17 Feb, 2015

Bahrain: Why February 14 Matters in Bahrain

Human Rights First Campaigns and Topics: Anniversary of Bahrain Protests by Brian Dooley

February 14 this year will be the fourth anniversary of the start of widespread protests in Bahrain for democracy. They were met with a  violent government crackdown that left thousands of people in jail, many of them tortured. The protests never went away, and this year’s anniversary is likely to see another spike in demonstrations. 

Since 2011 the marches have stayed mostly peaceful, but a minority now have a violent element. The grievances that brought people onto the streets in 2011 remain – anger at corruption, the lack of democracy and accountability and the behavior of security forces drawn almost exclusively from one sect. A ruling family still retains power in the kingdom.  

Watch the video below, and click here to view full statement

17 Feb, 2015

Bahrain: Must Rein in Security Forces Ahead of Fourth Anniversary of Uprising

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC STATEMENT

13 February 2015

Index: MDE 11/008/2015

The Bahraini authorities must uphold the rights to freedom of peaceful expression and assembly and rein in security forces as thousands of protesters are taking to the streets ahead of the fourth anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain, Amnesty International said today.

The organization’s call came after the Minister of Interior said in a statement, broadcast by Bahrain TV on 12 February, that the Ministry will not hesitate to enforce the law and urged parents to supervise their children, as protests are being organized in the lead-up to the anniversary of the 14 February 2011 anti-government popular protests.

Small demonstrations have been taking place on a regular basis since 2011 to protest against the authorities’ continuing clamp down on fundamental freedoms, and have grown in number ahead of the anniversary. The authorities considered these protests illegal and repeatedly sought to prevent them, often excessively using teargas and shotgun pellets to disperse the crowds, which in some instances has led to death or serious injury.

A number of videos and photos of young protesters being shot or injured by security forces were circulated on social media websites in recent days and weeks. In some cases the authorities appear to have used extreme excessive force to deal with protesters. This included a video showing a policeman aiming at and shooting a young protester carrying a photo of detained opposition leader, Sheikh Ali Salman. Another video shows security officers firing birdshots at four masked youth as they were chasing them. Those injured during the protests do not go to hospital to be treated for their injuries for fear of being arrested and charged with illegal gathering.

Four years after the uprising, fundamental freedoms have increasingly been curtailed with the authorities banning protests and assemblies, restricting the activities of civil and political associations and stifling the right to peaceful freedom of expression.

In recent months, the authorities have targeted those who called for genuine political reforms, and put on trial others for “insulting” the King, official institutions or “a brotherly Arab country” on social media.

On 12 February, the Public Prosecution referred to court nine individuals, all currently under arrest, on charges of “defaming a foreign country publically and misusing means of communication,” allegedly for statements they have made on social media considered defamatory to late King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia. Their trial before a lower criminal court is scheduled to open on 16 February. If convicted solely for the peaceful expression of their views, Amnesty International would consider them prisoners of conscience and would call for their immediate and unconditional release.

Several leading opposition and human rights activists are standing trial for peacefully expressing their views. Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of al-Wefaq Islamic Society, the largest opposition political association, was arrested on 28 December 2014 and is standing trial. Despite his known anti-violence position, he has been charged with, among other things, “incitement to promote the change of the political system by force, threats and other illegal means” on the basis of statements he made during his public speeches. Another hearing of the trial, which opened on 28 January and was attended by Amnesty International, is scheduled for 25 February. Leading human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, was sentenced to six months in prison for tweets deemed “insulting” to the Ministries of Interior and Defence. His appeal trial will resume on 4 March. Activist Zainab al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting the king” when she tore a picture of King Hamad and is awaiting her appeal scheduled for 15 June 2015. Ahmad Mshaima’ was sentenced to one year in prison for reading a poem considered “insulting” to the King. Another session of his appeal trial is to be held on 15 February.

In addition to reining in their security forces, the authorities should seize the opportunity of the fourth anniversary of the uprising to announce genuine and long overdue reforms in order to placate popular frustration with the lack of tangible reforms. As first steps, the authorities must:

- Release all those held solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights;

- Lift the ban on demonstrations and review all legislation criminalizing freedom of expression, association and assembly;

- Reform the judicial system with a view to ensuring its independence and hold to account all those responsible for human rights abuses, including by carrying out independent, thorough and impartial investigations into allegations of torture at the Criminal Investigations Directorate and the killing of protesters.

