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Bahrain Takes Severe Hit at UPR in Geneva

Bahrain took a rare public reprimand this morning at its United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review. Countries are assessed on human rights progress every five years, and the Bahraini government’s delegation had to sit and listen as country after country listed concerns about the country’s failure to introduce real reform despite promises made at its last UPR in 2012.

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Bahrain Tries To Hide Truth From UN Scrutiny

On Monday May 1 Bahrain will endure its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. Every country’s human right record gets scrutinized under the process every five years. 

At Bahrain’s last UPR session in 2012 it was urged by other countries to do all sorts of things it still hasn’t done, including to independently investigate allegations of torture and bring the perpetrators to justice, to allow peaceful expression and demonstrations, and to let into Bahrain the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association.

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Bahrain: “Undeclared Martial Law”

The outright militarization of the security apparatus has infected more and more sectors of Bahraini society. In fact, it’s now been written into the country’s constitution itself.

Six years ago, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof described his experience of being detained during the aftermath of Bahrain’s Arab Spring protests as a glimpse “through a haze of tear gas, [at] hints of a police state.”

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Bahraini journalists harassed, banned from travel

Bahraini prosecutors and security officials should cease harassing journalists and should lift travel bans imposed on two reporters in the past week, said the Committee to Protect Journalists. Prosecutors summoned three journalists for questioning in the week before the U.N. Human Rights Commission conducted its Universal Periodic Review of the kingdom's human rights record on May 1.

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UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

USCIRF: Bahrain

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released the 2017 annual report, which represents the culmination of a year’s work by Commissioners and professional staff to document religious freedom violations and progress and to make independent policy recommendations to the U.S. government. 

Due to deteriorating religious freedom conditions, Bahrain is included on Tier 2 in 2017 for the first time, which is defined by USCIRF as nations in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterised by at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” CPC standard.

Read the chapter on Bahrain here

Read the full report here

Jailed Bahrain activist on hunger strike

A prominent Bahraini activist jailed for life for his role in anti-regime protests has been on hunger strike for two weeks to protest the treatment of prisoners, campaigners said Thursday.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who also holds Danish citizenship, is an outspoken critic of Bahrain's Al-Khalifa monarchy, which has ruled the tiny Gulf archipelago for more than two centuries.

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Review by UN Torture Committee Puts Bahrain Abuses Under Spotlight right before its UPR review

The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) concluded its review of Bahrain on 24 April. UN panel says allegations of torture submitted by NGOs are credible and that torture remains widespread in Bahraini jails.

The government failed to adequately respond to torture allegations prompting criticisms from UN experts that Bahrain will face a hard time addressing its human rights record in its UPR review next week.

In an open letter to the Committee, a group of NGOs, together with BCHR, urged the experts to give immediate attention to the use of torture to obtain false confessions, the systematic use of torture against political detainees and activists, and the impunity which still prevail amongst members of Bahraini security forces that have been allegedly accused of torture.

“Torture remains widespread in Bahrain as highlighted by the Committee against Torture, and the UPR is a critical moment for the Kingdom to answer more questions about torture in detention facilities” said S. Yousif Almuhafdah, BCHR Vice-President, “We urge UN Member States during the UPR to press Bahrain over abuses of many detained and imprisoned human rights defenders, like Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who have been subjected to or are at risk of further torture and inhumane treatment. Our colleagues’ and all the torture victims suffering should not be forgotten”

The Geneva-based UN committee against torture interrogated Bahrain on its policies regarding torture of detainees, in particular political detainees and Human Rights Defenders.

The Committee also raised the issue of the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bahrain.

BCHR is also concerned about reprisals against activists from Bahrain who have tried to participate in the next UPR review, particularly in the light of the recent travel bans and judicial harassments against its members, Nedal AlSalman, Hussein Radhi, Enas Oun and Ahmed AlSaffar who have been all travel banned.

2017 Press Freedom Index – ever darker world map

The 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows an increase in the number of countries where the media freedom situation is very grave and highlights the scale and variety of the obstacles to media freedom throughout the world.

The global indicator calculated by RSF has never been so high, which means that media freedom is under threat now more than ever. Bahrain drops two in ranking from 2016, and places itself at 164.

Dissidents or independent commentators such as Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, pay a high price for daring to criticize the authorities in tweets or interviews. The regime intensified its repressive methods in 2011, when it feared it might be overthrown. Any content or media suspected of posing a threat to the country’s unity is simply suppressed, and detained journalists face the possibility of long jail terms or even life imprisonment.

Read the full text here

Widespread Reprisals against Activists Ahead of UPR

Bahraini authorities have initiated a new campaign of reprisals against political activists, human rights defenders, and other civil society actors ahead of the kingdom’s third cycle of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) beginning on 1 May 2017.

We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the judicial harassment of these individuals and call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately lift all restrictions on civil society actors attempting to attend international human rights mechanisms such as the UPR.

Over the last week, the Bahraini government has targeted at least 32 activists, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and other members of civil society for reprisal, including criminal summons, interrogations, and travel bans.

Nedal Al-Salman of the BCHR was today summoned before the public prosecution and charged with illegally gathering in Duraz village on 27 and 28 January 2017.

