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Political speech is not a crime: Urgent appeal to stop the trial of opposition society leader Sheikh Ali Salman


We the undersigned call on Bahraini authorities to drop all charges and ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary-General of Bahrain's largest political opposition society, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, who has been serving a four-year prison sentence for charges in response to political speeches he delivered in 2014, and who is now facing a potential death sentence in a groundless new trial on politically motivated charges. 

Since his incarceration in 2014, several international bodies have spoken out against the imprisonment of Sheikh Ali Salman. On 30 December 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson urged Bahrain to immediately release Sheikh Ali Salman as well as all other persons convicted or detained for “merely exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly.” In addition, the European Union expressed concern about the sentence issued against Sheikh Ali Salman, and the United States Ambassador to the United Nations called the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman a blow to freedom of expression.  

However, despite the growing concern over the silencing of Sheikh Ali Salman and the subsequent 2017 dissolution of the political opposition society al-Wefaq, Bahraini authorities announced on 27 November 2017 the start of a new trial against him on charges of spying for Qatar. 

The latest trial against Sheikh Ali Salman reinforces the closing of democratic space in the country; as the 2018 elections for Bahrain's lower house of parliament approach, the government has forcibly dissolved Wa'ad, the largest secular leftist society, and indefinitely suspended Bahrain's only independent newspaper Al-Wasat, in addition to upholding its arbitrary decision in 2017 to dissolve the political opposition society al-Wefaq. 

On 24 April 2018, the High Criminal Court adjourned the new trial against Sheikh Ali Salman until 21 June, when it is expected to issue a verdict in the case. The Public Prosecution Office has called on the High Criminal Court to hand down the “maximum penalty” – which in this case could be a death sentence. 

NGOs have decried this use of the judiciary to punish opposition activists for publicly expressing views that oppose the Bahraini government. The trial is in violation of Sheikh Ali Salman's rights to liberty, fair trial, free expression, and free association. 

We, the undersigned, call on Bahraini authorities to: 
1. Drop all charges and ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Ali Salman and the cancellation of the sentence issued against him in the previous case; 
2. Stop prosecution of political dissidents and human rights activists for reasons related to freedom of expression; 
3. Stop the arbitrary use of domestic legislation, including some articles of the Penal Code and the Law on the Protection of Society from Terrorist Acts, to criminalize the peaceful practice of freedom of opinion and expression; 
4. Release all detainees who have been arrested for reasons related to exercising their fundamental rights to expression, organisation and peaceful assembly guaranteed by international laws. 


Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Bytes for All (B4A)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building (CEMESP)
Freedom Forum
Independent Journalism Center (IJC)
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Maharat Foundation
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Watch
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Norwegian PEN
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
South East Europe Media Organisation 
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

Bahrain Interfaith 
Global Human Rights Geneva 
MENA Monitoring Group 
No Peace Without Justice 
Vivarta Limited

Jailed Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab named an honorary citizen of the city of Paris

(Paris, 6 June 2018) Today, the Council of Paris has unanimously awarded honorary citizenship to activist Nabeel Rajab, in recognition of his fight for freedom, democracy and human rights. Yesterday, the Bahrain High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld Nabeel’s five-year jail term for Tweets condemning the use of torture in Jaw Prison and the bombings of the Saudi coalition in Yemen. Sentenced to a total of seven years imprisonment resulting from trials that made a mockery of justice, his health has steadily deteriorated. FIDH and Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) welcome the award of this prestigious distinction, and reiterate their demand for his immediate release.

Read more.

No Right to Rights: A Report into Human Rights Violations Committed by BAHRAINI Authorities

The most recent constitution of Bahrain defines it as a constitutional monarchy. The King is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister – the current incumbent has been in the position since 1971. Citizens of Bahrain have no power to change the Prime Minister. The King also has power to appoint government ministers and 50% of the National Council, as well as the country’s judiciary. This situation led the people of Bahrain to take direct action in 2011, organizing a large sit-in around the Pearl Roundabout, with the aim of strengthening their rights. However, authorities used excessive force to end the sit-in, leading to several deaths and significant numbers of injuries. Since that time, and up until the point of writing, authorities have continued to violate the human rights of Bahraini citizens. 

