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Attacks on Civil Society Discussion Event ahead of Nabeel Rajab’s Trial on 15 December

Marking the United Nations’ International Human Rights Day on 10  December,  representatives of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Human Rights Watch Germany (HRW) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) convened in Berlin on 8 December during a discussion event entitled “Attacks on Civil Society” in Bahrain.

Among the panel speakers were Said Yousif Al-Muhafdah, Vice-President of BCHR, Wolfgang Büttner, press officer and associate advocate at Human Rights Watch Germany and Jean-Marie Rogue, EU liaison officer at FIDH.

Al-Muhafdah welcomed the panel and opened the discussion listing facts and figures related to attacks on civil society in Bahrain. From January to November 2016, BCHR documented 1153 arrests, and 1065 prison sentences totalling 9726 years handed down in politicized cases. At least 300 individuals have seen their citizenship revoked and to this day, there are about 18 Internet users detained for charges related to online freedom of expression, including BCHR’s President, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. In addition to discussing Rajab’s case, in which he faces up to 15 years’ imprisonment on charges related to tweets and retweets, Al-Muhafdha discussed additional cases of retaliations against BCHR’s staff based in Bahrain. He highlighted the travel bans imposed on no less than five members of the BCHR team in the last six months, bans which were issued right before the 32nd and 33rd UN Human Rights Council sessions.

Al-Muhafdah made a call for civil society to stand up and join efforts to demand respect for human rights, and urged the German Foreign Ministry to call on the Bahraini government to:

  • Comply with its human rights obligations;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and;
  • Guarantee fundamental rights of free expression, assembly, religion, and association without any reprisal.

Speaking on HRW’s behalf, Wolfgang Büttner emphasised the importance of International Human Rights Day on 10 December, when the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and commented on growing concerns related to countries breaking rather than upholding human rights. As Büttner remarked, “The tendency at the moment is that this gap in human rights standards - the legal standards and the practical implementations - is getting wider and wider. And Bahrain is one of those countries where the deterioration of human rights standards is evident.”

About the current situation in Bahrain, he stated that it might look calmer to international observers on the surface since there are fewer protests, yet this is not because the political situation has improved rather because the crackdown has gotten worse. The situation deteriorated beneath the surface instead. According to Büttner, the government perceives unrest mostly as a security problem and responds to it with repression, which in turn leads to violence and radicalization. Büttner narrowed down these developments to two possible outcomes, saying these harsh measures taken by the government to grasp control of freedom of speech and of expression could very well incite instability or it could spell a political graveyard in Bahrain where every political dissident and human rights defender is silenced.

To assist in measures to prevent this, Büttner called onto the German Government to:

  • Take a leading position in condemning human rights violations;
  • Speak out publicly, also on the release of Nabeel Rajab;
  • Speak out against the death penalty and to push it onto the agenda;
  • Speak in favour of human rights defenders, in private meetings as well as public statements.

FIDH’s representative Jean-Marie Rogue, working at the intersection of human rights and the EU, focused his presentation on the European Union’s approach towards human rights in Bahrain. His general view was that actions are being undertaken but they are too sporadic and vague. Instead more recommendations have to be sent to the EU by the parliament and the language used has to become more precise by actively taking a stance and condemning individual cases more insistently. To exemplify this argument, he discussed governmental reactions to Nabeel Rajab’s case where the EU never asked for his immediate and unconditional release, but rather, individual Members of the European Parliament made strong calls for his release. However joint action is needed as well as more direct, insistent, condemnatory phrasing. According to Rogue, the EU is acting a bit too cautiously in its communication with Bahrain, therefore not sufficiently using its leverage.

