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BAHRAIN: Call for immediate release of Nabeel Rajab, as trial resumes tomorrow

Paris-Geneva, May 15, 2017 -Ahead of two imminent trial hearings, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an FIDH-OMCT partnership, calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Nabeel Rajab, whose health is deteriorating owing to almost a year in arbitrary detention for denouncing Bahrain’s human rights violations.

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On 5 May, Nizar al-Qari, a member of the opposition party al-Wefaq, was arrested and taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), where he alleges he was deprived of sleep and handcuffed behind his back for long periods of his detention. On 8 May, he was charged with “illegal gathering in Duraz” and taken back to the CID where he is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

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First civilian to be tried in military courts in Bahrain since 2011

In April 2017 the King of Bahrain ratified a constitutional amendment that allows civilians to be tried in military courts. On 9 May 2017 Bahraini authorities referred a civilian to trial before military courts for the first time since 2011. The Public Prosecution Office referred the case of Fadhel Sayed Abbas Hasan Radhi, a victim of enforced disappearance, to the military court.

Radhi was subjected to enforced disappearance following his arrest on 29 September 2016 by officers from the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). He was arrested at his home in Hamad Town during an early morning house raid. Officers asked for Radhi upon entering the home and placed him immediately in handcuffs and under arrest. The security officials were dressed in civilian clothes and failed to show any arrest or search warrants. Despite the Public Prosecution Office granting Radhi permission for four visits the CID refused to facilitate these visits.

Following his initial arrest his family were not told the grounds for his arrest or where he was being taken, they heard from Radhi two weeks after his arrest when he called and told them his whereabouts.

During the seven months that he was held incommunicado Radhi was not allowed access to a lawyer and was only able to contact family members sporadically. Family members reported to BCHR that during a brief phone call that they received on 10 December 2016 Radhi’s voice sounded extremely weak, to the extent that his father was unable to recognise his voice. His family filed a case with the Ombudsman in an attempt to gain visitation, and also approached the National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) for help.

The family were told on 9 May 2017 by the Office of the Public Prosecution that Radhi’s case had been transferred to the military court. By transferring Radhi’s case to the military court there are raised  concerns that more cases will be referred to military courts in the near future.

The international community has expressed concern about the trying of civilians in military court. Both the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have both held that military courts should not be used to try civilians.

During Bahrain’s most recent UN Universal Periodic Review (May 2017) numerous countries expressed concern over the use of military courts to try civilians in military courts, among others, the Netherlands recommended that Bahrain rescind the amendment of law 105(b) that allows for civilians to be prosecuted in military courts if charged of terrorism offences. Czech Republic further recommended that Bahrain review the broad anti-terrorism law and its implementation to ensure that it could not be abused, and used for the harassment, detention and prosecution of dissenters.

Furthermore, incommunicado detention is considered by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture as a facilitator of the perpetration of torture, and can, in itself, constitute a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Removing detainees from contact with the outside world provides a period of time where individuals can be subjected to torture to force confessions.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights strongly condemns the use of military courts to try civilians and asks the government of Bahrain to:

  • Reverse the amendment to the constitution allowing for individuals to be tried in military courts;

  • Allow prisoners access to legal representation and regular visitation with their families;

  • Stop the practice of incommunicado detention in line with international law and regulations;

  • Immediately released Radhi who has been denied access to correct legal procedure

U.N. urges Bahrain to end torture, solitary confinement

The United Nations Committee against Torture on Friday called on Bahrain to release prominent activist Nabeel Rajab from more than nine months of solitary confinement and investigate widespread allegations of ill-treatment and torture of detainees.

Bahrain's mainly Shi'ite Muslim-led opposition has faced a government crackdown since last year in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom. The Western-allied government closed down the main opposition al-Wefaq group, arrested Rajab and revoked the citizenship of Shi'ite spiritual leader Ayatollah Isa Qassim.

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UN condemns Bahrain torture, as UK hosts royals – Reprieve comment

The UN Committee Against Torture has urged Bahrain to end the use of torture, and to retry protesters who are facing the death penalty.

