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Bahrain Continues Harassment and Imprisonment of Human Rights Defenders

In response to plans by Bahraini authorities to formally question interfaith leader Maytham Al Salman on August 14, Freedom House issued the following statement: “Authorities in Bahrain are using baseless interrogations to intimidate Maytham Al Salman and other human rights defenders, who are working to promote human rights, tolerance, and interfaith dialogue,” said Dokhi Fassihian, senior program manager for Middle East and North Africa programs. “These divisive tactics undermine the country’s social fabric and chances of reconciliation. The government should work with all of its citizens, especially its vibrant human rights community, to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.”

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Role of UK police in training Bahrain’s forces ‘ignores abuses’

British police have come under fire for their role in training Bahrain’s police force, which has been accused of ruthlessly suppressing public protests and dissent. A confidential 27-page “agreement for the provision of services”, obtained by the Observer, was signed on 14 June 2015 by the UK’s College of Policing and Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior. It spells out the explicitly commercial nature of the relationship between the two parties, but omits any mention of human rights issues.

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Human Rights Defender Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman at Risk of Arrest in Bahrain

The Bahraini authorities summoned the human rights defender and scholar Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman to be present at the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) for interrogation on Sunday, 14 August 2016. The authorities did not declare the reasons over which Al-Salman is going to be interrogated. We strongly condemn the targeting and prosecution of Al-Salman, and other human rights defenders and activists.

Al-Salman is an international spokesperson and a human rights defender focused particularly on topics related to freedom of religion, anti-extremism, anti-violence and strengthening positive relations between cultures and religions. He is the head of the Religious Freedom unit at at the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, the founding member and current coordinator of the Middle East and North Africa Civil Society Coalition to Counter Incitement to Hatred; a multi-stakeholder platform and the Director of Bahrain Inter-Faith, a non-profit organization seeking to prevent religious and social discrimination and sectarianism, and working to encourage and support interfaith dialogue. Al-Salman also serves on a committee of the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.

He has taken part in a number of human rights conferences, as well as meetings with the United Nations Human Rights Council. Recently he has released a video statement about the recent crackdown on civil society in Bahrain and called for the international community to support efforts to end the crackdown.

Al-Salman has been a target of repeated harassment by the authorities. In 2011, security forces arrested and subjected him to torture. The court sentenced him to four months in prison for inciting hatred against the regime. However, he was detained for six months before he was finally released. Since then, he has been repeatedly summoned and arrested over his human rights work. With each arrest, the authorities interrogated him over his activism and participation in international human rights conferences and forums. He was summoned several times during the past year, the latest in March 2016, when he was accused of allegedly “insulting religious figures.” The authorities have confiscated his passport since then. He has been prevented from traveling which hindered his ability to do his human rights work, and deprived him of attending the Draper Hills Summer Fellowship Program at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law this summer.

The targeting of Al-Salman and other human rights defenders, including President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab, is an example of the government of Bahrain’s attempts to restrict the space of human rights organizations and civil societies. We call upon the government of Bahrain to stop summoning and arresting human rights defenders and activists, release all detained defenders and drop charges against them, and provide civil societies with the space to practise their jobs without fear of reprisal.

 

Signatories

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD)

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

Justice Human Rights Organizations (JHRO)

 

Bahrain Government Takes Direct Control over Internet through Central System that Blocks Websites

The Bahraini authorities announced that telecommunications companies in Bahrain that provide internet services are obliged to purchase a unified technical system that blocks websites and is linked to a central system run by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). This new regulation allows the government to have full control over the internet infrastructure in the country, and directly block or provide access to sites.

Read full report here.

Bahrain: Head of Largest Shiite Religious Body's Trial Abruptly Launched

Bahrain Mirror: A Bahraini court held the first trial of head of the largest Shiite religious body in the country, on Monday (August 8, 2016), over charges of illegal assembly and rioting.

The Court abruptly held this afternoon the first trial hearing of the Islamic Scholars' Council president, Sayyed Majeed al-Mashaal. It then decided to adjourn the trial until August 17, so that the defense team is provided with a copy of the case documents. Meanwhile, the court announced that Sayyed al-Mishaal would remain in custody.

Sayyed al-Mishaal had declared the start of the open-ended sit-in outside the house of the supreme Bahraini Shiite religious leader, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim last month, when authorities decided to strip the Sheikh of his citizenship.

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Bahrain Moves Forward with Measures to Centralize Internet Censorship

8 August 2016 - The government of Bahrain introduced further restrictions to the right to freedom of expression over the Internet last week, centralizing website-blocking powers under Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

On 5 August 2016, the head of the TRA Board of Directors, Mohammed Ahmed Al-Amer, issued Decision 12/2016 regarding regulations on safety over the Internet. The decision states that all telecommunication companies in Bahrain must purchase and use a unified technical system for blocking websites. The control over this system will be centralized and entirely managed by the TRA.

