Silenced for a Tweet

30 Oct, 2014

Voice of America: Prominent Bahrain Activists Face Jail Time

Two prominent Bahraini human rights activists face prison sentences at trials this week for activities that Amnesty International and other groups call the peaceful expression of their rights.

Three years ago during pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab argued with policemen, while Zeinab al-Khawaja, at the back of the crowd, texted and posted on social media.

This week they are both on trial. Al-Khawaja is charged with tearing a picture of Bahrain’s king, which she did for a second time, in a courtroom, while on trial for doing it once before. Her father is in prison for his role in the 2011 protests.

Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, faces up to three years in jail for two tweets he sent that the government says insulted public institutions. He only got out of jail in May, serving two years on a similar charge, and was rearrested just after returning from a speaking tour in Europe.

Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, Rajab’s deputy, spoke via Skype from exile in Germany, and said, “It’s not about the tweet. We believe it’s a reprisal for his peaceful activities. No human rights activists right now in Bahrain can speak out about what’s happening in Bahrain.”

Amnesty International’s Said Haddadi calls Rajab and al-Khawaja “prisoners of conscience.”

“From an international law perspective, there is no basis for the Bahraini authorities to detain Nabeel or any other person who is critical of their policies, who are peacefully expressing their opinion,” said Haddadi.

Bahrain’s embassy in London did not respond to an interview request, but the government says it has implemented a series of reforms since 2011. Amnesty International says the impact has been very limited.

“We have a double-sided picture, one with some positive, though limited, legal and institutional reform, but at the level of the openness of the authorities and their acceptance of criticism is at a very low position at the moment,” said Haddadi.

Activist AlMuhafdha said in practical terms, the situation is “worse than ever.”

“What’s happening on the ground is no reform at all. The number of people being arrested is more," said AlMuhafdha. "The number of people being killed is more. There is no freedom at all. There was no reform at all."

Efforts to pressure the Bahraini government are complicated by its close relations with western countries, its participation in the anti-Islamic State coalition, and its role as host of a U.S. naval base.

Still, the United States has criticized the prosecution of Rajab, and has called for fair treatment of al-Khawaja.

RAFTOTV - Appeal for Nabeel Rajab

6 Oct, 2014

Bahrain: Journalist and blogger Ahmed Radhi detained hours after criticizing the regime over Twitter

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights condemns the arrest and ill-treatment of the journalist and blogger Ahmed Radhi. The BCHR expresses its concern at the continuing policy of the authorities targeting journalists and bloggers who expose human rights abuses in Bahrain to the world’s view and who practice their right to peaceful expression of opinion, especially on the Internet.

The Bahraini authorities arrested the journalist and blogger Ahmed Radhi from his house in al-Senabis on the morning of 25 September 2014. His electronic devices were confiscated, without the authorities showing an arrest warrant or revealing the reasons on his arrest. Radhi’s family informed the BCHR that he contacted them more than 24 hours after his arrest, and told them that he was being held at the Criminal Investigations Headquarters. However, after that time his contact with them remained cut off, and his family were not able to ascertain his safety or find out what charge he was facing. Radhi was also unable to contact a lawyer. According to information of the BCHR, Radhi was subjected to beating and solitary confinement during his previous detention in May 2012[1], and there was concern that this experience could be repeated, against a backdrop of impunity and a lack of accountability.

On Monday 29 September 2014 Radhi was released on bail for 200 Bahraini dinars. In a statement he said that he was interrogated about his media activity, and his relationship with AlManar Tv. He said that he was subjected to psychological torture by placing him in a dark cold room while handcuffed for three days at the criminal investigation department and that he was photographed while stripped of almost all his clothes as a form of degrading treatment.

The BCHR has documented a number of similar cases of detainees who are forcibly disappeared and prevented from contacting their lawyers or families. This is sometimes done through the imposition of phone-calls that are so short that they are only able to report that they are being held in the Criminal Investigations Headquarters. There are increasing numbers of complaints of torture from those who have been held at the headquarters.

Ahmed Radhi is an independent journalist and commenter on Twitter (@Ahmeddi99), who publishes articles and investigations in a number of electronic publications including Bahrain Mirror, Manama Post and al-Ahd news site. A few days before his arrest, he had published an article in which he criticised the subjugation of Bahrain’s opposition organisations in the King’s “national consensus” in the run-up to elections. In the article[2], Radhi expressed his objection to political participation and called for these organisations to persist in their revolution against the regime. Likewise, in his last tweets[3], which he posted just hours before his arrest, he criticised the ruling regime which sent in the army, killed and tortured protesters, in a reference to the deployment of the army to suppress a long-running sit-in in March 2011 and the cases of extrajudicial killing and torture that followed. These incidents were documented by a report by the Independent Bahraini independent commission of investigation.

Radhi has been subjected to aggression on a number of occasions previously – he was detained from 16 May to 20 September 2012, and was released without charge. The most recent incident was his detention for approximately 15 hours at Dubai International Airport on 30 June 2014, after which he was prevented from entering the United Arab Emirates on the basis of the Gulf Security Agreement. He was subsequently returned to Bahrain. He was prevented from travelling on attempting to cross the land border into Saudi Arabia across the King Fahd Bridge. Previously, the authorities detained him during a period of protest in the 1990s, during which he was subjected to severe torture that caused him to lose hearing in one ear.

Radhi’s arrest comes in the context of a relentless campaign against media workers in Bahrain. The BCHR has recently documented a number of bloggers arrested as a result of opinions published on Twitter[4]. The authorities have not only cracked down on media workers within Bahrain, but also threatened the Media Affairs Body on 15 September 2014 that they would sue Monte Carlo International Radio and its correspondent in Bahrain, the journalist Naziha Saeed, over her broadcast of a report about political assimilation in Bahrain. The government considered the report to be “biased and inciting sectarianism.”[5] The threat comes as a continuation of targeted aggression against Naziha Saeed, who was a victim of torture while she was detained in May 2014 because of her coverage of demonstrations in support of democracy, and the exoneration of her torturer in the partial Bahraini courts.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that the journalist and blogger Ahmed Radhi was subjected to detention on the basis of practicing his right to peaceful freedom of expression, a right which is enshrined in a number of international treaties including International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory.

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the United States, the United Kingdom and all of Bahrain’s close allies and relevant international institutions to:

  • Stop the policy of systematically targeting photographers, journalists and bloggers.
  • Put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to release all other detained journalists immediately, and to allow them to practice their rights freely and without restrictions.
  • Put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to allow impartial broadcasters to enter the country.
  • Put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to halt their policy of suppression and silencing.
  • Put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to protect and maintain human rights, especially those relating to freedom of the press and publishing information.