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MEPs send a letter to EU Representative on the re-arrest of Nabeel Rajab and the current situation in Bahrain

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights would like to thank the Members of the European Parliament for issuing a letter addressig Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, demanding the immediate release of our President, and Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab, and drawing attention to the human rights oppression taking place in Bahrain, which has heightened in the past two weeks.

Read the letter here.

Sheikh Isa Qassim: What lies behind Bahrain's latest opposition crackdown?

The story of Bahrain's 14 February uprising in 2011 can be told in four broad chapters:

  • Mass demonstrations and failed negotiations
  • A bloody government crackdown
  • A perfunctory attempt at reconciliation and dialogue
  • Political stalemate born of royal infighting and sectarian polarisation.

That stalemate arguably ended with the government's decision to revoke the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the kingdom's most prominent Shia Muslim cleric and spiritual inspiration behind the main opposition bloc Wefaq.

These included the re-arrest of outspoken government critic Nabeel Rajab and a travel ban on activists planning to attend this month's UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

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UN human rights chief decries 'crackdown' in Bahrain

GENEVA –  The office of the U.N. human rights chief is decrying an "intensified crackdown" on freedoms and rights in Bahrain after the country's top Shiite cleric was stripped of his nationality and is urging authorities to "de-escalate" the situation.

Rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani on Tuesday appealed on Bahrain to ensure civil society activists won't face "undue pressure, intimidation or reprisals."

 

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Bahrain Renews the Detention of Leading Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) strongly condemns the public prosecution’s renewal of BCHR’s president Nabeel Rajab’s sentence. Today, Rajab was remanded for an additional eight days in detention, pending investigation over charges related directly to his right to exercise free expression.

Leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, was arrested on 13 June 13 2016 in the early hours of the morning without any immediate disclosure of a reason why. He was held at Riffa police station without any direct access to his lawyer, and he was not informed of his charges until the following day. On 14 June 2016, Rajab was brought to the public prosecution, where he was officially charged with "spreading false news and rumours about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain". This charge was in relation to statements he gave during past television interviews in early 2015 and 2016. The public prosecution remanded him to seven days in detention pending investigation.

Since the arrest, BCHR has received information that Nabeel Rajab is enduring poor conditions and ill-treatment in his continuing pre-trial detention. He is currently detained in solitary confinement at the Riffa police station in a cell that is locked at all times, unlike those of other prisoners’. He is not allowed contact with anyone. Moreover, the living conditions in his cell are unsanitary and degrading. During their first visit, his family was allowed to spend only 15 minutes with him, under the strict and close supervision of a police officer. Based on information reported by his family, Rajab is being deprived of basic privileges.

The arrest of Nabeel Rajab was widely condemned by international human rights bodies and governments, including the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who said that “such actions by the State authorities could potentially damage the human rights situation in the country.” In addition the United States, France and Germany have raised concerns while the United Kingdom has thus far stated that it is “seeking to establish the facts”. In addition, the Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) has condemned the arrest and called the Bahraini authoritiesto put an end to the persecution of human rights defenders in the country and to unconditionally and without further delay release Nabeel Rajab". Today, the office of the high commissioner stated issued a statement mentioning the case of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and other recent alarming issues in Bahrain.

 

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab,  and all persons arrested and sent to prison for merely peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression;
  • Abide by international legislation upholding the right to freedom of expression, without any restrictions or arbitrary legal procedures;
  • End the politically-based retaliation against Nabeel Rajab-  and other human rights defenders, activists and social media users who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech;
  • Invite, and allow entrance to Bahrain, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression (and)
  • Repeal all legal restrictions on civil society.

Crackdown on Human Rights

Timeline of Bahraini Authorities Repression

19 July 2016

Bahraini human rights defender and correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo, Nazeeha has fallen once again victim of the government’s crackdown on freedom of expression. 

English

ANOTHER BAD WEEK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN BAHRAIN

First, “a Bahraini court ordered the suspension of all activities by Al-Wefaq, the island-nation’s largest opposition party. The Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry, which asked the court to issue the order, said Al-Wefaq’s shuttering was needed to “safeguard the security of the kingdom.”

Second, “Bahraini authorities arrested prominent activist Nabeel Rajab at his home during the early hours of the morning of Monday, June 13. Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, and he has reportedly been charged with ‘spreading false news.’”

Read Full article here 

Washington Alarmed by Bahrain's Arbitrary Decision to Withdraw Sheikh Isa Qassim's Nationality

The United States Department of State said that it is alarmed by the Government of Bahrain's decision to revoke the citizenship of prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim.

"We remain deeply troubled by the Government of Bahrain's practice of withdrawing the nationality of its citizens arbitrarily, the overall precedent that this case could establish, and the risk that individuals may be rendered stateless," stressed that State Department spokesperson John Kirby in a statement issued on Monday (June 20, 2016).