Rogue challenged the status quo of the EU in approaching human rights violations in Bahrain. The strategy of having a dialogue and “keeping doors open” has to be complemented by the following recommended actions at EU level:

  • Impose a human rights discussion in the yearly meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and in individual sectoral meetings with the Gulf region;
  • Implement human rights guidelines much more proactively;
  • Establish a common position by all 28 member states on human rights defenders in the Gulf region;
  • Control export of crowd control equipment and more general weapons and technologies that are used to violate human rights in Bahrain; and
  • Collaborate with civil society by naming and shaming states that are exporting arms and more specifically crowd control equipment and spying equipment to repress society and human rights defenders.

BAHRAIN: OPPOSITION LEADER CONDEMNED TO NINE YEARS IN PRISON FOLLOWING UNFAIR AND ARBITRARY VERDICT

A nine year prison sentence against the Bahraini opposition leader, Sheikh Ali SalmaAlin, was upheld today by a Bahraini Appeal Court, after a retrial, in another blow to freedom of expression in the country. In response to the verdict Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Deputy Director of Campaigns said:

“Today’s shocking verdict is another example of Bahrain’s flagrant disregard for the right to freedom of expression. Sheikh Ali Salman is a prisoner of conscience. He has been put behind bars merely for peacefully reaffirming his party’s determination to pursue power in Bahrain, to achieve the reform demands of the 2011 uprising and to hold those responsible for human rights violations to account. Instead of punishing him for peaceful criticism the Bahraini authorities must order his immediate and unconditional release.”

 

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Roundtable Session in Berlin on Bahrain’s Deteriorating Human Rights Situation: 1153 Detainees in 2016

Participants in a roundtable session in the German capital Berlin said that Bahrain has arrested 1153 people since the beginning of the year, including 186 children and 21 women, which reflects the extent of human rights deterioration in the country.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights hosted a seminar in Berlin entitled "The Attacks on Civil Society", where the center representatives, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch took part in.

 

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Boris Johnson must urge Gulf to end child death sentences – Reprieve

The Foreign Secretary has been urged to use a visit to the Gulf today to call for the release of juveniles and political dissidents sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Boris Johnson will travel to Bahrain today for meetings at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit. The trip follows a visit to the Gulf this week by the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

International human rights organization Reprieve had written to Mrs May urging her to press Saudi Arabia to release three juveniles – Ali al Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon, and Abdullah al Zaher – who face execution in Saudi Arabia on charges relating to protests; and a father of three, Mohammed Ramadan, who faces execution on similar charges in Bahrain. Earlier this week, Mr Ramadan’s 7 year old son Ahmed called on the Prime Minister to intervene for his father.

 

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Survivor's guilt and loneliness: the life of an activist in exile

The first time I had to leave Bahrain, I was given 24 hours to do so and told not to tell anyone. My father had been informed that my name was coming up during interrogations of political detainees, and that is usually a sign that arrest will follow. 

I left for London in September 2010 with a heavy heart, determined to return. And so, after the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East began, I was active in calling for protests in Bahrain, and I returned home to take part in them.

The second time I left Bahrain, my father had convinced me that it was critical to have someone carry the voices of the movement outside the country. I felt the weight of the entire uprising on my shoulders. I thought my exile was temporary; I had no idea that it would not be.

 

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Bahrain: Release Rights Activist

Bahraini authorities should immediately release the human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, Human Rights Watch said today. Rajab’s trial is scheduled to resume on December 15, 2016, on charges that inherently violate the right to free expression. Among Bahrain’s allies only the United States has publicly called for his release.

Rajab was arrested on June 13 for comments on his Twitter account that criticized Bahrain’s participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen. At the last hearing on October 31, the court ordered an Interior Ministry technical expert to determine whether Rajab had posted the comments. Because the court has repeatedly rejected Rajab’s request to be released on bail, he will have spent more than six months in pre-trial detention by the time the court is expected to deliver its verdict, which could result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

“Rajab shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place and countries like the UK, France, and Germany should be loudly calling for his immediate release,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Keeping him in detention for all these months while the government seeks an expert opinion only compounds the injustice.”