Click here to read the full report

16 Feb, 2015

Fourth Anniversary of the Bahraini Uprising: Violent Attacks on the Peaceful Marches and Protests

On 14 February 2011, a pro-democracy movement started in Bahrain, where tens of thousands of Bahraini citizens took to the streets demanding political reforms and a constitutional monarchy defending their basic human rights including the right of freedom of speech. The authorities consider participation in human rights activities as an act of disloyalty and such individuals are arbitrarily arrested and punished.

The 14 February this year marks the fourth anniversary of the launch of the movement demands that had been taken from the Pearl Roundabout based before being brutally attacked, leaving many victims, including injuries and deaths in addition to the detainees.

Peaceful marches and events have been out since Thursday 12 February 2015 and were majorlyattacked. A number of violations bythe Bahraini authorities have been documented in the past few days:

Arbitrary arrests:

In the period between 12 and 14 February 2015, 69 cases of arbitrary arrests have been documented by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), including more than 20 children of less than 18 years old. Only 11 people out of the 69 were released at a later time, one of them is Mahdi Mansoor Mirza who was released under the condition of presenting at the Public Prosecution for minors today, Monday 16 February 2015.

Illegal houseraids: 

In the same period, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has documented 21 cases of house raids with no search warrant presented by the police forces in civilian clothing as can be seen on the following picture. 

 

Excessive violence in confronting peaceful protests: 

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has also documented more than 120 peaceful protests [1] encountered by authorities using excessive forms of violence leaving more than 100 citizens injured [2], ranging from direct injuries due to tear gas canisters to injuries related to the lead pellets fired from a shotgun [3].

Excessive repression, especially in residential neighberhoods

Injuries caused by excessive use of force and the repression of peaceful demonstrations
 
Excessive use of tear gas canisters
 

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), commented on the size of the number of participants in the marches and protests demanding basic human rights and democracy: “The size of the popular demonstration on February 14 stroke me in that it was bigger, more widespread and accepted among the people, even more than it was before I was imprisoned in 2012.”
 

Nabeel Rajab with a teddy bear  which was placed in the street by protestors to prevent the police from entering

As documented above, the Bahraini regime is in clear violation of fundamental human rights, especially the right to freedom of expression defended in international conventions and more specifically stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers."

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and all other relevant international institutions and human rights organizations to put pressure on the government of Bahrain to:

- Put an immediate end to human rights violations, particularly the right to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly

- Hold accountable all those responsible for human rights violations, especially those who hold high positions in government

-  Fairly compensate the victims according to the size of their injuries

 

13 Feb, 2015

NGOs Commemorate the Four Year Anniversary of Bahrain’s Peaceful Uprising

On 14 February 2011, more than 200,000 people from all walks of life flooded the streets of Bahrain to protest state corruption, government oppression, sectarian discrimination and a lack of self-representation and equality in law. On the fourth anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) call on the Government of Bahrain to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and assembly ahead of the fourth anniversary, which is likely to see large scale demonstrations and rallies. The organisations also call on the Bahraini government to immediately release all arbitrarily detained political prisoners and human rights defenders and for all in Bahrain to unequivocally reject violence.

Please click here for a PDF of this statement.

Since February 2011, the Government of Bahrain has responded to protests for rights and democracy with excessive. Four years later, more than 3,000 prisonersare in jail, an estimated 5 Bahrainis per day are subjected to enforced disappearance, and dozens have been killed at the hands of their government, which has committed these violations with impunity. Just as protests have not stopped, the excessive use of tear gas and birdshot pellets continue to cause serious injuries to individuals, including children. Additionally, the government continues to employ policies that fuel sectarian divisions and marginalize peaceful opposition.

Bahrain has also issued legislation that allows for harsher penalties to be used to silence dissent. Misuse of anti-terrorism legislation has led to the revocation of citizenship of at least 115 individuals without due process, as well as the arrest of prominent opposition leaders like Sheikh Ali Salman. Human rights defenders and activists also face ongoing judicial harassment, with the majority of them currently imprisoned or awaiting trial, including BCHR President Nabeel Rajab who is currently appealing a 6-month prison sentence for a tweet.

