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Questions for Head of Bahrain’s NSA 10 Days After Ebtisam al Saegh’s Arrest

Brian Dooley, Senior Director, Human Rights First:

"Can you tell us how you have investigated the allegations of torture made in May, what your findings were and what action you have taken?

Can you also explain why Ebtisam Al Saegh has not been allowed access to a lawyer in the last 10 days, or why her family have not been permitted to see her?

Will you commit to investigating all allegations of mistreatment or torture committed by the NSA and hold those responsible to account?"

Read the letter here.

Overview of the human rights violations in Bahrain: Jan-June 2017

The first six months of 2017 have seen increasing instances of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders, journalists, and active members of civil society in Bahrain. Amid the heightened crackdown on critical voices the Bahraini government has regressed to a near total suppression of human rights. The Bahrain Center for Human (BCHR) has documented increased numbers of individuals arbitrarily arrested, an increased number of protests, a significant number of citizenship revocation orders, and the end of an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty. All major opposition parties have now been dissolved, and stripped of their assets. Peaceful protesters have died from injuries sustained at the hands of security forces, and many have been injured by the security forces’ use of birdshot pellets and tear gas.

Read the report in pdf format here.

BCHR is gravely concerned about these recent developments in Bahrain, and the ongoing and increasingly severe and volatile crackdown on human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, journalists, and active members of civil society in the country.

Statistics

Between 1 January and 30 June 2017 BCHR has recorded a total of 982 arbitrary arrests in Bahrain. Of these 84 were children, and 28 were women. During a raid on the town of Duraz by Bahraini security forces a total of 286 individuals were arrested from the area on two days in May alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this time there have been 2,373 protests across the country; 628 of these were suppressed by riot police. Numerous injuries were also reported during this time; injuries caused by birdshot pellets were the most common. A small number of individuals sustained injuries caused by the excessive deployment of tear gas by security forces.

Between 1 January  and 21 May BCHR recorded a total of 772 individuals sentenced in 187 politically motivated cases. Of these individuals, 92 had their Bahraini citizenship revoked, rendering them stateless, whilst 59 life sentences were handed down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of the de facto moratorium on death penalty

BCHR remains particularly concerned about the use of the death penalty in Bahrain.

On 15 January, Bahrain ended an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty by executing three alleged torture victims, Sami Mushaima, Abbas Al-Samea, and Ali Abdulshaheed Al-Singace. The three men were executed by firing squad after their death sentence was approved by the King of Bahrain. The sentences were carried out amid credible allegations of torture, and coerced confessions. All three men were coerced into providing false confessions to a bomb attack that had killed three security officers and their trials severely violated due process regulations. A UN expert described the executions as extrajudicial killings.

Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa are both at imminent risk of execution. They were sentenced to death in December 2014 for their alleged involved in an explosion in Al-Dair on 14 February 2014 that resulted in the death of a policeman. Their death sentence was upheld on 16 November 2015 by the Bahraini Court of Cassation, and their execution is pending King Hamad’s approval. Their death sentence comes amid allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

On 8 June, Bahraini courts sentenced a further two alleged torture victims to death. The death sentences were handed down amid grave concerns that the judiciary failed to uphold their rights to a fair trial and follow due process. Sayed Ahmed Al-Abbar (21) and Husain Ali Mohamed (20) were allegedly coerced into signing prepared confessions which then formed the basis of the evidence against them. Al-Abbar and Mohamed were tried alongside 11 other defendants; however, they were the only two to receive the death sentence.

Since January 2017 a total of 9 individuals have been sentenced to death in Bahrain.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The resumed use of the death penalty was the subject of many of the 175 recommendations made to Bahrain by the UN Human Rights Council during Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 1 May 2017. Many countries recommended that Bahrain move towards the abolition of the death penalty and impose an official moratorium on the death penalty.  Other recommendations made during Bahrain’s UPR were related to freedom of association and the protection of human rights defenders, as well as the use of military courts and the country’s broad ranging anti-terrorism laws.