During the previous years, and albeit not having a centralized Internet filtering system, the Bahraini government has been indirectly enforcing its filtering policies to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country through orders from the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) and the Ministry of Interior, which the ISPs are obliged to follow in order to maintain their licenses with the TRA. However, with the new centralized system, the government will take direct control of the filtering process, allowing government agents  to block content they deem undesirable.

It is believed that this new centralized filtering system is linked to the recently-awarded USD$1.2 million tender awarded to the Canadian company Netsweeper for a “national website filtering solution” in February 2016.

Hundreds of website are blocked in Bahrain. On the pretext of combatting terrorism, authorities have blocked websites critical of government policies and actions, including news sites, human rights organizations homepages, and Shia religious websites. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights’ (BCHR) website has been blocked since 2006. Recently, the authorities have also blocked BCHR’s alternative website addresses created to circumvent the government Bahrain. On the other hand, many websites affiliated with Da’esh (ISIS) can be easily accessed in Bahrain.

The TRA is a governmental body whose members are appointed by royal decree. Its main responsibilities are to regulate mobile phone services and ISPs. The TRA is also responsible for licensing telecommunication providers. Although ostensibly a purely regulatory agency, the TRA is used by the government to monitor activists and restrict the freedom of expression. In February 2016, the TRA revoked the license of the telephone and Internet services provider 2Connect for alleged failure to comply with national security obligations, including not providing a plan to allow security units’ access to the calls data and access related information sent over the provider’s network. 

We believe that the authorities are escalating restrictions on freedom of Internet in order to silence free, critical voices. BCHR’s President Nabeel Rajab was arrested in June and is being tried over charges related to tweeting and retweeting remarks regarding credible allegation of torture in Bahrain’s Jau prison and human rights violations in the war in Yemen.

We, the undersigned, condemn these repressive measures, and call on the government of Bahrain to cease its restrictions on digital freedom and provide a space for its people to practice their rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

 

Signatories:

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
Justice Human Rights Organizations (JHRO)

Update: Further Deterioration in the Health of Nabeel Rajab

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is alarmed about information received regarding the further deterioration of the health of its president, leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, in detention.

As reported by his wife, Sumaya Rajab, on 4 August, Bahraini authorities delayed urgent hospital appointments until early September. Rajab was scheduled to attend a consultation with specialists at the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital in order to discuss an operation for the removal of gallstones and an operation to treat an ulcer on his back.

Prior to his arrest on 13 June 2016, the SurgiCare clinic in Bahrain had recommended that he have surgery for the ulcer following treatment to clear a related infection with antibiotics. According to information received by BCHR, this ulcer has now worsened to the level of bleeding due to the poor conditions in detention. Rajab has requested his wife to provide bandages for the bleeding.

In addition, the Bahraini authorities have also postponed a further consultation with a blood disease specialist, who is supposed to treat Rajab’s immunity problems which are caused by a low white blood cell count, a condition that Rajab had not experienced prior to his detention.

Since his arrest, Rajab has been placed at West Riffa police station in solitary confinement and under extremely poor conditions. The living conditions in his cell are highly unsanitary, as the toilet and shower are unclean, unhygienic, and filled with potentially disease-carrying sludge. There is either no or very little water in the bathroom. Rajab has occasional contact with other inmates for no more than a few hours or overnight. The effect of these poor conditions is clearly resulting in his deteriorating health as he has requested painkillers to treat severe headaches and lower back pain, which have been provided by his family.

On 28 June 2016, he had been transferred to hospital on an emergency basis due to irregular heartbeats. This was his only access to specialist medical treatment since his arrest.

Despite Rajab’s poor health condition, the judge of the high criminal court refused to release him on 2 August 2016. The government has already placed a travel ban on Rajab, and his continued detention - at risk to his health – can be considered punishment for his human rights work.

In addition to being a founder and the President of BCHR, Rajab is the Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, and a member of the MENA Advisory Board of Human Rights Watch.

Rajab is facing up to 15 years in prison for a number of charges related to tweets and retweets concerning torture allegations at Jau Prison and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. His trial is ongoing despite lack of evidence by the prosecution.

BCHR is deeply concerned about Nabeel Rajab’s well-being. We therefore call on the international community to press for his basic human rights to be respected, for his immediate and unconditional release, and for an end to the government of Bahrain’s reprisals against human rights defenders.

For updated information please see: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/updates-arrest-and-detention-bchrs-president-nabeel-rajab

Bahrain 'internet curfew' for village, say activists

Nightly mobile network disruption has been detected in a Bahraini village at the centre of recent protests, an advocacy group has said.

Bahrain Watch has published a report in which it describes disruption to 3G and 4G networks in the village of Duraz.

Anti-government protests have been held in Duraz, which is home to Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim.

Phone calls and SMS messages functioned normally during tests by Bahrain Watch, but data services were not available.

Read full article here.