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Deep Concerns at Health of Detainee Khalil Al-Halwachi after Suffering from Stroke that Made him Lose Ability to Move

Bahrain Mirror: Head of the Monitoring and documentation department at the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR), activist Fatima Al-Halwachi, said that her father Khalil Halwachi (59 years), who has been in the pre-detention prison since over 2 years, suffered from a new stroke in prison which made him lose the ability to move his body.

Fatima posted on her own twitter account saying that her father was transferred to the Dry Dock prison's clinic and he did not receive the adequate medication or needed treatment.

She continued "in a short phone call with my father from the prison, he explained the symptoms he suffered from; inability to move his body, numbness and pain in the stomach, chest and heart."

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US calls for release of Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab

The US State Department on Tuesday called for Rajab's immediate release after The New York Times published a letter by the activist that said he was facing prosecution for his work exposing human rights abuses in Bahrain and criticising the war in Yemen.

Prosecutors in Bahrain filed new charges on Monday against an unidentified man, believed by rights activists to be Rajab, for "publishing a column in a foreign newspaper in which he deliberately spread news, statements and false rumours that undermine the kingdom's stature".

"The case is still being investigated by the public prosecution," said a  Bahraini government spokesperson, who did not name Rajab as the subject of the new charges. "The public prosecution is independent of the government. Every suspect, as per the laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain, is not guilty until proven otherwise."

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Australian Greens Party Seeks Halting Export of Advanced Monitoring Devices to Bahrain

The Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights said that The Australian Greens (Australia's Green Political Party) has promised to intervene diplomatically to halt the export of advanced monitoring devices to the Bahraini Interior Ministry. These devices are used in the authorities' repression of pro-democracy peaceful protests.

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US Department of State calls for immediate release of Nabeel Rajab

The Spokesman of the US State Department, Mark Toner, said in yesterday's ( 6 September) Press Briefing that the United States is "very concerned" about Nabeel Rajab's ongoing detention and about the new charges filed against him. He further stated that the US Government calls on the Government of Bahrain "to release him immediately".

Read the transcription of the press briefing here on the State Department's webpage or watch the piece here via twitter.

Punishing Dissent in Bahrain

Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist in Bahrain, has racked up a long rap sheet of trumped-up charges over the past decade for peacefully exercising his right to criticize the government. The latest charges illustrate how far the gulf nation’s leaders are willing to go to crush dissent. On Monday, prosecutors in Bahrain announced that Mr. Rajab had been charged with “deliberate dissemination of false news and spreading tendentious rumors that undermine the prestige of the state.” His supposed offense? Writing an op-ed article, titled “Letter From a Bahraini Jail,” which was published Sunday in The Times.

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U.S. urges Bahrain to free jailed rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab

The United States voiced concern on Tuesday about the detention of leading Bahraini democracy campaigner Nabeel Rajab and called on the Manama government to release him immediately. The call by the U.S. State Department came just two days after The New York Times published a letter by Rajab that said he was facing prosecution for his work exposing human rights abuses in Bahrain and criticizing the war in Yemen.

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US urges Bahrain to free rights activist Nabeel Rajab

The US State Department has urged Bahrain to immediately release the prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. A spokesman said the US was "very concerned" about Mr Rajab's detention and charges filed against him. Mr Rajab is reported to be facing fresh charges for writing a letter to the New York Times. He has served several prison sentences since setting up the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights in 2002. In his letter publishes in The New York Times on Sunday, Mr Rajab said he had been detained, mostly in isolation, in Bahrain since the beginning of the summer.

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BCHR submits written statement on Bahrain to the Human Rights Council

On the occasion of the 33nd session of the Human Rights Council, BCHR in conjunction with partner organizations submitted a written statement to the Council regarding the ongoing, and recently intensified, suppression of civil society in Bahrain.

Please continue reading for the full text, or click here to read a PDF of the statement.

 

“Repression Will Not End People’s Grievances”

Alsalam Foundation, together with Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) would like to take this opportunity on the occasion of the 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to discuss ongoing, and recently intensified, violations of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Since June 2016, the Bahraini government has taken a series of repressive and restrictive measures the levels of which are unprecedented since the suppression of the 2011 pro-democracy movement. Bahraini authorities have constrained individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly and have also implemented new restrictive regulations. In addition to these regulations, authorities have increasingly arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted human rights defenders, activists, religious and political figures, and other members of civil society. These measures have added to, and considerably heightened, the government’s ongoing campaign of discrimination against Bahrain’s Shia community.