 

Read the full article here

Bahrain Al Wefaq Head Ali Salman’s Unfair 9-Year Sentence Upheld

An appeals court today upheld the arbitrary 9-year sentence against opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman following an extended and flawed re-trial. The Bahraini government ordered a retrial of the leader of Al-Wefaq in October, but these free expression-related convictions upheld today reflect Bahrain’s continued failure to adhere to international standards of human rights. It comes days after the UK Prime Minister, UK Foreign Secretary and US Defence Secretary were in Bahrain for security talks. We, the undersigned, condemn Sheikh Ali Salman’s imprisonment on politically motivated charges related to free expression and call for his immediate release.

Sheikh Ali Salman is the leader of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political group in the country. He was arrested in December 2014 and in June 2015, a criminal court sentenced him to four years in prison on a litany of charges including inciting hatred against the regime. In his initial trial, the court acquitted him on the more serious charge of inciting revolution.

The prosecution appealed his acquittal, and on 30 May 2016 the higher appeals court changed its previous decision, convicting him of inciting revolution and increasing his sentence to nine years. Specifically, the court sentenced him to 7 years on the three charges of “inciting change of the regime,” “inciting hatred against a sector of society,” “inciting criminal activities,” and sentenced him to 2 years on a fourth charge of “insulting a statutory body.” This decision came on the day former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visited Bahrain and met with the country’s King, where he publicly praised Bahrain’s”commitment to continuing reforms”. The Court of Cassation ordered today’s retrial of the appeal in October 2016, which reconfirmed the May 2016 judgement.

The United Nation Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared Sheikh Salman was arbitrarily detained by the Bahraini government. The decision, which cites both free expression and due process concerns, requests that the Bahraini government release Sheikh Salman immediately, and provide him with an enforceable right to compensation against the government.

Al Wefaq is the largest political party in the country and won over 60% of the vote in the 2010 General Election, winning 18 of 40 seats, and which was recently dissolved by the Bahraini government. Al Wefaq’s 18 MPs resigned from the largely powerless National Assembly in protest of the Bahraini government’s violent response to Arab Spring protests in 2011, and subsequently participated in reconciliation dialogues with the government. However, these dialogues collapsed in 2014, and Al Wefaq’s opposition bloc chose to boycott that year’s general election, the first after the Arab Spring. Sheikh Ali Salman’s arrest came just a month after the November 2014 elections.

The Bahraini Ministry of Justice ordered the dissolution of Al-Wefaq following court proceedings in June 2016. The society’s accounts have been frozen and physical property repossessed. In September, the government announced it would liquidate Al-Wefaq’s property at auction, but has yet to carry out these measures.

In addition to Al-Wefaq and Sheikh Ali Salman, the Bahraini government has targeted additional opposition political figures and societies. Fadhel Abbas, the Secretary-General of Al-Wahdawi, is 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 2015 after he criticised Prince Charles of the United Kingdom’s visit to Bahrain. These latest charges were dropped following pressure from the United Kingdom.

The government has subjected major political leaders to repeated judicial harassment since before 2011. Among those currently imprisoned are most members of the “Bahrain 13” – a group of high-profile political leaders and activists, including Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Haq Movement. Like Ebrahim Sharif, an original member of the Bahrain 13, authorities arrested, tortured, and prosecuted these activists on politically-motivated charges. A military court convicted the Bahrain 13 in 2011, and a civil appeals courts upheld the sentences in 2012.

International Context

The court’s decision to sentence Sheikh Ali Salman to 9 years in prison comes days after two major security conferences held in Bahrain. Last week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was in Bahrain for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Leaders Summit. She did not raise human rights concerns in her speech, instead telling GCC leaders: “I want to leave no-one in any doubt about the scale of my ambition or the extent of my determination to establish the strongest possible trading relationships between the UK and the Gulf.”

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was also in Bahrain for a separate security forum, the Manama Dialogue, during which he declared that “Britain is back from East of Suez”, alluding to the UK’s colonial past in Bahrain. He also failed to address human rights.

