Oral Intervention at 35th UN Human Rights Council
Address made to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye.
Mr. President, Mr. Special Rapporteur,
I am making this statement on behalf of FIDH, OMCT Reporters Without Borders, IFEX,the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights.
One year ago, on that day, Nabeel Rajab was arrested from his home, one day before he was due to participate in the UN Human Rights Council. One year on, Nabeel Rajab remains in jail; his health is gravely deteriorating, he has been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, denied appropriate health care and he has spent extensive periods of time in solitary confinement. And still, this Council remains silent.
Nabeel Rajab is a leading human rights defender in the Arab world, who is President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Founding Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Committee.
He has been held illegally pending trial for one year, only for expressing his opinions on social media, for tweets and retweets he made regarding the war in Yemen and allegations of torture in Bahraini prisons, in addition to media interviews. He faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Last year, human rights experts, including yourself, Mr. Special Rapporteur, called on the Bahraini government for Nabeel Rajab’s immediate release, and for all charges against him relating to freedom of expression, to be dropped. A year ago there was some hope that the international community would support your call and pressure the Bahraini authorities to set him free. We are still waiting for this Council to act.
This sad anniversary comes in the context of unprecedented harassment and violent pressure directed at all critical and independent voices in the media, political parties, and trade unions, which are fighting now simply to be allowed the right of peaceful expression. The numbers of individuals arrested over charges related to free expression on the Internet and social media websites have significantly increased. Journalists, human rights defenders, bloggers, and active members of civil society have been targeted by the government, including being interrogated, sexually assaulted and tortured and forced to stop their human rights activities. Foreign members of the media are being denied entry to the country, whilst Bahraini journalists are being denied licenses to work for foreign media outlets, like Nazeeha Saeed, an award-winning Bahrain correspondent for France 24 who was recently found guilty of reporting without a license. The crackdown directed at the human rights movement and the persecution of independent, critical voices in Bahrain is not only a challenge faced by activists like Nabeel Rajab and others. It is a decisive moment as well for the cohesion and stability of Bahrain. The targets of the government are currently all those critical and independent voices standing against social violence, violent extremism, terrorism, and sectarianism.
Bahrain: UN Member and Observer States should call on Bahraini authorities to free human rights defender Nabeel Rajab
We, the undersigned, express our deep concern over the continued detention of prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, on the first anniversary of his arrest. We urge you to call for his immediate release and for all charges against him to be dropped.
Nabeel Rajab was arrested on 13 June 2016. He remains detained despite a court order to release him on 28 December 2016. He faces three separate legal cases, the trials for two of which have been postponed 23 times. In all cases, Rajab is being prosecuted for exercising his right to freedom of expression and faces up to a total of 18 years behind bars.
Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division advisory committee. Rajab has repeatedly spoken out about human rights violations in Bahrain, resulting in him being in and out of prison since 2012. In one of the three cases against him, in which he faces up to 15 years in prison, Rajab was charged in relation to his social media posts with: “insulting a statutory body”; “spreading rumours in war time”; and “insulting a neighbouring country.” In another of the three cases, Rajab faces up to three years in prison on charges of “spreading false news”, in relation to interviews given to the media. In September 2016, he was charged again with “spreading false news” after the New York Times published a letter in his name.
Rajab has spent nine and a half of the past twelve months in solitary confinement. In May 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture identified Rajab’s case of concern, and called for his release, as well as all human rights defenders and journalists detained and imprisoned for their work in Bahrain.
We are particularly concerned about Rajab’s health, which continues to deteriorate due to poor conditions and mistreatment. On Wednesday, 5 April 2017, Rajab underwent major surgery at a military hospital. Against medical advice, he was returned to his cell at East Riffa Police Station two days later. The following day he was rushed to the police clinic for emergency treatment. On 7 June, he underwent minor surgery. Rajab’s health prevents him from attending his court hearings. The presiding judge has refused all requests submitted by his lawyers to release him on bail, despite the length of his detention period in solitary confinement and clear evidence about the deteriorating condition of his health.
Urgent international pressure for Nabeel Rajab’s release is needed. We urge your delegations to call on Bahrain to end the unlawful detainment of Nabeel Rajab and to release him immediately and unconditionally. As Adam Rajab, Nabeel Rajab’s son notes: “without international pressure we will not see him walk out of prison anytime soon.”