“The Government of Bahrain must immediately stop employing violence and oppression in response to the legitimate demands of the Bahraini people for rights and democracy,” said BCHR President Nabeel Rajab. “Instead, the international community must ensure that Bahrain adopts a political solution that address these demands and meet its obligations to international human rights treaties.”

The aforementioned organizations call on the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and other national and international bodies to:

  • Apply pressure on the Government of Bahrain to release all human rights defenders and political activists imprisoned for exercising their basic rights;
  • Apply pressure on the Government of Bahrain to halt all judicial harassment of human rights defenders and political opposition members;
  • Apply pressure on the Government of Bahrain to drop all charges against those sentenced for exercising their internationally protected right to freedom of expression
  • Urge the Bahraini government to repeal laws that infringe upon internationally protect rights;
  • Urge the Bahraini government to start an inclusive political dialogue that leads to a comprehensive solution to the political crisis; and
  • Urge the Government of Bahrain to ensure that civil society organizations and human rights defenders in Bahrain may conduct their work without fear of retaliation or reprisal.
 
9 Feb, 2015

Champions for Justice: Bahrain’s Prisoners of Conscience

More than four years since the Bahrain government’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors, arbitrary arrests, injuries to protestors and politically motivated prison sentences continue.  Numerous Bahrainis remain behind bars today, including hundreds of prisoners of conscience. 

Every month, ADHRB, BIRD and BCHR ask all defenders of human rights to take part in highlighting each of these prisoners as a Champion for Justice by tweeting about them under the hashtag #BahrainPrisoner and changing their Facebook profile picture to a picture of the featured person. We also ask that you write to your Member of Congress about these prisoners.

Below is a summary and update on all of the Bahraini prisoners we have featured in the Champions for Justice campaign over the past year.

Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace is a mechanical engineer, prominent blogger, and human rights activist who has promoted human rights as a member and leader of multiple political societies. Dr. Singace was arrested in 2011 for his participation in the peaceful protest movement. During his initial detention, Dr. Singace was subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including forced standing, verbal and sexual assault, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement. He was tried in the National Safety Court in June 2011 and sentenced to life in prison for allegedly plotting to topple the government. Dr. Singace continues to face deteriorating health conditions as a result of torture in addition to his previous medical aliments that have only worsened under the minimal care provided whilst he remains in prison.

 

Description: C:\Users\AmericansforDemocrac\Pictures\nabeel_rajab fb.jpgNabeel Rajab has been the subject of persecution by Bahraini security forces for his activism for years prior to the breakout of major protests in the country in 2011. Since that time, Mr. Rajab has been targeted by government smear campaigns, subjected to tear gas attacks at his residence, and arbitrarily arrested. Like many Bahraini detainees, Nabeel has been subjected to torture and other cruel treatment throughout his time in jail. Seven months after completing a two-year prison sentence, Mr. Rajab was arrested again because of a Tweet deemed “insulting” to the Ministry of Interior and Bahrain’s security forces. Several organizations and members of the European Parliament have urged the Bahraini government to drop the charges and release Mr. Rajab unconditionally. Nabeel Rajab is currently out on bail, awaiting his appeal on February 11th, 2015.

 

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja played a prominent role in the most recent peaceful protests in 2011, leading demonstrators in their opposition to government repression. In April 2011, government forces stormed his daughter’s apartment, severely beat him and arrested him. Al-Khawaja was sentenced by a military court to life in prison based on confessions obtained under torture. Since his arrest, Al-Khawaja has been subject to many instances of abuse from his captors. The Government of Bahrain has refused to investigate these allegations and al-Khawaja has been denied adequate medical care since his detention.

 

Abdulwahab Hussain joined many human rights defenders in organizing the 2011 protest movement against the Bahrain government and was subsequently arrested on March 17, 2011. He and his daughter were both beaten during the arrest and Hussain was subjected to torture and mistreatment during his incarceration. Hussain has been consistently denied access to medical care while in prison, despite his suffering from a chronic neurological disorder.

 

Description: \\ADHRB3\Users\Public\Documents\ADHRB\Advocacy\Campaigns\2013\Prisoners of Conscience\5. Hassan Mushaima\HASAN_MUSHAIMA PICHassan Mushaima is a Bahraini political activist, teacher and Secretary General of the al-Haq Movement. Mushaima has previously been targeted by the Bahraini government, and his most recent arrest and subsequent life sentence was for his involvement in the peaceful Bahrain protest movement in 2011. In 2010, Mushaima was diagnosed and treated for stage four follicular lymphoma in London and has since been on regular medication to prevent relapse of the disease. In April 2014, Mushaima’s family announced that he was cancer-free, though he still continues to serve his life sentence in prison.

