Bahrain: Bahrain: Mohammed Al-Maskati acquitted but government continues to systematically target and arrest human rights defenders

04.01.16

Update: On 4 February, Bahrain's Ninth Minor Criminal Court postponed the trial of human rights defender Dr Saeed Al-Samahiji until 17 February 2016.

While welcoming the acquittal of a prominent human rights defender in Bahrain today, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) notes that the Bahraini government continued its persecution of human rights defenders into 2016, not sparing people from arrest on New Year’s Eve. Human rights defenders have been charged for exercising their right to freedom of expression on twitter, for exercising their right to freedom of assembly and following their participation at the United Nations.

On 07 January 2016, outspoken human rights defender Mohammed Al-Maskati, the founder and former president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), was acquitted by the Court of Appeals. The Court today overturned a six-month sentence handed down by the Lower Criminal Court in Bahrain on 31 December 2014 on charges of allegedly “rioting and participating in an illegal gathering.” Al-Maskati, a digital security consultant at Front Line Defenders, remained free on bail of 100 BHD until the appeals process was completed, and is currently out of the country.

A few weeks before his arrest in October 2012, Al-Maskati had participated in side events at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. GCHR notes that those who engage with the UN are often punished, in an apparent effort to stop them from carrying out their legitimate human rights work.

Also this week, human rights defender Maytham Al-Salman, Head of the Religious Freedom Unit of the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, was called to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) at 3:00PM on 05 January 2016, and was summoned to appear before the public prosecution on 06 January He was questioned about a speech he gave at a meeting on 27 December regarding the continuing detention of Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman. (See http://youtu.be/PWNxnEL0sy4). He was then released. On 31 December 2015, Al-Salman was first detained without charge at the CID until around 9:00 PM.

Al-Salman is a prominent human rights defender and peace activist who is well known for his engagement with various international mechanisms including the UN. He is director of Bahrain Inter-Faith and is also working with Columbia Global Freedom of Expression. On 08 August 2015, Al-Salman was arrested upon his arrival at Bahrain airport upon his return from a meeting on hate speech organised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He was interrogated at the Cyber Crimes Unit of the CID in relation to two charges of allegedly "provoking hatred against the state" and "spreading false news." He was released that same day. See: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1063

The authorities have also continued in 2016 the practise of arresting people for peacefully expressing themselves on twitter. On 04 January 2016, human rights defender Dr. Saeed Al-Samahiji was arrested at home and detained for one week in El-Hod El-Gaf prison. He is facing He is reportedly charged with “insulting a neighbouring country for the purpose of threatening national security,” and “inciting illegal demonstrations and assemblies." The arrest is in connection with tweets condemning the execution of 47 prisoners in Saudi Arabia, including Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, a prominent cleric.

On 01 July 2014, Dr. Al-Samahiji was arrested from his home to serve a one-year prison sentence for “insulting the King” which was upheld on appeal two months earlier. The alleged insult had taken place at a funeral of a young protester on 18 September 2013, who died as a result of excessive use of force by Bahraini authorities. Dr. Al-Samahiji, an ophthalmologist, had previously served a one-year prison sentence after he was accused of “inciting and participating in illegal gathering” during a peaceful demonstration in 2011. He was among 20 medics who were sentenced to imprisonment between five and 15 years by a special military court on 29 September 2011. After appealing to the Court of Appeals on 14 June 2012, Al-Samahiji’s sentence was reduced from ten years to one year. See: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/685

GCHR strongly condemns the ongoing judicial harassment of human rights defenders and calls on the authorities to end the pattern of charging and arresting human rights defenders in violation of their right to freedom of expression and assembly.

In particular, GCHR calls on the Bahrain authorities to:

  1. Immediately free Dr. Saeed Al-Samahiji and end the practise of charging people for expressing their opinions on twitter;
  2. Stop the judicial harassment of Maytham Al-Salman and allow human rights defenders who express themselves peacefully without fear of arrest;
  3. End reprisals against human rights defenders who participate in the UN system.

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nation 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 to to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (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 (1 and 2): (1) Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (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.