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    Two prominent Bahraini human rights activists face prison sentences at trials this week for activities that Amnesty International and other groups call the peaceful expression of their rights.

    Three years ago during pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab argued with policemen, while Zeinab al-Khawaja, at the back of the crowd, texted and posted on social media.

    This week they are both on trial. Al-Khawaja is charged with tearing a picture of Bahrain’s king, which she did for a second time, in a courtroom, while on trial for doing it once before. Her father is in prison for his role in the 2011 protests.

    Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, faces up to three years in jail for two tweets he sent that the government says insulted public institutions. He only got out of jail in May, serving two years on a similar charge, and was rearrested just after returning from a speaking tour in Europe.

    Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, Rajab’s deputy, spoke via Skype from exile in Germany, and said, “It’s not about the tweet. We believe it’s a reprisal for his peaceful activities. No human rights activists right now in Bahrain can speak out about what’s happening in Bahrain.”

    Amnesty International’s Said Haddadi calls Rajab and al-Khawaja “prisoners of conscience.”

    “From an international law perspective, there is no basis for the Bahraini authorities to detain Nabeel or any other person who is critical of their policies, who are peacefully expressing their opinion,” said Haddadi.

    Bahrain’s embassy in London did not respond to an interview request, but the government says it has implemented a series of reforms since 2011. Amnesty International says the impact has been very limited.

    “We have a double-sided picture, one with some positive, though limited, legal and institutional reform, but at the level of the openness of the authorities and their acceptance of criticism is at a very low position at the moment,” said Haddadi.

    Activist AlMuhafdha said in practical terms, the situation is “worse than ever.”

    “What’s happening on the ground is no reform at all. The number of people being arrested is more," said AlMuhafdha. "The number of people being killed is more. There is no freedom at all. There was no reform at all."

    Efforts to pressure the Bahraini government are complicated by its close relations with western countries, its participation in the anti-Islamic State coalition, and its role as host of a U.S. naval base.

    Still, the United States has criticized the prosecution of Rajab, and has called for fair treatment of al-Khawaja.


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    (Beirut) – Bahrain authorities should drop all criminal charges against two prominent human rights activists, and immediately release them, Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Center for Human Rights said today. The charges clearly violate their right to free expression. Bahrain should also immediately revoke all laws that violate freedom of speech, including those that criminalize insulting or defaming state institutions or the monarch.

    Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders, is due in court on October 29, 2014, to face charges that he offended national institutions, and a possible three-year jail sentence. Zainab Al-Khawaja, another leading human rights campaigner, could receive an even heavier sentence of up to seven years when she stands trial on October 30 on charges that she insulted the king of Bahrain. Among Bahrain’s main international Allies, only the United States has called on the Gulf state’s government to drop the charges against Rajab and Al-Khawaja and release them.

    “These two courageous activists face years in jail for their peaceful criticism of a deeply repressive government, yet only the United States and Norway have made explicit calls for their release,” said Joe Stork deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “A lot of influential governments that vociferously champion free speech elsewhere seem to have become shamefully coy where rights violations in Bahrain are concerned.”

    Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and a member of the Human Rights Watch advisory committee. On October 19, he appeared in court for the first hearing of his trial on charges that comments he made on social media violated article 216 of Bahrain’s penal code.

    Rajab criticized the government for using counterterrorism laws to prosecute human rights defenders and accused Bahraini security forces of fostering violent beliefs similar to those of the Islamic State, noting that a former Interior Ministry employee had joined the extremist Islamist group. In court, Rajab’s lawyer submitted evidence to support his claims, including a YouTube clip showing Mohamed Isa Al-Binali, a former security officer for Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, urging other security force members to join the Islamic State.

    Sources who were at the hearing told Human Rights Watch that the prosecutor urged the court to convict Rajab because he had acknowledged making the comments that form the basis of the charge. The prosecutor accused Rajab of lying when he said he did not intend to offend anyone, and also accused him of hating Bahrain, the sources said.

    Bahrain authorities have previously prosecuted Rajab on charges that violated his rights, including to free assembly. In July 2012 a criminal court sentenced him to three years in prison for organizing and participating in three demonstrations between January and March 2012. The authorities presented no evidence that Rajab advocated or engaged in violence. Rajab was released on May 24, 2014, after serving two years in prison.

    Al-Khawaja, who is eight months pregnant, faces six charges, five of which, according to information provided by her lawyer, clearly violate her right to free expression. The other charge arises from her action in ripping up a photo of the king on October 14 during a court hearing at which she faced charges that related to two previous incidents when she tore up photographs of the king. In September 2012, she was sentenced to two months in prison for ripping up a photo of King Hamad. In early February 2013, she was imprisoned on charges that included illegal gathering and insulting police officers. She was released in February 2014.

    On October 3, the UN’s Office of the High Commission for Human Rights called for Rajab’s immediate release. On October 14, Norway became the first country to call for Rajab’s immediate release. Two days later, a US State Department spokesperson made the same demand and on October 20, the US State Department also called for Al-Khawaja’s immediate release.

    France has urged the Bahrain government to respect freedom of expression and called for “clemency” in Rajab’s case but has not explicitly called for dropping the charges. Ireland has expressed its concern. The EU has made no public call for the release of either activist. The UK, a close Ally of Bahrain, has made no unilateral calls for the release of any human rights activists or government critics there since the anti-government protests of 2011.

