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Thousands Commemorate Ashura outside Bahraini Shiite Spiritual Leader's House

Thousands of Bahraini citizens continue to commemorate Ashura outside the house of Shiite majority spiritual leader, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim in Diraz. Photos circulated on social media networks show thousands of people gathering outside Sheikh Isa's house. The authorities had revoked Sheikh Isa's citizenship last June.

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As the Religious Season of the month of Muharram begins, Bahrain increases restrictions and attacks on religious freedom

Duraz is still under lockdown, with checkpoints in entrances, and only its residents allowed in.

The Bahraini authorities are still enforcing a lockdown on Duraz, which has continued for more than 100 days so far. Anyone who is not a resident of Duraz is unable to enter, and this includes clerics who intend to participate and give sermons during religious gatherings there. The authorities engaged in violent actions to forcefully remove religious signs from several areas in Bahrain.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns these extreme actions that were committed by the Bahraini authorities. We express our concern that these extreme acts could deprive thousands of Bahrainis of their right to freely practice their religious rituals, especially during Muharram, which is an Islamic month in which people mourn the death of the grandson of the prophet, Imam Husain ibn Ali, by engaging in many religious events.

These religious events usually take place in community centers which the Bahrainis call “Matam(s)”. Duraz has 10 Matams for men and 10 Matams for women, in which people hold at least 10 mourning sessions in total. Following the government’s decision to revoke the citizenship of the top Shia cleric in Bahrain - Sheikh Isa Qassim - and the beginning of the sit-in in front of his house, the authorities have subjected Duraz to an unprecedented lockdown, in what is a form of collective punishment against the entire village. Police established blockades closing off most of the roads leading into and out of Duraz. All major and minor entrances have been sealed off, with the exception of only two entrances to Duraz. At the two entrances left open, there are checkpoints, where policemen closely check people’s IDs, and restrict people from entering Duraz, especially non-residents. This has left people unable to participate in the biggest Friday prayer in Bahrain, which is held in Duraz, for more than 10 consecutive weeks now.

Furthermore, a number of religious Shia preachers and singers were summoned for their participation in the sit-in in front of the house of Sheikh Isa Qassim. A number of people were arrested for the same reason. Since 19 August 2016, when the first sentence was issued against Shiite cleric Sheikh Ali Humeidan, charged with gathering with intention to cause security disorder, eight other defendants, including clerics, have been sentenced a total of 12 years in prison. One of them, Habib Al-Dirazi, was sentenced to one year in prison for each day he spent in the sit-in, making it two years in total.

These violations of religious freedom occurred in many areas in Bahrain, not only in Duraz. BCHR documented the security forces’ removal of religious signs in at least 15 Shia neighbourhoods, which were put up in commemoration of Muharram. In addition, policemen used tear gas to suppress people who protested the removal of these signs. The authorities also denied entry to Duraz to at least two religious preachers; Said Mustafa Al-Karrani and Sheikh Mohammed Al-Mahfoodh, who were supposed to participate in a religious event in Duraz. Several Matam  leaders said that there are nine religious preachers who were denied entry to Bahrain on 1 October 2016, due to security reasons, despite the fact that they have visa entries that were approved by the Ministry of Interior.

Due to these violent acts committed by the security forces in Bahrain, and the restrictions on people’s right to freedom of religion and belief, BCHR is worried that the authorities will ban all kinds of religious rituals and practices in Duraz.

A group of United Nations human rights experts* issued a statement on 16 August 1016, calling on the government of Bahrain to end the systematic harassment that the Shia population faces by the Bahraini authorities, including stripping many of them of citizenship, which they considered “deeply concerning.” They stated that: “The intensified wave of arrests, detentions, summons, interrogations and criminal charges brought against numerous Shia religious clerics and singers, human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents is having a chilling effect on fundamental human rights.”


By subjecting Duraz to this siege, and attacking religious rituals, Bahrain is violating Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 18 (1) states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” These abuses also violate the rights stated in Article 18 (3), which states that “Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

In view of these violations of religious freedoms and freedom of assembly, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:

  • Immediately end the blockade of Duraz, allowing freedom of movement for all persons wishing to enter and leave the village;

  • Protect all human rights, particularly those related to freedom of religion and belief; and

  • Allow people to freely engage in religious practices without being subjected to restrictions or harassment by the state.

(*) The experts are: Mr. Sètondji Adjovi, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.


BCHR Condemns Imprisonment of Women’s Rights Defender Ghada Jamsheer

“The judges, who all don’t want to be involved in the case, say that the lawsuits should not have proceeded in the first place. This only means the cases against me are all false.”


The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is deeply concerned about the ongoing detention of prominent Bahraini women’s rights defender Ghada Jamsheer. A petition was launched to call for her release, and drop the travel bans against other  women rights defenders, including BCHR staff.