 

Mahdi Abu Deeb is the founder and president of the Bahraini Teachers’ Association, and was arrested in 2011 for organizing peaceful protests. Despite demands for his release, from organizations such as al-Wefaq’s Education Department, Mahdi Abu Deeb remains in prison serving a five year sentence. Mr. Abu Deeb has been subjected to torture, even after delivering a forced confession, causing considerable pain in his neck, lower back, and knees. Having been sentenced in 2011, Mr. Abu Deeb should be eligible for early release.

 

Teenager and American citizen Abdulla Jaffar was arrested in March 2014, and accused of attending an illegal protest. During the course of his arrest, he was assaulted by security officers and tortured into giving a false confession. He was released on bail in June 2014 after he was no longer able to take his final exams and subsequently missed a year of schooling. His trial was postponed multiple times because the alleged eyewitness was not present in the court. Finally in January 2015, the judge rescheduled the trial for February 17th, 2015, declaring that he will deliver the verdict without hearing the witness’ testimony.

 

Award winning photographer Hussain Hubail was arrested in July 2013, and forced to confess to multiple crimes he did not commit. Before Mr. Hubail’s appeals trial, his lawyer tried to arrange bail on the basis of worsening health conditions caused by the lack of proper health care within the prison. However, these requests were consistently denied. His family has attempted to garner support from the media when dealing directly with Bahraini authorities proved ineffective. Mr. Hubail suffers from a heart condition and requires a routine supply of medicine, but it is uncertain whether the prison is regularly distributing Mr. Hubail’s much needed medication.  On September 21 2014, the High Court of Appeals upheld Hussain Hubail’s five year prison sentence on charges including “using social media networks to incite hatred of the regime”, “calling on people to ignore the law”, and “calling for illegal demonstrations.”

 

Description: http://adhrb.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Dr.-Samahiji-pic-e1406920063479-214x225.jpgDr. Saeed al-Samahiji is an ophthalmologist and human rights activist who extended his medical expertise to help injured pro-democracy protesters in 2011. Al-Samahiji was arrested for treating protesters along with dozens of other doctors and medical professionals, and served one year in prison. Within months of his release after serving his sentence, he was arrested in 2013 for insulting the King at the funeral of a slain protester and was sentenced to another year in prison. Despite calls for Dr. Saeed al-Samahiji’s release, there have been no signs of change in his scheduled release date of July 2015.

 

Detailed profiles of each prisoner, template letters, and image files are available on our website: www.adhrb.org.

6 Feb, 2015

Bahrain: 14-years old Mohammed al-Sawad risks losing his eye after being targeted for peaceful protest

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is gravely concerned about the Bahraini authorities’ use of disproportionate force against peaceful protesters. Mohammed al-Sawad, a 14-year-old boy, was seriously injured after security forces fired shotgun pellets at him which caused severe injuries. There is fear that Mohammed might lose his eye sight.

On 30 January 2015 at 1 PM, Mohammed participated in a peaceful protest in Duraz after Friday prayers calling for the release of Shaikh Ali Salman, the General-Secretary of Al-Wefaq’s Society, when security forces dispersed the protest using tear gas and shotgun pellets. Security forces fired shotgun pellets directly at Mohammed from an armored vehicle at a distance of approximately 3 meters. Mohammed tried to escape; however, he fell unconscious and was taken by some individuals at the scene to Bahrain International Hospital. The hospital refused to receive and treat him so he was transported by ambulance to Salmaniya hospital.

Mohammed was admitted to the ICU. He suffers from injuries in the face, mouth, head, chest, abdomen and lungs. His condition deteriorated, which worsened his internal bleeding in the lung. Currently, Mohammed’s health is stabilized; however, fear remains that he might lose his eye sight if he did not receive adequate treatment.

Recently, many cases were documented of severe injuries caused by extensive use of disproportionate force by security forces in Bahrain, which has resulted in severe injuries. Security forces shot another 14-year-old boy, Mohammed al-Hawi. Al-Hawi was leaving his house, when security forces shot him with a tear gas canister at the head. As a result, al-Hawi suffered concussion and brain bleeding for which he is being treated.

