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Ending reprisals against those who cooperate with the United Nations in the field of human rights

In April 2017, two situations occured that prevented civil society from participating in human rights discussions in the context of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bahrain scheduled for May 2017 in Geneva. The first incident took place ahead of the UPR Pre-session of Bahrain organised by UPR Info on 6 April 2016. A human rights and civil rights defender from Bahrain, Sayed Hadi Hasan Mohamed Al Musawi, was prevented from speaking at the Pre-session in Geneva. When he attempted to board a plane to Geneva at Manama airport on the morning of 5 April, he was informed that he would not be permitted to travel.

The other incident arose prior to the UPR of Bahrain, where 27 Bahraini individuals, including Nedal Al-Salma, Head of Women and Children Rights at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, were summoned for questioning by the Bahraini Office for Public Prosecution and, while investigations were ongoing, were placed under a travel ban.

Read the article here.

Statement of Solidarity in Support of MENA HRDs for IFEX25

We, the human rights defenders in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), along with other colleagues gathered at the IFEX25 Strategy Conference & General Meeting in Montreal, Canada, from 12 to 16 June 2017, declare our full solidarity with human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in various countries of the MENA region detained for their peaceful and legitimate activities defending and promoting freedom of expression, and we call for their immediate release. 

We express our deep concern about the authorities' use of travel bans and arbitrary detention as tools for reprisals against the reliable work of our colleagues in the region, including: 

Gamal Eid, director of IFEX member the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), prevented from attending the IFEX25 with his colleagues in Montreal by a travel ban in place since February 2016 due to this work on freedom of expression and other human rights in Egypt; 

Mohammed Zaree, director of the Cairo office of IFEX member the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), prevented from attending the IFEX25 with his colleagues in Montreal by a travel ban in place since June 2016 due to his work on freedom of expression and other human rights in Egypt; 

Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, co-founders of both IFEX members Bahrain Center for Human Rights(BCHR) and the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), prevented from attending the IFEX25 with their colleagues in Montreal as they remain detained as political prisoners in Bahrain due to exercising their right to freedom of expression in their work on defending human rights; 

Nedal Al-Salman, Head of International Relations for IFEX member BCHR, and IFEX Council member, prevented from attending the IFEX25 with her colleagues in Montreal by a travel ban in place due to exercising her right to freedom of expression in Bahrain as well as international spaces, including the UN Human Rights Council; and 

Ahmed Mansoor, member of the GCHR advisory board, prevented from attending the IFEX25 with his colleagues in Montreal as he remains arbitrarily detained in the UAE since 20 March 2017 on charges that violate his right to freedom of expression. 

We believe that the only objective of these arbitrary actions is to isolate civil society organisations and their members from communicating with their peers and international mechanisms in order to cover up the massive violations of civil and human rights by the authorities. 

It was noted during IFEX25 that the close relationship between the governments of the MENA region and the UK and the US has led to the emboldening of security services in the region who continue to carry out gross violations of human rights around the clock without consequence. While we hold the governments of the region responsible for the deterioration of the human rights situation in the region, we call on international mechanisms, especially the United Nations, the EU and governments that have influence in our region to place human rights first in their diplomatic relationships and foreign policy. They must also protect and support human rights defenders as they carry out their important work aimed at building free, independent and prosperous societies dominated by social justice where there is no place for repression, discrimination and withholding of public freedoms. 

The undersigned members of IFEX urge the governments of the region to

1. Immediately and unconditionally release IFEX members Nabeel RajabAbdulhadi Al-KhawajaAhmed Mansoor, and all other prisoners of conscience; 

2. Abolish the travel ban imposed on our colleagues Gamal EidMohammed Zaree, and Nedal Al-Salman, and stop retaliation against all human rights advocates for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly; 

3. Ensure the physical and psychological integrity and security of all detained human rights defenders and grant them their legitimate and unrestricted right to meet with their families and lawyers; and 

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the region are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Bahrain: IFJ condemns closure of Al Wasat newspaper and calls on the Bahraini government to stop intimidating independent journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the refusal of Bahraini government to lift a ban on Al Wasat newspaper which led to its closure this week.

The Association also stressed that “its doors are open to any journalist who wants to have any legal opinion or an appointment with a lawyer, and for journalists to be paid all the end of service entitlements according to the labour laws in the Kingdom of Bahrain“. 

Read the article here.