  1. Freedom of Expression

Bahraini authorities have increasingly targeted human rights defenders, political activists, and social media users over remarks and speeches they have made, restricting citizens’ right to free expression. In the last several months, the government has arrested and harassed several prominent civil society figures, including Nabeel Rajab, Sheikh Maytham Salman, and Nazeeha Saeed, for their activism.

The government has leveled a number of charges against prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab related solely to his expression. On 13 June 2016, on the first day of HRC 32, authorities arrested Rajab and the public prosecution charged him with “spreading false news and rumors about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain.” The charge is in response to statements Rajab made during television interviews.

On 26 June 2016, authorities notified Rajab that his first court hearing – for another case – would be on 12 July 2016. This separate case is related to tweets and retweets about credible torture allegations in Bahrain’s prisons and the war in Yemen. Since 12 July, the court has postponed his trial twice. If the government finds him guilty, Rajab may face up to 15 years in prison.

While he awaits his trials, the government has imprisoned Rajab in solitary confinement. The living conditions in his cell are unsanitary, as the toilet and shower are unclean and unhygienic. As a result of these poor conditions, his health is deteriorating. Furthermore, the authorities have delayed important medical treatments and an operation without justification.

On 30 May 2016, Bahrain’s Court of Appeals increased political opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman’s sentence, to nine years in prison over a peaceful speech he delivered. In another case, Bahraini authorities forced Zainab Al-Khawaja and her children into exile after releasing her from prison. Al-Khawaja’s release came following intense international pressure, yet the government threatened her with imminent detention if she did not leave Bahrain. Moreover, since June 2016, Bahraini authorities have imposed travel bans on at least 23 individuals, including human rights defenders. This included the entire Bahraini delegation to the HRC 32.

The authorities have also introduced restrictive regulations and laws concerning media. On 26 July 2016, the Minister of Information issued decree 68/2016, which is an extension of the 2002 Press Law regulating the press, printing, and publications, and that the government uses to target journalists. This decree increases government oversight over all electronic media and allows it to target and prosecute content producers. The decree requires that newspapers apply for a one-year license to disseminate electronic media. Newspapers are required to submit a list of social media accounts, website addresses, and the names of those responsible for them. However, the decree does not detail the criteria that is used to judge and approve applications for this license, potentially giving the authorities wide discretion to prosecute members of the media. In addition to Decree 68/2016, on 5 August 2016, the Bahrain Telecommunication Regulatory Authority issued Decision 12/2016. This decision orders all internet providers in Bahrain to use a unified technical system for blocking websites. It would allow the government to take direct control over websites and block content they deem undesirable.

This network of laws has had a negative effect on media in the country. For example, on 17 July 2016, Bahraini authorities interrogated journalist Nazeeha Saeed for “exercising media work without an authorization,” according to the Information Affairs Authority. Saeed had allegedly violated Article 88 of 2002 Bahraini Press Law.

  1. Freedom of Religion

The authorities have increasingly discriminated against the country’s Shia majority. On 20 June 2016, the government announced the revocation of the citizenship of the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shia population, Sheikh Isa Qassim. Since then, Bahraini authorities have summoned and interrogated over fifty senior Shia clerics. Among other offenses, authorities have charged them with illegal assembly, preaching without permit, and inciting hatred against the government.

On 27 July 2016, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court commenced the trial of Sheikh Qassim and other clerics. The public prosecution charged them with allegedly receiving secret foreign funding, and “withdrawing, depositing, purchasing, allocating, and distributing the amounts in a way that shows that their sources are illicit, contrary to the facts/reality.” Despite authorities’ denials, these charges are related to the Shia religious practice of Khoms, and the trials are ongoing.

On 13 June 2016, Bahrain’s king promulgated a bill amending the 2005 Political Societies Law and banning religious figures from participation in politics. The new law includes an article stating, “political societies’ leaders should not be religious preachers, even if they occupy the position in the societies without being paid.” Although this amendment restricts an individual’s ability to practice political activity via civil society associations, government appointed clerics have maintained their positions in the Shura council. The king has appointed at least two clerics to this council by royal decree.

