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Duraz: A Community Under Siege

12 July 2016 – On 20 June, Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior revoked the nationality of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shia community, rendering him stateless. In response, hundreds of demonstrators began a peaceful sit-in around Sheikh Qassim’s home in the village of Duraz, where he also preaches. Since then, the authorities have subjected Duraz to an unprecedented lockdown, in what is a form of collective punishment against the entire village. The government’s action violates the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, and movement for all the residents of Duraz and their families.

Duraz is located in the north west of the main island. To its west is Budaiya and to its east is Barbar. Its south side faces onto the major Budaiya Highway, and on the other side are the villages of Bani Jamra and Saar. Duraz has an estimated population of 20-30,000 people.

Restrictions of Free Movement

In the days after the government’s decision to denaturalize Sheikh Isa Qassim, rendering him stateless, police established blockades closing off most of the roads leading into and out of Duraz. All major and minor entrances have been sealed off, and there are now only two entrances to Duraz. One is on Budaiya Highway and the other is the entrance to Saar from Barbar. The others are currently blocked with concrete slabs, sandbags, police cars, and barbed wire. At the two entrances left opened, there are queues to enter and leave which can take anywhere between 15 and 60 minutes to pass through.

A variety of different security officials staff the checkpoints. Personnel at checkpoints include Public Security officers, traffic police, plain-clothes officers, and community police.

Only persons with a Duraz address on their ID can enter the village. Reportedly, if a car containing a mix of residents and non-residents of Duraz tries to enter the village, police will only allow it through if the non-residents leave the vehicle.

This restrictions on free movement intensified during Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan, on 5-6 July. Families were not able to visit relatives resident in Duraz, and many were unable to participate in celebrations. The Abu Subh beach park, located in Duraz and typically busy during Eid, was virtually empty.

The blockade is impacting the local economy significantly. Local businesses in Duraz have reported to local newspaper Al Wasat that customers and sales are down by as much as 90% in shops, salons and supermarkets, as regular non-Duraz customers can no longer visit.

The government’s restrictions on entry and exit in Duraz collectively punish all residents of the village, as well as those with family in Duraz. As a result of these repressive measures, relatives, friends, and co-workers cannot visit each other freely. This is in violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which protect the freedom of movement and assembly.

Restriction of Internet

All major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – including the three largest, Batelco, Zain, and Viva – have enforced a daily internet blackout between 7:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. since 20 June. While the exact time when the blackout occurs varies day-to-day, it is always for those approximate hours. According to a Batelco customer that has spoken with BIRD, customer support reported that the blackouts are due to an unidentified “fault.”

The blackouts affect not only Duraz but also the surrounding villages. Bani Jamra, Saar, Barbar and Budaiya have all experienced the blackouts to varying degrees.

Additionally, the blackouts have had negatively impacted the village’s businesses. E-commerce traders and consumers, IT professionals, and office workers in and around Duraz cannot engage in their regular work activities. Shopkeepers’ card machines are rendered useless, as they use internet connections to process payments, and transactions can only be made by cash, potentially limiting customers.

The UN considers access to internet to be part of our protected right to freedom of opinion and expression, and describes internet restrictions such as those imposed on Duraz to be “impermissible.”

We, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the collective punishment of an entire community following the Government of Bahrain’s unjust decision to render Sheikh Isa Qassim stateless. We call on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • End immediately the blockade of Duraz, allowing freedom of movement for all persons wishing to enter and leave the village.
  • End immediately the nightly internet blackouts, and allow people to freely express themselves online
  • End immediately all restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and association in Duraz and allow people to peacefully express their opinion.
  • Reinstate the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim and that of all people revoked of citizenship unfairly.

Signed,

  • Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
  • Bahrain Center for Human Rights
  • European Center for Rights and Democracy
  • Justice Human Rights Organisation

FIDH - High Criminal Court decided to postpone the trial of Mr. Nabeel Rajab

According to the information received, on July 12, 2016, the request for release filed by Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s lawyers was dismissed by the judge. Mr. Rajab remains in detention pending the next hearing.

Mr. Rajab had been notified of today’s hearing on June 26, 2016. This hearing is part of a case over two charges related to statements he made on Twitter in 2015 about conditions of detention in Jaw prison and the war in Yemen. He may face up to 10 years of prison if convicted in that case, for which he has been already detained from April 2 to July 13, 2015.

