Bahrain: Campaign to free prisoners launched ten years after Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry


Ahead of Bahrain's Independence Day on 16 December 2021, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and over a dozen human rights groups are working together on a public campaign and related advocacy for the release of prisoners of conscience. The 'Ten Years On' campaign will highlight the 10th anniversary of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, on 23 November 2021, with a united call to #FreeBahrainiPrisoners. The campaign launches at a time when two of Bahrain's most prominent human rights defenders, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, had to resort to hunger strikes in Jaw prison, protesting the authorities' arbitrary actions. 

This month, 23 November 2021 marks ten years since the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report was published. The Commission was established by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to determine whether the events of February and March 2011 involved violations of international human rights laws and norms. The report was informed by 9,000 testimonies and documented 46 deaths, 559 allegations of torture and more than 4,000 cases of employees being dismissed for participating in protests. 

Among other things, the report confirmed the Bahraini government's use of systematic torture and other forms of physical and psychological abuse on detainees and other human rights violations, including unfair trials, dismissal of judicial due process procedures and arbitrary detention of peaceful political activists.

Ten years on, most of the 26 recommendations made to the Bahraini government are yet to be implemented.

Zaynab Al-Khawaja, GCHR’s Journalists Protection Coordinator, participated in helping the BICI team do their research in 2011. Since then she has been exiled from Bahrain after her release from prison in May 2016. She said, "As activists on the ground who were involved with the work of the BICI, we had hoped that if the Commission reported their findings accurately, and if the horrendous crimes committed came to light in their report that it could be followed by some sort of righting a wrong, and reconciliation for those who had been wronged. Instead, ten years later, those same torture survivors whose shocking descriptions are quoted in the report, remain in prison, and their torturers are free."

In November 2011, GCHR’s Executive Director Khalid Ibrahim attended the launch of the BICI report during a mission to Bahrain by six NGOs. The mission report, "Justice Denied in Bahrain: Freedom of Expression and Assembly Curtailed", made 11 recommendations including calls to end the harassment, imprisonment and prosecution of Bahraini citizens for what essentially amounts to persecution of free expression and legitimate human rights work. The report by the six NGOs also insists on accountability for those responsible for violating international human rights norms, in particular those responsible for torture and killing. Ibrahim reiterated that, "The government of Bahrain must implement all the recommendations of the BICI report, which has been sitting for many years on shelves. The first step in real reform begins with the release of all detained human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience."

GCHR is extremely concerned about the lengthy prison sentences and ill-treatment facing prisoners, many of whom resort to repeated hunger strikes to protest ill-treatment. They include two human rights defenders named in the BICI report.

Dr. Al-Singace, an academic and blogger, has been on a liquids-only hunger strike since 08 July 2021 to protest the confiscation of a book he has written on Bahraini dialects and culture. His health is suffering greatly but he remains strong-willed, according to his family. The BICI report, in which he is known as Case. No.7, documented his torture and abuse, including that "A man placed a pistol in his mouth and said, ‘I wish I could empty it in your head.’ He was then taken to Al Qurain Prison and beaten along the way. He was placed in solitary confinement.... They threatened him with rape and made sexually explicit comments about his wife and his daughter. They took his wooden crutches away and made him stand on one leg for prolonged periods. They kicked him in his good leg until he fell down."

On 16 November 2021, Al-Khawaja, GCHR’s co-founder, started a hunger strike after he was informed that he would not be allowed to make any calls. Two days later, he called his family to say that after his blood sugar level dropped to a dangerously low level, the authorities reinstated his call privileges, so he ended his hunger strike. The BICI report, in which Al-Khawaja is known as Case. No. 8, documented his torture and abuse, including: "Immediately after the arrest, the detainee received a hard blow to the side of his face, which broke his jaw and knocked him to the ground. He was taken to the MoI clinic and then the BDF Hospital where he had major jaw surgery for four broken bones in his face.… Security personnel in the hospital threatened him with sexual abuse and execution. They also made sexual threats against his wife and daughter."

Since the release of the BICI report ten years ago, almost every human rights defender in Bahrain has been arrested, abused, had their citizenship rescinded, exiled or silenced. Their families have suffered too. There has been no justice for the murder and torture committed during Bahrain’s popular movement in 2011, including of two murdered journalists - Abdulkarim Fakhrawi and Zakariya Al-Asheri - named in the BICI report. Freedom of expression no longer exists in the country. 

Join the campaign!

Follow #FreeBahrainiPrisoners on twitter and watch for campaign information and videos on twitter at @GulfCentre4HR and Instagram

Watch the videos: 

●               Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja's story read by his daughter Zaynab Al-Khawaja at the Alternative Human Rights Expo in October 2021.

●               Bahrain Campaign videos

Campaign Partner Organisations:

●               Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

●               Amnesty International

●               Amnesty Westminster Bayswater

●               Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

●               Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD)

●               Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

●               CIVICUS

●               European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights

●               Front Line Defenders

●               Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

●               Innovation for Change Middle East and North Africa

●               International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

●               Kawaakibi Foundation

●               Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)