9 Feb, 2014

Bahrain King: Up to 7 Years Imprisonment if You Insult Me!

Bahrain King passes new amendment to Article 214 that allows up to 7 years imprisonment for insulting him

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses grave concern about the continued crackdown on the right to freedom of expression. Hamad Alkhalifa, Head of Executive, Judiciary and Government of Bahrain, issued an amendment to the 1976 Penal Code, Article 214 on the 4th of February 2014 stating:

“a punishment of imprisonment for a period of no less than one year and no more than seven years and a fine of no less than BD1,000 and no more than BD 10,000 will be inflicted upon any person who offends in public the Monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag or the national emblem” [1]It is not specified within the language of the law what constitutes as an offence, and by leaving it vague it allows space to criminalize any form of criticism of the King.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights recently released a report about civilians targeted due to practicing their right to freedom of expression by criticizing the King of Bahrain, and were charged with “insulting the king”. The BCHR has documented around 30 cases in 2013 alone wherein people were charged, tried or detained for “insulting the King” because of public speeches, online posts or other forms of peaceful expression. At least seven were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, more than ten are awaiting trial and at least two including a journalist are currently on trial.[2]

The new amendment allows the already problematic judiciary system, which is not independent  nor fair, to sentence civilians to maximum seven years imprisonment and up to BHD 10,000 (equivalent to 26,525 US Dollars) for practicing their right to free expression.

This new amendment to Article 214 of the penal code violates people’s basic rights as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and conventions that Bahrain is signatory to. Article 19 of the UDHR states: (Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.)

The BCHR believes this latest step comes as an escalation to the ongoing crackdown against freedom of speech, and as a result to the increase of civilians criticizing and mocking the king of Bahrain due to the continuous use of excessive force. The head of the government and supreme commander of the Bahrain Defense Force, Hamad Alkhalifa, is placing himself outside the limits of criticism by issuing this amendment. By making himself the head of all governments during his unilateral change to the constitution in 2002, and as head of the ruling monarchy in Bahrain, Hamad Alkhalifa has placed himself in a position for public criticism.

Based on the above, the BCHR calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and all other allies and relevant international institutions to pressure the Government of Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately repeal the new amendment to Article 214, and all other laws that infringe on people’s basic rights as guaranteed by the UDHR.
  2. Reform the Judiciary system so that it abides by international standards of due process and fair trials.
  3. Hold all those who issue and implement abusive laws against civilians in Bahrain accountable, especially those in high positions.
  4. Immediately allow space for the people of Bahrain to practice their right to free expressions, as well as freedom of assembly and association without fear of retribution.

Maryam Al Khawaja at TEDxLecce

3 Feb, 2014

Bahrain: Abducted, Beaten and Threatened

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses concern about the continuation of grave violations including abduction of civilians, severe beatings and leaving them in a stranded area. These actions appear to come as a form of punishment and threat for those who participate in pro-democracy protests in the country. The BCHR has document numerous such cases in different areas that witness daily protests demanding the right to self-determination.

A civilian, who asked to remain unnamed for safety reasons, told the BCHR that he was abducted by security forces on the 17th of January 2014. He was reportedly severely beaten with different weapons and blunt objects. He added that he was verbally abused, and the security forces used very derogatory sectarian terms during the beating. The victim was then taken to Karraneh beach, where he thought he would be dumped, but the security forces continued to beat him until he lost consciousness after which they left. A number of Karraneh residents found him and moved him to a house where he was treated by a volunteer nurse as he feared anticipated arrest if he were to go to the hospital.

Photo: Injuries of the citizen who was abducted

The BCHR has documented many similar cases like the Karraneh victim; one of the latest being two victims who were abducted in Bilad AlQadeem on the 11th of January 2014. The two victims, whose names are also withheld for safety reasons, stated to the BCHR that they were abducted by security forces, tied and blindfolded, then severely beaten. These two victims also reported verbal abuse, and the constant use of sectarian derogatory terms. The victims added that the security forces threatened them to stop protesting or they will come back for them; they were released approximately an hour later.

Photos: Injuries of the two young men who were abducted and beaten in Bilad Al-Qadeem

At a time when the authorities in Bahrain claim that security forces adhere to the rules of Police Conduct and that this guarantees their best behavior while on duty, the BCHR has documented numerous cases of abductions, including children; when the victims are subjected to severe beatings then released with threats that they must stop protesting or face further consequences. In several cases victims were forced to work as informants for the police. Recommendation number (1722 - c) of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry stated: “To implement an extensive program of public order training for the public security forces, the NSA and the BDF, including their private security companies, in accordance with UN best practices. To ensure future compliance with the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the security forces should be trained in the human rights dimensions of detention and interrogation, and in particular the obligation to refuse to participate in any actions involving torture and other prohibited ill-treatment.

The BCHR believes that these practices are meant to create a culture of fear to prevent people from their legitimate right to peaceful protest. These violations and the continuation of other violations come as a direct result of the culture of impunity implemented by the highest levels of the government. The same officials in charge of similar violations documented in the BICI report continue in their positions, unless promoted, thus the continuation of these violations come as no surprise.

Based on the above, the BCHR calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and all other ally governments and relevant international institutions to:

  1. Immediately intervene to put an end to these abductions which are used to terrorize people and end protests
  2. Pressure Bahrain to respect the conventions that Bahrain is signatory to, and to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human rights, especially that related to freedom of expression and assembly
  3. Hold the Government of Bahrain accountable internationally as it has proved impossible to do so locally

The BCHR calls on the Government of Bahrain to:

  1. Launch an independent and impartial investigation into the abductions
  2. Hold accountable all those involved, especially those in high positions
  3. Allow space for people to practice their right to free expression and peaceful protest without terrorizing civilians or creating fear
  4. Compensate all victims of violations committed by the Government of Bahrain
28 Jan, 2014

Bahrain must abide by its own laws and immediately release leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses grave concern regarding the Bahraini authorities’ treatment of Nabeel Rajab, imprisoned President of the BCHR and General Secretary of GCHR, in addition to their refusal to grant him early release that he is eligible for as per the law. A request for early release was submitted by Nabeel Rajab’s lawyers on 21