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Rights groups condemn police violence in Diraz

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) condemn the violence that occurred earlier this morning when Bahraini security forces raided houses and attacked protesters around the residence of Sheikh Isa Qassim.

Bahraini security forces began lining the streets around prominent religious cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house on the morning of 21 December 2016. Protesters around Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house were alerted to the presence of the security forces and became fearful that the government may move in to arrest Sheikh Isa Qassim. Security forces then moved in on the protesters. BIRD and ADHRB spoke to eyewitnesses in Diraz who indicated that there were approximately a dozen police vehicles. Videos show the security forces firing tear gas at the protesters. Since these clashes occurred, there have been two reported injuries from tear gas canisters shot at protesters; one of these victims is a minor. Protests then erupted in some villages, including Abu Saibah, Sitra, and Aldaih.

“Bahrain is gambling with its stability and plays with fire by raiding houses and attacking protesters,” said BIRD Director of Advocacy Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei. “Attacking protesters this morning after six months of siege on the village shows that the government is continuing to veer further down their path of repression.”

The Ministry of Interior in Bahrain confirmed on their Twitter account that they have conducted some arrests. Witnesses to the violence this morning have shared photos with ADHRB & BIRD of damaged houses from reported police raids.

Sheikh Isa Qassim is the most prominent spiritual Shia cleric in Bahrain. The Government of Bahrain arbitrarily revoked Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship on 20 June 2016 and has since brought charges against him for money laundering. These charges are in relation to the Shia-specific practice of khums, a charitable donation given by individuals to the community. Since his citizenship revocation in June, protesters have participated in a peaceful sit-in around the residence.

“Without serious pressure from Bahrain’s allies, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, Bahrain will continue its repressive campaign against peaceful protesters,” said ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “Despite promises of reform after government violence that took place in the 2011 pro-democracy movement, the Government of Bahrain continues to utilize violence against protesters.”

Court postpones verdict for the fifth time for human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, facing up to 15 years in jail

Paris-Geneva, December 15, 2016 – For the fifth time in a row, Court postpones verdict of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab  as he remains jailed for his tweets and his human rights activities in violation of his right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, the health of Mr. Rajab has seriously deteriorated since his arrest in June 2016. “Mr. Rajab should be released immediately and unconditionally”, says the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

On December 15, 2016, after a fifteen minutes hearing during which Nabeel Rajab was not allowed to speak, the Fourth High Criminal Court postponed the verdict until December 28, 2016 and refused to release him, after he has spent more than six months in pre-trial detention.

“In a sad parody of justice, Bahraini authorities are punishing Nabeel Rajab for exercising his right to freedom of expression. We are calling for his immediate and unconditional release, said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.

Read the full press release here.

Bahrain Solidarity Day

15 December 2016 – This past year the Government of Bahrain drastically increased its suppression of Bahraini civil and political society. Today, Bahraini human rights organizations stand in solidarity with the people of Bahrain in the face of systematic human rights abuses in proclaiming the first Bahrain Solidarity Day.

In 2011, hundreds of thousands of people rose up in support of democracy and human rights in Bahrain. After enduring decades of structural inequalities, corruption, and repression, nearly half the country’s citizen population gathered to demand reform. The government responded swiftly, and severely. Riot police flooded the streets, employing excessive and indiscriminate force to disperse the demonstrations and suppress the movement. Assisted by a Saudi and Emirati forces, Bahraini authorities violently put down the peaceful uprising, leading to thousands of arrests, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of deaths.

Since 2011, the Bahraini authorities have taken steps to institutionalize this repression by passing broad, wide-ranging laws that have created a legal framework, which is now used to target human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society at large.

Following the repression of the 2011 pro-democracy movement, King Hamad established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in July to analyze Bahraini authorities’ violations during the pro-democracy movement. On November 2011, the BICI commission handed over their finalized report to King Hamad, outlining 26 recommendations for key reforms for the Government of Bahrain, all of which the government accepted, yet today, the vast majority of these recommendations remain unfulfilled.  

This past summer, the government unleashed a new campaign of repression as it arrested prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who faces 15 years in prison for exercising his freedom of expression, and took steps to permanently dissolve Al-Wefaq, the country’s largest political opposition society.  Nabeel remains in prison in poor conditions, after his trial was postponed multiple times. His next hearing is scheduled for 15 December 2016, where he could face up to fifteen years in prison for tweets. Al-Wefaq’s Secretary-General Sheikh Ali Salman recently had his 9-year sentence upheld in regards to a peaceful speech he gave. Since the dissolution of Al-Wefaq, in June 2016, the authorities have increased their harassment of almost all major political societies.