    In April 2014, Hamad ratified law 1/2014, which amends article 214 of the penal code to provide for a maximum jail term of seven years and a fine of up to 10,000 Bahraini Dinars (US$26,500) for anyone deemed to have offended the king, Bahrain’s flag, or the national emblem. Article 216 of the penal code states that “A person shall be liable for imprisonment or payment of a fine if he offends by any method of expression the National Assembly, or other constitutional institutions, the army, law courts, authorities or government agencies.” Article 54 of the penal code provides for a maximum three-year sentence for these offenses, except where other penalties are specified.

    The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which reviews state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, concluded in relation to article 19, on freedom of expression, that:

    The mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties, albeit public figures may also benefit from the provisions of the Covenant. Moreover, all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.

    The committee also stated that “States parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.” Bahrain has ratified the covenant.

    “The silence of the UK, the EU, and others may result in Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja paying a further heavy cost for their activism,” said Khalid Ibrahim, co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights. “Bahrain and the Gulf region in general are quickly becoming the litmus test when it comes to states’ support for freedom of expression.”


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    30 October 2014 – Today, H.E. Thomas Mayr-Harting, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations, expressed concern over the situation in Bahrain during a statement on the promotion and protection of human rights at the Third Committee meeting of the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) welcome the statement and praise the member states of the European Union, as well as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Ukraine, Iceland, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, for supporting the statement.

    “Pressure from the international community is imperative to ensure the Government of Bahrain ends its campaign of reprisals against human rights defenders,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB’s Executive Director. “We are grateful to the many countries that supported the European Union statement and hope the international community will continue to closely monitor and publically condemn all forms of human rights violations in Bahrian.”

    In the statement delivered to the Third Committee, Mayr-Harting said that “the EU continues to closely monitor the situation in Bahrain and supports the framework set by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry and the UPR recommendations. The EU firmly believes that freedom of expression and assembly are a key prerequisite if Bahrain is to overcome its current challenges.” He urged individuals throughout Bahraini society to peacefully and constructively contribute to dialogue and national reconciliation.

    “The European Union’s statement serves as a reminder that a framework for national reconciliation already exists within the recommendations from the 2011 BICI report and Bahrain’s 2012 UPR,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD. “Unfortunately, the Bahraini government has failed to utilize the recommendations from and support provided by the international community to resolve the situation.”

    The statement was delivered amidst increased reprisals against human rights defenders in Bahrain by the government. Today, the trial of Zainab al-Khawaja was postponed until 4 December, while the government postponed the trial of Nabeel Rajab until 2 November. Al-Khawaja, who is eight months pregnant, could face up to seven years in prison for free expression. Rajab, President of BCHR and Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), is facing up to six years in prison for criminal charges stemming from a single tweet in which both the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense allege that he “denigrated government institutions.”

    “As noted by His Excellency, the situation in Bahrain cannot be resolved without government respect for freedom of expression and assembly,” said Sayed Yousif Almuhafdah, Vice President of BCHR. “We urge the Government of Bahrain to head the calls of the international community to respect basic human rights and implement meaningful and substantive reform.”

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    31 October 2014 – On 28 October 2014, 10 Bahrainis, who had their citizenship revoked on 7 November 2012, were sentenced to deportation and a 100 Bahraini dinar (USD 265) fine. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn the court’s decision and the ongoing targeting of the aforementioned individuals.

    The ten Bahrainis are part of a group of 31 who had their citizenship revoked in 2012. 18 of the individuals targeted already resided outside of Bahrain. Of the 13 remaining, Jalal and Jawad Fairooz were out of the country when the revocation was announced, which forced them into exile. The remaining 11, who resided in Bahrain, were rendered stateless. The Government of Bahrain said the 31 could file an appeal against the revocation, but they were not allowed to do so as they had no legal status as a result of the revocation of their citizenship. Only after mounting international pressure did the government permit the aforementioned individuals to appeal the revocation. In June 2013, the remaining 10 individuals who resided in Bahrain were forced to surrender their passports and identification cards to the government.

    One of the 11 Bahrainis has already been forced into exile by the Bahraini government. On 23 April 2014, Shaikh Hussain al-Najati left Bahrain after the government threatening his family with physical harm if he refused self-deportation. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom condemned the harassment and described it as an act of religiously motivated discrimination.” The BCHR recently published a detailed report on the use of revocation of citizenship by the Bahraini government to target human rights defenders.

    In July of this year, the remaining individuals were forced to sign documents by the Immigration Office legally acknowledging that they were no longer Bahraini citizens, but foreign nationals who must seek a sponsor to remain in the country or face deportation. Then, on 10 August 2014, the Public Prosecution charged them under articles 111 and 64 of the Penal Code and articles 15, 28-1 and 29-2 of the Asylum and Immigration Law, with “being a foreigner in the country and breaking the Immigration and Residency Law (Foreigners Law)”.

    The aforementioned organizations call on the Government of Bahrain to:

    • Immediately halt the deportation of the nine Bahrainis, which is in violation of Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
    • Immediately reinstate the nationality of the 31 whose citizenship was revoked in 2012, and;
    • Accede to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
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    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the government of Bahrain's ongoing attack on freedom of association by issuing an order to suspend the activities of Al-Wefaq, the main opposition society in the country, for three months.