Read full article here

Bahrain Revokes the Citizenship of Top Shia Muslim Leader

Bahraini authorities have taken yet another action to further crackdown on the opposition and the Shia community in general, reports the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). On 20 June 2016, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) issued a statement announcing the revocation of the citizenship of a top Shia religious leader Sheikh Isa Qasim. The MOI cited Article 10/c of the Bahraini Nationality Law, to justify its decision to revoke citizenship “if he causes damage to the interest of the state or took action contrary to the duty or loyalty to it.”

Sheikh Qasim is the Shia Muslim community’s religious leader. He has been a leading figure in introducing democratic reforms in the country since the 1970s. In 1972, Sheikh Qasim became a member of the first Bahraini Parliament appointed with the highest percentage of votes. Sheikh Qasim also contributed to drafting the 1973 Bahraini constitution.

Today, on 20 June 2016, without any due process, the Bahraini authorities arbitrarily revoked the citizenship of Sheikh Qasim after accusing him of having allegedly “exploited the religious pulpit for political purposes.” Shortly following the decision, thousands of Sheikh Qasim’s supporters gathered in front of his house in Duraz in solidarity and to protest the decision. The gathering soon turned into a sit-in, and people vowed not to leave the area. The MOI threatened “against calls inciting security disturbances. Legal action will be taken against violators.” The area where the sit-in is staged is reported to be surrounded by a heavy security presence. The BCHR is extremely concerned over the wellbeing of those staging a sit-in in Duraz.

The BCHR has documented dozens of cases in the last six months in which the Bahraini government has rendered people stateless as a retaliation tactic against plitical dissent. In the last three days of May 2016 alone, BCHR reported on 33 sentences of citizenship revocation through both primary and appeal courts. Citizenship revocation has been in use since the pro-democracy uprisings in Bahrain in 2011. 31 people lost their citizenship through a ministerial order in 2012, while the number of citizenship revocation amounted to 21 cases of sentences in 2014. A staggering number of citizens were stripped of their Bahraini citizenship in 2015, when a ministerial order revoked the citizenship of 72 individuals. Based on BCHR’s documentation, evidence of a total number of at least 261 citizenship revocation cases has been brought to light since 2012.

Rendering the Shia Muslim leader Sheikh Qasim stateless is yet another blow to the freedom of speech and expression in Bahrain. it comes as part of an escalating crackdown on freedoms and rights in Bahrain, that has become noticeable since last week and following a rather long line of abuses that authorities have embarked on in order to silence all forms of criticism, and to curtail the opposition’s access to participating in Bahrain’s political decision-making.

On 13 Jun 2016, the Bahraini King promulgated a bill amending the 2005 Political Societies Law, which places a ban on participation in political decision-making based on discriminatory religious grounds, and prevents any religious figure who delivers a sermon from joining political societies or from participating in political activities. Within one week, the government has banned human rights activists from travel, arrested leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and sought to retaliate against all its critical opponents by closing Al-Wefaq, the largest political society in the country, on the same day the Ministry of Social Development closed down Al-Risala Islamic Society and the Islamic Enlightenment Society, two remaining bastions of the Shia Muslim community in Bahrain. Furthermore, toughening the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society to nine years imprisonment from the previous four-year sentence, as well as summoning nine Shia clerics for interrogation on 15 June 2016 are meant to intimidate clerics and preachers who disagree with the anti-democratic Bahraini ruling apparatus.

 

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahrain government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally reinstate the nationality of Sheikh Isa Qasim and of all those who were stripped off their nationality on politically-motivated grounds since 2011;
  • Put an end to the escalating crackdown on activists in Bahrain and release all political prisoners and human rights defenders such as Nabeel Rajab;
  • Put an end to the use of security solutions to handle the growing political issues of Bahrain and take serious actions to start an actual, and not a superficial, dialogue to solve all the outstanding and controversial human rights files;
  • End the use of citizenship revocation to punish political dissent;
  • End the targeting of Shia clerics’ freedom of religious worship and freedom of expression;
  • Allow the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and
  • Accede to the 1954 Convention relating to Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

HRW: Bahrain Rulers Want to Wipe Out Peaceful Opposition Movement

Bahrain Mirror: Human Rights Watch (HRW) stressed that the Bahrain government should end its efforts to close down Al-Wefaq, and reverse the decision to close the group's headquarters and seize its funds, as well as release leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

The authorities have produced no evidence to support their allegations. Al-Wefaq was a leading signatory of a declaration of non-violence, issued in 2012 by Bahrain's opposition groups, and regularly urges protesters to remain peaceful and condemns violence against the security forces, the HRW statement further read.

