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Bahraini upholds death sentence for torture victim

16 November 2015 – Washington, DC - Bahrain’s Court of Cassation today rejected the final appeal of death row inmates and torture victims Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Moosa. The decision finalizes their convictions; absent a royal pardon, the government may carry out their execution at any time. Both defendants allege that they were tortured into confessing the crimes. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn the final decision to execute Ramadan and Moosa and call for the government to commute their sentences, and express serious concern that the Bahraini courts have allowed the government to execute defendants that confess under duress.

The government arrested Husain Ali Moosa in February  2014, where Moosa states that security officers subjected him to torture until he confessed to carrying out a bombing attack. According to Moosa, government agents hung him from the ceiling for three days and took turns beating him with police batons. He additionally states that they threatened to harm his relatives, on several occasions claiming that they would rape his sisters. Moosa confessed as a result of the torture, but later recanted his confession in front of the public prosecutor. After he recanted, security forces tortured him further.

Bahraini security forces arrested Mohammed Ramadan on 20 March 2014 without a warrant. During his initial detention, Ramadan alleges that security officers tortured him, violently beating him on his hands, feet, body, neck, and head. In order to stop the torture, Mohammed agreed to “confess to anything.” When Mohamed told a judge that he had been tortured into confessing, security officers tortured him further, placing him in solitary confinement and subjecting him to further beatings.

On 29 December, a Bahraini criminal court sentenced Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa to death for their alleged involvement in a bomb explosion in al-Dair in February 2014. They were sentenced alongside ten other defendants, nine of whom received six years’ incarceration and the last receiving life in prison. The defendants state that the court relied substantially upon the confessions obtained through torture, casting significant doubt on the veracity of their convictions.

At the time of their initial sentencing, Ramadan’s lawyer, Mohammed al-Tajer, stated, “Although the defendants emphatically claim that their confessions were extracted under torture, Bahrain’s courts failed to consider their claims or even open an investigation. Instead, the Bahraini judicial system utilized its anti-terrorism law to justify the death penalty in a case with no concrete evidence of their guilt, but abundant evidence of ill-treatment, torture, and politically motivated charges.”

“Not only did government agents torture Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa, but the prosecutor and the judge did not investigate, ” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain. “The criminal justice system has altogether failed these men.”

Earlier this year, five UN human rights experts, including the Special Rapporteur on Torture, expressed serious concerns that both Ramadan and Moosa had confessed under duress. The European Union found that Bahrain’s use of the death penalty had expanded to politically-motivated cases in an urgency resolution over the summer, and called for Bahrain to immediately ratify and implement international treaties banning the use of capital punishment.

"For a strong ally of the United Kingdom and United States to take these actions is appalling," Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “The international community must act to demonstrate that abuse can never lead to convictions, that torture cannot be the gateway to execution.”

Read the French version of this statement.

Shattering the Facade: A Report on Bahrain's Implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) Four Years On

16 November 2015 – Washington, DC – The Bahraini government has only fully implemented two, and has not made any progress on eight of the 26 recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in 2011, finds a new report released today by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

In Shattering the Façade: A Report on Bahrain’s Implementation of the BICI Recommendations Four Years On, ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHR provide recommendation- by-recommendation analysis of the Government of Bahrain’s implementation of the recommendations made by the BICI in 2011. Despite government rhetoric to the contrary, the report finds that some of the most fundamental abuses addressed by the BICI continue unabated in Bahrain.

Despite the government’s claim that it has fully implemented 19, partially implemented six, and one recommendation remains inapplicable, Shattering the Façade finds that the government has fully implemented only two of the BICI’s recommendations, with 16 remaining partially implemented and eight having not been implemented at all. The eight recommendations the government has not implemented represent some of the BICI’s most vital components, including recommendations to decriminalize free speech and relax censorship, integrate government security forces and implement extensive human rights training to end human rights abuses, avoid arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, and undertake measures to prevent incitement to sectarianism.

Instead, the government has specifically acted to undermine many of these recommendations, undertaking a mass campaign of arbitrary detention to silence dissent, criminalizing free speech and assembly in public and private forums, and holding security forces largely unaccountable for the torture and excessive force that continues to this day.

“The government’s claims to have fully implemented the BICI couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said Sayed Ahmed, Director of Advocacy at BIRD. “Instead, it has actively worked to impede implementation of some of the BICI’s most important reforms, while the human rights situation in Bahrain continues to deteriorate as any sense of urgency the government may have once felt to implement reforms has dissipated.”

The Bahraini government’s piecemeal approach to reform is partially due to a lack of consistent international pressure. Despite Bahrain’s backsliding on reform, the international community only voices its concern over Bahrain’s lack of progress from time to time, insisting that Bahrain must be recognized and rewarded for the steps that it has taken towards reform and reconciliation. However, this report shows that rhetoric from Bahrain’s international allies has made little impact towards pushing Manama to make meaningful progress on reform and reconciliation.

