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Written by HRDs and Journalists
Bahrain: Rights organisations alarmed over threats to civil society after trip to UN
International human rights organisations who participated in the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bahrain in Geneva in May Geneva are alarmed at threats made against Bahraini civil society members who were present. During the UPR, Bahrain's human rights track record came under fire from numerous governments, prompting the threat of reprisals against those who had been in Geneva. Some of the civil society members are among those facing lengthy prison sentences for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Bahraini human rights defenders, activists, journalists, doctors and lawyers who participated in UPR side events about Bahrain with international organisations, were attacked by pro-government media in Bahrain, who referred to those who went to Geneva as “traitors” and called for action against them.
During the UPR process, Minister of State for Human Rights Salah Bin Ali Mohamed Abdulrahman, who led the official government delegation, claimed that there are no political prisoners in Bahrain and all prisoners held in the country are being held for criminal activities. "Yet on that very day, our friend Nabeel Rajab was sitting in prison in Bahrain on various free expression-related charges, unable to travel to Geneva to participate in our event," said Ghias Al-Jundi of PEN International, one of the organisers of a side event on 21 May. After Rajab was arrested in May, over 100 groups signed an appeal to free all detained human rights activists in Bahrain.
After having been released from prison on bail on 28 May, Rajab was again detained on 6 June and ordered to be held for a week, pending investigation. “The judicial harassment against Nabeel Rajab shows that the crackdown against those who dare to denounce the human rights crisis in Bahrain is not over,” said Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), as well as FIDH Deputy Secretary General.
On 21 May, Maryam Al-Khawaja of BCHR and GCHR told around 100 people in attendance at the side event that there were in fact more than 700 political prisoners in Bahrain, including Rajab and her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder of both BCHR and GCHR. Al-Khawaja said that Rajab "was detained for a tweet and I would have had the same destiny had I been in Bahrain."
Rajab is at risk of being sentenced to prison for a number of charges, including "participation in an illegal gathering and calling for a march without prior notification" and "insulting an official authority over twitter."
At the event in Geneva, civil society members discussed the topic "In spite of the threats, Bahraini human rights defenders, journalists, netizens and doctors speak out against violations". The event was co-organised by BCHR, GCHR, FIDH and PEN, as well as the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti Violence Organization (BRAVO), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Diplomats from Denmark, Norway, France, Holland, Greece and Finland attended the event.
Among those threatened for participating in events in Geneva was Dr. Nada Dhaif, Chair of Bravo, who is also one of the doctors facing 15 years in prison for treating demonstrators and for speaking out about the deaths and injuries sustained by demonstrators during the protests in 2011. Dr Dhaif said she "was tortured for treating a wounded protester." Her presentation is online here.
"Dr. Dhaif, who was the only doctor not working at Salmaniya hospital, has been clearly targeted for doing an interview with BBC about the injuries and this case is about punishing those who dared to speak out," said Maryam Al-Khawaja. The verdict in the appeal is due on 14 June.
At the event in Geneva, journalist Lamees Dhaif talked about the risks of working as a journalist. She said, "Many journalists have been directly targeted for either reporting or approaching protesters to interview. Some journalists were targeted, tortured or sacked from their jobs for taking part in demonstrations."
“Contrary to what the Minister of State for Human Rights said, many foreign journalists have been denied access to Bahrain since the start of the street protests, especially during the Formula One Grand Prix in April,” Soazig Dollet of RSF said. “Others have been the target of physical attacks, arrest and deportation.”
Richard Sollom of PHR pointed out that teargas has been used against demonstrators both in the streets and in their homes, including well-documented attacks on the homes of Rajab. "PHR has documented an unprecedented use of teargas being fired directly into homes," said Sollom, who returned from an investigation in Bahrain in April.
During the UPR Working Group Session for the adoption of the report on Bahrain on 25 May 2012, UN Human Rights Council President Laura Dupuy Lasserre expressed concern about “a media campaign which is taking place in [Bahrain], identifying and threatening representatives of civil society who came to Geneva to participate in this review.” She emphasised that governments have the obligation to protect the rights of their people and called for Bahrain's government to commit to that.
In the following days, the Bahraini Minister of Interior subsequently said “legal procedures” would take place against those who had travelled to Geneva, based on the statements they made about human rights violations by the government.
The threats continue. On 3 June, one of the participants at the UPR in Geneva, lawyer Mohamed Al Tajer, was subjected to a smear campaign. A YouTube video was posted in Bahraini discussion forums showing Al Tajer and his wife in a compromising position. Even when the video was taken down, Bahrain forums.com published images. When Al Tajer was in jail last year, he was threatened by his interrogators that they would broadcast a film showing him with his wife.
The newspaper financed by the royal court "Al Watan" continues its attacks, branding the activists as "traitors", and Bahraini rights groups say that all pro-government newspapers have been participating in the attack against the UN Human Rights Council President.
BCHR, GCHR, Bravo and the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) expressed concern about the threats to Al Tajer and others who travelled to Geneva in May.
Others at risk for their participation in Geneva are Jalila Al Salman, Sayed Hadi Al Musawi, Faisal Hayat, Dr. Taha Al Derazi, Abdulnabi Alekri, Hassan Al Marzooq, Isa Al Ghayeb, Alaa Shehabi and Dr. Monther Alkhoor.