The Bahraini authorities have been forcefully suppressing protests and freedom of assembly. The number of peaceful protests staged recently has considerably increased and the use of force by the authorities has escalated.

Based on the above, BCHR calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, all other close allies and concerned international institutions to exercise real pressure on the government of Bahrain to:

> Put an end to the systematic repression on peaceful protesters and respect their protected freedom of expression and assembly;

> To respect its international obligations for the safeguarding of all rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the subsequent UN Conventions.

5 Feb, 2015

Bahrain: Stop arbitrarily rendering citizens stateless

04 February 2015

Amnesty International is seriously concerned about the Bahraini authorities’ increasing resort to revocation of nationality as a means to punish critical voices, as the authorities stripped 72 individuals of their Bahraini nationality, rendering many of them stateless. The organization urges the authorities to rescind this decision and stop targeting dissidents. 

On 31 January, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement that it had withdrawn the Bahraini nationality of 72 individuals involved in “illegal acts”. They included former MPs, doctors, human rights activists and political opponents who have been forced to live abroad because of their anti-government activities. The list also comprised a number of individuals who have allegedly been fighting for the armed group calling itself the “Islamic State” (IS).

The Ministry’s statement cited as “illegal acts” a number of terrorism-related offences. However, it also included acts such as “inciting and advocating regime change through illegal means”, “defaming brotherly countries” and “defaming the image of the regime, inciting against the regime and spreading false news to hinder the rules of the constitution”.

While some of the alleged acts may – if proven - constitute crimes, some are acts the punishment of which is contrary to international human rights law, and the vagueness of the charges themselves makes it difficult to distinguish between a criminal act and exercising one’s right to freedom of expression. Even when people are investigated or prosecuted on suspicion of criminal conduct, the authorities must ensure due process is fully respected. If charged, they must be given a fair trial without recourse to the death penalty. Deprivation of nationality is permitted only under narrow circumstances under international law, and must be accompanied by sufficient due process protections and a right to appeal.

In contrast to this, many of those on the list first heard about the decision to revoke their nationality on the news and have received no prior notice. Stripping citizens of their nationality on the basis of vague allegations without due process protections is arbitrary and in violation of Bahrain’s international human rights obligations.

In a worrying move, the authorities have put the names of a number of known Bahraini human rights and political activists on the same list as other Bahrainis who have been alleged IS fighters. Over the past years, the Bahraini authorities have increasingly used vague wordings to imprison individuals for peacefully expressing their views or for calling for regime change in an attempt to tighten the screw on activists. Many of the activists on the Ministry of Interior’s list were forced out of the country as a result of judicial harassment or for fear of prosecution.

The Ministry’s decision effectively means that those on the list who only hold Bahraini nationality find themselves stateless. The right to a nationality, which must not be deprived arbitrarily, is enshrined in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 7 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness also prohibits, with very few specific exceptions, any loss of nationality which results in statelessness. Subsequently, the obligation to avoid statelessness has been recognized as a norm of customary international law. 

In addition to decisions by the Ministry of Interior to revoke nationality, Bahraini court judges have in recent months handed down sentences that included the revocation of nationality. At least 21 received court orders stripping them of their nationality. Nine of them had this order overturned by an appeal court on 27 January 2015.

New amendments to a number of Bahraini laws have broadened the reasons for which an individual could have his or her nationality revoked. On 24 July, a new decree (21 of 2014) was issued amending the 1963 Citizenship Law. Article 10 (Paragraph C) which was used to revoke the nationality of the 31 was expanded to also include “anyone whose acts contravene his duty of loyalty to the Kingdom”. The new amendments also empower the Minister of Interior to revoke the nationality of any Bahraini citizen who takes up another nationality (except that of a GCC country) without prior permission from the Ministry. Also, in July 2013, amendments were made to the 2006 anti-terrorism law giving courts powers to hand down rulings stripping defendants of their nationality when they are convicted with vaguely-worded terrorism offences. 

Mixing human rights and political activists with alleged IS fighters in the same list is clearly meant to tarnish the image of those seeking to expose human rights violations in Bahrain or call for reform. It is also a clear sign of the Bahraini authorities’ growing use of security solutions to clamp down on dissent.