“The Government of Bahrain continues to point to the same cosmetic reforms that have not actually impacted the conditions that led to the events of 2011 or the issues that continue preventing Bahrain from achieving actual progress,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “Instead of using its significant leverage to push for the release of the country’s thousands of political prisoners, the international community, including the US and UK, has continued to laude cosmetic reforms rather than push for initiatives that could actually contribute to national reconciliation and bolster human rights.”

Four years on, as the government continues to claim that the BICI’s recommendations are no longer relevant, it is even more critical that international allies concerned with Bahrain’s long-term stability and security, particularly the US and UK, push for reform in action. Without the Government of Bahrain’s full commitment to transparently implementing the BICI recommendations, holding security forces and government officials accountable for ongoing human rights abuses, releasing political prisoners, and engaging in a meaningful dialogue with the entire opposition, Bahrain’s persistent unrest will continue and the hope created by the BICI in 2011 may be lost.

“The government must refocus its efforts on promoting human rights in the country if it wants to see lasting change and peace,” added Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR. “When the government respects human rights, the people will respect the government.”

 

For the full report, click here.

Al Salman demands Lifting the 11 months ban on Freedom of Assembly & allowing the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly visit Bahrain

Sheikh Maytham Al Salman the head of the Religious Freedom unit at BHRO called upon the international community to exert effective pressure on authorities in Bahrain to lift the 11 months ban on all public rallies, assembly and demonstrations that have been banned since January 2015.

Al Salman said: the 11 months ban on all forms of assembly and demonstrations is a glaring example of the failure of authorities in Bahrain to comply with their international commitments to adapt democratic reforms and end systematic human rights abuses. Al-Salman demanded authorities in Bahrain to lift the ban immediately and comply with the Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry (BICI) recommendations and the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations which both stressed on the role of authorities in protecting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Al Salman also revealed that BHRO received reports that confirmed that authorities have rejected receiving more than 130 notifications of peaceful demonstrations since January 2015; scores of other notifications have been refused by authorities prior to that date.

Al Salman added: As a member of the United Nations and as a party to the ICCPR, Bahrain has legal obligations to ensure and protect freedoms of assembly and expression.

Article 21 of the ICCPR clearly recognizes freedom of assembly and confirms that authorities should not restrict the exercise of this right:

"The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

Sh Al Salman renewed his demands to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association Mr. Maina Kiai to visit Bahrain in order to independently evaluate and analyze the situation on the ground. On the other hand Mr. Maina Kiai Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association has expressed his willingness and intention to visit Bahrain to assist Governmental and Non- Governmental actors in protecting fundamental rights associated with freedom of assembly & association.

Letter from Reema Shallan, Wife of Sheikh Ali Salman

 

The Figure of Dialogue and Tolerance Behind Bars,

The Higher Criminal Court in Bahrain convicted Sheikh Ali Salman and sentenced him to four years imprisonment in June 16th 2015 , on baseless charges related to promoting the change of the political system , inciting hatred of the government , encouraging disobedience of the laws , and insulting  the Interior Ministry .This trail is considered to be void and lacks the basic standards of justice . Sheikh Ali Salman , leader of the opposition arrest came two days after he gave a speech calling for non-violent political reform is still imprison instead of sitting at the national dialogue table to get out of the current crisis.

The appeals court held its first hearing in September 19th 2015 , the judge refused to diclose exculpatory evidence as well as what happened in the court of first instance , and this is considered a violation of the international fair trial principles . In the second appeal hearing took place on October 14th 2015 , Sheikh Ali Salman denied all the allegations against him , and said that he was seeking peaceful political and constitutional change , and that he was handed for expressing his opinion.  Indeed , campaign group Amnesty International stressed in its report of October 18th 2015 , commenting on the appeal hearings ," Sheikh Ali Salman, a prisoner of conscience on trial for exercising freedom of expression ".

Sheikh Ali Salman , a prominent leader and Secretary General of the largest opposition party in Bahrain , in his speeches called for political reform , serious dialogue and absolute rejection of all means of violence ,  he believes that the ideal approach to achieve the great objectives is " pro-democracy peaceful activism".  Also , he called for justice , freedom , equality and to stop corruption and discrimination between citizens , these are the principles of a civilized society.

The government of Bahrain is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , also on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which in Article -19 guarantees " The right of freedom of expression " , however it has violated its international obligations by arresting Sheikh Ali Salman , instead of supporting genuine dialogue that leads to reforms which engage with the aspirations of the Bahraini people , but it's clear that the authority is launching a broad crackdown against a non-violent opposition and arrested its critics , who have different policy views .

That civilized and peaceful conflict in Bahrain is a historic struggle going on between the authority that has all the centers of influence within marginalization of the whole Bahraini people , this conflict will not end until they attain full rights guaranteed by international conventions which have been signed by the government should be respected , and not to disregard it.