    On 20 July 2014, the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments filed a lawsuit against Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society to suspend its activities for three months accusing the society of "breaking the law and its own statute as well as its failure to amend violations related to its illegal general assemblies and the consequent invalidity of all its decisions." The lawsuit was filed just days after the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski met with Al-Wefaq's members which resulted in his expulsion from Bahrain because of "his interference in its internal affairs." Additionally, Al-Wefaq's General Secretary Ali Salman and his deputy Khalil al-Marzooq were interrogated and charged with “violating the 2005 Law for Political Societies" for meeting with Malinowski.

    On 28 October, the High Administrative Court ordered the suspension of Al-Wefaq's activities for three months which means according to the society's lawyer all the activities of Al-Wefaq will be banned including operating in Bahrain, organizing rallies, holding press conferences and using its offices. This move comes following opposition groups announcement to boycott the upcoming elections. The defense team said in regards to the court’s issuance of the verdict that it was not expected as the case was postponed with the purpose of studying the period of time to suspend the lawsuit, not to issue a ruling. The court didn’t provide the defense team the opportunity to discuss or respond to the reasons of the lawsuit and the verdict was issued before presenting their plea.

    The Minister of Justice announced that the decision will not be implemented until Al-Wefaq holds its general assembly, however, the court's order remains and Al-Wefaq may possibly be suspended.

    The suspension of Alwefaq Society comes as the last incident in series of restrictions on the political associations in Bahrain. The court is currently looking into another case against The National Democratic Work Society (WAAD) to suspend it for three months on the same allegations that were filed against AlWefaq as well as having a general secretary who is in prison, in reference to the prisoner of conscience and political leader Mr Ebrahim Sharif.[1] On April 2013, an appeal court upheld decision to dissolve another political society, the Islamic Action Society (AMAL) for allegedly “grave breaches of the provisions of Bahrain’s constitution and laws”[2].

    The BCHR emphasizes the right of political societies to practice peaceful political work according to Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which state the right of peaceful assembly and the right to form societies with others.


    The BCHR calls on the Government of Bahrain to adhere to the following points, and it also calls on the United Kingdom, the United States, and all close allies to Bahrain to put pressure on the authorities in Bahrain to:

    • Cancel the decision to suspend Al-Wefaq political society's activities;
    • Stop the procedures to suspend the National Democratic Work Society (WAAD);
    • End procedures aimed at restricting freedom of association in Bahrain



    [2] http://www.alwasatnews.com/3874/news/read/764593/1.html

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    3 November 2014 – On 2 November, a Bahraini court ordered the release of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and postponed his trail until 20 January 2015, on the condition of a ban on his travel outside of the country. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) welcome Rajab’s release, yet remain concerned over the imposition of a travel ban and the continued judicial persecution of Rajab for his right to free speech.

    Rajab, President of BCHR and Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), was arrested on 1 October after responding to a summons for questioning from the Cyber Crimes Unit of the Central Investigations Directorate regarding comments he made on Twitter. Rajab's arrest immediately followed his return to Bahrain from a European human rights advocacy tour. Rajab remained in detention until his release yesterday and has been formally charged with “denigrating government institutions.”

    Rajab’s arrest was met with an unprecedented outcry from the international community. The United Nations called his detention “chilling” and argued that it sent a “disturbing message.” The governments of the United States,Norway, France, and Ireland, as well as the President of the European Parliament, United States Ambassador Samantha Power United States Congressman James McGovern, 13 members of the UK Parliament, and 51 Members of the European Parliament called for Mr. Rajab’s release. While the UK government claims to be following the situation closely, it has yet to call for Mr. Rajab’s release.

    We, the undersigned human rights organizations, thank the international community for their concern, and call for: 

    • The international community to continue to apply pressure until the charges against Rajab are dismissed;
    • The Government of Bahrain to immediately dismiss all charge against Rajab; and
    • Ensure that all civil society organizations and human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to conduct their work without fear of retaliation or reprisal.
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    Bahrain’s disregard for the health of detained women human rights defenders and their children is shocking, says the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), and should be eliciting greater calls from the international community to stop jailing them for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

    Bahrain should immediately revoke all laws that violate freedom of speech, including those that criminalise insulting or defaming state institutions or the monarch, said GCHR previously in a joint statement with Human Rights Watch on 26 October.

    Zainab Al-Khawaja, a leading human rights campaigner who has been detained on numerous charges including insulting the King since 14 October, could receive a heavy sentence under a law ratified by the King in February 2014, which provides for a maximum jail term of seven years and a fine of up to 10,000 Bahraini Dinars (US$26,500) for anyone deemed to have offended the King, Bahrain’s flag, or the national emblem. A verdict is due on 4 December following a session at the Lower Criminal Court on 30 October, which Al-Khawaja and her lawyer boycotted.