The UN’s report – released today – comes as the King of Bahrain meets with the UK Queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa is ‘hosting’ the Queen at the annual show, in a ‘Kingdom of Bahrain Lounge’.

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Activist: 3 Detained in Bahrain over UK Horse Show Protests

Bahrain detained three activists over protests targeting the tiny island nation's king during a royal horse show in the United Kingdom, a fellow campaigner said Saturday.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said those detained include his sister, Sayed Ahmed.

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UN torture Committee “concerned at the climate of impunity which prevails in Bahrain”

May 12, 2017: The United Nations Committee against Torture today issued a strong critique of the Bahrain record on torture. Read the full document of the concluding observations of Bahrain here

The concluding observations noted “with deep concern” the arbitrary imprisonment and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, in particular BCHR President Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja former BCHR President. The committee urged Bahrain to release human rights defenders who are deprived of their liberty in retaliation for their human rights work.

“The Committee against Torture clearly rejected the argument made by the Bahraini Government that counter-terrorism would be a valid excuse to abduct, interrogate and torture activists and political prisoners”, BCHR said today. 

The Committee also said that 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.

As a matter of priority, the Committee also calls on the Bahraini Government to re-establish a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty and is “gravely concerned” over reports that the trials of the three men convicted for killing three police officers in 2014 were based on confessions obtained under torture. 

Other problems the committee flagged include domestic violence and the practices of housing children in adult jails and prisons.

The Committee against Torture is an international body of experts that monitors state compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 

German reporter denied Bahrain visa to cover FIFA congress

Bahraini immigration authorities should grant freelance journalist Robert Kempe a visa and ensure that journalists are able to cover international events in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Kempe told CPJ that Bahrain denied him a visa to cover FIFA's 2017 Congress, which is being held in the capital Manama today and tomorrow, for the German broadcaster ARD.

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Bahrain Denies Entry to Human Rights Watch Representative

(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities denied an entry visa this morning to a Human Rights Watch researcher.

In recent years, Bahrain has denied entry to scores of human rights advocates and critical journalists, as well as the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and jailed Bahraini rights defenders.

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Shared statement on the update of the EU dual-use regulation

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) together with Access Now, Amnesty, Digitale Gesellschaft, Elektronisk Forpost Norge (EFN), Foundation for Information Policy Research, International Federation for Human Rights, Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights, Liberty, Privacy International, and Reporters Without Borders have released a shared statement calling on the European Commission to focus on human rights when updating its legislation on the export of dual-use items. See the statement below and in pdf format here.


The NGOs below welcome the proposal of the European Commission to update controls on the export of dual-use items, which represents an important effort to make human rights central to European Union trade policy.

By expanding the definition of dual-use goods, and specifically including cyber-surveillance technologies, the Commission proposal recognizes that digital surveillance gravely threatens human rights; especially the right to privacy and freedom of expression. It poses a threat to the ability of human rights groups, journalists and activists to fulfill their watchdog role.

The proposal – by the explicit inclusion of human rights considerations – is also an important recognition of the pre-existing responsibilities of both states and businesses. Under international human rights law, states have a responsibility to protect people against human rights abuses by non-state actors, including by regulating such non-state actors under their controls to prevent them from causing or contributing to human rights abuses in other countries. Companies also have a pre-existing responsibility to respect human rights in their operations, including by carrying out human rights due diligence to “identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their human rights impacts.”

We applaud these positive steps and express the hope that the proposal will lead to regulations that will provide a mechanism for the realization of these human rights responsibilities. During the implementation phase, member states should aim to ensure that all EU level unilateral changes are adopted within international export control control lists.

In this spirit, we call attention to the following key areas which we hope can be further improved.

1. Human Rights Protections Must be Strengthened

Content of human rights considerations should be strengthened. Article 8, Article 4(1)(d) and Article 14 contain language regarding the consideration of human rights either in decisions on whether to subject non-listed dual-items to licensing, or whether to grant export licenses. However, these clauses either lack specificity (in the case of the latter) or contain limitations (in the case of the former).