On 21 April, the authorities summoned two leaders of the Wa’ad political society, Ebrahim Sharif and Farida Ghulam, to appear for interrogation several days later. They were accused of participating in an “illegal gathering” in the village of Diraz and subjected to a travel ban. Both Sharif and Ghulam have not visited the village in years. Diraz has been the site of an ongoing peaceful sit-in since June 2016, when the government stripped the country’s most prominent Shia religious leader, Sheikh Isa Qassim, of his citizenship and began prosecuting him for his role in a traditional Shia practice, known as khums.

The Government of Bahrain used travel bans in 2016 to prevent dozens of civil society actors to travel – specifically in advance of UN Human Rights Council sessions. BIRD documented 28 individual cases in 2016, while some activists estimate as many as a 100 have had their freedom of movement restricted by the government over the years.

Interfaith leader Sheikh Maytham al-Salman notes that as many as 47 independent civil society actors attended Bahrain’s second UPR cycle in 2012, whereas as few as one or two may be able to participate in the upcoming review.

The bans have come in the weeks ahead of Bahrain’s UPR, which begins on 1 May in Geneva, Switzerland, at the UN. The Government of Bahrain has refused to formally engage with independent civil organizations in the UPR consultation process. Authorities have outright banned domestic human rights groups like BCHR and declined to cooperate with international organizations like ADHRB and BIRD.

ADHRB directly contacted the government requesting to participate in the national consultation process, and was rejected; an ADHRB officer even submitted a 12-page visa application and formal request to travel to Bahrain to take part in the consultation, including a full itinerary, and never received a response. Meanwhile, the authorities claim to have consulted with several “associations concerned with human rights,” but they have not disclosed these organizations or if they included government-organized NGOs (GONGOs), which are funded and/or sponsored by the state and that do not face the same restrictions as independent groups. In contrast, BCHR, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, the Bahrain Nursing Society, the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the Bahrain Teacher’s Union, the Bahrain Medical Society, the Bahrain Lawyer’s Society, the Authors and Writers Family Society, and even the Bahrain Photographic Society, among others, have all been subjected to some form of judicial harassment since their establishment, including the imprisonment of members.

“This new wave of summons and travel bans exhibits the Bahraini government’s  contempt towards civil society and the international community,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD. “The authorities have invested huge resources in establishing hollow accountability mechanisms, creating fake ‘non-governmental’ organizations, and destroying what remains of the country’s legitimate civil and political space.”

The government’s increased attacks on independent civil society reflect a broader trend of disengagement from the UPR reform process. ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD assess that the Government of Bahrain has actually backtracked on instituting many of these reforms since the UPR midterm in 2014, with 133 of its 176 second-cycle recommendations wholly unimplemented. In many cases, the authorities have actively contravened key recommendations, such as to formally prohibit military trials for civilians or end the use of torture.

“The Bahraini government has almost entirely failed to fulfill its commitments under the UPR, including its obligation to consult with civil society organizations and facilitate their participation in the process,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “Now the authorities are – yet again – actively preventing activists from leaving the country in order to maintain the illusion that there’s been progress on Bahrain’s human rights situation. This wave of reprisals itself demonstrates that there hasn’t.”

“Bahrain should allow the free participation of civil society in the UPR Process without fear of reprisal or intimidation,” said Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha, BCHR's Vice-president.

We therefore call on the Government of Bahrain to lift all travel bans and end any other form of interference in the work of independent civil society actors. We specifically urge the authorities to facilitate the attendance of these actors at the upcoming UPR in May and to genuinely commit to the UPR reform process.

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

Bahrain bars civil society from participating in the UPR review

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is highly concerned about the recent move by the Bahraini authorities to block the engagement of civil society in the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Between 20 and 26 April, 19 Bahraini activists and human rights defenders have received summons (1 calling them for interrogation and all of them have been charged for illegal gathering and travel banned following their interrogations, including 4 BCHR members (2.

Bahrain should allow the free participation of civil society in the UPR Process without fear of reprisal or intimidation” said Said Yousif Almuhafdah, Vice president “BCHR is particularly concerned about the judicial harassment of our colleagues inside Bahrain, like our Head of Advocacy Nedal Al-Salman who has just been  interrogated today by the Public Prosecution”.

In a continued judicial crackdown, the Bahraini government has issued over 37 summons calling activists, opposition members, journalists, and human rights defenders to interrogation. Amongst them, 17 activists and 2 human rights lawyers, including 4 of BCHR’s staff members. They have been all accused of illegal gathering in Duraz, although Duraz is under siege, meaning that no one is allowed to enter without passing through security and ID check.

The interrogations take place ahead of Bahrain’s UPR which starts on the 1st of May. The UPR is an unique opportunity for UN member States to show what steps they have taken to promote human rights. The UPR occurs every four years, and Bahrain last participated in 2012 when it committed to implementing most of the UN’s recommendations, including on protecting civil society space.

BCHR therefore calls on the Human Rights Council and its Member States to highlight the severe restrictions on human rights defenders in Bahrain, including the reprisals for engaging with UN mechanisms, in their UPR remarks and recommendations.

This new wave of travel bans and interrogations are symptomatic of a broader strategy to intimidate and harass human right defenders in Bahrain and should be urgently addressed by the Human Rights Council.

1. Amongst them, prominent activists and BCHR members such as Mohamed Tajer (Lawyer), Ebtisam AlSaegh (Salam for Democracy and Human Rights) Nedal AlSalman (BCHR), Enas Oun (BCHR)

2. Nedal AlSalman, Hussain Radhi, Enas Oun, Ahmed AlSaffar (BCHR staff)