Since February 14th 2011 , Bahrain has seen frequent peaceful protests demanding political change , but the security forces have responded harshly with it . The popular uprising is still continuing today , dozens were killed and thousands were wounded , also the authority has detained  the opponents of political human rights activists , and the pollitical critics , and they often use torture forcing them to confess . Prison sentences has been issued against prisoners for many years , some are life imprisonment . Moreover , seven citizens are sentenced to death against the backdrop of demonstrations , also many opposition figures were systematically stripped of the Bahraini identity.

The majority of international organizations issued many statements condemning the use of violence and the wide array human rights violations in Bahrain . Furthermorer , the media coverage of the national protests is adequate and biased , as the satellite channels covers protests in different countries , while it ignores human rights violations in Bahrain where people demonstrate for the sake of peaceful struggle.

The international community, which claims supporting  democracy , and specifically the close allies of Bahrain , including the United States and the United Kingdom have to exercise an effective and influential pressure on the government of Bahrain for the release of Sheikh Ali Salman, and all prisoners of conscience and to call for respecting human rights , to take the initiative to perform reforms that ensure the ambition of Bahraini people , to disable the security option , and to create the appropriate atmosphere for the democratic transformation of the country until moving to the other side of security and stability . Indeed , the Bahraini people who pay valuable prices for their freedom , are continuing peaceful struggle and resistance to oppression , until their legitimate demands for freedom , dignity and democracy are achieved.

Reema Shallan, Lawyer and Wife of Sheikh Ali Salman

Read the letter in French

Violence Against Journalists in Bahrain

C2 November 2015 - On this day in 2013, two French journalists were murdered in Mali. To commemorate their loss, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed 2 November the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. The corresponding UN resolution dedicated the date to all members of the press who have suffered from violence. It condemned the continued imprisonment, torture, and murder of journalists who simply strive to do their job with professionalism and integrity. Accordingly, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Americans for Human Rights & Democracy in Bahrain (ADHRB) and Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) would like to take this occasion to express grave concern regarding the Government of Bahrain’s continued harassment of those who exercise their freedom of speech through traditional and social media.

Since the onset of unrest in 2011, the Government of Bahrain has increasingly criminalized the freedom of expression, in part by systematically prosecuting journalists and bloggers. This year, Freedom House rated Bahrain “Not Free” in its annual report, noting that ambiguous legal provisions “allow the state to imprison journalists for criticizing the king or Islam or for threatening national security.” As BCHR, ADHRB and BIRD have extensively documented, the authorities have used such legislation to prosecute, imprison, and torture members of the press.  Empowered by an administrative decision made earlier this year, the government has even revoked the citizenship of several journalists, bloggers, and social media activists.

Currently, the Bahraini authorities hold at least ten journalists and photographers on charges related to their freedom of expression.

Arrests and Detentions

Journalists and Photographers

Ahmed Humaidan, an award-winning photojournalist, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for documenting the pro-democracy demonstrations in Sitra. He has been incarcerated since December 2012, accused of taking part in an attack on a police station. During Ahmed’s interrogation, the authorities subjected him to ill-treatment. They beat him, forced him to stand in freezing temperatures for hours at a time, and threatened to arrest and fabricate criminal cases against his brothers. Throughout his detention, the government has prevented Ahmed from consistently communicating with his family, and on several occasions it has denied their visitation rights.

Security forces arrested photographer Jaffar Marhoon on 26 December 2013. Prior to this official arrest, the authorities interrogated Jaffar for three days, reportedly subjecting him to torture. A Bahraini court later convicted him on several politically motivated cases; on 24 February 2015, the court sentenced Jaffar to life in prison.

Hussein Hubil, a freelance photographer, was arrested before boarding an international flight to Dubai on 31 July 2013. Hussein was interrogated for four days, during which time the authorities reportedly tortured him and threatened him with rape. Hussein’s lawyer called for an internal investigation into these reports, but his request was denied. On 28 April 2014, a court sentenced him to five years in prison on charges related to his right to free expression, including "using social media networks to incite hatred of the regime", "calling on people to ignore the law" and "calling for illegal demonstrations".

On 2 August 2013, Bahraini authorities arrested Qasim Zainal Deen, a freelance photographer who previously filmed opposition protests, at his home. By December 2013, a court had convicted Qasim on charges of illegal assembly, sentencing him to three months in prison. A month later, in January 2014, he was convicted on new charges of illegal assembly and vandalism, and sentenced to an additional six months imprisonment. On 25 February 2015, the appellate court upheld Qasim’s sentence of three years in prison. Most recently, on 10 March 2015, a riot broke out at the prison where Qasim is currently detained, preventing his family from visiting. Security forces badly beat many of the prisoners during the riot, including Qassim, who now suffers from a back injury.