Bahrain should free human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, urges DROI Chair

Speaking on behalf of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, the Chair of the Subcommittee, Mr Pier Antonio Panzeri, stated: “Nabeel Rajab’s detention violates his right to freedom of expression. I call on the Bahraini authorities to grant lawyers and family members access to Nabeel Rajab, to drop all charges against him and to free him immediately.”

Read the statement here.

In Their Own Words: the stories behind the UN Day in Support of Victims of Torture

For the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June, REDRESS is sharing videos with the stories behind some of the torture survivors that they assist in their own words. In "Tortured and Exiled", former Bahrain MP Jawad Fairooz describes his painful feelings of homesickness after being tortured and forced into exile to the UK.

Watch his video and that of other torture survivors here.

UN event assesses violations of the right to freedom of expression and assembly in Bahrain

On 21 June 2017, a panel discussion held on the sidelines of the 35th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, examined the criminalisation of peaceful expression in Bahrain.  “Freedom of expression and assembly in Bahrain are currently under attack,” said the panelists. The side event was co-organised by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Index for Censorship, PEN International, Women Human Rights Defenders – International Coalition, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Read full article here.

Bahrain jailed activists over tweets but still gets U.S. arms deal

More than 3,000 people have been imprisoned in Bahrain since the 2011 Arab Spring as the government continues its crackdown on dissidents. Over 100 have been killed.

The small Arab monarchy is also home to the U.S.’ biggest regional naval base and historically a large consumer of U.S. arms. Those sales had been frozen by the U.S. following the country’s attacks on protesters, but President Trump recently lifted those sanctions, allowing for the sale of $2.8 billion worth of American fighter jets.

Read full article here.

Another Light Goes Out in Bahrain as Al Wasat Closes

Yesterday’s letter from the Board of Directors to the staff of Bahrain’s only independent newspaper Al Wasat was a heavy blow for the country, and for journalism in the Middle East. It confirmed that the board had “decided to terminate the employment contracts with the employees, due to the cessation of business activities of Al-Wasat newspaper, in accordance with the decision of the Ministry of Information Affairs issued on 4 June 2017, a decision that has caused losses to the Company.”

The 4 June closure ordered by the government, which now attacks any public criticism, was the third time the newspaper had been ordered to stop publishing since widespread pro-democracy protests broke out in 2011, and was based on the pretext that the paper had published content “offensive to a sisterly Arab state,” after it covered protests in Morocco.

Read full article here.

Torture and impunity in Bahrain - A Briefing On The Situation

Marking the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) strongly condemns Bahrain’s systematic use of  torture.

Read the BCHR briefing in PDF format here.

Thus, BCHR has documented numerous cases during 2015-2017 of alleged torture that demonstrate that Bahrain systematically utilises torture during interrogation and detention. Reports received by BCHR suggest that human rights defenders, amongst those women, and even children and disabled persons are allegedly being subjected to acts of torture. BCHR’s latest report on torture in Bahrain highlights 39 cases of torture in 2015-2016. Of these, 2 involved the torture of women, 5 the torture of children and 3 the torture of disabled persons.

Various methods of physical and mental torture have reportedly been applied, including: use of solitary confinement, sexual harassments and abuses, threats to loved ones, bodily beatings including with instruments, electrocution, explicit and repeated hitting of sensitive areas, pulling off toe nails, torture by water, subjection to extreme temperatures, listening to others being tortured, confined spaces, hanging, stripping, sensory deprivation, withholding of food and water, restricted access to bathrooms and other basic needs, restricted access to medical facilities, loved ones and lawyers. Read the report in full here.

Torture is a crime under international law. According to all relevant instruments, it is absolutely prohibited and cannot be justified under any circumstances. This prohibition forms part of customary international law, which means that it is binding on every member of the international community, regardless of whether a State has ratified international treaties in which torture is expressly prohibited. The systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity.

Bahrain has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the ”UNCAT”) and a number of other international treaties (ICCPR and UDHR) and regional treaties (the Arab Charter on Human Rights) all expressly prohibiting torture. Moreover, the national laws of Bahrain, including both its Constitution and Penal Code, expressly prohibit torture. However, Bahrain does not seem to abide by its own rules. Thus, Bahrain has largely failed to prosecute torture cases despite hundreds of allegations of torture in its detention facilities in the past few years, including many documented by BCHR, and perpetrators of torture are usually left untouched which leads to a climate of impunity. The National Institution for Human Rights and the Ombudsman should both be investigating the numerous torture allegations, however, are blatantly failing to do so.