These clauses should be strengthened to guard against all risks to human rights and to recognize that serious human rights violations may occur outside situations of armed conflict or recognized situations of internal repression. In doing so, the proposal should require the consideration of relevant European human rights protections, such as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as those developed by the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Court of Human Rights, such as the opinion in Zakharov v. Russia, which offers guidance on the specific safeguards needed to ensure that secret surveillance complies with human rights law. The EU should ensure that the same human rights standards apply abroad as do inside the EU.

Exports that pose a substantial risk to human rights must be denied. Article 14(1)(b) requires only that the competent authorities in Member States – when considering export authorizations –“take into account… respect for human rights in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country of international humanitarian law,” while Article 14(1)(c) mandates consideration of the internal situation in that country, such as the existence of armed conflict. However, Article 14 does not mandate a denial of export licenses in cases where the consideration of the above criteria reveal human rights concerns.

The proposal should make clear that states are required to deny export licenses where there is a substantial risk that those exports could be used to violate human rights.

The proposal should also make clear that where there is no legal framework in place in a destination governing the use of a surveillance item, or where the legal framework for its use falls short of international human rights law or standards, the export must be denied.

2. All Relevant Surveillance Technology Must be Covered

A mechanism to update the EU control list should be agreed, which will decide on updates to the EU control list in a transparent and consultative manner, taking into account the expertise of all stakeholders, including civil society, and international human rights law.

The extension of the catch-all clause in the proposal is a welcome step which holds the potential to help future-proof export controls by allowing for the inclusion of new and emerging dual-use technology on the basis of the potential for human rights harms.

However, as drafted, the catch-all clauses do not adequately clarify the responsibilities of either states or businesses to assess the human rights risks posed by non-listed dual-use items. As such, this clause risks failing to achieve its human rights potential.

These requirements must be strengthened if they are to have a meaningful application. The human rights responsibilities of companies to investigate, prevent and mitigate human rights risks, as well as the obligations of states to oversee and regulate this process, must be clarified in order to ensure that all relevant dual-use technology is subject to licensing.

3. Greater Transparency is Needed

Transparency regarding export licenses granted, and denied, including information regarding the type of equipment concerned, the product category, description, value, destination country and end use/end user is crucial in enabling parliaments, civil society, industry, and the broader public – both in the EU and in recipient countries – to meaningfully scrutinize the human rights impact of the trade in dual-use items.

The Commission proposal contains provisions for the publication of an annual report by the Commission to the Parliament and Council, as well as requirements for publication when a non-listed dual-use item is subjected to authorization procedures by a member state. However, as it stands, neither of these provisions require a sufficient amount of detail.

The proposal should be amended to require that member states publicly disclose – at a minimum – information regarding individual license approvals and denials, the type of equipment concerned, the product category, description, value, destination country and end use/end user as well as the reasons for the approval or denial of licenses.

4. Protect Security Research and Security Tools

The proposal states, in the preamble, that export controls should “not prevent the export of information and communication technology used for legitimate purposes, including law enforcement and internet security research.” To reinforce the above principle currently stated in the preamble, the new regulation should include clear and enforceable safeguards for the export of information and communication technology used for legitimate purposes and internet security research.

First, the proposal should go still further to clarify that definitions of terms such as “intrusion software,” “technical assistance” and “intangible technology transfers” shall not be construed to cover uses such as private exploitation research, and legitimate security items such as anti-virus products, fuzzers, defensive pentesting, zero day exploits/vulnerabilities/proof of concepts, exploit generation software and jailbreak software. More and better defined exceptions for security research are required.

Second, the control language should be amended to prevent these sorts of overbreadth, taking into account the chilling effect of any language and also focusing on the intent of the exporter, in order to ensure that no offensive tools are controlled if they are used for defensive purposes. This should be accomplished via an inclusive consultation that takes account of specialized expertise in this area. If an item does not meet these requirements, it should be removed from the control list.

Third, cryptography items should be removed from the list, and no new items added where their inclusion undermines security research, such as forensics tools. Encryption is essential in supporting the safety and security of users, companies, and governments everywhere by strengthening the integrity of communications and systems.

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We look forward to continuing to contribute to this process. Further information can be found at the individual websites of member organizations.