Over the course of 2017 (between January and December, to be precise), the number of politically-motivated detentions increased, as did reports of torture and ill treatment carried out in order to force confessions during interrogations. Moreover, political and social media activists continued to be targeted, both by the security forces and by the judiciary. Human rights defenders have also been targeted. Politically-motivated court cases were pursued in a manner falling far short of the minimum basic standards for fair trials as stipulated by international law. This is not to mention the fact that civilians have been tried in military courts. 

Authorities have also employed anti-terror laws against opposition activists and peaceful protesters. The UN and a host of other international organizations have called for these laws to be revised, since their broad-based and vague clauses violate standards of human rights and fair trial. There have been widespread restrictions on civil, religious and political freedoms, and violations on the right to privacy. What’s more, a number of opposition activists and Shia religious clerics have had their citizenship revoked, with several subsequently being deported. 

The report that follows is a summary of the human rights violations documented by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights over the course of 2017. A number of other violations were reported, but it has not been possible to verify them due to fear on the part of victims, who have been unwilling to share their testimonies. The volume of violations reported during 2017 also meant that it was beyond the capacity of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights to investigate all of them. 

Click here to read full report. 

Bahrain: 115 citizens sentenced in a mass trial

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the recent judicial verdicts issued by the Bahraini courts following a mass trial. On 15 May 2018, a Bahraini court sentenced a total of 115 citizens to imprisonment, 53 to life imprisonment and 62 to prison terms of 3 to 15 years. 23 were acquitted. These sentences came after an "unfair" mass trial of the defendants, the court relying on confessions obtained under conditions of torture. 

The court has charged the defendants with terrorism-related charges and charges related to contact with third parties, charges that were only substantiated from confessions obtained under conditions of torture during the investigation. The details of the conditions under which the confessions have been obtained were not investigaed, in the same way as the accountability of those involved in the comission was not investigated. In this case of mass trial, defendants were subjected to many violations, including enforced disappearance, which lasted over 30 days. They were also beaten and threatened in order to force them to confess. BCHR also documented some of these violations.

The official authorities also denied knowing the whereabouts of the accused while hiding, after reviewing their parents to these bodies several times.

BCHR considers this trial to be an unfair trial, a "new judicial farce" and a futile trial because it lacked the most basic standards of justice and did not comply with international fair trial standards. These provisions also constitute a flagrant violation of international conventions, particularly the International Covention on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Bahrain, which criminalizes the subjection of any person to torture or degrading treatment and states that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.

Based on the above, BCHR calls upon the Government of Bahrain to:

• Repeal all judgments in this case;

• Stop using nationality revocation as a tool of political suppression;

• Investigate the details of the conditions of torture of the accused and the accountability of those involved in the commission.


Bahrain: Activist Brian Dooley and Danish Parliamentarian Lars Aslan banned from entering the country

April 4 2018: On the seventh anniversary of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja’s arrest, Activist Brian Dooley and Danish Parliamentarian Lars Aslan have been barred from visiting him.  
They were travelling to Manama on Tuesday afternoon to visit him.  After landing their passport was taken away and they were held overnight at the airport before being told 
that they will be deported for being considered as “security risk” according to Brian Dooley’s Twitter account. 
The human rights situation in Bahrain has severely deteriorated in the last months. Torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, and grossly unfair trials before
military courts are key features of Bahrain’s “counter-terrorism” campaign. The country's most prominent critical voices — including human rights defender Nabeel Rajab — 
have been jailed and convicted on charges widely dismissed as trumped up and politically motivated. 
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that the deportation of Brian Dooley and Lars Aslan — if carried out — is unlawful and that Bahrain should immediately allow them 
to access to diplomatic or other representatives of their country of nationality.

Bahrain: Tougher Internet dissent regulations would supress the only remaining forum for free speech

