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GCC SUMMIT: SYSTEMATIC CLAMPDOWN ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN GULF

The appalling human rights records of states in the Gulf must not be swept under the carpet when member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) gather in the Bahraini capital, Manama, this week (6-7 December) for their annual summit, said Amnesty International today.

Human rights will be notably absent from the agenda at the annual meeting when the six GCC states - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - come together to discuss trade and security cooperation, with no mention of the widespread crackdown witnessed across the region on the grounds of security.

“In recent years across the Gulf we have seen human rights activists, peaceful political opponents and government critics systematically targeted in the name of security. Hundreds have been harassed, unlawfully prosecuted, stripped of their nationality, arbitrarily detained or in some cases imprisoned or even sentenced to death after unfair trials, as part of a concerted effort to intimidate people into silence,” said Randa Habib, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

 

Read the full article here

Bahrain upholds death penalties over bomb attack on police

A Bahraini court on Sunday upheld three death sentences and seven life terms against a "terrorist" group convicted of killing police including an Emirati officer in a bomb attack, a judicial source said.

The court of cassation in October ordered a retrial in the case of the 10 defendants found guilty of planting a bomb in March 2014 in a Shia-majority village west of Manama, which killed an Emirati officer and two Bahraini policemen.

An appeals court had upheld the three death sentences and life terms for the other seven defendants, who were also stripped of their citizenships.

 

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May acknowledges human rights issues in seeking Gulf trade deal

Theresa May has said the UK must not “turn our back” on the human rights abuses of foreign countries as she prepares to court Gulf states over a post-Brexit trade deal on a trip to Bahrain.

The prime minister has been urged by campaigners not to set aside human rights concerns in pursuit of a potentially lucrative free-trade arrangement with Middle-Eastern countries.

But May, who will become the first British leader and the first woman to attend the annual gathering of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) annual summit, said on Sunday that the UK must seek to “transform the way we do business” with the region.

 

Read the full article here.

Attacks on Civil Society - BCHR Event in Berlin on 8 December

On 8 December the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), would like to invite you to an event organized together with FIDH and Human Rights Watch (HRW), named “Attacks on Civil Society”.

During the event, which will be held at the House of Democracy and Human Rights in Berlin, from 1pm, representatives from the three NGOs will discuss about the ongoing crackdown on civil society and opposition in Bahrain.
Sayed Yusuf al-Muhafdha, BCHR vice-president, will present the latest cases of freedoms' suppression and the clamp down on the opposition.
Jean Marie Rogue, EU Liaison Officer at FIDH, will focus on travel bans imposed on human rights defenders and other activists in Bahrain, and will highlight the case of Nabeel Rajab, currently detained on charges related to freedom of expression.
Wolfgang Büttner, press officer and associate advocate at Human Rights Watch, will present HRW's latest campaign on the crackdown on social media activism in the Gulf region.
Moderator of the event will be Elena Mocanu, BCHR advocacy officer based in Copenhagen, who will introduce BCHR and its recently released report Digital Rights Derailed in Bahrain.

The event will be live-streamed by London-based Bahraini opposition satellite TV station LuaLua TV.


 

Sports journalist jailed for three months in Bahrain over a tweet

A Bahraini criminal court has sentenced a sports journalist to three months in prison for a tweet that allegedly defamed the Sunni sect of Islam.

Faisal Hayyat was arrested on 9 October, but it was unclear about the specific nature of his offence. A few days earlier, he posted an open letter on Facebook to Bahrain’s interior minister in which he referred to the conditions in which he was detained, and tortured, in 2011. He referred to government corruption and urged for an end to restrictions on civil and political freedoms.

Hayyat’s conviction has been condemned by the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) as a violation of Hayyat’s right to free speech.

Read full article here

Bahrain: Human Rights Lawyer Charged

(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities have charged a prominent human rights lawyer with offenses that violate his right to free expression.

Mohamed al-Tajer, who has defended opposition figures and rights activists, told Human Rights Watch that a public prosecutor brought three charges against him on November 10, 2016: insulting government institutions, inciting hatred of a religious sect, and misusing a telecommunications appliance. In a private WhatsApp voice message that public prosecutors cited in support of the charges, al-Tajer says, “It’s clear that there’s a team in the public prosecution and Cybercrimes division whose only job is to sit at computers and intercept every word about Sunnis, Saudi Arabia, hatred of the regime, or insults against the king.”