Ireland recommended that Bahrain take urgent steps to facilitate the work of civil society and human rights defenders, and to guarantee the protection of all persons from intimidation or reprisals for seeking to cooperate with the UN. Denmark called for the release of all arbitrarily detained persons including Danish-Bahraini citizen Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

Trying civilians in military courts

The use of military courts in Bahrain was seen as particularly shocking and many countries, including the Netherlands called for Bahrain to rescind law 105b, which allows for civilians to be prosecuted in military courts if accused of crimes under the terrorism laws. The Czech Republic went further and recommended that Bahrain review the anti-terrorism law and its implementation to ensure that it could not be abused and utilised to abuse, harass, and detain dissenters. Only a couple of days after these recommendations were made, on 9 May, the Bahraini authorities referred a civilian to trial before military courts for the first time since 2011. The Office of the Public Prosecution referred the case of Fadhel Sayed Abbas Hasan Radhi, a victim of enforced disappearance to the military courts.

The siege on Duraz

BCHR has also continued to monitor events in Duraz, and is concerned about the deterioration of the security situation in recent weeks.

On 21 May, a suspended sentence was handed down to Sheikh Isa Qasim, after the Bahraini government charged the leading Shiite cleric with allegedly collecting funds illegally and money laundering. Following his sentencing, on 23 May the peaceful sit-in in Duraz which had started in June 2016 was attacked by security forces. Early in the morning national security forces, including members of the Bahraini special forces, entered Duraz and opened fire on a peaceful sit in. The raid occurred just two days after United States President Donald Trump met with Bahrain’s King and said relations between the US and Bahrain were set to improve.

Birdshot pellets were fired by security forces at protesters, resulting in the death of five individuals. Those killed were Mohamed Al-Ekri, Mohamed Alsari, Ahmed Jameel Alasfoor, Mohamed Hasan Hamdan and Mohammed Zain Eldin.  One member of each of the families of those who died was called in to Budaiya police station, where their mobile phones were confiscated, and they were asked to identify the bodies. On 28 May, the men were buried in secret and denied normal funeral rites, without the consent or the participation of their families.The violence levied at protesters in Duraz was accompanied by reprisals against prisoners in Jau prison, who were reportedly stripped of their clothes and subjected to beatings. Activists, journalists and human rights defenders were also called in for questioning and subjected to alleged acts of torture, and forced to renounce their human rights work publicly on social media sites. Woman human rights defender Ebtisam AlSayegh was interrogated for seven hours without a lawyer being present, and after her release from Muharraq police station, she collapsed and was taken to hospital for emergency treatment as result of the physical and psychological torture she allegedly suffered.

The violence in Duraz was followed by further suppression of freedom of association and expression when Bahrain’s High Civil Court ordered the dissolution of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), the last major opposition group. The forcible dissolution of Wa’ad on 31 May effectively curtailed political opposition in the country. Wa’ad was dissolved and stripped of its assets after the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJ) accused Wa’ad of breaching the law on political association, and accused the organisation of “advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes.” There was no evidence to substantiate these claims. The closure of Wa’ad comes after the closure of political society Al-Wefaq in July 2016, and further demonstrates that Bahrain continues its crackdown on freedom of association and expression. The lack of any credible political opposition in Bahrain restricts democracy in the country, and reduces avenues for criticism in the country, and can be seen as a move towards total suppression of freedom of expression and association in the country.

The increased use of indiscriminate violence against critical voices in the country, and the targeted reprisals levied at human rights defenders and their families is demonstrative of the escalated campaign in Bahrain.

Recommendations

It is a key moment to press for the end of the systematic clampdown on freedom of expression in Bahrain. The international community should insist on lifting restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. It is pointless to talk about reforms and rule of law as long as exercising fundamental rights cannot be enforced and can result in your imprisonment. BCHR calls on Bahrain’s international partners to seize every opportunity to raise strong concern about the plight of civil society in Bahrain and call on the Government  to take concrete steps to foster an environment in which civil society can operate freely, in accordance with international standards, and in response to recent recommendations from Bahrain’s UPR, as well as from the UN Committee Against Torture.
 
Read the report in pdf format here.

Bahrain sentences human rights defender to two years in prison

[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Monday condemned [AI report] Bahrain's sentencing of a human rights defender. Nabeel Rajab [Front Line Defenders profile] was originally arrested in June 2016 after he tweeted about alleged torture in a Bahrani prison. A Bahrani court ordered his release in December 2016, but shortly after his release he was arrested on the current charges. Rajab was sentenced to two years in prison for the political opinions he expressed during interviews in 2015 and 2016. Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General [official profile], condemned the conviction as a brazen violation of human rights. Rajab is still facing numerous charges in cases expected to resume on August 7.

Read the article here.