Please accept, Excellencies, the assurances of our highest consideration,
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights
Index on Censorship
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights
One year on, Nabeel Rajab remains in jail, despite international appeals for his freedom
One year ago, on 13 June 2016, Nabeel Rajab was arrested from his home, one day before he was due to participate in the United Nations Human Rights Council. One year on, Nabeel Rajab remains in jail; his health has gravely deteriorated, and he has spent extensive periods of time in solitary confinement.
Nabeel Rajab is a leading human rights defender in the Arab world, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Committee.
For 365 days Rajab has been held in detention, sometimes in squalid conditions, while awaiting trial, on charges relating to tweets and retweets made on social media related to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and torture in Jau prison, as well as interviews he gave to foreign media outlets. Freedom of expression is a right protected by international law yet Rajab is now facing up to 18 years in prison for using his voice to alert the world about human rights abuses in the Arab region.
Since 2005, Rajab has been relentlessly persecuted for his human rights activities and jailed repeatedly on charges in violation of his right to freedom of expression, assembly and opinion. Rajab has been imprisoned multiple times since he came to the forefront of human rights activism in Bahrain. In 2011, he was briefly detained for his role in the pro-democracy protests, after being arrested in his home by dozens of masked men. He was allegedly blindfolded, handcuffed, and put in the back of a car before being verbally abused, beaten, and threatened with rape. In the following year, 2012, Rajab was jailed for two years for “calling for an illegal gathering.” In 2015, Rajab served a six-month prison sentence for “publicly insulting official institutions” on social media.
Rajab was most recently arrested on 13 June 2016 and charged with “spreading false information and malicious rumours about domestic matters, with the aim of discrediting and adversely affecting the prestige of the state,” in relation to televised interviews with the media. These charges carry a maximum sentence of three years. In another case, charges relating to tweets and retweets include “spreading rumours in wartime,” “insulting a neighbouring country” and “insulting a statutory body.” If convicted of these charges Rajab faces up to 15 years in prison. There are also pending charges for articles Rajab published in the New York Times and Le Monde while detained. The publication of these articles resulted in Rajab being taken for interrogation and new charges being brought against him. Both articles called on the international community to address the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain, including describing poor conditions in detention.
During this past year of detention Rajab has spent extensive periods of time in solitary confinement, and has suffered from deteriorating health, exacerbated by poor conditions in jail.
Rajab has a history of medical conditions, including hypertension, gastritis, and degenerative disk disease. During his current period of detention, Rajab has been treated for gallbladder disease; he underwent a surgical cholecystectomy due to biliary colic and recurrent abdominal pain. Most recently, on 5 April 2017, Rajab underwent surgery for bleeding ulcers. According to family members, Rajab was forced to wear dirty clothes soaked with blood and was denied access to hygiene products, despite having a deep surgical wound at risk of infection. Two days after the surgery, Rajab was returned to solitary confinement, where the unsanitary conditions increased the risk of post-surgical infection and other medical complications.
The day after he was returned to jail, Rajab became increasingly unwell, and shortly after a visit with his family, he was rushed to Qaala police clinic for emergency treatment. Rajab is receiving treatment related to complications following his surgery, after the wound became infected. At the time of writing Rajab, remains in Qaala police clinic. The clinic is not a public hospital but a division of the Ministry of Interior. Information received by BCHR indicates that Rajab’s weakened immune system is slowing the recovery process. Rajab remains under the supervision of Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) officers at all times.
The detention of Rajab is not only in violation of international regulations concerning freedom of expression and association, but also in violation of international protocols governing the rights of prisoners and detained persons. Rajab has been held in solitary confinement for extensive periods of time, and has been denied access to adequate and timely medical care on numerous occasions.
In the past year, members of the international community, including UN bodies and government delegations, have expressed concerns over the continued pre-trial detention of Rajab, the extensive use of solitary confinement, and his limited access to medical care. Most recently, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern over the amount of time that Rajab had been remanded in solitary confinement, stating that if used extensively solitary confinement can constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as defined by the Convention Against Torture.
In May 2017, during Bahrain’s annual UN Universal Periodic Review, UN member states expressed concern at the detention and mistreatment of human rights defenders, including Rajab. On 14 March 2017, at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, the Swiss delegation called for the release of human rights defenders in Bahrain, including Rajab. In December 2016, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed serious concerns about the ongoing prosecution of Rajab, and called for his immediate and unconditional release. Prior to this, in October 2016, the United States State Department rejected the charges against Rajab and called for his release; this was later confirmed by then US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who also called for his immediate release. It has also recently become known that one of the conditions attached to the US sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain by President Barack Obama was the release of Rajab.