Sayed Ahmed Al-Mousawi, a photographer who has won 127 international awards for excellence in his field, was arrested on 10 February 2014, after security forces raided his house. According to Sayed Ahmed’s father, the authorities took him and his brother into custody. They also seized several of Sayed Ahmed’s belongings, including 4 hard disk drives, a laptop, his cameras, and other professional photography equipment. Following the raid, Bahraini officials subjected Sayed Ahmed to enforced disappearance for at least four days. During this period, security forces tortured Sayed Ahmed by beating his genitals, hanging him on a door, forcing him to stand for days, stripping him naked, and electrocuting various parts of his body. Throughout the interrogation, officials also deprived Sayed Ahmed of his right to due process, denying him access to a lawyer.

On 4 September 2014, security forces arrested three journalists, Hussam Suroor (17 years), Ahmed Zainaldeen (20 years) and Mustafa Rabea (19 years), as they raided their houses in Duraz. These three men were subjected to enforced disappearance for up to five days following their original arrest. On 30 September 2015, a court sentenced the men to 10 years in prison for illegal assembly and charges related to an explosion in Duraz. Ahmed Zainaldeen is also awaiting a court ruling in a separate case.

Bloggers and Internet Activists

BCHR, ADHRB and BIRD have also documented the government’s prosecution of bloggers and social media activists. During the last several years, the Government of Bahrain has intensified its repression of free speech on the internet, most recently passing a broad Cybercrime Law that further criminalizes online dissent. The authorities have routinely used such legislation to prosecute and incarcerate peaceful critics of the government. Since 2012, Bahrain’s courts have collectively sentenced activists to more than 400 months in prison for exercising their right to free expression on independent social media.

Security forces arrested Jaleela al-Sayed on 10 February 2015. During their raid on Jaleela’s house, the authorities confiscated her computers and mobile phones. Later, they charged her with misusing social media, inciting hatred against the regime and insulting the king on Twitter. The authorities also subjected Jaleela to ill-treatment, causing her to faint and require medical attention. Following the initial arrest, Bahraini official additional prevented her from contacting her family or her lawyer. Jaleela is currently held at the Isa Town Women’s Prison.

Blogger and Internet activist Ali al-Mearaj was arrested on 6 January 2014. The authorities accused him of misusing information technology and insulting the King on his blog, “Awal Pearl.” During his interrogation at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID), officials allegedly beat Ali, threatened to harm his youngest son, and verbally abused him. In court, the judge reportedly refused to listen to defense witnesses or receive evidence in Ali’s case. Nonetheless, on 9 April 2014, the court sentenced Ali to 30 months in prison. Ali is currently awaiting his next appeal hearing on 1 December 2015. The court continues to refuse submissions of evidence from the defense.

Masked security forces abducted Jassim al-Nuaimi, an Internet activist, from his home on 31 July 2013. The authorities reportedly subjected Jassim to torture for at least four days before they took officially detained him on charges of inciting anti-government hatred and posting messages on social media calling for illegal demonstrations. During one of his hearings, Jassim told the court that he had not been in the country at the time the alleged messages had been posted, and that he had actually sold the computer from which he could have submitted said posts. The criminal court rejected Jassim’s alibi and sentenced him to five years in prison on 28 April 2014.

In October 2015, Bahraini authorities raided the house of Ebrahim Karimi, confiscated his electronic devices, and arrested him – all without ever presenting a warrant. The security forces took Ebrahim to the CID where he was subjected to ill-treatment including forced standing for prolonged hours and sleep deprivation. Officials also threatened to harm his family if he did not confess. During his interrogation, the authorities questioned Ebrahim about posts on the Twitter account “FreejKarimi”, and prevented him from contacting his lawyer. The public prosecution later charged Ebrahim with inciting hatred against the regime, insulting the king, and misusing of social media, among other related offenses. In 2012, the Government of Bahrain additionally revoked Ebrahim’s citizenship through an administrative decision. The court has since ordered his deportation, a decision Ebrahim is attempting to appeal.

In September 2015, security forces arrested the two social media activists behind the “BuKhamis” and “HajiAhmed” Twitter handles. The Ministry of Interior announced that it had arrested them because of their posts on Twitter were insulting to the country’s martyrs in Yemen. The posts in question allegedly denounced and criticized Bahrain’s participation in the ongoing military operation in that country.

In January 2015, the Bahraini authorities arrested another nine Internet activists for alleged criticism of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Twitter. The Ministry of Interior stated that these individuals were arrested for “misuse of social media,” and that according to Bahrain’s Penal Code, they could face imprisonment for up to two years as well as a BHD200 fine.

