet critical of the government. Similarly, Khalil Marzooq was arrested and charged with inciting hatred and incitement to overthrow the regime over a speech he delivered at an al-Wefaq meeting.

Bahraini authorities have recently escalated their crackdown on opposition political societies. The General-Secretaries of three opposition political societies are in detention, including Sheikh Ali Salman, who is serving a sentence of four years in prison; Fadhel Abbas, who was recently sentenced to five years in prison; and Ebrahim Sherif, who was re-arrested shortly after completing a five-year prison sentence on political grounds. Over the past year, many members of opposition societies were summoned and interrogated over charges related to the exercise of free expression and opinion over social media or at public events.

Bahraini authorities have intensified their targeting of free expression and have applied further restrictions to the work of political societies in Bahrain by either prosecuting activists and members of these societies or by passing additional restrictive laws. BCHR is concerned over this serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, as well as the country’s total disregard for the international community's calls to implement real reform.

 

Based on the above, BCHR, ADHRB, and BIRD call on Bahrain’s allies and international organizations to put pressure on the Bahraini government to do the following:

  • Put a stop to all forms of restrictions that threaten freedom of expression and opinion in Bahrain; and
  • Guarantee respect for human rights and basic freedoms according to international standards for human rights.

 

31 Dec, 2015

Bahraini Authorities Arbitrarily Arrest Journalist Mahmood al-Jazeeri

On Monday, Bahraini security forces arbitrarily arrested journalist Mahmood al-Jazeeri, increasing the number of journalists, photographers, bloggers and internet activists under arrest in Bahrain to more than twenty. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) expresses its grave concern over the authorities’ ongoing policy of targeting free media and journalists.

On Monday, 28 December 2015 at approximately 1:00 A.M., security forces raided the house of journalist Al-Jazeeri’s in-laws. They proceeded to Al-Jazeeri’s nearby apartment, where they confiscated his laptop and mobile phone and arrested him. The security forces did not present a legal warrant to arrest Al-Jazeeri, nor did they inform him or his family of the cause of his arrest. Since his arrest, Al-Jazeeri was able to make one short call to his family to tell them that he was being detained at the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations. Al-Jazeeri’s lawyer stated that he has not been taken to the public prosecution.

Al-Jazeeri works as a journalist with Al-Wasat Newspaper, the only independent newspaper in the country, for which he reports on the activities of the Bahraini Parliament and Shura Council. Al-Jazeeri is well-known for his articles about political detainees and his coverage of discussions in the Shura Council and Parliament. His latest report, in which he covered one of the Shura Council’s member’s demand to remove the housing unit of those who have had their citizenship revoked by the authorities, was considered politically sensitive. The list includes human rights defenders, opposition political activists, and peaceful protesters, all of whom were convicted based on confessions extracted under torture in what BCHR, ADHRB, and BIRD consider to be politically-motivated cases.

The Bahraini authorities have detained dozens of journalists, photojournalists, and bloggers on charges related to the exercise of free expression since 2011. BCHR has reported over the last several years on escalating restrictions, and the implementation of broader and harsher laws to further crackdown on free speech and media. (Read more: http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/7645)

BCHR, ADHRB, and BIRD are concerned that the arrest of Al-Jazeeri is part of the Bahraini authorities’ targeting of journalists free media. The journalist’s arrest is in direct violation of international legal standards, including the right not to be deprived arbitrarily of liberty set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 9 of the ICCPR states that “anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him;” Article 17 continues by stating that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.”

 

Based on the above, BCHR, ADHRB, and BIRD call on Bahrain’s allies and international organizations to put pressure on the Bahraini government to do the following:

  • Respect Mahmood Al-Jazeeri’s right to due process, including by immediately informing him of the reasons for his arrest and providing him access to legal counsel;

  • Immediately end all forms of restrictions that threaten freedom of expression and opinion in Bahrain; and

  • Guarantee respect for human rights and basic freedoms according to international standards for human rights.