Additionally, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also travelled to the Manama Dialogue and met with Bahrain’s King Hamad last week. While the US has previously called for Sheikh Ali Salman’s release, the Secretary of Defense does not appear to have raised the case during his visit.

The Bahraini government is empowered by its allies’ continued silence in the face of escalating repression. The penal code criminalises free expression by setting punishments for, among other ‘crimes’, “insulting statutory bodies”, “insulting the King” and “insulting the flag of Bahrain” – legislation that the authorities have used to restrict nearly all independent activities relating to politics, civil society, and human rights.

NGO Condemnation

Bahrain has violated Sheikh Ali Salman’s freedom from arbitrary detention, right to a fair trial, and right to political participation, as defined under articles 2, 9 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and articles 9, 14, 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

We, the undersigned, condemn this upheld sentence and call on Bahrain to:

  • Release Sheikh Ali Salman immediately, dropping all charges
  • Reverse the decision to dissolve Al-Wefaq
  • Halt the harassment of political and civil society figures in Bahrain
  • Release all political prisoners

We call on Bahrain’s allies, the United Kingdom and United States to:

  • Condemn Sheikh Ali Salman’s unfair trial and call for his release
  • Call for the release of all political prisoners
  • Use political leverage to the benefit of human rights 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

Islamic State calls for attacks on U.S. base in tense Bahrain as Carter visit nears

 

 

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – The Islamic State group is calling on its followers to launch attacks in Bahrain and to target American military personnel stationed on the tiny island ahead of a visit by the U.S. defense secretary.

The appeal came in a video that also urges militants to attack the Sunni-ruled island’s Shiite majority, amid a widescale government crackdown on dissent.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, Bahrain’s government said it “remains vigilant against terrorist activities and extremism.”

It’s been five years since Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring protests, which saw Shiites and others demand more political freedoms from the ruling Al Khalifa family. The government put down the demonstrations with help from Saudi and Emirati troops, and later pledged to carry out reforms.

In the time since, sectarianism has grown on the island and the Sunni-dominated government is in the midst of a crackdown on unrest at a level unseen since 2011.

Authorities have suspended the country’s largest Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, and doubled a prison sentence for its secretary-general. Human rights activists, Shiite leaders and others have been imprisoned, lost their citizenship or been forced into exile.

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Leaked: UK think tank secretly received £25m from Bahrain

A British research institute has received £25 million in cash from the Bahraini government since 2011, leaked documents published in the Guardian show.

The documents also suggest that the Bahraini royal family has agreed to keep the majority of the donations secret. It is thought that the Manama government donated the large sum as a political lobbying mechanism. It is alleged that the secret Bahraini donations account for over a quarter of IISS’ income. Since the report has been leaked, many questions about the research credibility of IISS have been raised. Many have accused IISS of undermining its political independence and expressed their mistrust of the institute.

Bahrain is notorious for its crackdown on freedom of speech and other rights, after what was suspected to be an Iran-backed revolt of primarily Shia Bahrainis was crushed in 2011.

Since then, journalists, academics and citizens who speak out against the government have been systematically arrested and allegedly tortured while in prison for their dissent.

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British thinktank received £25m from Bahraini royals, documents reveal

A British thinktank that bills itself as a global authority on military and diplomatic affairs has been accused of jeopardising its independence after leaked documents showed it has secretly received £25m from the Bahraini royal family, which has been criticised for its poor human rights record.

Confidential documents seen by the Guardian show that the country’s repressive rulers donated the sum to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) over the last five years.

Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971 and is ruled by the Khalifa dynasty, which has been castigated by campaigners for presiding over deteriorating human rights. During May’s visit to the country campaigners have again highlighted the Bahraini state’s crackdowns on journalists and pro-democracy activists.

The campaigners have criticised Bahrain’s rulers for dissolving the main political party, jailing and torturing activists, and persecuting opposition supporters and clerics.

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