Fadhel Abbas, the Secretary-General of Al-Wahdawi, is currently serving a 3-year prison sentence for calling the Saudi war in Yemen, in which Bahrain is a belligerent, unconstitutional. The National Democratic Action Society – Wa’ad – has been under threat, with their leader banned from travel and repeatedly subject to police questioning in the past year. Ebrahim Sharif, the former Secretary General of Wa’ad, served 4 years in prison following his arrest, torture and prosecution by military court in 2011; he served another year in prison after he called for sustained peaceful opposition in July 2015, and was charged again in November 2016 after he criticised Prince Charles of the United Kingdom’s visit to Bahrain. These latest charges were later dropped, following international pressure.

The government has likewise subjected civil society to similar widespread harassment. Bahraini authorities have summoned more than 75 Shia religious leaders and clerics for interrogation. Many have been charged and imprisoned for taking part in the peaceful sit-in in Diraz, which began on 20 June 2016 following the arbitrary denaturalization of Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, Bahrain’s leading Shia cleric.

Harassment of human rights defenders and activists include interrogations and restricting their freedom of movement. Since June, the government has employed the practice of travel bans to restrict civil society from leaving the country and participating in international human rights conferences and meetings, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council. On 29 August 2016, the authorities stopped the Head of International Relations and Women & Children’s Rights Advocacy at BCHR, Nedal Al-Salman, at Bahrain International Airport.  She was attempting to travel to Geneva via Doha to attend meetings at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). Nedal has since been summoned and charged with “illegal gathering.” The government prohibited Hussain Radhi, a member of the BCHR Documentation Section, from travelling across the King Fahd Causeway between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, on 23 August 2016.  Officials at the passport office informed Radhi that the Department of Cybercrime at the CID had issued the ban, and he has since been charged with crimes related to tweets.  Additionally, the government has targeted human rights lawyers like Mohamed Al-Tajer, a well-respected human rights lawyer and outspoken advocate, with travel bans and criminal charges for his free expression.

Such restrictions on activists, human rights defenders, opposition figures, and religious leaders constitute clear violations of the right to freedom of speech, expression, assembly, and movement.

Stifling civil society, dissolving legitimate peaceful political opposition groups, imprisoning activists for peaceful speeches, sentencing individuals who call for human rights, and passing vague and broad laws to suppress free speech and expression does not signify progress for Bahrain.  

We, in the Bahraini human rights community, remain deeply concerned with the human rights situation in Bahrain. We call on the Government of Bahrain to take active steps to overturn the repressive measure taken this summer. We call for the release of all activists and prisoners of conscience and demand the Bahraini government hold all human rights violators accountable.

Today we stand in solidarity with all those in Bahrain who continue to call for human rights and dignity for all in Bahrain.

Signed,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights

GCHR - Human rights defender Ghada Jamsheer freed from prison, allowed to work off remainder of her sentence

Women’s rights defender, writer and blogger Ghada Jamsheer was freed on 12 December after four months in prison in Bahrain, after reaching an agreement to work for the rest of her sentence. Jamsheer has been imprisoned at Isa Town Women’s Prison since 15 August 2016, serving a combined ten-month sentence relating to her tweets exposing corruption within the management of King Hamad Hospital.

Continue reading here.

Serious Concerns over the Continuous Unlawful Detention of Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is greatly concerned at the prolongued detention of its President and human rights defender Nabeel Rajab.

On 15 December the Bahrain High Criminal Court has postponed, for the fifth time, the trial of 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, to 28 December. BCHR is deeply concerned about the ongoing detention and prosecution of Rajab, as well as his deteriorating health condition since his arrest.

Rajab has been denied release and was not allowed to speak in court.

The High Criminal Court had already postponed the trial of Rajab four times in a row since the commencement of the trial on 11 July 2016. On 31 October the High Criminal Court postponed the trial to hire an expert from the Cyber Crime Unit to verify that the Twitter handle in question was managed by him. The reopening of his case throws a light on the lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.

Rajab is being prosecuted in relation to tweets and retweets about torture in Jau Prison and the human rights violations in the war on Yemen. The prosecution of Rajab is based on Articles 133, 215, and 216 of Bahrain’s Penal Code over charges of “false or malicious news, statements, or rumours,” “offending a foreign country” (Saudi Arabia), and “offending a statutory body” – for which he may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. All these charges relate to Rajab’s exercise of his free expression.

In September, Bahrain’s prosecution brought new charges against him for “undermining the prestige of the state” after the New York Times published his opinion piece, Letter from a Bahraini Jail. This charge could carry an additional year. In his letter, Rajab criticized his country for being one “that punishes its people for thinking, that prevents its citizens from exercising their basic rights.”

