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Bahrain: Relentless persecution, including torture and sentencing, of human rights defenders continues unabated

2017-05-31

Bahrain’s authorities continue their relentless persecution of human rights defenders, including doctors, bloggers and journalists, interrogating and sentencing them day after day, in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

On 30 May 2017, the case of well-known human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) was brought to court on charges related to his free expression. The case, related to television interviews he gave in 2015 in which he said journalists and NGOs were banned from Bahrain, was used as a pretext to keep him in detention after a judge ordered him freed on bail in another case in December 2016. The case was postponed to 12 June 2017 in order to allow Rajab to review the specified interviews with his lawyer. Rajab is suffering from medical issues which require hospitalisation. See: http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1525

Meanwhile, journalists and bloggers continue to be persecuted and prevented from working in Bahrain. On 25 May, the second lower criminal court convicted journalist Nazeeha Saeed for working without a license and fined her 1,000 Bahraini dinars (Approx USD$2650). On 17 July 2016, Saeed, the Bahrain correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, 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. The appeals court will review the sentence on 18 July.

After being summoned by the National Security Agency (NSA) in Muharraq, blogger Hassan Al-Sharqi declared in his last tweet (https://twitter.com/Hassan_Alsharqi) on 28 May that he will stop tweeting. Reports conformed that he was insulted, beaten and ordered by a security officer to stop his online activities.

Human rights defenders have also been summoned and reportedly tortured during interrogation. On 27 May 2017, at 4pm, human rights activist Ebtisam Al-Saegh, the monitoring and documentation officer of the Salam Organization (Peace for Democracy and Human Rights), was summoned by the NSA to Muharraq police station. Seven hours later, she was released but was immediately taken to hospital in a very bad psychological state after suffering a “severe nervous breakdown.”

According to Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdah, Vice-President of Salam and a Board member of BCHR, Al-Saegh was subjected to “torture and severe beatings on the head. She was also subjected to psychological torture through a wave of insults and “threats to target her family members if the human rights work was not stopped,” in order to force her to publish on her Twitter account a declaration that she would cease her human rights work and resign from Salam. Al-Muhafdah reports that Al-Saegh was forced to repeat the “royal anthem” and when they discovered that she was not saying it properly, they beat her severely, with insults.

During the interrogation, she was asked about the work of activists inside and outside Bahrain, and about human rights work in Geneva during the sessions of the UN Human Rights Council.

Al-Saegh became a target after pro-government newspaper “Al-Ayam” printed a story on its front page on 12 May, in which it accused Al-Saegh of fabricating reports of human rights violations. Then on 15 May, someone burnt her car.

On 23 May 2017, activist Adel Al-Marzook, member of the Human Rights Observatory of the Al-Wehdawi Society, was also summoned at 8 pm by the NSA in Muharraq. After being released on 24 May 2017, he tweeted that he resigns from his position as a human rights observer in the Al-Wehdawi Society and he stops all his human rights activities. Reports confirmed that he was ill-treated during detention and forced to remain standing for 18 hours.

On 28 May 2017, human rights defender and head of the Monitoring and Documentation Team at the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), Abduljalil Yousef, was summoned to the security compound in Muharraq, headquarters of the National Security Service. He was interrogated about his human rights activities with BHRS and about his private life. He was interrogated for four hours and after his release he reported that he was subjected to insults and psychological torture and was threatened that if he does not leave his work in the field of human rights, he will be exposed and his family will be targeted.

Other human rights defenders have been also been jailed. On 24 May, the third grand criminal court, headed by Judge Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, amended the sentence of Dr. Taha Al-Derazi from six months to three months in detention. Dr. Al-Derazi was taken into custody to begin carrying out the sentence. On 15 August 2016, Dr. Al-Derazi was charged with “illegal gathering”, following his arrest and interrogation on 14 August. He was held for nine days. The charges relate to his peaceful assembly during a gathering on 19 July 2016 in the village of Duraz, which has been blockaded by police since June after large-scale protests began following the revocation of the citizenship of Bahrain’s religious leader Sheikh Isa Qasim. It’s illegal to gather with more than five people in Bahrain.

The previous week, on 23 May, authorities violently cracked down on peaceful protests in Duraz killing five people including human rights defender Mohammed Kadhem Mohsen, Deputy President of a local chapter of Friends of the Environment. Another protester who was killed is Mohammed Hamadan, the older brother of 18-year-old Mustafa Hamadan, who died in March after he was shot in the head in January while peacefully protesting in Duraz. At least 286 were arrested in Duraz on 23 May 2017, following a violent crackdown and police raids on the home of a prominent cleric and surrounding homes. See: http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1602

GCHR calls on the government of Bahrain to: 

  1. Immediately and unconditionally free Dr. Taha Al-Derazi and Nabeel Rajab;
  2. Overturn the sentences against Nazeeha Saeed and Dr. Taha Al-Derazi;
  3. Properly investigate those responsible for the deaths of Mohammed Kadhem Mohsen, Mohammed Hamadan, Mustafa Hamadan and other protestors exercising their right to freedom of assembly;
  4. Ensure that people held in custody are not tortured or abused, and investigate the treatment of Ebtisam Al-Saegh in custody;
  5. End all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders, activists and journalists in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, and allow them to freely carry out their work.

The GCHR 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, recognizes 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 to Article 5 (b) which states that: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups;” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “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.