    Al-Khawaja, who is in her ninth month of pregnancy and due to give birth by caesarean section on 3 December, faces six charges, five of which, according to her lawyer, clearly violate her right to free expression. The other charge arises from her action in ripping up a photo of the King on 14 October during a court hearing at which she faced charges that related to two previous incidents when she tore up photos of the King. She has previously been in jail on similar charges, in violation of her right to freedom of expression and assembly, and was released in February 2014. See: http://gc4hr.org/news/view/794

    Among Bahrain’s main international Allies, only the United States has called on the Gulf state’s government to drop the charges against Al-Khawaja and release her. The US, along with the European Union, have been monitoring her trial. On 20 October, the US State Department called for Al-Khawaja’s immediate release. On 28 October, over 51 Members of the European Parliament, expressed concern about Al-Khawaja, saying, “The Bahraini government has also reignited its campaign against the Bahraini-Danish citizens and human rights defenders of the al-Khawaja family.” Human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is in prison on a life sentence for peacefully expressing his right to free expression.

    There is no reason to think that Al-Khawaja will receive special treatment, says her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of the GCHR. She notes that protestor Zahra Al-Shaikh and her six-month-old baby, who needs special medical attention, are still in prison. Al-Shaikh was charged with illegal gathering, and has been arrested several times in violation to her right to freedom of assembly.

    Maryam Al-Khawaja herself was recently jailed upon arrival in Bahrain on 30 August and charged with allegedly assaulting a policewoman. In reality, Al-Khawaja herself was assaulted and her shoulder muscle torn, yet nobody has been called to account for this assault. She had made the trip to try to see her father, whose life was at risk following a hunger strike in prison. See: http://gc4hr.org/news/view/767

    Children have been detained with their mothers, or on their own following their participation in protests. Numerous children, some as young as 11, have been arrested and detained for weeks on end in Bahrain, reports the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), even though minors below the age of 15 are not criminally responsible under Bahraini law.

    On 29 October 2014, women’s human rights defender Ghada Jamsheer appeared before the Third Lower Criminal Court on charges of defamation via twitter. She was first arrested on 15 September and has been held since then. While she was acquitted in one case, fined 100 Dinar in another case, and granted bail in a third case upon the payment of 50 Dinar, she remains in detention on two other defamation charges. The court postponed the hearing of those two cases until 24 November 2014, two days after the parliamentary elections.

    Jamsheer is the President of the Women's Petition Committee (WPC), a network of Bahraini women human rights defenders who campaign for the codification of Bahrain’s family laws and their reform. She was summoned for interrogation on 9 September 2014 in relation to her tweets about corruption at King Hamad University Hospital, headed by a member of the ruling family. She continued tweeting after that and up until her arrest six days later. See: http://gc4hr.org/news/view/749

    While calling for Zainab Al-Khawaja, Ghada Jamsheer and Zahra Al-Shaikh and her baby to be released, the GCHR notes that the detention of these women and children violate their rights under international law and urges the Bahrain authorities to uphold their international commitments as follows.

    The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which reviews state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, concluded in relation to article 19, on freedom of expression, that: “The mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties, albeit public figures may also benefit from the provisions of the Covenant. Moreover, all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.” Bahrain has ratified the covenant.

    In addition, the detention and ill-treatment of a child without an immediate and just cause, in the absence of a conviction of a crime, against his mental and physical well-being, and interest as a student violates several articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states in Article 3: "In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration." Article 37 continues, stating: "State Parties shall ensure that: No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.


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    Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy express deep concern over the continued abuse of judicial power in Bahrain to target human rights activists. In particular, the organizations condemn the continued detention of human rights activists Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer and the sentencing of human rights activist Nader Abdulemam, and call for their immediate release.

    On 30 October, a judge ordered the trial of Zainab al-Khawaja postponed until 4 December. She did not attend the court date, choosing to boycott what she believed would be an unfair and partisan judicial process. The government arrested al-Khawaja on 14 October 2014 during a court appearance on charges of tearing a photograph of the king of Bahrain. Al-Khawaja, who is eight months pregnant, is anticipated to remain in detention until her court appearance. Her family stated that she is scheduled to deliver her baby on 3 December via caesarian section. ADHRB, the BCHR, and BIRD express concern over the possibility of al-Khawaja giving birth in detention, as prison conditions in Bahrain are unsuitable for a newborn infant.

    Human rights activist Nader Abdulemam was arrested on 27 August 2014 for allegedly insulting a religious figure on his personal Twitter account. On 23 October, a Bahraini court sentenced Abdulemam to six months imprisonment on charges related to the tweet. He has been detained since his arrest. Abdulemam has been previously targeted for exercising his right to freedom of expression.

    The government detained women’s rights defender Ghada Jamsheer on 15 September after issuing Tweets raising concerns of corruption and criticizing the management of Hamad University Hospital. Her Twitter account (@Ghada_Jamsheer) was suspended following her arrest. On 29 October, a Bahraini court ordered Jamsheer to pay a fine of 100 Bahraini dinars (USD 265) on charges of “defamation on Twitter”. She is facing two additional cases in relation to freedom of expression, while the public prosecution is investigating another eight possible defamation cases brought forward against her by individuals, including the hospital head General Doctor Salman Atiyat Allah Al Khalifa, a member of the ruling family. Her next court hearing will be on the 24 November.

    The aforementioned organization call on the Government of Bahrain to:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release Zainab Al-Khawaja, drop all charges related to freedom of expression and ensure proper medical care;
    • Immediately and unconditionally Nader Abdulemam and Ghada Jamsheer and drop all charges related to freedom of expression; and
    • Release all political prisoners and end the systematic targeting of individuals for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression.