Jamsheer, President of the Women’s Petition Committee (WPC), writer and blogger, was arrested on 19 August 2016 at Bahrain’s airport, in Manama. Jamsheer had just spent several weeks in London, the United Kingdom, for medical treatment. This re-arrest came after the Second High Criminal Court decided to uphold a one-year prison sentence in June 2016, in addition to combined sentences of several months each over four charges of criticizing the King Hamad Hospital on twitter.

Jamsheer is being held at the Isa Town Women’s Detention Center, where she had been detained during a previous arrest in 2014. Her health condition is deteriorating, and she is not able to carry out her medical treatment in prison, where she is held with other sick detainees who put her health at risk. In a call to BCHR from jail, she said: “The judges, who all don’t want to be involved in the case, say that the lawsuits should not have proceeded in the first place. This only means the cases against me are all false.” Jamsheer is also concerned about her young daughter, who relies on the support of her mother.

In 2016, Jamsheer was sentenced to an additional seven months in prison on three charges related to tweeting, and an appeals court upheld a sentence of one year in prison for allegedly “assaulting a police officer” in jail, in connection with the case. After criticizing the allegedly corrupt management of King Hamad Hospital, she had been fined around 10,000 dinars (approx. USD$26.500), and received an extended prison sentence by the appeal court.

The decision to re-arrest Jamsheer upon her return to Bahrain is in line with the government’s will to suppress all forms of political dissent, and to discourage those who speak out against the government’s abuses. Throughout the years, Jamsheer advocated for gender equality and protection of women through codified personal status laws. Her advocacy work got her a standing ovation from Time magazine, who named her one of the four heroes of freedom in the Arab world. She was also placed on the list of the top 10 most powerful women in the Arab world by Forbes. In addition to her work at WPC, Jamsheer has also criticized the ongoing electoral methods aimed at decreasing the power of the Shiite majority, and accused the administrators of King Hamad Hospital of corruption, which constituted grounds for the ongoing judicial harassment and prosecution by the authorities.

Jamsheer is not the first victim of the Bahraini government’s reprisals, nor the last one. Since 2011, around 300 complaints regarding the arrests and torture of women who dare to exercise their rights to freedom of expression were received by BCHR. In addition, the Bahraini government had imposed travel bans on several human rights defenders to prevent them from participating in the 32nd and 33rd Sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council, or human rights workshops.

BCHR is alarmed about the judicial harassment directed at Ghada Jamsheer, and believes that these targetings and arrests are aimed at deterring human rights defenders from exercising their rights. We call on the international community to condemn these acts of reprisal against all human rights defenders, and to press for the release of Ghada Jamsheer.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights further calls on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Ghada Jamsheer; and
  • End all forms of harassment and prosecution against Ghada Jamsheer and all human rights defenders exercising their right to freedom of expression.

BCHR Condemns Bahraini Authorities’ Continued Targeting of Human Rights Defenders

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expressed on the International Day of Non-Violence, marked October 2, 2016, its grave concern for the continued targeting of human rights defenders and civil society activists by the Bahraini authorities.In a statement issued on its website, the BCHR called on the Bahraini government to "end interference with the work of human rights defenders; ensure accountability for those who violate human rights in Bahrain; guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of speech in Bahrain; and end the criminal cases against human rights defenders which aim to punish their work."  

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Courts Postpone Sentencing of Nabeel Rajab to 31 October - Unfair Trial and Arbitrary Detention Continues

6 October 2016 - A Bahraini high criminal court today postponed the sentencing of Nabeel Rajab to 31 October. No reason was provided for the postponement. The leading human rights defender faces up to 15 years in prison in a trial that has flagrantly disregarded his human rights. We, the undersigned, condemn the prosecution of Nabeel Rajab on charges related to his freedom of expression.

Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), is facing multiple charges of “disseminating false rumors in time of war”, “insulting a neighboring country” and “insulting a statutory body” under articles 133, 215 and 216 of the penal code. These are in relation to remarks he tweeted and retweeted on Twitter in 2015 about the humanitarian crisis caused by the Saudi-led war in Yemen - with Saudi Arabia the "insulted" country - and documenting torture in Bahrain's Jau prison. The charges collectively carry up to 15 years in prison.

In September, Bahrain’s prosecution brought new charges against him for “undermining the prestige of the state” after the New York Times published Rajab’s opinion piece, Letter from a Bahraini Jail. This charge could add another year to his sentence.

In his letter, Rajab wrote: “No one has been properly held to account for systematic abuses that have affected thousands.” The BCHR estimates there are approximately 4000 political prisoners in the country. Rajab also asked: “Is this the kind of ally America wants? The kind that punishes its people for thinking, that prevents its citizens from exercising their basic rights?”