The authorities arrested several other social media activists on similar charges of social media misuse, dissemination of false news, and/or insulting government officials in Bahrain or other GCC countries. BCHR’s President Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison for a tweet in which he described Bahrain’s military institutions as incubators of extremist ideologies. The government is also prosecuting him on charges related to tweets about the war in Yemen, and for insulting a statutory body on social media; it is currently holding Nabeel under a travel ban.

Likewise, the Bahraini authorities also arrested political activist Fadhel Abbas on charges related to a tweet in which he denounced the war in Yemen. A court sentenced him to five years in prison.

Citizenship Revocation

In January 2015, the government revoked the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis, of whom the majority were activists. Among those whose citizenship was revoked were four members of the independent media: founder of the Bahrain Online forum Ali Abdulemam, critic and blogger Ali al-Dairi, journalist Abbas AbuSafwan, and blogger Husain Yousif. The government stated that it had revoked their citizenship because of “acts resulting in harm to the Kingdom’s interest.”

Suspension and Prosecution of Free Media

The Government of Bahrain has also targeted entire media outlets. In February 2015, the Bahraini authorities suspended the Al Arab television channel after only its first day on air. According to the government, Al Arab did not have the proper licenses to operate in Bahrain. Other sources have contradicted this claim, however, reporting that the suspension was related to the “failure of those in charge [of Al Arab] to abide by the prevailing norms in the Gulf, including the neutrality of media positions and staying away from anything that could negatively impact the spirit of Gulf unity". During Al Arab’s first and only program, it aired an interview with a Bahraini opposition leader about the government’s revocation of citizenship.

On 6 August 2015, the Information Affairs Authority (IAA), part of Bahrain’s Ministry of State for Information Affairs, announced that it had indefinitely suspended Al Wasat newspaper for “violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries.” The IAA had previously suspended Al Wasat in 2011, and had also issued it an official warning regarding an opinion column it had published. The article, written by Hani al-Fardan, discussed persons who accuse opposition members of treason on social media; al-Fardan criticized the activity in general, and did not specifically name anyone in his column.

Though Al Wasat was later allowed to resume its work, in June 2015, a member of parliament filed a case against Hani al-Fardan and Al Wasat’s Editor-in-Chief, Mansoor al-Jamri. The law suit accused them of defaming the Member of Parliament in an article that addressed the MP’s meeting with an illegal armed group in Syria. Al Wasat had a similar case filed against it in 2014 as well, because of yet another opinion column.

Al Wasat is widely considered to be the only independent newspaper in Bahrain that covers both government and opposition news. It is also the only newspaper in Bahrain that publishes content related to Shia community events and political demonstrations.

The Government of Bahrain has systematically targeted those who dissent from the official state narrative, or who present an opportunity for alternative discourse. Be they photographers who document abuses of authority with their cameras, or journalist and bloggers tell the stories of wounded protestors, members of the media represent a democratic challenge to government repression in Bahrain. Rather than acknowledge or protect the independent press, Bahraini authorities have worked with authoritarian efficiency to constrain and silence it. To conceal its unremitting violation of human rights, the government continues to maintain a general media blackout – starting with the prosecution, imprisonment, and intimidation of journalists.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Americans for Human Rights & Democracy in Bahrain and Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy call on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Release and pardon all wrongfully imprisoned journalists, photographers, bloggers and social media activists; and
  • Repeal any laws that restrict, criminalize, or otherwise infringe on the freedoms of expression, speech, and press in Bahrain.

Click here to download the report.

Read the report in French

 

 

 

Attacks on Muharram Ceremonies in Bahrain

29 October 2015 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn the Government of Bahrain’s recent violations of the Shia community’s right to religious freedom as they commemorate Muharram and the day of Ashoura.

Since the beginning of Muharram, the month in which Shia Muslims mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, Bahraini security forces have arrested religious preachers and clerics, taken down flags and banners, and suppressed public demonstrations. The authorities have also repeatedly removed flags and banners put up to mark Ashoura (or the Day of Remembrance), the tenth day of Muharram. BCHR has already documented the removal of flags and banners from more than 30 villages across Bahrain in the first two weeks of Muharram.

After the government’s removal of the Ashoura banners, residents of these villages organized several peaceful demonstrations in protest. Security forces responded by violently suppressing the protesters with extensive use of tear gas and shotgun pellets, resulting in several cases of near-suffocation, bodily injury, and damage to private property. The authorities also attacked a Shia religious hall, or Matam, in Karzkan village. They fired tear gas on mourners, causing many people to experience severe difficulty breathing, especially the elderly.

To justify this infringement on Shia religious freedom, the Ministry of Interior stated that its forces took down flags and banners which had “political slogans that do not represent Ashoura,” and to better “ensure traffic safety.” Residents of the affected villages say that their banners and flags exhibited typical Ashoura slogans, and had been displayed during Muharram for years. Nevertheless, the authorities have considerably escalated their interference in Ashoura events and activities since the 2011 uprising.

