Bahrain: Bahrain- Authorities crackdown - blocking peaceful protests and targeting human rights defenders

16.08.13

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses serious concern at the aggressive crackdown against human rights defenders in recent weeks.

On 14 August 2013, the ´tamarrod´ or rebellion movement organised peaceful protests around the country, with many shops and businesses closing for the day. These planned protests, were met with an aggressive crackdown by the authorities and the arrest of human rights defenders. The police closed off a number of streets with razor wire and police vehicles and used tear gas to disperse those who gathered on the streets. Substantial police forces camped outside several embassies where protests were anticipated.  According to information received from reliable sources at least 13 arrests were made over the course of the day. These arrests follow the dozens of arrests made by security forces during home raids over the past number days, without warrants. Many of those arrested have reported that they were severely beaten during the arrests.

This is the latest in a series of events targeting Bahraini human rights defenders. On 9 August 2013, human rights defender, Maryam Al-Khawaja was not allowed to travel to Bahrain as the Bahraini authorities have banned her from entering the country. On 31 July 2013, on line human rights activist Mohamed Hassan was arrested and held in incommunciado detention for a week. His lawyer Abdul Aziz Moussa, was finally permitted access to his client but was subsequently himself arrested when he publicly reported that there was marks on his clients arms from having been tortured while in detention.

Detained human rights defenders are also being increasingly targeted.  It is reported that the health of detained human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja is at risk. She is currently being detained in Isa Town following an unfair trial on charges related directly to her peaceful human rights activities. She is being detained with prisoners who have hepatitis A and B despite the fact that she is not vaccinated against either of these highly contagious infections. During a recent visit her family noticed that she looked pale and had lost weight and there are serious concerns that her health is at risk. Her complaints to the prison administration have been ignored.

Furthermore the GCHR has received information that the 13 prominent human rights defenders and political leaders, known as the Bahrain 13, many of whom are serving life sentences as a result of their human rights activities, have been moved to a smaller and more cramped area in Jaw Prison.  They have been subjected to severe torture, ill-treatment, denial of visits and medical care since their arrest in 2011.

The GCHR expresses serious concern at the clampdown and targeting of human rights defenders in Bahrain. Further concern is expressed at the blocking of the peaceful protests which constitutes a gross violation of the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

The GCHR and the BCHR call on the US administration as well as other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU and leading human rights organizations to put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to: 

1. Guarantee the legal rights and due process of the prisoners of conscious and victims of tortures;

2. Immediately and unconditionally release Mohamed Hassan, Zainab Al-Khawaja and all human rights defenders detained as a result of their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities including;

3. Ensure that  Zainab Al-Khawaja is granted immediate access to the medical treatment and care which she requires;

4. Ensure that peaceful and legitimate protests are allowed to take place without any undue interference by the authorities;

5. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully 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, 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 Article 5 (a) 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: (a) To meet or assemble peacefully;” Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (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 12.2, 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”.