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    On 28 October 2014, a Bahraini court sentenced award winning photographer Ammar Abdulrasool to two years in prison. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn the court’s decision and the ongoing prosecution and detention of photographers in Bahrain.

    Ammar Abdulrasool, a member of the International Federation for Photographic Art (FIAP) and the Photographic Society of America, has received more than 80 international awards for his photography. Abdulrasool was arrested by security forces on 24 July 2014 without being shown a search or arrest warrant. The security forces seized two digital cameras and a mobile phone belonging to Abdulrasool.

    Abdulrasool was arrested and taken, handcuffed and blindfolded, to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). While in detention, Abdulrasool was forced to stand for three days and denied the ability to pray. Security forces beat Abdulrasool, stripped him of his clothes, sexually harassed him, threatened him with electric shocks, and threatened to arrest his wife and infant daughter. Abdulrasool was subjected to enforced disappearance for seven days and was denied access to a lawyer.

    Government forces interrogated Abdulrasool regarding his work, placing emphasis on a photograph showing a peaceful protestor giving a police officer a flower (above). The photo was taken during the February 2011 demonstrations that took place in Bahrain and has been widely circulated and acclaimed since its publication, winning a number of international prizes.

    On 30 July, the public prosecution ordered Abdulrasool’s continued detention for 45 days pending investigation on charges of participating in an illegal gathering. On 27 August, authorities brought Abdulrasool in front of a judge without informing his lawyers and began legal proceedings on charges of participating in an illegal gathering, rioting and throwing Molotov cocktails.

    Abdulrasool is one of many who have faced reprisals from the Government of Bahrain as a result of their work. The same day Abdulrasool was sentenced, the CID summoned photographer Mohamed al-Oraibi for interrogation. On 27 October, the trial of award winning photographer Ahmed al-Fardan was postponed until 20 January 2015. Award winning photographers Ahmed Humaidan and Hussain Hubail are serving prison sentences for their work, while the government has detained award winning photographer Ahmed Almosawi without a trial since 10 February 2014.

    The aforementioned organizations believe that the Bahraini government’s reprisals against photographers is a violation of covenants and international treaties that guarantee the right to freedom of expression, in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

    The aforementioned organizations calls on the government of Bahrain to ensure the following and call on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and all other allies of the Bahrain government, and international institutions to put pressure on Bahrain to:

    • Immediate release Ammar Abdulrasool and all detained photographers;
    • Allow for the safe exercise of the right to freedom of expression without reprisals; and
    • Put an end to the systematic targeting of photographers, journalists and bloggers. 


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    The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the release of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and FIDH Deputy Secretary General[1] .


    The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.

    New information:

    According to the information received, on November 2, 2014, the Third Lower Criminal Court Jaber Al Jazarordered Mr. Rajab’s release but barred him from leaving the country. The court announced that the verdict would be issued on January 20, 2015.

    During the court hearing three representatives from foreign embassies and two representatives from NGOs were allowed to attend. Six relatives of Mr. Nabeel Rajab were not allowed in.

    At first, the judge at the end of the court hearing decided to release Mr. Rajab without measures restricting his movement. But hours after the court hearing was over, a request from the prosecution said to include “evidence” that Mr. Rajab plans to leave the country was submitted to the Judge, who decided to ban Mr. Rajab from leaving the country. Mr. Rajab and his lawyer were not notified of the prosecution’s request nor shown the so-called “evidence” brought by the prosecution, and were not given the opportunity to respond to the prosecution request or challenge the so called “evidence” brought by the prosecution before the Judge issued his decision.

    Mr. Nabeel Rajab is still facing the charge of “insulting a public institution and the army” via Twitter, pursuant to Article 216 of the Bahraini Penal Code, an offence punishable by up to six years of imprisonment[2]. The charge concerns various tweets posted on Nabeel Rajab’s account, which the Public Prosecution has deemed as insulting to the Ministry of Interior and the Bahraini Defence Force, the Bahraini army[3] .

    Mr.Rajab defence included amongst others, challenging the validity of the complaint filed by the Bahrain Defence Forces (BDF) for procedural defect, as it was presented by the head of the military judiciary while the law stipulates that the relevant person should be the Commandor in Chief of the BDF.

    During the October-19 hearing, Mr. Rajab’s lawyer raised this procedural irregularity and asked that this complaint be dismissed. The prosecution subsequently tried to correct this procedural defect, by submitting a letter from the Commandor in Chief of the BDF mandating the head of the military judiciary with relevant powers to file the complaint. At the November-2 hearing, Mr. Rajab’s lawyer argued that the investigations conducted by the prosecution over this complaint stand void and are not susceptibleof any rectification.

    The Observatory welcomes the release of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and thanks all the individuals, institutions, and organisations who intervened in his favour. However, the Observatory regrets that he was arbitrarily detained for more than a month before being released.

    The Observatory more generally urges the Bahraini authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Mr. Rajab, and to comply with the relevant international norms and standards, in particular the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, and international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

    Background information:

    On July 9, 2012, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was arrested by masked police officers at his house[4]after he had tweeted the following on June 2: "Khalifa, leave the residents of Al Muharraq, its Sheikhs and its elderly. Everyone knows that you are not popular here, and if it wasn’t for the subsidies, they wouldn’t have gone out to welcome you. When will you step down?".