Read full article here

Good News! - Charges Dropped, Ebrahim Sharif Remains Free

Former prisoner of conscience Ebrahim Sharif had his one year prison sentence upheld by the Appeal Court in the capital, Manama, on 7 November. Ebrahim Sharif was arrested on 12 July 2015 after he made a speech at a public gathering in which he spoke about the need for change in Bahrain, highlighting the political opposition’s commitment to non-violence and urging the government to introduce key economic reforms to avoid further bankruptcy. Amnesty International has seen the speech and can confirm that, in it, he did not advocate violence. On 24 February the High Criminal Court in Manama convicted him of “incitement to hatred and contempt of the regime” but acquitted him of “incitement to overthrow the regime by force and illegal means” and sentenced him to one year in prison. The prosecution appealed against the sentence imposed for “incitement to hatred and contempt of the regime” and the acquittal of the second charge of “incitement to overthrow the regime by force and illegal means”. He was released from Jaw prison, south-eastern Bahrain, on 11 July, after serving his sentence.

Read full article here

35 Days Following his Kidnapping: Ombudsman Says it Met Sayed Alawi, Claims He is Suspended Pending Investigation over “Terrorist” Case

The Ombudsman said that it looked into the complaint submitted by the wife of kidnapped Sayed Alawi, claiming that "it followed the professional procedural steps in this complaint with respect to investigating his place and conditions and guaranteeing his legal rights."

It added in its statement on Sunday (November 27, 2016), "it was revealed to the Ombudsman through coordinating with the competent parties that the said person was apprehended pursuant to the law of "protecting the society from terrorist acts" as his detention decision was issued from the Public Prosecution."

 

Read the full article here.

Bahrain Must Cease Judicial Harassment of Faisal Hayyat and Other Bahraini Journalists

45 human rights organizations have signed a letter asking King Hamad to immediately and unconditionally release imprisoned journalist Faisal Hayyat, and to cease the judicial harassment of all journalists in Bahrain.

28 November 2016

To: Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa 
King of Bahrain 

CC : 
Hon. Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein 
High Commissioner for Human Rights 

Mr. John F. Kerry 
United States Secretary of State 

Frederica Mogherini 
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy 

The Right Honorable Boris Johnson 
Foreign & Commonwealth Office 

King Hamad,

We, the undersigned, express our deep concern with the Government of Bahrain’s campaign targeting journalists and activists exercising their right to free expression. On 9 October 2016, the Public Prosecution charged Faisal Hayyat, a sports journalist and social media activist, with insulting a sect and a religious figure. The government’s repeated harassment of Faisal and other online activists demonstrate the ongoing criminalization of free expression in Bahrain.

Faisal Hayyat is a renowned journalist and has appeared on various sports channels and has written for local Bahraini newspapers, Alalam, Albilad, and Akhbar Al Khaleej. He directs and presents short video programs online that provide critical perspectives on local politics.

Bahraini officials previously arrested Faisal in April 2011 for his involvement in the 2011 pro-democracy protests. The Bahraini security forces detained him for 84 days. During his detainment, authorities subjected Faisal to physical and psychological torture, including sexual harassment and degrading treatment. He has been vocal about this and recently published a letter on social media to the Bahraini Minister of Interior detailing the torture to which the government had subjected him. Government authorities never provided compensation for the abuse and never held any officials accountable. In the letter Faisal mentions, “I write this and I know it may cost me my freedom.”

On 7 October, Faisal published tweets commenting on events from early Islamic history. Two days later, Faisal was arrested and charged with “insulting a sect.” The government is therefore treating Faisal Hayyat’s opinion on events of Islamic history as a criminal liability. The government’s decision to prosecute him infringes both his freedom of expression and religion.

The undersigned NGOs believe Faisal has been targeted as part of a silencing campaign against critical voices of the government. Recently, the Bahraini government has brought further criminal charges against human rights defender Nabeel Rajab for an open letter published in the New York Times, and against political opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif for an interview he gave with the Associated Press. Furthermore, the opposition politician Fedhel Abbas received three years in prison for tweets criticizing the war in Yemen.