 

Open NGO Letter to EU Member States and Institutions Regarding the Export of Surveillance Equipment

Following the alarming evidence that EU-made electronic surveillance equipment is still being exported to authoritarian countries around the world, we strongly urge all EU member states and institutions to respect their human rights obligations and call on them to prioritise long overdue EU reforms.

We are extremely concerned that little has changed since civil society  first recognised the need to modernise current EU rules governing the export of surveillance equipment as far back as 2011 during the Arab Awakening. As the European Commission has since proposed reforms to the current system specifically aimed “to prevent human rights violations associated with certain cyber-surveillance technologies”, we urge member states to refrain from any further delays in the process and to ensure that states throughout the European Union prevent surveillance exports that pose risks to human rights.

Read the letter in pdf format here.

Need for reform

The export of electronic surveillance equipment to agencies involved in human rights abuses and to countries lacking sufficient legal frameworks to protect privacy poses a serious risk to the EU’s interests in human rights, democratisation, and rule of law. In Macedonia, where numerous EU member states and institutions have spent years and considerable resources to make progress in these areas, there have been reportedly some 20,000 people subject to wiretapping over several years, including activists, members of the judiciary, opposition members, and diplomats. This effectively undermines many EU initiatives by allowing the former ruling party direct access to telecommunications surveillance systems. Recently, reports have shown how authorities in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have used surveillance powers nominally targeting criminals and terrorists against human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, and others.

As a result, we urge that the export control framework be updated. We recommend that:

  • Human rights protections be strengthened and have definitive impact

The proposal should make clear that states are required to deny export licenses where there is a substantial risk that those exports could be used to violate human rights, where there is no legal framework in place in a destination governing the use of a surveillance item, or where the legal framework for its use falls short of international human rights law or standards.

  • All relevant surveillance technology be covered

A mechanism to update the EU control list should be agreed, which will decide on updates to the EU control list in a transparent and consultative manner, taking into account the expertise of all stakeholders, including civil society, and international human rights law.

  • Greater transparency and reporting is made mandatory

Greater transparency in export licensing data is needed. Such transparency is crucial in enabling parliaments, civil society, industry, and the broader public – both in the EU and in recipient countries – to meaningfully scrutinise the human rights impact of the trade in dual-use items.

  • Security research and security tools be protected

To reinforce the protection of research as stated in the preamble, the new regulation should include clear and enforceable safeguards for the export of information and communication technology used for legitimate purposes and internet security research.

More information can be found at:

https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2017/05/NGO_Sharedstatement_dualuse_May2017.pdf

Need for adequate and uniform assessment criteria

Member states are failing to properly assess their human rights obligations when it comes to assessing export licenses and are interpreting their current obligations differently. It is essential that strong export assessment criteria are agreed and uniformly applied.

Reports in 2017 have shown that:

  • Of over 330 export license applications for controlled surveillance technology made to 17 EU authorities since 2014, 317 have been granted and only 14 have been rejected; 11 member states, including France and Italy, refuse to make any licensing data available to public scrutiny, meaning that the actual amount of surveillance equipment being licensed for export is likely to be significantly more (The Correspondent). 
  • BAE Systems, the UK’s largest arms manufacturer, has been exporting controlled internet surveillance systems capable of carrying out mass surveillance to countries where human rights abuses are common, including to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, and Algeria (BBC and Dagbladet Information). 
  • Italy approved then subsequently revoked an export license for an internet surveillance system to Egypt (IlFattoQuotidiano).
     
  • A French company has been exporting similar internet surveillance equipment to Egypt and has received nine other export licenses in 2016 (Telerama).
     
  • Companies based in Italy were filmed admitting to be willing to skirt existing export regulations to sell surveillance technology to potential clients around the world, including to countries under EU restrictive measures (Al Jazeera).

The current criteria are inadequate. For example, Denmark and the UK have both approved export licenses for surveillance equipment to the UAE, where electronic surveillance is proven to be targeting human rights defenders and whose forces are torturing people in secret detention facilities, according to the Associated Press. The Netherlands in contrast has denied an application to the UAE reportedly based on human rights considerations.

Similarly, member states have been approving export licenses to Egypt, where security forces have routinely tortured detainees and forcibly disappeared hundreds of people, and where the government has recently taken unprecedented steps to criminalise human rights and independent groups. In 2013 member states in the Council of the European Unionexpressed “great concern” following “an unacceptable large number” of deaths and injuries at the hands of Egyptian security forces, and agreed “to suspend export licenses to Egypt of any equipment which might be used for internal repression and to reassess existing export licences”. Following the subsequent murder and torture of Italian student Giulio Regeni and “a large-scale campaign of arbitrary detention of critics of the government, including journalists, human rights defenders, and members of political and social movements”, the European parliament called “for exports of surveillance equipment to be suspended when there is evidence that such equipment would be used for human rights violations”.