26 March 2018: The Bahraini Ministry of Interior said in an official statement yesterday that Bahrain is planning to introduce new significant restrictions to online speech and invasive surveillance of online activity and prosecutes critics under the guise of fighting extremism. Online dissidents can expect to face "severe measures" against them, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said.
“Once again the policy of the Governement is to deal with freedom of expression as a security threat and to further  block  channels  for peaceful  expression” said the Bahrain Center for Human Rights today, “this is very concerning that the same authorities who are pledging to tackle extremism by restricting internet freedom, are at home prosecuting people, in particular journalists and human rights activists, who were fighting intolerance and sectarianism online just like our President Nabeel Rajab”, added BCHR.
Bahrain is the country with the highest Internet penetration rate in the MENA region, but also the one that has witnessed a steady and violent crackdown on dissent, often in the form of severe restrictions of the internationally sanctioned right to freedom of expression. In the last three years, the authorities began introducing new regulatory bodies, surveillance software, restrictive laws and regulations to limit the content published on social media about rights violations by the Bahraini authorities and violence, especially after the government succeeded in banning traditional journalism, by denying international journalists from entering Bahrain.
Nabeel Rajab, the most renowned victim of this crackdown on dissent, has been sentenced on 21 February 2018 to five years imprisonment for comments he made on Twitter criticizing the escalating humanitarian crisis caused by the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen, and documenting allegations of torture in the Jau Prison. 
Social media and twitter in particular is, currently the last remaining ground for free expression seekers in Bahrain, and especially for Shia opposition, as well as secular and leftist dissents. Such further restrictions would disproportionnally affect  them and may result in a very high number of arrests, not only of human rights defenders and activists, but also of journalists and social media users, over online remarks and speeches.
BCHR fear that new vaguely worded regulations could provide a new legal basis to prosecute and jail anyone who want to use information technology to criticize the authorities, report human rights violations or demand political reforms. 

Side Event at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council: Maytham Al-Salman's statement

Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman, prominent figure of the Human Rights movement in Bahrain, shared a statement on the current Human Rights situation in his country as part of a side event to the 37th session of the Human Rights Council:

"Dear Moderator, panelists and respected audience.

I was scheduled to join you on the panel but a medical emergency has forced me to cancel all my prior obligations and commitments.

The use of  judicIary in Bahrain to target peaceful activists and human rights defenders has witnessed a clear increase in 2017.

The Government of Bahrain continues to use judicial assaults against political activists and judicial harassments against human rights defenders. It has clearly failed in respecting its international obligation in upholding fair trials and providing equal protection of the law. Imprisoning hundreds of peaceful dissidents for doing no more than exercising their fundamental rights highlights the continuing abuse of the  justice system to repress all forms of peaceful dissent in Bahrain.

In 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry report concluded that Bahraini courts had convicted hundreds of people on political charges relating to the exercise of the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

BICI recommended that “all persons charged with offenses involving political expression, not consisting of advocacy of violence, have their convictions reviewed and sentences commuted or, as the case may be, outstanding charges against them dropped.”

Even though, King Hamad accepted BICI’s recommendations in 2011 and stated that the government is committed to implement all the recommendations , 2017 witnessed the return of military courts. Human rights organizations have documented tens of cases where judges convict defendants of “crimes” based solely on the peaceful expression of political views or the exercise of the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly. The case of Nabeel Rajab represents a clear example that the judicial system of Bahrain has been employed to punish, silent and intimidate those who practice their fundamental right in freedom of expression.

In my personnel experience in 2011, I was imprisoned for more than 6 months and denied the right to communicate or meet my lawyers in that period. I faced beatings, electric shocks, torture, and degrading insults as a retaliation for demanding to meet my lawyers.

The first meeting with my lawyer was at the doorstep of my house on the day of my release after attending 5 hearings in military and civil courts.

My worse experience was after attending a military court in May 2011. I informed the judge I was severely tortured, denied the right to speak to my lawyer, deprived from bathing and placed in a confined cell whilst being handcuffed with a black cloth mask on my face (24/7) for more than 30 days.

Instead of upholding an investigation in my claims, I was dragged from the court room, beaten in the corridor and taken to the torture yard in Qiran prison for a torture meal. I recall standing in a row with fellow prisoners in-front of masked military men. They ordered us to crawl forward on our stomachs and to lay our hands on the ground. We heard their military steps advancing toward us, and we were lying on the ground. Once they arrived they hammered our fingers with iron bars.

The assaults committed by military courts in 2011 are undoubtedly the worse in the history of Bahrain.

The militarization of the justice system by the King of Bahrain in 2017 subjects citizens to massive human rights violations and is regarded as a knock down to BICI’s recommendations which clearly opposed trying civilians in military courts.

The recent death sentences and unfair trials by military courts serve as further evidence of the failure of the judicial system in Bahrain to uphold its obligations to the Convention Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights."


2018 International Women’s Day: BCHR asks Bahrain to stop using counter-terrorism laws against women

Documenting human rights violations in a country like Bahrain has become an extremely challenging and dangerous task. Since February 2011, Bahraini authorities have banned international human rights groups to enter the country. Bahraini Human Rights defenders have been increasingly targeted and prevented from documenting cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and enforced disappearances. In addition, local NGO’s like BCHR face further obstacles in documenting abuses against detained Bahraini women as many victims or their families are also afraid of speaking up in fear of reprisals or social stigma.