Rajab has spent over 180 days in detention since his arrest on 13 June 2016. We are deeply concerned about Rajab still being detained considering his deteriorating health condition. Rajab’s family believes that the unhygienic condition in his cell is possibly the reason for worsening of his health condition. On 22 November, Rajab was transferred for the third time to a police hospital after suffering chest pain, according to his son Adam Rajab.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab and all political prisoners detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression;
  • Drop all charges against Nabeel Rajab at his trial on 15 December 2016, which are related to his right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech; and
  • Abide by international legislation upholding the right to freedom of expression, without any restrictions or arbitrary legal procedures.

Washington’s Dilemma as Bahrain Snuggles Up to Putin

The first Trump cabinet discussion on Russia should be fun. Quite apart from the question of what role Russia played in the presidential election, nominees for top posts have said very different things about President Putin.

Trump has expressed admiration of the Russian president and several of his close circle have links to the Kremlin. Other cabinet nominees, including Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary, General James Mattis, are clearly not fans of the Russian president.

Some senior Republicans in Congress are also alarmed at a Trump Administration becoming too close to the former KGB officer, with serious consequences for Ukraine, Syria, the European Union, and elsewhere.

While the new administration figures out if it wants to be friends with Russia, Washington’s erratic military ally Bahrain has already decided to snuggle up to Putin.

Continue reading here.

The Guardian - Cross-party MPs urge Boris Johnson to call for Bahrain activist's release

More than 20 MPs from seven parties in the UK parliament have urged the British foreign secretary to echo US government calls for the release of the Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, whose trial begins on Friday.

Rajab, who faces up to 15 years in jail for comments made on Twitter criticising the war in Yemen, has been held in pre-trial detention since June. He is also accused of “defaming the state” by publishing “false news .. and malicious rumours that undermine the prestige of the kingdom” in an opinion piece in the New York Times.

He was arrested on separate charges of “spreading false information and rumours with the aim of discrediting the state”.

Continue reading here.

Index - Bahrain: Parliamentary pressure mounts on Theresa May to call for Nabeel Rajab's release

Parliamentarians today joined in calling on the UK government to call for the release of jailed activist Nabeel Rajab.

Twenty-three Members of Parliament have penned a joint letter to the Foreign Secretary calling on the UK government to demand the “unconditional release” of Nabeel Rajab from prison, and for the charges against him to be dropped.

The letter  signed by a cross-party group of MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, Scottish National Party, DUP, Liberal Democrats, Green and SDLP, urges the UK Government to follow the lead of the US State Department, the European Parliament, and the United Nations, in calling for Bahrain to release Mr Rajab.

The letter said: “We urge you, in advance of the trial tomorrow, to make it clear to Bahraini officials that the United Kingdom wishes to see his unconditional release from prison, and for the charges brought against him, which are related to his right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech, to be dropped.”

Continue reading here.

Freedom of the Press: Bahrain Restricts Media Access During GCC Summit in Bahrain

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned about the ongoing and intensifying harassment of independent journalists by the Bahraini government.

The Bahraini government prevented international journalists from covering the two-day 37th summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), hosted in Manama last week on 6 and 7 December. The annual summit gathers Arab and Gulf leaders to discuss regional and international issues. British Prime Minister Theresa May was also in attendance this year.

An employee from Al-Araby TV Channel (headquartered in London) was arrested on 6 December 2016 by the Bahraini authorities after the authorities stopped a live stream with the guest Abdulaziz Abul, a member of the Shura council, who was commenting on the GCC summit.

Al-Jazeera Media Network (AJMN) announced on 6 December 2016 that Bahraini authorities blocked their employees from covering the GCC summit from the ground as the staff was not allowed to enter the country. Jamal Elshayyal, a journalist from AJMN, who was refused entry at Bahrain International Airport on 6 December, states that for “no legitimate reason” his news agency was prevented from covering an international conference with global interest, even though all necessary procedures were followed and all requested documents submitted to the authorities on time.

The attacks and restrictions on media, including television channels, are frequent in Bahrain and it is difficult for independent media to operate freely. In February 2015, the Bahraini authorities suspended television channel Al Arab TV, one day after its launch, following an interview it broadcast with an aide to a Bahraini opposition leader.

Based on the facts and cases above, BCHR expresses its deep concern about the right to freedom of expression being undermined and calls on the authorities of Bahrain to:

  • Cease blocking independent international journalists from entering Bahrain;
  • Allow journalists to conduct their profession and respect their right to freedom of expression; and
  • Drop the charges against journalists who exercise their work.