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Bahrain: Human rights defenders in exile threatened, along with their families, while ongoing court cases continue against other defenders

2017-03-11

While attention is focused on Bahrain’s human rights record at the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) this month, Bahraini human rights defenders continue to suffer from imprisonment and threats. Well-known human rights defenders in exile have received threats on social media against them and their families, and two family members of one of the defenders have been taken into custody this month.

Since 02 March 2017, authorities have detained in Bahrain the brother-in-law and mother-in-law of Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD). Al-Wadaei is exiled in the United Kingdom after fleeing torture in Bahrain, and had his citizenship revoked in February 2015 by the Bahraini authorities as punishment for his ongoing human rights activism.

During a house raid on 02 March in the early morning, masked men and police officers detained Al-Wadaei’s 18-year-old brother-in-law, Nazar Sayed Namaa Al-Wadaei, in Jid Ali. He was taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), and then on 05 March plainclothes police took his mother, Hajar Mansoor Hasan, to the CID, where she was subsequently ordered detained for 30 days. Prior to her arrest, she said her son had told her that he had been tortured.

Previously, on 27 October 2016, Al-Wadaei’s wife Duaa Al-Wadaei, was detained at Bahrain’s airport and prevented from travelling. She was threatened over her husband’s advocacy, at a time when Al-Wadaei was protesting the King of Bahrain’s visit to the UK.

Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdah, Vice-President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) who is in exile in Germany, reported that he has received threats against his family in Bahrain if he does not remain silent on human rights abuses. The threats appear to be linked to government supporters, and were made on Instagram on 14 February and then on Whatsapp on 07 March. He was told explicitly to “stop tweeting” or his brothers would be arrested.

Nabeel Rajab, Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and President of BCHR, remains in prison, denied bail. On 07 March 2017, Rajab’s trial related to media interviews dating back to 2015 and January 2016 with television networks which support the Bahraini opposition was again postponed until 16 April. He is facing three years in prison on charges of fabricating news and inciting rumours. He is also due in court on 22 March in another case related to tweets about the war in Yemen and torture in Jaw prison, for which he faces 15 years in prison.

On 28 February, the second hearing was held in the case of journalist Nazeeha Saeed, the Bahrain correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya. On 17 July 2016, she was summoned for interrogation and was charged with unlawfully working for the international media under Article 88 of Law 47/2002. Saeed had applied for renewal of her license but her application was rejected without any basis. She faces a fine of up to 1000 Bahraini Dinars (USD$2650) if convicted. Her lawyer Hameed Al-Mulla attended the session on 28 February and presented his pleading, after which the judge decided to postpone the case to 25 May 2017 for the verdict.

GCHR welcomes the news that, on 10 March 2017, pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ali Al-Ekri was released from prison, six years after he was arrested on 17 March 2011 at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Bahrain. He was among dozens of medics arrested for treating injured protestors following the peaceful demonstrations calling for reform that began in February 2011. He gave interviews to international media about the injuries of protestors, making himself a target. Following a confession induced by torture, a military court sentenced him in September 2011 to 15 years in jail for allegedly possessing weapons, and his sentence was later reduced on appeal to five years.

However, this is the only good news coming out of Bahrain. In February, Bahrain’s lower house approved an amendment allowing military courts to try civilians. GCHR is among NGOs fear that this law will allow military courts to try peaceful protestors and other human rights defenders and activists.

The situation in Bahrain was addressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in his report to the UN HRC on 08 March 2017. The High Commissioner expressed grave concern about increasing levels of human rights violations in Bahrain and specifically the levels of repression against civil society and human rights defenders. He also urged Bahrain to extend invitations to visit Bahrain to the Special Procedures and to his own office.

GCHR will be launching a report on torture and abuse in Bahrain on 22 March during a side event at the UNHRC in Geneva.

Bahrain is up for review during the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) this year. In a joint submission to the UPR’s 27th session working group, GCHR, BCHR and CIVICUS highlighted Bahrain’s targeting of human rights defenders, journalists, and others. The joint submission called attention to the extreme restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly in Bahrain and the failure of the authorities to implement recommendations related to freedom of expression that Bahrain had accepted in the last UPR cycles. See: http://www.gc4hr.org/report/view/61

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights urges the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Nazeeha Saeed and promote and protect freedom of the press;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Nabeel Rajab and free him from prison;
  3. Release the family members of Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei from prison in Bahrain and put an end to threats against the families of Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei and Said Yousif Al-Muhafdah; and
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that journalists, media workers and all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention Article 6 (c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters“, and to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present declaration.