    On the same day, the 5th Lower Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Rajab to three months imprisonment for allegedly libelling the residents of Al Muharraq through tweets posted on his twitter account. On August 23, 2012, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was acquitted by theHigher Appeal Court.

    On August 16, 2012, the Lower Criminal Court had also sentenced Mr. Nabeel Rajab to three years imprisonment. Mr. Rajab appeared before the Court for three cases related to his participation in pacific gatherings in favour of fundamental freedoms and democracy:

    - The first case relates to charges of “participating in an illegal assembly” and “calling others to join”, in relation to a protest organised on March 31, 2012 in Manama to denounce the detention of the founder of GCHR, former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), and former MENA Director at Front Line, Mr. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja.

    - The second one relates to on chargesof “involvement in illegal practices and incitement to gatherings and calling for unauthorised marches through social networking sites” for a protest in Manama on January 12, 2012.

    - The third one on relates to charges of “participating in an illegal assembly” in relation to several protests that took place in Manama in February 2012.

    The Court thus sentenced Mr. Nabeel Rajab to one year imprisonment for each of these three cases.

    In December 2012, the Appeals Court reduced the sentence to two years imprisonment. Mr. Nabeel Rajab completed his sentence and was released on May 24, 2014.

    On October 1, 2014, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was summoned by the General Directorate of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security of the Criminal Investigation Department on charge of “insulting a public institution” via Twitter. The investigation concerned certain tweets he published on Twitter, which the CID alleged were insulting the Ministry of Interior, pursuant to Article 216 of the Bahraini Penal Code. The CID decided to detain Mr. Rajab overnight before presenting him to the Public Prosecution on October 2 for further investigation. The Public Prosecution decided to keep Mr. Rajab under arrest for 7 days, pending further investigations.

    On October 9, 2014, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was brought again before the Public Prosecution Officer in Manama and informed that the Ministry of Defence had filed a complaint regarding the same tweet, which is the subject matter of the previous investigation. The interrogation lasted about 40 minutes.

    Mr. Rajab reiterated his previous position denying all allegations against him and stressing that he was only exercising his freedom of expression in regard to a matter forming part of a large public debate and an open discussion in the local press, social networks and even in Bahraini officials’ public statements.

    The same day the Public Prosecution ordered the continued detention of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and decided to refer the case for trial before the Third Lower Criminal Court.

    On October 19, 2014, the Third Lower Criminal Court started the trial against Mr. Nabeel Rajab. The hearing was suspended to October 29 and then November 2 for the verdict.

    Actions requested:

    The Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to:

    Put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;
    Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

    Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:

    - its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;
    - its Article 6 (c) which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others 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 its Article 12.2 which states 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”.

    4. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.


    · Cheikh Hamad bin Issa AL KHALIFA, King of Bahrain, Fax: +973 176 64 587
    · Cheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tel: +973 172 27 555; Fax : +973 172 12 6032
    · Cheikh Khalid bin Ali AL KHALIFA, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Tel: +973 175 31 333; Fax: +973 175 31 284
    · Lt. Gen. Cheikh Rashed bin Abdulla AL KHALIFA, Minister of Interior, Tel: +973 17572222 and +973 17390000. Email: info@interior.gov.bh
    · Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: info@bahrain-mission.ch

    Please also write to diplomatic representations of Bahrain in your respective countries.

    Paris-Geneva, November 5, 2014.

    Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

    The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.


    — -

    [1] Mr. Rajab is also a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division and Chair of CARAM Asia.
    [2] Article 216 of the Penal Code provides for a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment. However, during the October-19 hearing, the Prosecution made an oral statement to ask the judge to consider Mr. Rajab as a “recidivist” in the light of the repetition of the alleged “crime”, and that aggravated circumstances should be retained, to double the maximum penalty applicable to him, meaning six years.
    [3] See Background information and Urgent Appeal of October 19 and October 21 .
    [4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nENlacyy3Sw&feature=youtu.be

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    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn in the strongest terms the arrest and alleged torture of at least thirteen women in Bahrain. These women have reportedly been charged with “establishing and organizing a public referendum, inciting hatred against the regime and disrupting the elections.”

    On 12 November 2014, security forces raided the homes of 8 women, seizing electronic devices in the process. Warrants were not presented during the home raids and police summons were only handed out following the seizure of electronic devices. During these home raids, some of the women were also subjected to bodily searches. The women were then detained the next morning after receiving a summons to appear at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID). Following their arrest, no information was provided to the women’s family members despite enquiries made at the Criminal Investigations Department, the Public Prosecution and Isa Town Police Station. The detainees were prevented access to their lawyers during their interrogation and initial detention.

    On 13 November 2014, a limited number of lawyers were able to meet with their clients following their interrogation. The detainees alleged that they were tortured and ill-treated and deprived of sleep, food and water. One of the victims reported that the women were kept in a cold room where they were humiliated and insulted. She also reported that they were subjected to death threats.

    The public prosecution interrogated the women on the night of 13 November until the early hours of the morning. Their lawyers were informed of the charges and the detainees were remanded for at least 7 days pending further investigation. Two of the women detained are pregnant, one of whom was detained with her 6-month-old infant and had to carry the baby while being interrogated. She was also not allowed to change her baby’s diaper for over 12 hours until her child was picked up by a family member. One of the lawyers claimed that his client was “shivering from pain” following her ordeal.