On 28 October 2014 a lower court in the capital, Manama, ordered the deportation of 10 of 31 people whose Bahraini nationality was arbitrarily revoked on 7 November 2012 and fined them 100 Bahraini Dinars (approximately US$ 250). The 10 live in Bahrain and the rest of the 31 abroad. They include two former MPs, as well as activists and clerics. 

The nine men and one woman only have Bahraini nationality and have therefore been rendered stateless. The day after the verdict, their lawyers lodged an appeal and their case was transferred to an appeal court. A hearing is scheduled for 14 April 2015. The deportation order has been halted until the court issues its verdict.

5 Feb, 2015

UN rights experts urge Bahrain to release arrested opposition leader

4 February 2015 – A group of United Nations human rights experts are urging the Government of Bahrain to release opposition politician and religious figure Sheikh Ali Salman who was arrested in December 2014 on charges that include inciting change of regime by non-peaceful means.

“The charges appear to stem from the Government's dissatisfaction with opinions that Sheikh Salman expressed in public speeches and televised interviews, in which he called for the establishment of a democratic regime and for Government accountability,” the human rights experts said in a press release issued earlier today.

“If this is indeed the case, his arrest and prosecution would amount to a breach of his fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion or belief,” they continued. “We have asked the Government of Bahrain to clarify the situation and to provide more information on these allegations.”

Sheikh Salman's arrest came only two days after his re-election for a fourth term as the Secretary General of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain's main opposition political party. The UN experts voiced further concern at allegations that his hearing on January 28, when he was denied bail, did not take place in accordance with due process standards as his legal representative was allegedly not allowed to examine the evidence to prepare for his defence.

The experts commenting on the matter include Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

On a number of occasions, UN experts have expressed grave concerns to the Bahraini Government concerning the harassment and arrest of human rights defenders, including the sisters Maryam Al-Khawaja and Zainab Al-Khawaja, and Ghada Jamsheer – three women human rights activists exercising their rights to free expression and free association.

In addition, the Organization's human rights experts have repeatedly urged the authorities to review Bahraini laws and practices to be compliant with the country's obligations under human rights law, especially the freedoms of expression and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.

Meanwhile, in their press release today, the UN experts said indications that peaceful demonstrations in support of Sheikh Salman had been disbanded by the authorities through the use of force were “particularly worrying,” citing reports that at least 150 people were arrested and around 90 were injured during the protests and in clashes with the police. At the same time, another 72 people had their Bahraini citizenship revoked in what the experts said was “yet another attempt by the Government of Bahrain to clamp down on opponents.”

“We urge the Government of Bahrain to promptly release all those who have been detained for peaceful expression of their views,” the UN experts declared.

UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

 

 

5 Feb, 2015

Zahra, one of the toughest ladies I have met

When we see Zahra on a T-shirt?

The lump in my stomach grows when I say goodbye to Zahra (29) from Bahrain. Is it just a matter of time before she gets arrested?

The background image of Zahra's mobile is Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, where Zahra works. But their meetings are no longer conducted in Nabeel's office. Human rights advocate is sentenced to two years in prison for encouraging "illegal gatherings" and Amnesty describes it as an "affront to freedom of expression" that Nabeel still sitting behind bars.

- I have worked with Nabeel since 2007. I miss him so much, exclaimed Zahra, and looking down on her screenpage1image9560

- I have him with me everywhere.

Zahra and I meet in Rabat, capital of Morocco. Under the auspices of Amnesty are a number of young activists from the Middle East and North Africa gathered to share experiences and learn how they can better fight for human rights in their countries. But Zahra (29) is already excessive in the game. Her job at the Human Rights Center in Bahrain is to document and follow up on cases of torture and violations of freedom of expression. In addition, she is arranging for training activists on using human expression terminologies. This is necessary for them to express themselves correctly when reporting on events, such as on Twitter.

This is not innocuous tasks in the small island state of Bahrain, where serious human rights violations sadly commonplace and government turn bones down hard on any kind of criticism. When I talk with Zahra, she says that five out of almost ten members at the center are currently in prison. Former head of the Bahrain Human Rights Centre, Danish-Bahraini Abdulhadi al- Khawaja, is serving a life sentence. Health conditions are poor. He went on hunger strike over extended periods, and has not get medical care. Amnesty works for both Rajaab and Al-Khawaja to be released immediately. Currently, there are al-Khawaja's daughter Maryam who heads the human rights center, and she fights a continuous battle to get set free from danger.