In spite of the expression of concern, and the call for his release, issued by numerous international organisations, and governmental bodies, the Bahraini authorities continue to retain Rajab in pretrial custody, and often in solitary confinement.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights appeals for its President Nabeel Rajab to be released immediately, and for the charges against him to be dropped. BCHR also urges the government of Bahrain to ensure that Rajab and other political prisoners receive adequate and timely medical care in line with international protocols and regulations pertaining to prisoners and detained individuals.
Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab approaches one year in prison without sentencing
Next week the Bahraini human rights activist and Index on Censorship award winner Nabeel Rajab will have spent one year in prison on charges for which he has yet to be sentenced. Almost six months of his imprisonment, which began on 13 June 2016, has been spent in solitary confinement.
Rajab faces four separate legal charges, the trials for two of which – related to tweets criticising the war in Yemen and torture in Jau Prison, and “spreading false information and malicious rumours” over television interviews he gave in 2015 – have been postponed collectively over 20 times.
Read in full here.
Bahraini Court Issues Two New Death Sentences Amid Torture Allegations
8 June 2017 – Bahraini courts sentenced two victims of torture to death on Tuesday amid serious concerns that the judiciary failed to uphold basic fair trial and due process guarantees, despite international outcry over recent executions carried out by the Kingdom. We, the undersigned, condemn the authorities’ use of torture and capital punishment and call on the Government of Bahrain to commute these death sentences and investigate all allegations of abuse.
On 6 June 2017, the 4th Circuit Superior Criminal Court of Bahrain, presided over by Judge Ali Khalifa al-Dhahrani, issued a death sentence against Sayed Ahmed al-Abbar, 21, and Husain Ali Mohamed, 20. Both men were tortured into signing prepared confessions which were then relied on to issue the death sentences against them.
The two were detained on 24 April 2016 without a warrant by state security forces, most likely agents of the National Security Agency. They are charged with involvement in an incident on 16 April 2016 in the village of Karbabad, in which a military patrol vehicle was torched and a security officer reportedly killed. Important details of this incident remain unverified. Al-Abbar and Mohamed were tried alongside 11 other defendants; they were the only two to receive the death sentence.
Following their arrest, both men were tortured by the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) at its headquarters in the Manama neighborhood of Adliya. CID interrogators tortured al-Abbar for five days. They punched and cuffed him, kicked him in the head, face, and groin, and applied electrodes to his genitals. One blow to the side of his head caused severe long-term pain in his ear canal, presumably a result of damage to the eardrum. After nearly a week of torture, al-Abbar signed a prepared confession. He was held in solitary confinement for approximately 16 days both before and after the torture sessions. UN human rights bodies have recognized that unjustified solitary confinement is a form of abuse, which can in some circumstances rise to the level of torture. Mohamed was also beaten until he made a confession, and his nose broken in the process.
Both men have been denied timely and effective medical treatment in the aftermath of their torture. When al-Abbar was briefly seen by a government doctor around early May 2016, the doctor refused to run X-rays and told al-Abbar that he was fine after a cursory physical examination. Before his second doctor’s appointment, which was not granted until a complaint had been filed with the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, al-Abbar was told by his guards not to mention the beating that had caused the inflammation in his ear canal. He is still waiting for the prison administration to schedule him an appointment to be X-rayed. Mohamed has been in need of surgery to repair his broken nose since his torture in April 2016. On 8 May of this year he had been scheduled for transfer to a hospital, but the prison administration cancelled the appointment without explanation. Following complaints to the Ombudsman and the Special Investigation Unit of the public prosecution office, Mohamed was rescheduled for surgery on 4 June, but the prison administration again failed to carry out the medical transfer on that date.
The authorities did not present al-Abbar to the Office of Public Prosecution until five days after his arrest on 29 April, violating Bahrain’s own laws, which require that anyone apprehended be brought before a prosecutor within 48 hours (Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 57, ¶ 1). When he was presented to the state prosecutor’s office, al-Abbar was questioned without a lawyer present, contrary to the principle enshrined in Article 20(e) of the Bahraini Constitution that “Everyone accused of a felony shall have an attorney to defend him.”
Bahraini authorities systematically violate domestic law with impunity from, or the complicity of, the kingdom’s courts. On the same day that Judge al-Dhahrani sentenced these two young men to death, he also barred a defense attorney from asking CID officer Abdulla Mohamed Ramadan why his agency had held another group of defendants for four days without bringing them before a prosecutor. Judge al-Dhahrani, like many other Bahraini judges, has thereby directly abetted the violation of Bahrain’s own legal safeguards of due process.