    Further, On 14 November 2014, four more women were summoned for interrogation in relation to the same charges. Among them the human rights activists Ebtisam Alsaegh who remains in custody at the CID. 

    A public referendum was recently initiated polling Bahraini nationals over their preference for political self-determination, to be supervised by the United Nations. Awareness campaigns were conducted in a number of villages about the referendum and its objectives.

    This is not the first time women have been targeted in Bahrain. Civil society organisations have documented a recent surge in the number of women arrested in Bahrain. Last month, prominent activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested and detained for “publicly insulting the king” after tearing up a picture of Bahrain’s monarch. She is eight months pregnant and is facing up to seven years in prison.

    In April 2013, Rihanna Al-Mosawi was arrested, detained and tortured after she attempted to stage a protest during the Formula One race. She was stripped twice during her detention and threatened with rape. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented the deaths of at least 13 women as a result of the excessive use of force by security forces since 2011.

    We condemn the arrest and detention of these 13 women in Bahrain. We call on Bahrain to respect its obligation under international law including the right to self-determination under Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to freedom of expression and the right to hold opinions freely. We call for the immediate release of these women and for the government to drop all the charges against them. We also call for an immediate independent investigation into the allegations of torture against these detainees and those parties found responsible to be held accountable.

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    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), having condemned in the strongest terms the recent arrest and alleged torture of at least thirteen women in Bahrain, would like to call further attention to the instability perpetuated by the Bahraini government in the lead up to the nation’s first elections in three years. The detention of the activists for organizing a public referendum counts as yet another overreaction from a government unwilling to meet the demands of the international community.

    The Government of Bahrain had the opportunity to organize this weekend’s elections in a manner which would address significant international criticism. Since 2011, Member States of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations have issued four separate joint statements raising concerns over the human rights situation in Bahrain, the last of which garnered 47 signatures. Undeterred, the government has continued targeting Shia religious sites and violently suppressing peaceful protests. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Bahrain underwent the second cycle of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and the resulting Human Rights Council report urged significant reforms, including the abandonment of restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders. In the years since the report’s publication, the government has failed to adhere to these recommendations. Recent months have seen the arrest and harassment of prominent activists Maryam al-Khawaja, Zainab al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab. Additionally, recommendations advanced in the 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) have also gone unheeded.

    While the government has received pushback from NGOs and civil society, its actions have also managed to challenge its relations with the United States, a longtime security partner. Senior U.S. officials anonymously called the suppression of human rights advocates “stupid and self-defeating.” When authorities arrested Nabeel Rajab for a tweet in October, the U.S. Department of State urged the Bahraini government to release the activist and drop all charges.

    Despite this unfavorable global climate, the Government of Bahrain’s upcoming elections are poised to invite international and internal scrutiny. In late October, a court suspended the main opposition society al-Wefaq, preventing it from organizing rallies or issuing statements during the election period. This occurred after the government attempted to prosecute prominent opposition leaders on spurious charges over the summer. Expressing no faith in the government’s process, Bahrain’s largest opposition societies including al-Wefaq have opted to boycott the elections, casting doubt on the popular legitimacy of any results.

    In response to these troubling indicators, the EU Parliament released a statement welcoming the upcoming elections, and ambassadors from the United Kingdom, France and Germany expressed their disappointment in opposition plans to boycott. While it is the default position of many in the international community to encourage democratic processes, the arrest of the thirteen Bahraini women should remind the countries of Europe that these elections are neither free nor fair, and that they operate within an anti-democratic context. As currently constituted, the elections will only lead to greater unrest and disunity, further entrenching a damaging political crisis.

    A fair and acceptable resolution to this governing crisis will require concessions from those in power. Only by respecting human rights and adhering to Bahrain’s obligations under international law can the government break this cycle of instability. National reconciliation can only take place after the release of all political prisoners, the full adoption of the BICI and UPR recommendations, and the delivery of torturers to justice. These steps will encourage all parties to engage in a comprehensive national dialogue that will deescalate mounting tensions and take practical steps toward a transitional justice system suitable for a nascent democratic society. In this environment, the opposition would see boycotts as unnecessary, and elections could be restorative rather than divisive.

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    In 1920, the British novelist E.M. Forster described his homeland as "an island of hypocrites" and its rulers as people who "built up an Empire with a Bible in one hand, a pistol in the other, and financial concessions in both pockets."

    Almost a century later, Forster's indictment aptly describes the British government's current relationship with the Middle Eastern island state of Bahrain— specifically, with the UK government's contrasting treatment of the Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab and alleged torturer Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's ruling family.

    After being freed from a Bahraini jail earlier this month, Rajab will faces a trial in January on charges that he offended national institutions when he compared Bahrain's security forces to the violent, sectarian forces of the Islamic State. Rajab has been a thorn in the side of Bahrain's ruling al Khalifa family for years, particularly since 2011's anti-government protests, when the violent response of the security forces to peaceful demands for political reform left scores dead and sparked a crisis that continues to divide the country.

    If Rajab's statement offended the Bahraini government, then the international lawyers who compiled the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report had better watch out, because its findings — which Bahrain's king said he accepted — are just as incendiary as Rajab's comments. The report contained numerous references to torture in detention, "excessive and unnecessary lethal force," and "terror-inspiring behavior" by security forces. Unlike Rajab, however, Prince Nasser will not face trial in Bahrain even though he is one of those accused of being involved in the torture of detainees in 2011.

