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Bahrain: Rajab sentenced to prison, Al-Khawaja ends hunger strike, while Al-Singace’s health at risk, Abdulemam fined and Jawad released

2015-06-27

UPDATE: On 27 June 2015, Dr. Al-Singace completes 100 days of hunger strike. He is protesting the conditions in Jaw Prison, including allegations of torture. His health is at serious risk and he is still being denied medical attention. #SingaceHungerStrike

Bahraini human rights defenders continue to remain locked up in poor conditions for their peaceful work, despite vocal international advocacy to free them. On 14 May, Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Co-Founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), was brought to court where his six-month sentence was upheld for allegedly "insulting public institutions and the army" via Twitter last year.

Meanwhile, GCHR and BCHR Co-Founder Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja ended his hunger strike on 21 May after weeks of refusing food in protest of the terrible conditions in Jaw prison, where he is jailed, and where numerous prisoners have been abused and tortured. However, human rights defender and blogger Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace has been on hunger strike for over two months and there are serious concerns for his health.

Rajab was sentenced in January to six months but had been free on bail until 2 April, when he was detained on separate charges, and kept in solitary confinement. He would be due for release on 14 October in this case, having served a month in prison in October 2014. In a separate case, which could result in up to 10 years in prison, Rajab was charged with allegedly “disseminating false news in time of war, which may undermine preparations and war operations, and openly discrediting a statutory entity,” in connection with tweets regarding the war against Yemen.

In a third case, Rajab was charged over tweets and retweets about the violence that took place in Jaw Prison on 10 March 2015, where prisoners were violently attacked after a disturbance, and subjected to collective punishment. See Rajab’s article on Jaw Prison: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/nabeel-rajab/bahrain-jaw-prison_b_6939312.html

More than two months since the violence in Jaw Prison, there is serious concern about the treatment of prisoners, notably human rights defender Naji Fateel of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. Fateel, who was jailed for 15 years for his human rights activities in 2013, was reportedly badly hurt during the events of 10 March, even though he was a bystander.  The most recent reports from April are that Fateel was among prisoners being subjected to “physical and psychological torture,” and that he had suffered a broken leg and nose. See: http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/998

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace have carried out repeated hunger strikes since their arrests, seeking to draw attention to poor prison conditions and torture. They are part of the group of activists and human rights defenders known as the Bahrain 13, who were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the peaceful protests in 2011.

After 32 day Al-Khawaja ended his hunger strike on 21 May. “Due to the number of hunger strikes he's been on, each strike becomes more dangerous than the last,” said his daughter Maryam Al-Khawaja, GCHR Co-Director, last week.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja outlined to reasons for his recent hunger strike in an open letter published by GCHR. “Building 10 in Jaw prison has become known as the torture building, and I have personally been hearing the screams of the victims. The type of torture I have heard in the last few months is the worst since 2011, and the violations that have occurred over the past period are indescribable. The prison administration has systematically attempted to prevent this information from getting out by harassing us during phone calls and family visits.” For the full letter, see http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1000

On 19 May, Dr. Al-Singace reached the 60th day of his hunger strike. He called his family and told them “he will not stop it until the conditions of  prisoners of conscience are improved.” He remains in Al-Qala’a hospital, where he has been kept since 1 April due to the deterioration of his health since he began his hunger strike on 21 March 2015. Al-Singace suffers from lower back and neck disc problems. Authorities have denied him access to proper hygiene.

Take action and sign a petition posted online by PEN International for Dr. Al-Singace athttp://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/bahrain-serious-concern-for-the-health-of-academic-activist-and-blogger-dr-abduljalil-al-singace/. You can also send a letter to Dr. Al-Singace in prison.

Other human rights defenders and activists continue to be in and out of court in Bahrain. On 18 May 2015, the 10th Lower Criminal Court sentenced activist Nader Abdulemam to fines of 1500 Bahraini dinars (about USD$4,000) for his work with Ensaf (Fairness) Association Against Discrimination. He was charged with establishing an illegal association, and broadcasting and dissemination of the association’s statements, pursuant to article 89 of the Bahrain penal code. On 15 January 2015, he was released after spending more than four months in detention due to tweets he published on his twitter account.

In a piece of good news for a change, human rights defender Hussain Jawad Parweez, President of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR), was freed on bail on 19 May. However, he is still facing charges. He was in court on 12 May on allegations of “collecting money from [within] Bahrain and abroad to aid and abet saboteurs”, a charge which he denies. He also faces charges of allegedly insulting the King of Bahrain and “inciting hatred against the regime” following a speech he gave in Manama about human rights. He was allegedly tortured after being detained in the notorious Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) following his arrest on 16 February 2015. He is due back in court on 26 May.

The GCHR expresses its concern about the ongoing judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain and calls on the authorities to:

  • Release Nabeel Rajab, and drop the charges related to his freedom of expression;
  • Provide immediate medical attention and proper care to Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace;
  • Provide information on the health and wellbeing of Naji Fateel, and provide him with the medical attention he requires;
  • Drop the ongoing cases against Hussain Jawad, Nader Abdulemam and other human rights defenders facing judicial harassment for their human rights work;
  • Investigate allegations of poor conditions and the torture of inmates in Jaw prison; and
  • Release all human rights defenders immediately and ensure their protection from any harassment, torture, and persecution in relation to their peaceful human rights activities.