Meanwhile, investigations are ongoing in another case for which he was rearrested on June 13, 2016. Mr. Rajab is currently heldin solitary confinement at West Riffa police station. Over the past month, his health has drastically deteriorated while in detention (see background information). His family, who saw him today, reported that he was looking pale and seemed to have lost more weight since they last saw him on July 5, 2016.

Read the entire article here.

Crackdown In Bahrain

Baba, sumoud!” (“Daddy, stay steadfast!”)

Ten-year old Malak Rajab called out these words as Bahraini police led her father, prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, from his home to waiting police vehicles in July 2012. His crime: insulting the Prime Minister in a tweet.

I filmed Rajab and his young daughter in their front yard from the upstairs window of their house; I had to film clandestinely, as I had entered the country under false pretenses—Bahrain was denying entry to nearly all journalists and human rights defenders. But I captured the girl’s defiant resistance as she trailed after the police who had her father in tow.Later that day, I witnessed her fear as the reality settled in: she did not know when her father would come home.

Read the full article here.

Bahrain Extends Arbitrary Detention of BCHR’s President Nabeel Rajab, Court Postpones His Trial to 2 August

12 July 2016 - The High Criminal Court today postponed the trial of prominent Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab, President of Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), to 2 August 2016. The judge refused his lawyers’ request of release, thus he will remain detained pending his trial. The undersigned NGOs strongly condemn the persecution of Rajab and extension of his detention. We call on the government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Rajab, and respect his human rights in detention.

Rajab appeared before the court on charges of “insulting a statutory body”, “insulting a neighboring country”, and “disseminating false rumors in time of war”. These are in relation to remarks he tweeted and retweeted on his Twitter handler in 2015 about credible allegation of torture at Jau prison and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. He may face more than 10 years in prison if convicted, for which he was already detained from 2 April to 13 July 2015. Despite the charges having first been made over a year ago, today’s court hearing was Rajab’s first for this case.

Since his arrest on 13 June 2016 on separate charges, Rajab has been detained in solitary confinement with no contact with other prisoners and in very poor conditions. He is currently being detained at West Riffa police station. He is being denied the minimum standards of the treatment of prisoners, which has been the cause for deterioration of his health, including the loss of 8 kgs since his arrest.

Rajab’s lawyer states that he is being subjected to harassment in detention. His right to privacy is not respected during visits: all visits are under close monitoring by two police officers, who sit close to the family. Concerns over his deteriorating health is growing. His family, who saw him today, say he looked pale and seemed to have lost more weight since their last visit on 5 July.

On 28 June 2016, after two weeks in solitary confinement, Rajab’s health deteriorated and he was transferred by ambulance to the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) in Bahrain Defense Hospital after he suffered from irregular heartbeats. On 29 June 2016, the authorities transported Rajab back to the police station although his health was reportedly still unstable. Rajab suffers from additional illnesses that are only worsened due to his detention conditions. His blood tests have shown that he suffers from a urinary tract infection and low mononucleosis, and he’s awaiting the results of more blood tests. Rajab needs to have two different surgical operations, to treat gallstones and an enlarged gallbladder. He also suffers from enlarged prostate. There is a high risk of further deterioration of his physical and mental health due to prolonged periods of solitary detention.

On 13 June 2016, the authorities arrested Rajab and charged him with “publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state.” These charges were brought against him in relation to three televised interviews in 2015 and 2016 in which he mainly discussed the human rights situation and violations committed by Bahraini security forces. It’s not clear if Bahrain government plans to move forward with another trial on these charges, which are separate from the current trial.

The arrest of Rajab, who is also Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, was widely condemned in June by international human rights bodies and governments, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who said that “such actions by the State authorities could potentially damage the human rights situation in the country.” In addition the United States, France and Germany have raised concerns.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner issued a statement mentioning the case of Rajab and other recent alarming issues in Bahrain, while the Human Rights Commission of the US Congress expressed concern about Rajab’s health during detention. Most recently, in July, members of the European Parliament demanded the release of Rajab in their open letter addressed to High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The European Parliament reiterated its demands for the release of Rajab and its condemnation of the widespread campaign against human rights and political activists in Bahrain.

We, the undersigned, calls on the international community to press further for Rajab’s basic human rights to be respected, including to protect his health, and to publicly and clearly call for his immediate and unconditional release; and for an end to the government of Bahrain’s reprisals against human rights defenders.