Despite this, this week French media revealed that a company has been exporting internet surveillance equipment to Egypt. Similarly, the UK has approved the export of telecommunications interception equipment as well as satellite phone interception systems to Egypt.

In 2016, the Italian Ministry of Economic Development also approved an export license for internet surveillance systems to the Technical Research Department in Egypt, a secret unit of the Egyptian intelligence infrastructure which has previously purchased surveillance equipment from a range of other EU-based companies. After first approving the license, the Italian Ministry of Economic Development have since confirmed that they have revoked the export licensefollowing media reports that the company in question was under investigation and letters from NGOs urging the Ministry to reconsider their assessment.

As a result of the Italian Ministry’s decision and in order to maintain consistent application throughout the Union, it is now essential that other EU member states, including France and the UK, also review their extant export licenses for surveillance equipment to Egypt and revoke them where there is evidence that it poses a risk to human rights.

Background

In 2011, as evidence was emerging during the Arab Awakening that authoritarian regimes across the Middle East and North Africa were relying on European-made surveillance technology, the Commission released a Green Paper recognising the need to update the Dual Use Regulation to reflect advances in technology and early in 2013 firstrecognised stakeholders’ desire to bring the “use of ICT interception and monitoring items or ‘cybertools’” into the scope of the Regulation.

The Commission concluded on the basis of a wide-ranging Impact Assessment and public consultation “that Cyber-surveillance technologies have legitimate and regulated law enforcement applications, but have also been used for internal repression by authoritarian or repressive governments to infiltrate computer systems of dissidents and human rights activists, at times resulting in their imprisonment or even death. As evidenced by numerous reports, the export of cyber-surveillance technology under such conditions poses a risk for the security of those persons and to the following fundamental human rights”. The Working Document further noted that “The lack of a robust legal basis for controlling exports of cyber-surveillance technologies hampers the EU’s ability to prevent exports that may be misused for human rights violations”, that there was a “lack of clear legal provisions for controlling cyber-surveillance technology or for denying an export based on human rights considerations”.

The Commission eventually released a subsequent proposal to modernise the EU export control infrastructure in September 2016. While the proposal offers some improvements on the current regime, it requires significant further changes to ensure it lives up to its potential of protecting human rights.

Amendments to the proposal are currently up for discussion within the Committee on International Trade of the European Parliament, members of which have proposed some positive amendments to the proposal. After amendments are agreed within the Committee, they will be put to a vote in the European Parliament, possibly in September 2018. After a vote, the proposed amendments will be discussed between the Commission, Parliament, and member states in secret “trialogue” meetings aimed at reaching a compromise position, likely to be in 2018. If Parliament subsequently does not vote in favour of the agreed amendments however, the trialogue process continues until a position can be agreed; a process which can take years. Once the member states and Parliament agree to the amendments, they will become binding across the European Union.  

 

Signed by,

Access Now

Amnesty International

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Bahrain Watch

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

Coalizione Italiana Liberta e Diritti Civili (CILD)

Digitale Gesellschaft

Gulf Center for Human Rights

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Privacy International

Reporters Without Borders

Social Media Exchange (SMEX)

Statewatch

 

Cardin Statement on Prison Sentencing of Bahraini Human Rights Activist Nabeel Rajab

“The sentencing of Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to two years in prison is deeply troubling.  His health has seriously deteriorated while in Bahraini government custody, and I am concerned that he is not receiving appropriate medical attention and care.  I have closely following Mr. Rajab’s case, and firmly believe that he should never have been imprisoned or placed on trial in the first place.   The criminal charges against him should have been dropped."

Read the article here.

Urgent appeal Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab sentenced to two years in prison

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, co-founder and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), founding Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch. Mr. Nabeel Rajab has been one of the country’s most vocal human rights defenders, denouncing human rights violations within the country’s Jaw prison, and denouncing Bahrain’s participation to the bombings of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

According to the information received, on July 10, 2017, Manama’s Lower Criminal Court handed down a two years’ prison sentence against Mr. Nabeel Rajab. Mr. Rajab, who is at the hospital since April 8, 2017 (see background information), was sentenced in absentia.

Read the article here.