Bahrain’s record on torture has been strongly criticised by the international community, most recently by the UN Committee against Torture in its concluding observations on Bahrain. The Committee against Torture is an international body of experts that monitors state compliance with the UNCAT.

Read the full document of the concluding observations on Bahrain here.

In the concluding observations the Committee noted ”with deep concern” the arbitrary imprisonment and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, in particular human rights defender and BCHR President Nabeel Rajab and human rights defender and former BCHR President Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. The Committee urged Bahrain to release human rights defenders who are deprived of their liberty in retaliation for their human rights work. The Committee clearly rejected the argument made by the Bahraini government that counter-terrorism would be a valid excuse to abduct, interrogate and torture human rights activists and political prisoners.

The Committee also expressed strong concern at ”the climate of impunity which prevails in Bahrain”.

Nabeel Rajab has been in solitary confinement for most parts of his detention which has at the time of writing gone on for 378 days and his family is reporting that they have not been able to communicate with him since last week. According to the Committee against Torture, “[e]xcessive use of solitary confinement constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or, depending on the circumstances, torture (arts. 2, 11-13 and 16)”. Moreover, Rajab has developed multiple health issues following his pre-trial detention. In April, he underwent surgery for a bleeding ulcer, and was returned to prison one day after the surgery. Three days after his surgery, Rajab was rushed to the hospital due to  a serious infection he developed post-surgery in detention. He has since then been hospitalised, too weak to participate in court hearings resulting in a further postponement of the two trials against him. Recently his family reported that Rajab has been facing harassment in the hospital and new orders to be transferred back to prison so he can be sentenced. An overview of the proceedings can be found here.

Ebtisam AlSayegh, a woman human rights defender, was interrogated for seven hours without her lawyer present, in retaliation to her human rights work and participation at the UN Human Rights Council sessions this year. She was reportedly sexually assaulted during her interrogation and subjected to verbal abuse, with interrogators threatening to rape her if she did not put an end to her human rights activities. She was admitted to hospital after the interrogation.

Additionally, political prisoners and jailed activists and human rights defenders have reportedly been subjected to harsh conditions whilst in prison. Most recently, following the attack by the Bahraini police on the town of Duraz prisoners were held at Jau prison where they reportedly faced baseless reprisals, were stripped of their clothes and subjected to beatings.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja,  a prominent human rights defender serving a life sentence in Jau since 2011 due to his human rights activities, has suffered repeated repercussions in prison, taking a serious toll on his health. In March this year he was denied access to adequate medical attention; he suffers from severe complications because of his ill-treatment and alleged torture in detention. With him also other prisoners at the Jau prison are being denied medical care. In 2011 the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) had concluded that Al-Khawaja was subjected to torture and inhuman treatment during his arrest and detention. He was severely beaten, resulting in a broken jaw, and later spent two months in solitary confinement where he was reportedly subjected to severe acts of torture. He continues to be denied adequate medical attention.

Beginning of this year three men were executed convicted for killing three police officers in 2014. Their confessions were reportedly obtained under torture. The three men allegedly used improvised explosive devices which led to the death of the three officers. One of the men, a teacher, was at school at the time of the bombing incident. Reports allege the three men were subjected to severe torture, including beatings, electrocution, sexual assault, a broken nose and the knocking out of teeth.

Mohammed Ramadan and Hussain Ali Moosa were sentenced to death in December 2014 for their alleged involvement in an explosion in al-Dair on 14 February 2014 that resulted in the death of a policeman. They took the judgement to the Appeals Court, on the grounds that they were falsely accused, tortured and coerced to confess to a crime they hadn’t committed. On 16 November 2015 Bahraini Court of Cassation rejected their final appeal and upheld their death sentence. The two men are at imminent risk of execution pending the King of Bahrain’s approval.

 

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:

  • Unambiguously proclaim at the highest level that torture will not be tolerated;
  • Announce and ensure that investigations and prosecutions will be carried out promptly against perpetrators of torture and those with command responsibility in all cases;
  • Ensure that evidence obtained through any form of coercion or torture is inadmissible in all judicial proceedings;
  • Conduct prompt and impartial investigations into such cases and take appropriate remedial measures;
  • Ensure that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is provided with adequate medical assistance; and
  • Put an end to the solitary confinement of Nabeel Rajab and ensure that he is provided with adequate medical assistance and redress.

 

Read the BCHR briefing in PDF format here.