For more information on Nabeel Rajab, please visit this page, and for any further developments on his case please visit this page as it is regularly updated with the latest information.

 

Signed:

    Bahrain Center for Human Rights

    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

    European Center for Democracy and Human Rights

    Justice Human Rights Organisation

Human Rights First - Bahraini Officials Urged to Drop Charges Against Nabeel Rajab

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged the government of Bahrain to drop all charges against and immediately release prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. The organization also urged the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, William Roebuck, to attend in person Rajab’s hearing tomorrow, where a Bahraini court will consider charges related to his tweets and retweets critical of Bahrain’s treatment of prisoners and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. This unfounded prosecution constitutes a serious attack on freedom of expression in Bahrain, and occurs against the backdrop of a worsening crackdown on civil society and political dissent.

Read the entire article here.

Human Rights First - Four Things President Obama Should Do Immediately About Bahrain

Six weeks ago the Bahrain launched a new, surprising, wave of repression, and the kingdom’s few remaining voices of dissent have now largely been silenced.

Since May 30 the main opposition group Al Wefaq has been suspended, its leader Sheikh Ali Salman has had his jail sentence increased from four to nine years, activists have been prevented from attending the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister lashed out angrily at senior U.N. and U.S. officials, leading dissident Zainab al Khawaja was forced out the country, and prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was arrested and taken into custody.

It’s time for President Obama to take a series of steps to reverse the dangerous decline. At the very least he should distance his administration from the crackdown. Here are four things President Obama can do immediately to take a stand on Bahrain:

Read the full article here.

Amnesty Intl., EU parliament urge Bahrain to release rights activist Nabeel Rajab

Amnesty International and the European Parliament have independently called on Bahrain to free prominent human rights defender and activist Nabeel Rajab, insisting charges against him be dropped and calling his detention "a shameless attack" on free speech. "Bahraini authorities must immediately release human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and drop all charges against him," Amnesty International said in its statement  on Friday, denouncing what the organization called Bahrain’s "barefaced assault on freedom of expression."

Read the entire article here.

FIDH - Twenty-Six NGOs Call for Immediate and Unconditional Release of Bahraini Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab, Prior to His Trial Tomorrow

Tomorrow, 12 July 2016, the trial of the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab begins. Facing charges related to comments on the social media website Twitter, Rajab may be sentenced to more than ten years in prison. We, the undersigned NGOs, hold the government of Bahrain responsible for the deterioration of Rajab’s health due to poor detention conditions. We call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Rajab, and to drop all charges against him.

Read the full article here.

Index - European Parliament adopts resolution condemning Bahrain’s human rights abuses

Yesterday, the European Parliament adopted, with a large majority, a resolution condemning recent human rights abuses performed by Bahraini authorities, and strongly called for an end to the ongoing repression against the country’s human rights defenders, political opposition and civil society.

Members of the European Parliament called for the immediate and unconditional release of Nabeel Rajab and other human rights defenders jailed over charges related to the exercise of their freedom of speech. They further condemned Bahraini authorities’ measures to prevent representatives of civil society from participating in the work of international bodies, such as the recent imposition of travel bans on the delegation set to attend the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June

Read the entire article here.

Torture, imprisonment and killing – so what would it take for Bahrain to be criticised by Philip Hammond?

Bahrainis are calling their government’s intensified repression of all opposition “the Egyptian strategy”, believing that it is modelled on the ruthless campaign by the Egyptian security forces to crush even the smallest signs of dissent.

In recent weeks leading advocates of human rights in Bahrain have been jailed in conditions directed at breaking them physically and mentally, while others, already in prison, have been given longer sentences. The Bahraini citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qasim, the spiritual leader of the Shia majority in Bahrain, was revoked and the headquarters of the main opposition party, al-Wifaq, closed and its activities suspended.

Bahrain, once considered one of the more liberal Arab monarchies, is turning into a police state as vicious and arbitrary as anywhere else in the region. Mass protests demanding an end to the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty’s monopoly of power during the Arab Spring period in 2011 were violently suppressed with Saudi military and financial help. The authorities agreed to an international investigation into what had happened that revealed widespread use of torture, unjust imprisonment and killings of protesters. Repression continued over the following five years but failed to eliminate entirely the protest movement, despite imprisoning at least 3,500 Bahrainis.

Read the entire article here.