The role of women in preventing and countering terrorism and extremism has generally gained momentum at the UN and internationally. However, in some countries like Bahrain, women have become the invisible victims of counter-terrorism laws.

The increased targeting of women in the context of the Counter-Terrorism Law

On July 28, 2011, the Bahraini Parliament, with the endorsement of King Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, voted 22 new counter-terrorism laws. These newly-implemented measures are widening the scope of the law since, under these provisions, plethora of activities could qualify as terrorism offences. These laws are serving a manifest strategic purpose and Bahraini authorities are using them to hinder any form of dissidence to the regime. This reality doesn’t spare women.

During the last month, 7 women have been prosecuted under these new laws. The Bahraini authorities have been adopting an overly broad definition of the crime of complicity and women have been unjustly targeted for their relationships to male family members whom the government is investigating cases of alleged terrorism.  On February 21, a Bahraini court sentenced three Bahraini women (Amal, Iman, Fatima Ali) to three years in prison for allegedly “covering up” for male family members. On January 31, Muna Habib, Hamida Alkhor, Amira AlQashaami and Faten Hussein were convicted as well and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment in relation to alleged terrorist activities by family members. 

This blatant misuse of criminal law represents a typical pattern of repression from an authoritarian state and is intended to silence all opposition voices. This campaign of intimidation is contrasting with official statements, as Government’s representatives are denying that any prisoner is detained for political reasons.

Unfair prosecution by military Courts

The use of military courts and the Counter-terrorism law means that detainees are deprived of their basic right to a fair trial. The women convicted have been denied access to lawyers and relatives, as well as the opportunity to challenge the basis of their detention before a judge. BCHR or any independent monitoring body has never been allowed to attend these trials.

The Counter-terrorism framework and military Courts are the main tool used by the Bahraini authorities to prosecute persons detained in relation with opposition or protest movement as is the case for the vast majority of the women recently convicted.

On International Women’s day, BCHR request the Bahraini Government to put an end to arbitrary arrests of women and to review all cases of women detainees held for their relationship with male family members. The authorities should also revise the Counterterrorism law and replace it with rights-respecting counterterrorism legislation that meets international standards for due process and fair trial. 

Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab sentenced to five more years in prison for tweeting in unfair trial proceedings, according to trial observation mission

Prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to a further five years in prison on 21 February 2018, during a verdict that an observer called unusual, as the lawyer was not allowed to speak during the brief proceedings. Rajab was on trial at the High Criminal Court of Bahrain for tweeting about the war in Yemen and poor conditions in Jaw Prison. Rajab has already been sentenced to two years in prison in a separate case for media interviews, and has been imprisoned since his arrest on 13 June 2016.

Rajab is one of the founders and currently President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), as well as a Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, and a member of the Human Rights Watch MENA Advisory Board.

An international observer attended the court hearing on behalf of GCHR, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Front Line Defenders, English PEN, and BCHR. The observer reported that the court proceedings were very short and Rajab’s lawyer Jalila Al-Sayed was not allowed to speak, which contravene international standards of due process. A full report on the hearing will be published in future.

The verdict was also attended by representatives of the United States, British, and German Embassies, who have been regularly observing Rajab’s trials.

Rajab, who was in court, looked at his lawyer when the verdict was announced and flashed the sign for perseverance (Sumood). Local sources had predicted that Rajab would be sentenced to five years in prison, but with elections coming up in October 2018 there were hopes that his sentence would be lower or the case would be dropped. He has the right to appeal but has indicated that he will not do so.

Rajab was first arrested in this case almost three years ago. On 02 April 2015, security forces surrounded Rajab’s home and arrested him in relation a series of tweets and an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post. The first charge was for “offending national institutions” in connection to his documentation of mistreatment and torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison in March 2015. (See the report: Inside Jau: Government Brutality in Bahrain’s Central Prison). The second charge of “spreading rumors during wartime” related to his reporting on civilian deaths in Yemen, in contravention of a government prohibition of any public mention that is critical of the conflict. He was also charged under the Bahrain penal code with “offending a foreign country” (Saudi Arabia).

Rajab was facing up to 15 years in prison for this case (10 for the Yemen tweets and five for the Jaw prison tweets). Bahrain’s penal code provides for up to 10 years in prison for anyone who “deliberately announces in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumours.”