The government has also begun systematically summoning, detaining, and interrogating Shia clerics for their religious oration and their participation in Ashoura events. Since the beginning of this Muharram, Bahraini authorities have summoned and interrogated at least five Shia clerics. On 20 October 2015, for example, Sheikh Abdulzahra al-Mubasher was summoned for interrogation by the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID). Reportedly, the CID wanted Sheikh al-Mubasher for questioning in regard to a series of lectures he has given so far this Muharram. He currently remains in the MOI custody.

On 25 October 2015, the authorities also summoned Mulla Abbas al-Jamri for interrogation about a speech he delivered on Ashoura. After questioning, Bahraini officials transferred al-Jamri to the public prosecution, where the prosecutor ordered him remanded for seven days pending investigation. Two days later, on 27 October, the government summoned another Shia preacher, Mahdi Sahwan, for interrogation over accusations related to his participation in Muharram events. Just today, the authorities summoned two more clerics for the same reasons: Sheikh Mahmood al-Aali and Sayed Yasser al-Sari. Bahraini officials even summoned a youth group in order to interrogate them about a group prayer they held on the day of Ashoura.

BCHR, ADHRB and BIRD have consistently documented discrimination against the Shia majority in Bahrain. Both volumes of the report Apart in their Own Land: Government Discrimination Against Shia in Bahrain carefully describe the violation of Shia rights at all levels, showing that the government has worked to alienate the Bahraini Shia community since the nation’s independence in 1971 and especially following the pro-democracy protest movement of February 2011.

Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdah, vice president of BCHR explains: “The discrimination against the Shia majority in Bahrain is very particular. After the pro-democracy protests in 2011, 38 Shia mosques and religious sites have been destroyed by the Government of Bahrain. The recent attacks on the Muharram ceremonies show the unwillingness of the Government of Bahrain to put an end to the persistent oppression of this community.”

BCHR, ADHRB and BIRD condemn the Government of Bahrain’s attacks on Shia communities during the Muharram ceremonies, as well as its removal of flags and banners associated with Ashoura. We call on the government to cease both its violations of the right to freedom of religion and its systematic use of violence against the Shia majority.

Read the statement in French here. 

 

 

BCHR Joins Campaign to Mark Zainab Al-Khawaja’s Birthday with Call to Keep her Free

On 21 October 2015, human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja could mark her 32nd birthday by beginning combined prison sentences of over five years if several cases against her are confirmed by a Bahraini appeals court. She has been free on bail since she was sentenced last December on a number of charges. This includes a three-year sentence for simply tearing up a picture of the monarch, considered a crime in Bahrain, and a one-year sentence for insulting a public official. Please join the Thunderclap campaign to help wish her a happy birthday and call for her conviction to be quashed so that she and her baby son don’t go to prison.

On 17 November, Zainab is also due in the appeals court after being convicted and sentenced to nine months on charges of entering a restricted area and six months in prison for insulting a public official, while seeking to visit her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in prison in August 2014. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the Co-founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) who is serving a life sentence for his human rights activities, was on hunger strike at the time.

The impact on the Al-Khawaja family has been extreme. Zainab has already spent more than a year in prison apart from her six-year-old daughter Jude; and her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja, GCHR Co-Director, is in exile and also spent almost a month in jail last year.

Families of prisoners of conscience pay a high price in Bahrain, and women human rights defenders are criticized for “abandoning their children.” Yet in this case, Zainab will join the list of other women who have been imprisoned with their children, facing the prospect of being jailed with a baby less than a year old.

Through her actions, Zainab was making a powerful statement to thousands of Bahrainis and human rights activists in the Gulf area and around the world; to whom Zainab (@AngryArabiya) tweeted: “Ripping his pic is a 1st step to let him know that we r not afraid, that we are determined to gain our rights, to live as free ppl #Bahrain”.

In support of the international right to freedom of expression, please join us to proclaim that tearing a photo is #NotaCrime. The GCHR urges supporters worldwide to celebrate this courageous defender’s birthday on 21 October by wishing her #HappyBirthdayZainab and calling for her conviction to be quashed. GCHR aims to show solidarity for Zainab’s right to freedom of expression. Seeking to bring more attention to her case, GCHR asks allies and the international community to support her case and help keep her and her son Abdulhadi out of prison.

Al-Khawaja has thanked supporters on twitter, saying “My love and respect to all the people of Bahrain who continue to sacrifice every day so that someday our children can free. And thank you to all those who stand up and speak out on behalf of the people of Bahrain. You restore our faith in humanity.”

What can you do?