The US has called for Rajab’s release “full stop”, and the EU’s top human rights official yesterday expressed his “hope” for Rajab’s release. Present at Rajab’s trial today was a representative of the EU delegation to Saudi Arabia, and representatives of the Italian, Spanish, UK and US embassies in Bahrain.

According to Rajab’s lawyer, the sentencing was scheduled to occur today. Rajab attended, despite being in poor condition following surgery on 3 October, and the judge was expected to render the judgement. But instead, the judge stated that the court had taken note of the request submitted today by Rajab’s lawyers requesting his medical reports, and the court would adjourn the case to 31 October. It is not usual for the court to mention such a request for medical reports had been made, and there was no clear reason to the defence team as to why the court referred to it.

Rajab’s lawyer states there is no link between the adjournment and their request for the medical reports. The court had denied previous requests for Rajab’s medical documents, because the Ministry of Interior and Public Prosecution state that he had been provided with all required are since his detention began. The court thus denied Rajab access to his own records. The defence team submitted their latest request today morning. The court did not clarify whether it had accepted or rejected the request, nor did it clarify whether there are medical reports in the case file.

In September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used his opening statement at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council to warn Bahrain: "The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them." Today’s sentencing is yet another case of the Bahraini government attempting to smash those voices.

Bahraini forces arbitrarily arrested Rajab on 13 June 2015, the opening day of the UN Human Rights Council’s 32nd Session. His arrest coincided with travel bans on activists, the forced exile of Zainab Al-Khawaja under threat of rearrest, and the dissolution of the Al Wefaq political society.

Following his June arrest, courts prosecuted Rajab for the two charges first brought against him in April 2015, with a new third charge of “insulting a neighbouring country” - Saudi Arabia. Tweets used as evidence against Rajab, seen by BIRD, BCHR and ADHRB, include documentation of torture and retweets of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship.

Police placed Rajab in solitary confinement for the majority of his pre-trial detention. After 15 days in solitary, on 28 June 2016 Rajab required urgent medical attention after losing a significant amount of weight, developing an irregular heartbeat and developing immune system deficiencies due to poor prison conditions. Authorities transferred Rajab back to police custody the following day.

Rajab’s prosecution is the latest in a series of repressive actions that have led to the dissolution of political societies, imprisonment of protestors and religious clerics, and curtailment of activists’ free movement.

The right to freedom of expression is protected under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the latter of which Bahrain acceded to in 2006. Nabeel Rajab’s prosecution and sentencing represents a clear violation of this right.

We, the undersigned, condemn this flagrant violation of the rights to freedom of expression.

We call on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Release immediately Nabeel Rajab and all other prisoners of conscience
  • Drop all outstanding charges against persons being prosecuted for exercising their freedom of expression
  • Repeal articles 133, 215 and 216 of the penal code, and all other penal code articles which violate the right to free expression.

We call on the governments of the United Kingdom and United States, and the European Union to:

  • Condemn immediately the ongoing prosecution of Nabeel Rajab
  • Act towards securing Rajab’s release from detention, as well as of all other prisoners of conscience.

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

Nabeel Rajab's Trial postponed for the third time, today

Nabeel Rajab, leading human rights defender, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, saw his trial at the High Criminal Court postponed today, for the 3rd time in a row since his arrest.
The next trial has been scheduled for October 31st.

The prosecution of Nabeel Rajab is based on the following charges:

  • Spreading “false or malicious news, statements, or rumours” (art. 133 of the Penal Code)
  • offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]” (art, 215 of the Penal Code)
  • offending a statutory body” (art. 216 of the Penal Code)

If convicted, Mr. Rajab could face up to 15 years in prison. On 5 September, Rajab received an additional charge of “intentionally broadcasting false news and malicious rumours abroad impairing the prestige of the state”, based on a letter from prison published by the New York Times magazine. The charge could lead to an additional one year in prison-sentence.

BCHR is deeply concerned about the possibility that Rajab is going back to prison considering his deteriorating health condition. The postponement of the verdict comes 3 days after Rajab underwent a surgery to remove his gallbladder. Rajab had spent 115 days in detention since his arrest on 13 June 2016. Throughout his time spent in detention, Rajab endured ill-treatment from the prison staff,  unsanitary living conditions, and had been held in solitary confinement for an extended period.

His case has attracted the attention of the international community, including many prominent political figures such as the spokesperson of the US Department of State, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and members of the EU Parliament.

BCHR believes that sentencing Rajab for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment. The sentencing also goes against Bahrain’s international human rights commitment, and raises concerns over its willingness to safeguard the security of its citizens. BCHR urges the Bahraini government to end all forms of prosecution against Nabeel Rajab, and to immediately and unconditionally release him. We also call on the international community to denounce all acts of reprisal against human rights defender Nabeel Rajab.