There are serious concerns that Judge al-Dhahrani has exhibited bias in several similar cases which have resulted in the death penalty. Judge al-Dhahrani presided over the hearings on Mohammad Ramadan and Hussain Moosa, two Bahraini men facing imminent execution whose trial has been condemned by international bodies for failing to meet the most basic standards of fairness. Both men are victims of torture, used to extract confessions that were relied upon at trial as evidence, in violation of international and domestic law. To date, the Bahraini authorities have failed to investigate in line with their international obligations arising out of the Convention Against Torture.
The court, the Office of Public Prosecution, and the administrators of Bahrain’s penitentiary and detention system have all prevented al-Abbar from meeting or communicating with his attorney, in violation of the Bahraini Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 14.3, ¶¶ b, d), to which Bahrain has acceded. In addition to violations of due process, there are serious concerns that the prosecution did not investigate the charges against both men impartially, in line with international standards. Al-Abbar was brought, along with several other suspects, to the site where the security forces’ vehicle was torched and ordered to re-enact the prosecution’s version of events on that date while prosecution staff took photographs.
The judiciary continues to hand down sentences targeting peaceful protesters. In addition to the charges relating to the Karbabad incident, al-Abbar has been sentenced to five years in prison for “rioting,” a charge the Bahraini government routinely issues for participation in peaceful protests. In that trial as well the justice system prevented him from communicating with his attorney. Mohamed has also been sentenced in a second case to one year in prison for “unlawful assembly,” another charge typically related to peaceful demonstrations. Article 178 of the Bahraini Penal Code criminalizes any public “gathering of five or more people” whom the courts determine intended to “infringe public security.”
The latest death sentences are indicative of a pattern of abuses carried out by the state against persons on death row. On 15 January 2017, the Government of Bahrain executed Ali al-Singace, Abbas al-Samea, and Sami Mushaima by firing squad, ending the Kingdom’s de facto moratorium on capital punishment. All three men were tortured into providing false confessions to a bomb attack that had killed three security officers and their trials were marked by severe due process violations, leading a UN expert to describe the executions as “extrajudicial killings.” There are currently 15 individuals on death row in Bahrain.
“Once again, the Bahraini judiciary is deeply complicit in grave human rights violations,” comments Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain. “The court system has made itself an arm of Bahrain’s monarchy and cannot be relied upon to provide even minimal safeguards for detainees in the hands of security agencies. More often, as now, it exploits a veneer of judicial legitimacy to further punish victims of abuse, presuming guilt. It is imperative that international actors demand a moratorium on the death penalty in Bahrain before this latest mockery of justice results in new executions.”
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
Bahrain must end arbitrary suspension of independent newspaper
The Committee to Protect Journalists, "Bahrain orders independent outlet Al-Wasat to cease publication"
Bahraini authorities should revoke an order barring the independent news outlet Al-Wasat from publishing and stop harassing the newspaper and its journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The Ministry of Information Affairs yesterday ordered Al-Wasat to cease publishing in print and online indefinitely, the outlet's editor-in-chief Mansoor al-Jamri, told CPJ.
Al-Jamri said that an official from the ministry called an Al-Wasat employee to notify the outlet of the ban and did not offer any reason for the closure. An article about the ban by the official Bahrain News Agency refers to an editorial published in Al-Wasat yesterday that "included the defamation of a sisterly Arab country." Al-Jamri told CPJ that the Bahrain News Agency article may be referring to an op-ed about protests in Morocco's Rif region.
"Al-Wasat has long been the scapegoat for a government fearful of allowing a free press," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. "This ban should be lifted immediately."
Read more here.
The Washington Post, "Bahrain shuts down prominent newspaper amid crackdown"
Bahrain shut down a prominent independent newspaper Sunday “until further notice” over an article about unrest in Morocco, the latest move tightening expression in the Gulf nation as authorities wage a crackdown on dissent.
The sudden closure of the daily Al-Wasat marks the third time authorities have ordered it to stop publishing a print edition since the island’s 2011 Arab Spring protests and comes just after officials briefly banned it in January from publishing online.
Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority issued the order first verbally Sunday and later through a statement published by the state-run Bahrain News Agency, said Mansoor al-Jamri, the paper’s editor-in-chief. The statement said the closure came over a story “affecting the relations of the kingdom of Bahrain with other countries.”
Read more here.