To participate in our campaign please join our Thunderclap campaign at https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/33052-happybirthdayzainab and also weet a message or photo of support to @AngryArabiya and @GulfCentre4HR with hashtags #NotaCrime and #HappyBirthdayZainab, starting on 14 October, a week before her birthday. A suggested tweet is “Wishing #HappyBirthdayZainab and calling for her convictions to be quashed. Tearing a photo is #NotaCrime”

You can also share the teaser for the documentary film “We are the Giant” featuring Maryam and Zainab Al-Khawaja at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1-5zbBqU8E

This campaign is endorsed so far by Amnesty International, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Civicus: World Alliance for Civic Participation, European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR), European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), Front Line Defenders, Index on Censorship, International Service For Human Rights (ISHR) and Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC).

Background:

The longest sentence among the trumped-up charges was handed down on 4 December 2014 when Zainab Al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 3000 BHD (approx. USD$8000) on the charge of ripping a picture of Bahrain’s monarch during a court hearing in October 2014. The fine has not been paid yet. That case goes to court on 21 October to confirm sentencing. Also, on 21 October, three of Zainab Al-Khawaja’s cases will be heard in the Bahrain Court of Appeals. They were postponed to notify the court that her lawyer has withdrawn from the cases, and neither she nor her lawyer will appear in court. Two charges of two-month sentences each were handed down on 9 December for “destroying public property” when she ripped a picture of the King at Budaiyah police station, as well as a charge of allegedly “insulting a public official” (a police officer) for which she was sentenced to one year in prison.

On 17 November, Zainab Al-Khawaja is also due in court to hear the appeal of a nine-month sentence for entering a restricted area at Jaw Prison, for which a bail was paid of US $1325. (The only case with bail up until the appeal). Another case insulting a public official, for which she was sentenced to six months, will also be heard. She was released on bail from prison in November 2014 just prior to giving birth to a son, her second child.

“No one has caused severe discomfort to the government of Bahrain or any of its authorities like the human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja has,” said GCHR Co-Director Khalid Ibrahim in a tribute to the Al-Khawaja family. Her courage in defending human rights publicly has cost her freedom, subjected her to judicial harassment, deprived her young son of a birth certificate, and imposed restrictions on her travels outside Bahrain due to the authorities’ continual refusal to renew her passport. The Bahraini government has by such arbitrary and unjust measures violated the basic human rights of this peaceful rights defender and her son.

Useful links:

 

Bahrain postpones Ebrahim Sharif to November, opposition leader’s trial continues

12 October 2015, Bahrain - The courts today postponed Ebrahim Sharif's trial to 12 November 2015. The former secretary-general of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad) faces up to ten years in prison for charges related to his free expression.
 
On 10 July, Mr Sharif delivered a speech calling for continued peaceful opposition to the government. In his speech (available here), he stressed that opposition to the government must be "peaceful and moral" and called for democratic, constitutional monarchy. Two days later, police arrested him and charged him with inciting violence and the overthrow of the regime.
 
Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights: "Due process is not the right call for international allies and observers to make. Peaceful opposition leaders like Ebrahim Sharif should be sitting at the negotiating table with the government and not subjected to judicial harassment."
 
Mr Sharif is one of the "Bahrain 13", a group of prominent opposition leaders and activists arrested in March-April 2011, tortured, and sentenced by military court to between 5 years and life imprisonment. Mr Sharif was sentenced to five, and had served most of his sentence when in June 2015 the King of Bahrain granted him a pardon.
 
Mr Sharif's release on 19 June came days after the sentencing of Ali Salman, leader of the largest political society Al-Wefaq, to four years. 
 
International observers welcomed Mr Sharif's release at the time. The U.S. State Department announced the end of a 4-year ban on arms sales to Bahrain on 29 June and welcomed the release of political prisoners as a mark of progress. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in early July, days before Mr Sharif's re-arrest, criticising continued rights violations in Bahrain but welcoming Mr the former Wa'ad leader's release. In the UK, an Early Day Motion raising concerns on restrictions on free speech in Bahrain has been signed by 43 Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum.
 
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: "Britain must not allow her allies to silence voices of peaceful opposition. Free speech underpins all democratic values, and failure to publicly support Ebrahim Sharif is a betrayal of that core value."
 
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Human Rights and Democracy in Bahrain: "The United States actually used Ebrahim Sharif's release as one of the pretexts of lifting the arms suspension on Bahrain. His rearrest undermines the American position. Where is the outcry against this miscarriage of justice?"
 
Read the statement in French here. 

Bahrain NGOs call for Abolition on World Day Against the Death Penalty

10 October 2015 – On the occasion of the 13th World Day Against the Death Penalty, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn the ongoing use of death sentences in Bahrain and call for the abolition of this practice in the kingdom. In Bahrain, the death penalty is often employed as a means of intimidation. Seven individuals are currently on death row in Bahrain, most of whom were convicted as a result of false confessions extracted under torture. Many of the cases lack any hard evidence linking the individuals to the crimes for which they were prosecuted.