  1. Freedom of Assembly

Shortly after the government’s decision to revoke Sheikh Qassim’s citizenship, when news spread of the authorities’ plan to forcibly deport him, protesters assembled in front of his home in Duraz and initiated an ongoing peaceful sit-in. Bahraini authorities have thus far summoned more than 70 of these protesters. They detained the majority of them overnight before presenting them to the public prosecution. The public prosecution has remanded at least 26 of them to 15 days in detention over charges of participating in an illegal assembly. The government forced those it released to sign a pledge that they will not participate again in the sit-in.

The Bahraini authorities have also disrupted protests and restricted Duraz residents’ freedom of movement. For over two months, the authorities have closed all entrances to the town and placed checkpoints at two of the entrances. Non-residents of Duraz are not allowed into the town under any circumstances. Authorities also cut off all Internet and mobile services from the early evening until the early hours of the morning in an attempt to restrict the flow of information to and from those gathered in front of Sheikh Qassim’s home. This tactic negatively affects both Duraz residents and business owners.

  1. Freedom of Association

On 17 July 2016, the High Civil Court ordered the dissolution and the liquidation of assets of the largest political opposition bloc in Bahrain, Al-Wefaq Political Society. Al-Wefaq’s trial was marred by several violations. During the trial, the court refused Al-Wefaq’s defense team from having access to necessary and relevant documents. With the dissolution of Al-Wefaq, the government has closed the largest peaceful space for dissenting political expression in the country.

On 14 June 2016, the Ministry of Social Development closed down Al-Risala Islamic Society and the Islamic Enlightenment Society. These were the two remaining Shia Muslim civil society organizations in Bahrain. In the process, the government referred several of these two societies’ members to court. More broadly, authorities have targeted political activists and members of opposition political societies with summons, interrogation, and arrest. As a result, the majority of prominent opposition political figures in the country remain jailed.

  1. Recommendations

Bahrain has intensified its repression rather than meeting its own commitments to address the human rights situation. As a consequence, this situation has significantly deteriorated since the last the 32nd Session of the HRC, and Bahraini officials have violated cooperation agreements with the OHCHR and the Council. We strongly agree with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “repression will not end people’s grievances,” and we therefore call on the HRC to urge the Bahraini government to:

  • Recommit to its international human rights obligations;
  • Effectively end the use of torture, ill-treatment, and the death penalty;
  • Release all prisoners of conscience;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab and drop all charges against him;
  • Stop the ongoing reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with UN mechanisms;
  • Hold all perpetrators of human rights violations accountable for their actions; and,
  • Provide space to exercise fundamental rights of free expression, assembly, religion, and association without reprisal.

Bahrain: Domestic Workers Freedom of Religion and Worship Rights

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Bahrain Interfaith condemn the government of Bahrain’s disregard for the growing abuse against female domestic workers in the Kingdom. We call on the governments of Bahrain and of labor-sending countries to ensure religious freedom rights are protected.

This report traces abuse and exploitation to which female domestic workers in Bahrain are subjected by employers, with regards to their rights of worship. The report outlines the rights and international legal standards that apply to workers.

Approximately 460,000 migrant workers, mostly from Asia, make up 77 percent of the country’s private workforce. Due to shortcomings in Bahrain’s legal and regulatory framework and the failure to implement and enforce existing laws, migrant workers, especially female domestic workers, endure serious abuses such as unpaid wages, passport confiscation, unsafe and unhealthy accommodation, excessive work hours, and physical and psychological abuse. They are also being subjected to deprivation of their rights to worship and the absence of religious freedoms. 

Many human rights organizations have expressed concerns over the treatment of female domestic workers in Bahrain, confirming that housekeepers and domestic workers are systematically exposed to discriminatory, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. In a recent report on labor in the Gulf Countries, the number of female domestic workers in Bahrain was estimated to exceed 80,000. The increasing rate of their abuse has raised serious concerns over the absence of strict and well-established legislation and administrative measures that regulate the relationship between these  women and their employers. 

Reports stated that the majority of these maids are practically treated as private property, looking more like a modern day slavery system, wherein the maids are deprived of their basic human rights. Many of these workers are not able to nor allowed to communicate with friends, family and other people besides residents of the house they serve in. Although they are physically and legally not detained or arrested, some of them are forced to live in a state of incommunicado. Many of them do not leave the house and are not allowed to step anywhere near the door. 

