General: GCHR releases annual report documenting human rights defenders and protesters reclaiming civic space in 2019


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is releasing its eighth annual report today, entitled: “Reclaiming civic space: Documenting the actions of fearless human rights defenders and citizens in 2019”. The report features a summary and case updates of 321 human rights defenders across the Gulf and neighbouring countries as well as the legal and political developments relevant to human rights in these countries. Additionally, the report includes a summary of GCHR research, advocacy and capacity-building activities with its regional and international partners. 

In this report, GCHR recognises that persistent, aggressive prosecution of human rights defenders, journalists and protesters in 2019 has been more blunt than previous years. Human rights defenders and journalists were openly targeted, assassinated or were victims of assassination attempts, enforced disappearances and torture in detention. All this was done in public spaces to intimidate and deter people in the Gulf and neighbouring counties from expressing themselves freely, but they have been fearless and faced these threats to continue calling for human rights to be respected.

“With continued activism of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society, GCHR celebrates all those who push back against the region’s governments when they disrespect human rights and freedoms,” says Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of GCHR.

The main focus of the report is to document the actions of fearless human rights defenders, journalists, and citizens who in 2019 reclaimed civic space. Despite a sometimes iron-fisted approach to dissidence in the Gulf and neighbouring countries, human rights defenders stood their ground and raised concerns about expanding violations of human rights by authorities. In constrained civic spaces, human rights defenders highlight violations of freedoms of expression, speech, assembly, and press, and the rights of refugees and migrant workers. Citizens physically occupied public spaces for sit-ins and demonstrations in Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, as they called for change.

International events in the region provide an opportunity to activate human rights compliance mechanisms. Appeals have been made to ensure human rights compliance during the Formula One in Bahrain and to FIFA in preparation for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Other international and diplomatic efforts focused on freeing human rights defenders, who are unjustly imprisoned in poor conditions and at risk of torture, including women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and Iran, GCHR’s Founding Directors Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain, and GCHR’s Advisory Board member Ahmed Mansoor in the United Arab Emirates.

The 2019 annual report would normally have been released during the United Nations Human Rights Council, but all GCHR’s activities were postponed due to COVID-19. The report is released in times of extreme uncertainty as the world experiences a pandemic which leaves human rights defenders in our region more at risk now that communications and travel are cut off. Human rights defenders, activists, and other citizens already face great risks to their health while imprisoned on lengthy sentences, simply for exercising their freedom of expression online, or for joining peaceful protests. Keeping them in crowded and unhealthy conditions in prison without proper access to medical care is an added risk to their lives.

To download the report, click HERE.

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The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is an independent, non-profit and non-governmental organisation that provides support and protection to human rights defenders in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries in order to promote human rights, including but not limited to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. GCHR is based in Lebanon and documents the environment for human rights defenders in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries, specifically Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.