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BCHR at HRC33: Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders

On 23 September, Maryam al-Khawaja, Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), delivered an oral intervention at the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva under Item 5, together with Alsalam Foundation, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Human Rights (BIRD) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

Continue reading for the full intervention or click here to read the PDF. A video of the oral intervention is available here.


Mr. President,

Alsalam Foundation together with Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and the Gulf Center for Human Rights, would like to raise our collective concern regarding acts of reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society activists attempting to engage with the Council.

For the second consecutive session, the Government of Bahrain has used arbitrary travel bans to restrict Bahraini civil society from traveling to Geneva to participate in the Human Rights Council.

In June, just before the start of the 32nd session of the HRC, Bahrain issued travel bans against our entire delegation of eight human rights defenders, labor leaders, and family members of victims. Bahrain also issued travel bans against members of the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory and  members of the largest opposition political society, al-Wefaq. Following the conclusion of HRC 32, almost all of the travel bans were lifted.

Given the restrictions faced by Bahraini civil society in June, a number of activists attempted to leave Bahrain in late August in anticipation of another round of travel bans related to this Council session. However, almost all of those facing travel bans in June found their these arbitrary restrictions refreshed in advance of the 33rd Session of the HRC. Again, delegations of human rights defenders from across Bahraini civil society have been banned from traveling, as well as members of the now-banned al-Wefaq political society.

Meanwhile, this session, Bahrain has brought one of its largest ever government delegations, including the Deputy Foreign Minister, members of the Ministry of Interior, the National Institute for Human Rights – run largely by government officials – and royally decreed human rights organizations also staffed by government officials.

Mr. President, we in the independent human rights community call on you and the members of this Council to publically and forcefully denounce these and other acts of reprisals against this Council. We must make clear to Bahrain and all states, that reprisals are wholly unacceptable and must never be tolerated.

Thank you.

'Final nail in the coffin of reform': Bahrain dissolves opposition group

A Bahraini appeals court on Thursday upheld an order dissolving the country's main opposition group despite international criticism of the Gulf kingdom's intensified crackdown on dissent.

A lower court had ordered the dissolution of the al-Wefaq association in July over accusations including "harbouring terrorism" and ordered its funds to be seized by the government.

Read the full article here.

Students in Diraz Pass by Armored Vehicles to Reach their Schools

Barriers and barbed wires are spread everywhere in Diraz. Dozens of soldiers and checkpoints stop all pedestrians. No one is allowed to pass without permission from the security forces. Queues of cars wait at the checkpoints; they have to wait for long periods of time before being allowed to pass.

Read the full article here

Bahrain: today's dissolution of main opposition party is 'flagrant attack on freedom of expression'

In response to a Bahraini court’s decision today to uphold the dissolution of the country’s main opposition political group, Al-Wefaq, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director Philip Luther said: 

“The decision to uphold the dissolution of Al-Wefaq is a flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association and a brazen attempt to suppress criticism of the government in Bahrain.

Read the full article here

Bahrain’s High Court of Appeals Upholds Dissolution of Al-Wefaq

22 September 2016 – Bahrain’s second High Civil Court of Appeals today upheld an earlier court decision to dissolve Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political opposition group in Bahrain. The undersigned NGOs strongly condemn the court’s decision, which is representative of the Government of Bahrain’s broader efforts to silence civil society.

On 14 June 2016, Bahraini authorities suspended Al-Wefaq. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs requested the civil courts approve its dissolution, and they subsequently released an expedited decision to close the society. Bahraini authorities immediately seized and shut down Al-Wefaq’s headquarters. They also froze the society’s assets and halted all of its activities. Additionally, Bahraini officials blocked Al-Wefaq’s website in the kingdom. Originally, the court had set 6 October 2016 as the commencement of the case to dissolve Al-Wefaq. However, in response to a request by the Ministry of Justice, the court moved the trial forward twice. Al-Wefaq’s legal counsel had previously pulled out of all legal proceedings as security forcesprevented them from entering Al-Wefaq’s headquarters “to get the necessary documents to prepare our defense and support it with documents.” On 17 July 2016, the High Civil Court affirmed the order and formally dissolved Al-Wefaq in the absence of any defense counsel.

“Bahrain’s rulers believe in crushing opponents and silencing voices of criticism as the solution for Bahrain,”stated Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD).“Dissolving Al-Wefaq today is the last nail in the coffin of King Hamad’s claims of reforms.”