We, therefore, call on the authorities to respect Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which mandates that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.” The Bahraini government must also respect Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which mandates that “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 frontier.”

As organisations concerned with the right to freedom of expression, we call on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Faisal Hayyat, Nabeel Rajab, and all internet users arrested and imprisoned for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression; and
  • Abide by international human rights standards, including the ICCPR and UDHR, by upholding the right to freedom of expression without any restrictions.

Signed,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Albanian Media Institute
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) 
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Burundi Child Rights Coalition
Bytes for All
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Independent Journalism – Romania
Centre for Independent Journalism – Malaysia
English PEN
European – Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR) 
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) 
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Free Media Movement
Gulf Centre for Human Rights
Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Index on Censorship
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Centre 
International Press Institute 
Maharat Foundation
MARCH
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa 
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms – MADA
PEN International
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Reporters Without Borders
Social Media Exchange – SMEX
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
Union de Jeunes pour la Paix et le Developpement
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique 
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters – AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Sayed Alawi Forcibly Disappeared for Over a Month with Complicity of Government Human Rights Bodies

As of 27 November 2016, Sayed Alawi Hussain Alawi has been forcibly disappeared for over a month following his arrest at the hands of Bahraini security forces with absolutely no contact with his family or lawyer, and with implication of governmental human rights parties to protect the perpetrators of this crime. Bahrain Center for Human Rights is appalled by the continuous disappearance of Alawi and the blatant endorsement of the crime by official parties.

Sayed Alawi Hussain Alawi, a 43-year-old resident of Duraz, disappeared on 24 October 2016, around 4pm. His family told BCHR that he didn’t return home since leaving for work on that day. After they filed a disappearance report at the Budaiya police station, the police officers told them on the same day that Alawi was being detained at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID), and asked the family to cancel the disappearance report.  

Since then, CID has continued to deny any information or confirmation of the detention of Alawi. His family approached the Dry Dock detention center where they also denied holding Alawi. In addition, the family appointed a lawyer who has tried to get information on his case at the public prosecution with no success. As such, for over a month the family continues to be in the dark on the whereabouts and wellbeing of Alawi, who has not called them once since his arrest.   

On 25 October, Alawi’s family filed a complaint with the Ombudsman for arbitrary and illegal arrest, as no arrest warrant was ever seen. They have also called upon the National Human Rights Institute (NHRI), a governmental body whose members are appointed by the king, to act on the case.  On 25 November 2016, the NHRI said in a public statement that Alawi is detained at the Dry Dock Detention and that it’s working on facilitating his communication with his family. The NHRI didn’t mention anything about the violation of enforced disappearance. Even though, neither Alawi’s family nor his lawyer have had any contact with him.

Additionally, on 26 November 2016, the head of the Human Rights Committee at the Bahraini Parliament stated that he has contacted the public prosecution and obtained information from them that Alawi is indeed “detained pending investigation” and that “all the formal procedures have been taken properly and correctly according to the rules applicable in the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

His family announced today 28 November that he had called them and that he had sounded very tired. His wife couldn't recognize his voice. After a month of disappearance and denial of whereabout, the authorities finally stated that he was in their custody.

BCHR finds it appalling that enforced disappearance, absence of formal arrest warrant, depriving a detainee from access to a lawyer during investigation, or to their family for over a month, are considered “proper” and “correct” procedures and “according to the rules applicable in the Kingdom of Bahrain.”  

The complicity of official human rights representatives of the government in hiding the crime of enforced disappearance and lack of due process, while showing minimum respect for protecting the human rights of the victim showcases the culture of impunity in Bahrain.

The act of enforced disappearance directly violates many basic human rights, including the right to liberty, right to security and dignity, right to recognition before the law, right to fair trial, and the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel and inhumane treatment. It also puts the family in a state on ongoing stress and anxiety for not knowing anything about the wellbeing of their relative.

Therefore, BCHR calls on the government of Bahrain to immediately allow Sayed Alawi Hussain Alawi to have direct contact with his family and lawyer, and to release him.