On 15 January 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld the two-year prison sentence against Rajab in the media case on charges of "disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status." On this sentence alone, he will remain in jail until December 2018, even though he has now been in jail already since June 2016.

Rajab has been poorly treated in prison and had surgery at the Bahrain Defence Forces (BDF) hospital. Following one surgery in April 2017, the wounds became infected and he was returned to hospital. He has a number of health conditions, including heart problems and high blood

On 25 October 2017, Rajab was transferred from hospital to Jaw prison. He is being held in a segregated wing of Jaw Prison in the same cell as five convicted high-ranking Da’esh (ISIS) members, all of them from the Bin Ali clan. They are serving sentences from 15 years to life sentences. Three years ago, Rajab was charged over tweets criticising Bahrain for turning a blind eye on the rise of ISIS. In his tweets he referred indirectly to the same Bin Ali clan.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), GCHR, Front Line Defenders, English PEN and BCHR call on the authorities to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally overturn the sentences against Nabeel Rajab and free him, as these sentences and his detention are arbitrary since they only aim at sanctioning his human rights activities;

2. Provide all necessary medical care, and access to his family and lawyers;

3. Ensure that judicial proceedings in Bahrain adhere to international standards of fair trial; and

4. Guarantee that human rights defenders may work freely without persecution in Bahrain.

The price for speaking out: Nabeel Rajab sentenced to 5 years for tweeting in Bahrain

Beirut-Geneva-Paris, February 21, 2018 - Today in Bahrain, prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, BCHR President and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was sentenced to 5 years in prison under trumped-up charges in relation to tweets denouncing the torture against detainees at Jaw prison and exposing the killing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. This surrealistic verdict, after a trial that was by itself a mockery of justice, illustrates once again the current crackdown of any dissenting voice in Bahrain, where scores of critics are currently jailed. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) and BCHR reiterate their call to the Bahraini authorities to immediately release him as well as all detained human rights defenders.

Nabeel Rajab was convicted today based on Article 133 of the Bahraini Criminal Code (“disseminating false rumours in time of war”), Article 215 (“offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]”) and Article 216 (“insulting a statutory body”). Rajab’s charges include a tweet from March 26, 2015, the day the Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes in Yemen, criticising wars that “bring hatred, destruction and horrors”. On December 4, 2017, in a public statement announcing the appointment of a group of experts to investigate the violations committed in Yemen, the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein used nearly the same words to describe the situation in Yemen: “For three years, the people of Yemen have been subjected to death, destruction and despair”. 

“Nabeel Rajab is not a criminal, he is a prominent human rights defender and political prisoner. This new outrageous sentence contributes to further shut down space for civil society in the country”, FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos highlighted.

“This continuous harassment, which illustrates once more the Government’s relentless efforts to silence the whole Bahraini civil society, must stop. It is urgent for the international community to make sure Bahrain’s authorities cannot get away with their crackdown on human rights defenders any longer”, OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock added.

Today Bahrain is under a blackout, preventing local human rights activists from expressing themselves or traveling, and forbidding foreign journalists and human rights defenders from investigating. In October 2017, a delegation of FIDH board and former board members seeking to show solidarity with Nabeel and other imprisoned human rights defenders was denied entry to the country.

The ongoing case against Nabeel Rajab, which began in April 2015, has been postponed 20 times and on several occasions the Court violated criminal procedure law by announcing the holding of the trial with only a few days’ notice, and no explanation to Rajab’s lawyers. His lawyers reported they were therefore unable to prepare his defence or call their witnesses to testify in court. 

Nabeel Rajab has been in arbitrary, solitary and pre-trial detention since June 13, 2016, despite his deteriorating health conditions. After being hospitalised, his return to prison has been marked by new persecutions and dangerous, humiliating and degrading detention conditions. Beaten on his arrival, and woken up and searched in the middle of the night, his belongings were confiscated and his head was shaved. Since November 20, 2017, he is being held in Jaw prison in a segregated wing with convicted ISIS terrorists, putting his safety at risk.

Our organisations reiterate their fears for Nabeel’s health status and renew their call to the authorities to enable him to receive an adequate medical treatment, and to release him immediately and unconditionally.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

Press contacts:

  • FIDH: Audrey Couprie: +33 6 48 05 91 57
  • OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39
  • BCHR: Julie Gromellon: +961 81 784 437