Bahrain’s ongoing repression has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Most recently, at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad used his opening statement to raise concern over Bahrain’s suppression of peaceful dissent. He cautioned Bahrain: “The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.”

Today’s decision to uphold the dissolution of Al Wefaq coincides with the escalation in government repression. Last year, Bahraini authorities sentenced Al-Wefaq’s Secretary-General Sheikh Ali Salman to four years in prison on charges relating to his right to his free speech and peaceful political activity. In a case of double jeopardy, in May 2016 an appeals court upheld his sentence but convicted him on another previously dropped charge. Sheikh Ali Salman, who is a Shia cleric, is now serving a nine-year sentence related to a peaceful speech he gave in 2015. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considers him arbitrarily detained. Additionally, in May of 2016 the Bahraini government made an amendment to the political society law preventing religious figures from entering politics.

“Despite the Bahraini government’s repeated rhetoric of reform, there should now be no doubt left in the international community that the Bahraini authorities are strictly committed to suppressing civil society and peaceful opposition,” stated Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). “It is time for Bahrain’s allies in Washington and London to send a strong message to the Bahraini authorities that they will not stand idly by and allow these human rights violations to continue. The U.S and U.K. must take action, including the suspension of all arms sales to Bahrain.”

Repression against civil society greatly escalated this past summer as authorities targeted human rights defenders, issued travel bans against activists, and revoked the citizenship of the highest Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim. The level of repression against the Shia population has reached such levels that five UN experts issued a statement calling on Bahrain to stop its “persecution” of the Shia community.

Nevertheless, the authorities have only intensified their ongoing campaign against Shia religious leaders. Since June 2016, Bahraini authorities have interrogated and/or detained over 60 Shia clerics on charges related to free expression and assembly. Just yesterday, a court sentenced three Shia clerics to a year in prison each on charges of “illegal gathering” related to their participation in a peaceful sit-in. This brings the total number of Shia clerics recently sentenced solely for exercising their rights to free expression or assembly to seven.

We, the undersigned, condemn these actions which limit civil society space, exclude sections of society from politics, and which curtail and criminalise the rights to free expression, assembly, association and religion, as protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We call upon the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to denounce the recent actions by the Government of Bahrain, to immediately suspend all arms sales to the kingdom, to urge the government to reverse its decision to dissolve Al-Wefaq Society, and to pressure the government to commit to respecting human rights.

We also call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately reverse this decision, to commute the sentences of Sheikh Ali Salman and all prisoners of conscience, and to end reprisals against civil, political, and religious society in Bahrain.



Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

Denmark reiterates call for release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja at UNHRC33

On 19 September, during the general debate of the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, Denmark reiterated its call for the release of all arbitrarily detained persons in Bahrain, including human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who serves a life sentence and is subjected to torture and requires treatment.

See the Danish statement on Bahrain here or read the entire Danish statement here.

Canadian firm helping Bahrain censor the web

Researchers have identified a Canadian company at the center of a small Arab nation's online censorship system — a finding that sits awkwardly with Ottawa officials' public support for digital freedoms.

Specialists from internet watchdog Citizen Lab said in a report published Wednesday that web filtering firm Netsweeper Inc. is helping block news and opposition websites in Bahrain, a Gulf Arab monarchy which has been wracked by unrest since pro-democracy protests were stifled there in 2011.

Read the full article here.

Prince Charles to visit Bahrain: Here are some things he should consider

Prince Charles is to make an official visit to Bahrain in November despite the escalating human rights crackdown in the country. This endorsement comes after Queen Elizabeth sat next to the king of Bahrain at her 90th birthday celebrations this summer.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed grave concerns about the country: “The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.”

Today, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, told The Times: “The timing of Prince Charles’s visit suggests that the major human rights violations in 2016 are not in the British monarchy’s mind.”

Read the full article here

Prince Charles to visit Bahrain amid claims of rights abuse

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla will visit Bahrain later this year despite growing concerns about a crackdown on human rights in the small Gulf kingdom.

Clarence House said on Tuesday that Charles would visit in November on behalf of the British government and was aimed at strengthening the UK’s “warm bilateral relations with key partners in the region”.

The UK has long had close ties with Bahrain, which hosts a British military base and buys millions of dollars of British arms every year.

The two royal families are also said to have close personal ties, with King Hamad notably sitting next to the queen during her 90th birthday celebrations earlier this year.

But the close ties have come under growing criticism since 2011 when Arab Spring-inspired protests in the kingdom were brutally crushed and many activists and political opponents imprisoned.

Read the entire article here.