Bahrain: Bahrain releases a leading human rights defender and upheld 15 years sentence against another
The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) express grave concern on the ongoing detention and judicial harassment against human rights defender Naji Fateel.
We also welcome the release of leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and call on authorities in Bahrain to end its targeting of human rights defenders in the country.
On 29 May 2014, the Court of Appeal headed by judge Isa Al-Kaabi upheld a 15years imprisonment sentence against human rights defender and board member of Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) Naji Fateel, on charges of “establishing a terrorist group (February 14 collation) for the purpose of disturbing public security, disabling constitution and law, preventing public institution and authorities from performing their duties, attacking public and personal rights, and harming national unity.” The charges were directed against the defender under the internationally condemned Terrorism Law, after a trial that contradicted the universal and fundamental principles of fair trial standards and due process. The case involved another 49 citizens.
In November 2013, when the appeal trial started, the authorities of Bahrain denied entry to a lawyer who was mandated by a coalition of NGOs to observe the appeal trial.
In February 2014, one of the lawyers in the case said that 90% of their questions to the prosecution witnesses were rejected by the judge, and a policeman forcefully silenced a lawyer while he was giving his appeal. Another lawyer was thrown out of the court room although he represented five of the defendants in the case.
No evidence against Fateel was provided during the trial on the charges. The sentence was solely based on coerced confessions taken under torture and without thoroughly, and impartially investigating the allegations of torture which the defender was subjected to during his detention. Among the allegations that he has received electrical shocks to his genitals, left foot, and back, and been subjected to simulated drowning, severe beatings, threats to publish photographs of his wife (taken from her camera which was confiscated when security forces raided the family home), verbal abuse using uncivilized words, hanging by his hands from the ceiling, sexual harassment and threats to rape him, standing for long hours, in addition to sleep deprivation. During a hearing at the First Instance Court, Fateel removed his shirt and showed the torture marks on his back; however, it was totally ignored by the court.
Naji Fateel remains in detention since 2 May 2013. On 29 September 2013, when the First Instance Court sentenced him to 15 years in prison, he was moved to the Central prison “Jaw” where reports continue to emerge of overcrowded cells and dire conditions. According to information received, Fateel is placed to sleep in the corridor for lack of space inside the prison.
The GCHR and BCHR believe that the arbitrary arrest of human rights defender Naji Fateel has taken place solely due his peaceful and legitimate activities in the defense of human rights.
On 24 May 2014, prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, President of BCHR and Executive Director of GCHR, has been released from prison after serving the full two years sentence. He declared on his release that "he will continue to work stronger than before with a full determination to defend, the civil and human rights for all the citizens of Bahrain and the rest of the countries in the region." He will participate in the coming 26th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva to talk about his painful experience in prison and the suffering of the detained human rights defenders in the region."
Therefore, the GCHR and the BCHR urge the US administration and other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU and the leading human rights organizations to:
1- Call for the immediate release of human rights activists Naji Fateel as well as all other detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Bahrain;
2- Increase the pressure on the Government of Bahrain to stop the on-going daily human rights violations and the escalating attacks against human rights defenders;
3- Put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to guarantee in all circumstances that all 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;
4. Immediately stop all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders in Bahrain.