Zahra has not yet been arrested herself. But police have raided her home and keep it under surveillance when demonstrations take place nearby. Zahra just smiles when I ask her to take care of herself.

- My friends have said that "we will not see your face on a T-shirt!" Laughs 29-year-old. She knows it's dangerous to be a human rights activist in Bahrain, but she does not have any other option but to continue working for basic rights. As the freedom to send a Twitter message without fear.

- I'm not scared, says Zahra quiet, and adds: - No one in Bahrain is safe. But where does she discourage?

- We have rights, she says simply. Finished it. And then she smiles a little wryly, when she sees her new Amnesty friends have tears in her eyes, and not altogether will drop ceiling a farewell clip.

The day after Zahra went home to Bahrain, I got e-mail from her with the following conclusion: "Second, I would like to confirm that I am in my office I have not been jailed yet."

I hope it continues that way. 

https://twitter.com/ChristensenLene/status/287602264456187904

 

4 Feb, 2015

Freedom House's Annual Report on Political Rights and Civil Liberties: Freedom in the World 2015

Regional Trends
The negative pattern in 2014 held true across geographical regions, with more declines than gains in the Middle East and North Africa, Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the Americas, and an even split in Asia-Pacific.

Middle East and North Africa:  Tunisia a bright spot in troubled region Although Tunisia became the Arab world’s only Free country after holding democratic elections under a new constitution, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa was racked by negative and often tragic events. The Syrian civil war ground on, the Islamic State and other extremist militant factions dramatically extended their reach, and Libya’s tentative improvements following the downfall of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi rapidly disintegrated as the country fell into a new internal conflict. Rival armed groups also overran a fragile political process in Yemen, and the effects of the Syrian war paralyzed elected institutions in Lebanon. Egypt continued its rollback of post- Mubarak reforms and solidified its return to autocracy with sham elections and a crackdown on all forms of dissent.

Following high-profile killings of Israeli and Palestinian civilians and a campaign of rocket attacks on Israel by Gaza-based militants, the Israel Defense Forces launched a 50-day air and ground offensive in Gaza over the summer. More than 2,200 people died, mostly Gazan civilians, and tens of thousands of homes in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. Israel was criticized for responding to attacks by Hamas militants in a disproportionate way, while Hamas was criticized for entrenching rocket launchers and fighters in civilian neighborhoods.

 

Notable gains or declines:
BAHRAIN'S political rights rating declined from 6 to 7
due to grave flaws in the 2014 legislative elections
and the government’s unwillingness to address
long-standing grievances among the majority Shiite
community about the drawing of electoral districts and
the possibility of fair representation.

 

Egypt received a downward trend arrow due to the
complete marginalization of the opposition, state
surveillance of electronic communications, public
exhortations to report critics of the government to
the authorities, and the mass trials and unjustified
imprisonment of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Iraq’s political rights rating declined from 5 to 6 due to
the Islamic State’s attempts to destroy Christian, Shiite,
Yazidi, and other communities under its control, as well
as attacks on Sunnis by state-sponsored Shiite militias.

Lebanon received a downward trend arrow due to the
parliament’s repeated failure to elect a president and
its postponement of overdue legislative elections for
another two and a half years, which left the country
with a presidential void and a National Assembly
whose mandate expired in 2013.

Libya’s political rights rating declined from 4 to 6,
its civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6, and its
status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the
country’s descent into a civil war, which contributed to
a humanitarian crisis as citizens fled embattled cities,
and led to pressure on civil society and media outlets
amid the increased political polarization.

Syria received a downward trend arrow due to
worsening religious persecution, weakening of civil
society groups and rule of law, and the large-scale
starvation and torture of civilians and detainees.

Tunisia’s political rights rating improved from 3 to
1 and its status improved from Partly Free to Free
due to the adoption of a progressive constitution,
governance improvements under a consensus-based
caretaker administration, and the holding of free and
fair parliamentary and presidential elections, all with a
high degree of transparency.

Yemen received a downward trend arrow due to the
Houthi militant group’s seizure and occupation of the
capital city, its forced reconfiguration of the cabinet,
and its other demands on the president, which
paralyzed Yemen’s formal political process.

Courtesy: Freedom House - Freedom in the World 2015: Regional Trends - Middle East and North Africa/ Bahrain

Click here to view the full report