Read full article here

More arrests and jail sentences in Bahrain over social media posts

The alarming increase in the number of arrests in Bahrain for social media posts is cause for concern, says the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), calling it a blow to freedom of speech. BCHR has documented six recent cases of individuals arrested and prosecuted for exercising their freedom of speech on social media platforms.

Prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab - who was recently re-arrested over charges of "spreading false news and rumours about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain" - has served a total of two years in prison between 2012 and 2015, over charges mostly related to his social media posts. In 2015 he was arrested for insulting the Jau Prison Administration as he spoke out against the use of torture in prison, and for criticizing the humanitarian costs of the war in Yemen on the social media website Twitter.

Habib Jaafar Ahmed is a 45-year-old Bahraini social media user. On 10 April 2016, at 8:00 am Ahmed presented himself at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) after being summoned by the Bahraini authorities. Ahmed never returned from the CID. The authorities charged him with allegedly inciting hatred against the regime and security forces, and for inciting hatred against the regime via Twitter and Facebook. Subsequently, on 16 Jun 2016 he was sentenced to three months in prison over these charges.

After Ahmed was informed about the charges against him, he was transferred from the CID to the preventative security building of the Ministry of interior (MOI). At the MOI, Ahmed says a man named Lieutenant Hayet interrogated him and threatened to arrest his parents and brothers if he refused to confess to the charges against him. Ahmed subsequently confessed to being the owner of the (Habib Abu Mohammed) Twitter account, but refuted being the owner of the (Resistant Bahraini) Facebook account.

Ahmed stated that 60 days before his arrest, he had submitted a complaint to the police station regarding his missing phone, and that the Tweets were posted when his phone was missing. Authorities only interrogated Ahmed concerning the Tweets and accounts. He refuted all accusations. The MOI shut down the twitter account, of which his family was not aware. At 2:30 in the afternoon, authorities transferred Ahmed to the military prosecution which then detained him in Asri prison while authorities conducted the investigation. Ahmed made the first phone call to his family on 13 April, telling them of his arrest and where he was detained. His family visited him that same day for about an hour. He recounted what had happened and also told them that the authorities had confiscated his phone upon arrest.

Ahmed told his family and lawyer that he would be presented to the public prosecution after the authorities search and extract data from his phone. The charges against him according to the investigation are related to cyber crimes. In addition, the Bahraini authorities have allegedly denied him this medication since his incarceration. He claims he suffers from colon-related health issues for which he takes medication.

 Khalid Abdulaal, a former Member of Parliament, was sentenced to one year in prison on 26 May 2015 by the first lower criminal court on charges of allegedly “insulting the ministry of interior” based on tweets he posted in April 2014, stating that “MOI is the den of torture,” to denounce the use of torture in extracting confessions. On 8 June 2016, Khalid was sentenced to a second one-year jail term for another tweet from 2014. He is currently out of prison having paid a 1,000 BD bail; Abdulaal is however expecting additional trials on charges related to his Twitter posts.

Abbas Ahmed Marzooq and Ali Al-Henni were arrested and detained by the Bahraini authorities over a video that they published while in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. In the video that circulated on social media, the two men recorded themselves pointing at a Shia mosque and some Shia social centers while making some comments that deemed to be sectarian jokes. Due to the sectarian tension in the region, the UAE authorities did not tolerate this comment as a mere joke, but perceived it as a serious threat to Sunni people in the UAE. The two men were arrested on 4 June upon their arrival at the Bahrain customs at the Bahrain – Saudi Causeway. They were transferred to the UAE authority where they are due to face charges.  

Football player Mohammad Al-Alawiyat was arrested on 9 June 2016 by the Bahraini security authorities. He was charged with allegedly insulting the King on Twitter and has been in detention for seven days pending investigation over the alleged insult. Al-Alawiyat was  interrogated for two days at the CID, known for forcing confessions through the alleged use of torture. His detention was again extended on 16 Jun 2016 for another 2 weeks.

 

Article 19 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) contends that every individual has the right to freedom of expression; the right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of the frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. If arrested for exercising their freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial is obligatory. This right to a fair trial will include the presumption of innocence and the right to examine witnesses. According to the interpretation by the UN Human Rights Committee, all ICCPR provisions must be upheld throughout proceedings. This includes the absolute rights under article 7 not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for any purpose.

By arbitrarily arresting, detaining and prosecuting these defendants in relation to freedom of expression cases, the Bahraini authorities have violated Article 19 of the ICCPR and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all persons arrested and sent to prison, for merely peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression;
  • Abide by international legislation upholding the right to freedom of expression, without any restrictions or arbitrary legal procedures; and
  • End the politically-based retaliation against activists and social media users who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression and allow them to freely exercise their rights to free speech.