Additionally, there is no proper legal framework that preserves the female domestic workers’ religious freedom rights including the right of worship and practicing religious rituals in line with the Articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Female domestic workers are reportedly deprived not only of the freedom to worship their religion but also of portraying their religion or its symbols in any manner or way. Most maids are not allowed, and in reported cases severely punished, to even wear or put up religious symbols like a cross, even though there are no laws prohibiting employees from wearing or carrying religious symbols. BCHR and Bahrain Interfaith documented cases of female domestic workers being subjected to deprivation of their right to freedom of religion.

Despite fear of reprisals, domestic workers told stories of being prevented from practicing their religion. (Their full names are withheld in order to protect them from further abuse.)

Ruwaina (Philippines) told us: “We are three maids at the same house, and two of us are not allowed to wear the cross, because it is haram. We understand that, but the boss doesn’t allow us to go to church also.  One time he saw me pray and punished me……but [another maid] is Muslim, she is also not allowed to go to Mosque.”

Additionally, there are reports that female domestic workers and housekeepers, particularly Hindu, have been victimized and abused severely at a physical and mental level.

Roopa (India) stated: “My boss will not let me go to the temple, because he said that I am a pagan and worship stone.  I cannot live like this anymore!”

Moreover, female domestic workers are repeatedly deprived of taking holidays, even on special religious occasions like: Eid, Christmas, Diwaly, etc.

Julie (Philippines) said: “I told him, deduct from my salary if you want, but please send me to church, at least just for Christmas. He said, “You are Kafir (infidel), I will not help you commit wrong.  Even if you go to the Labor Ministry, or to the embassy, no one can do anything for you.”

Jojah (Indonesian) reported: “Not even once did my employer allow me to attend the prayers or sermons at the mosque, not even during Eid.  Even in the house, I am not given time to perform my daily prayers.  Only at night when the family goes to sleep, I perform my prayers too late.”

"Depriving tens of thousands of maids and domestic workers in Bahrain from their right to attend churches, temples, mosques and religious centers should be loudly denounced by human rights organizations in Bahrain and abroad," Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, the head of Interfaith Organization stated. "The government of Bahrain has miserably failed to protect the religious freedom of domestic workers and maids from abuses committed by state and non-state actors."

Bahrain has claimed that it is committed to improving migrant labor laws and practices; however, the implementation of laws are inconsistent with international labor law standards and the international human rights commitments of the government of Bahrain.

Even though religious freedom rights are not directly denied by the government, it is the government's full responsibility to enforce legislative and administrative measures to protect religious freedom rights of domestic workers.

"These Asian migrants, due to not being able to find appropriate work in their country of residence, take up these jobs in Bahrain to ensure that they sustain their livelihood and that of their families. They left their countries, but they did not leave their religion and beliefs and Bahrain must ensure their protection and rights to worship," a local labor rights activists said.

Bahrain is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and is a state party to relevant international treaties that protect freedom of religion or belief. It is also a signatory since 2006 to the ICCPR,which states in Article 18 that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his [or her] choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his [or her] religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion, which would impair his [or her] freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his [or her] choice.” The ICCPR establishes an individual’s right to freedom of movement, and Article 7 of the ICESCR recognizes “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work.”

 

Therefore, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Bahrain Interfaith call on the government of Bahrain to:

  • Protect the religious freedom and worship rights of all people in Bahrain;
  • Enforce the signing of employment contracts between all domestic workers and their employers, clearly stating in the contracts the number of working hours and their right to a weekend and yearly paid holiday; and
  • Immediately adopt corrective measures to ensure low paid domestic workers are not deprived from enjoying their basic human rights.

Bahrain delays court date for human rights campaigner for third time

On Monday, 5 September a Bahraini court delayed the trial of Index award-winning human rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab for a third time. The new trial date is now 6 October 2016.

“Once again, Bahrain’s repression of freedom of expression is on display for all the world to see. Nabeel has committed no crimes. He is held for expressing opinions that people around the world take for granted. We ask Bahrain to end its judicial harassment of Nabeel and renew our call for UK Prime Minister Theresa May to urge Nabeel’s release,” Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship said.

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