Bahrain’s use of the death penalty has followed a common pattern since 2011. Bahraini courts sentence to death persons who are suspected of killing policemen. These defendants are often subjected to torture, including whipping and electrocution, to coerce a confession. The criminal courts regularly dismiss the defence’s arguments and obstruct their access to an attorney. In 2011, military courts issued five death sentences, which the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry recommended to be commuted. Though Bahrain did so, death sentences continue to be handed down in unfair trials. In a troubling trend this year, the number of detainees on death row has increased by 75 percent since January.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD: “The death penalty is a big problem in the Gulf. It has been Saudi Arabia’s ultimate tool of political repression for decades. Now we see Bahrain also threaten dissenters with this terrible weapon.”

BIRD, BCHR and ADHRB have consistently documented the torture and unfair trials of Bahrain’s death row prisoners. On 19 February 2014, the criminal court found Maher al-Khabbaz guilty of killing a police officer with a flare gun. The court convicted al-Khabbaz despite the prosecution’s inability to provide tangible evidence of the murder weapon, and inability to rectify the theory of the cause of death with the defense’s forensic report of the officer’s wounds. Al-Khabbaz’s trial is typical of all Bahraini detainees currently awaiting a death sentence.

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at ADHRB: “Bahrainis on death row have endured humiliation, torture and unfair trials, and now they face the firing squad. No government should sanction the murder of its own citizens, least of all a country with a judiciary as corrupt and dysfunctional as that  of Bahrain.”

The death penalty as practiced in Bahrain is in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bahrain acceded in 2006. Article 6.1 of the ICCPR states that, “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their life.” As the seven Bahrainis on death row were subjected to torture, coerced confession and unfair trial, the sentence is therefore arbitrary, and in violation of Bahrain’s international commitments.

The campaign for the end of the death penalty is a global phenomenon. The United Nations General Assembly passed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2007, which called for the end of its use with a view towards abolition. The European Parliament has this week also passed a resolution condemning the death penalty and called for stronger international pressures on countries continuing to exercise the penalty.

Nabeel Rajab, President of BCHR: “The death penalty violates fundamental human rights. It’s time for Bahrain to join the majority of countries in the world which have abolished the death penalty. We need to build a society based on peace, not violence.”

ADHRB, BIRD and BCHR condemn of the practice of capital punishment in Bahrain, and call on the government to:

  • Commute immediately all death sentences;
  • Dismiss any and all judgments made with confessions obtained under conditions of torture;
  • Investigate all allegation of torture made by persons sentenced to death and prisoners of conscience; and
  • Abolish the death penalty.

 

Read the statement in French here.

 

 

Read more about death penalty in Bahrain:

Champions for Justice: Death Row Prisoners

NGOs Condemn Use of Death Penalty Amid Allegations of Severe Torture

Mohammad Ramadan and Husain Moosa death sentence upheld, despite strong allegations of torture

NGOs Condemn Capital Punishment Sentence for Maher al-Khabaz

The Terrorism Law in Bahrain

ICUJP honours Sheikh Maytham Al Salman with the 2015 Advocate of Peace Award

Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) is proud to issue its 2015 Advocate for Peace Award to Sheikh Maytham Al Salman.

   
Sheikh Al Salman, an internationally respected interfaith leader, has been working with Columbia University Global Freedom of Expression since April 2015, advising the initiative on its global jurisprudence and global tolerance projects. He is well recognized for his work building tolerant societies and countering incitement to violence and discrimination in accordance with international human rights standards, in particular respect for freedom of expression as per Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
   
Sheikh Al Salman's life and work exemplify ICUJP's mission that "Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing War and Violence." He is the director of Tunis-based Middle East North Africa Coalition Against Hate Speech; chairperson of Bahrain Interfaith; head of religious freedom unit at Bahrain Human Rights Observatory; member of the UN advisory committee for the role of religious leaders in preventing genocide; and Arabian Gulf representative of International association for religious freedom.
   
ICUJP applauds Sheikh Al Salman's call for equal citizenship, his condemnation of all forms of discrimination and his opposition to violence and extremism. ICUJP endorses Sheikh Al Salman's powerful statement that:

         "Anyone hostile to Sunnis because they are Sunni, or Shiites because they are Shiite cannot make any claim to good citizenship, which is grounded on civil coexistence and the acceptance of diversity.” 

We heartily agree with him that resisting national division and the promotion of hatred among citizens constitutes both a national and a religious duty.
   
ICUJP honors Sheikh Al Salman's work educating civil society, religious and faith-based organizations as well as political parties and policymakers to take responsibility in countering incitement to hatred that leads to violence, discrimination and hostility, in accordance with international human rights standards He also works to provide a platform for civil society, nongovernmental, religious and faith-based organizations; the media and social media; and minority groups to exchange knowledge and practices on region-wide strategies to counter incitement to hatred. For all of his work to create a more peaceful and just world, ICUJP honors Sheikh Maytham Al Salman with its 2015 Advocate for Peace Award.