    Bahrain human rights activist faces jail time for a tweet. Read more here.

    Meanwhile, a British court decided that the prince's status as a senior official in Bahrain does not make him immune from prosecution in the UK for allegations of torture back home. That ruling in theory might have made Prince Nasser less than eager to step foot on British soil, but he is apparently so untroubled by the threat of arrest that he was recently seen mingling at a charity event at London's exclusive Savoy Hotel. It's not clear if the British government granted Prince Nasser "special mission" status that it claims provides individuals with temporary immunity. But it is clear that the British government isn't remotely embarrassed by its close relationship with the Bahrainis: The day after British courts quashed Prince Nasser's immunity, the British ambassador to Bahrain visited the Prince and had his photo taken with him for the local press.

    The British government hasn't shown quite the same sensitivity to the feelings of Nabeel Rajab. When he visited the UK in August, he and his family were detained for five hours at Heathrow Airport, where his 12-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son were fingerprinted and made to pose for "mug shots" before they were allowed to enter the country. The British government has declined to explain why immigration officers deemed this necessary.

    In this year's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) report on human rights, the British government claims it has "supported human rights defenders — courageous people who often face repression and harassment." Not in Bahrain it hasn't, or indeed in any of the oil-rich, strategically important Gulf states to whom the British government is very keen to sell fighter jets.

    Unlike the United States — another Bahrain ally — the UK made no public call for Rajab's release in what is self-evidently a free speech case. In fact, since the unrest of 2011, the UK has made no explicit calls for the release of any of the hundreds of political prisoners currently languishing in Bahraini jails, whose unlawful detention precludes the political solution to the unrest that the UK claims to support.

    The British government has continually peddled the line that the Bahraini government is on the path to reform — "there is evidence of real efforts being made in areas where human rights concerns remain," claimed the FCO on October 16. (The full statement reads like it was conceived not in Whitehall but in the offices of one of the numerous PR agencies that the al Khalifa pay to launder the stains from their reputation.) But human rights concerns do not merely "remain" in Bahrain; they abound, and there is scant evidence of any genuine efforts at reform.

    Watch the VICE News documentary 'Bahrain: An Inconvenient Uprising.'

    In a little over two months, a Bahraini court may sentence a courageous man to three years in jail while the British government turns a blind eye, even as it claims to support human rights in Bahrain. There are numerous words one could use to describe this stance, none of which reflect well on the UK government. E.M. Forster, if he were still around, might well have chosen perfidious.

    Nicholas McGeehan is a Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch. Follow him on Twitter: @NcGeehan


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    On 14 November 2014, six leading human rights NGOs held a discussion in Washington, DC on human rights violations by Gulf countries that are partners of the United States in the fight against ISIS. “Criminalization of Dissent in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates” put the focus on countries which routinely jail those who advocate democratic reform and protection of human rights, while ignoring or encouraging those who promote violence and sectarianism.

    Two human rights defenders who were recently jailed in Bahrain, Maryam Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, joined the panel – Rajab via skype because he is under a travel ban since his recent arrest in October. The panel made recommendations for how US policy can address the roots of extremism in the Gulf and the policies of its Gulf allies that criminalize peaceful dissent and persecute human rights defenders - including Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who was jailed on charges of “insulting state institutions” via Twitter.

    “The US government should destroy and degrade sectarianism within these countries by promoting civil society and protecting human rights defenders. The way to fight terrorism is with more human rights, not less,” said Brian Dooley, director of the Human Rights Defenders program at Human Rights First, which hosted the event. “The suffocation of civil society in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain only foments the sort of extremism and sectarianism that gives rise to ISIS,” he noted. The US has a strong military relationship with these three countries and could be leveraging that alliance to help protect human rights defenders.

    For example, when US officials visit the Gulf next month as part of the Manama Dialogue they should publicly call for the release of human rights defenders jailed for peaceful dissent, including those imprisoned under so-called counter terrorism laws. The US should consider visa bans and asset freezes against those it believes are responsible for human rights violations.

    "We have to put people before profit," said Khalid Ibrahim, Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), calling on the US administration "to use its influence to ensure the release of all the detained HRDs in the region and that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals."

    As moderator of the event, Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's MENA division, pointed out the pattern of harassment of human rights defenders across the entire Gulf region, including in Kuwait, Oman and Qatar as well. He said that the US and other allies could attend trials of human rights defenders to give their support, and the US could name names in the daily State department briefings.

    Rajab believes he was released on 2 November due to international pressure, in part because the US called for his release and not just a “fair trial” or a reduced sentence. Yet Rajab’s friend Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is still in jail, along with his daughter Zainab Al-Khawaja, due to one of her many free expression cases. Her verdict is on 4 December, one day after she is due to give birth.

    On the days before and of the event in DC, over a dozen young women were arrested in Bahrain, some during night raids, including two pregnant women and one woman with a  baby. “It appears that the Bahraini government is provoking people around the time of the elections on 22 November, which makes us very concerned about the security of human rights defenders,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja, GCHR Co-Director.

    “There is an undeclared war of cleansing in a peaceful manner in Bahrain that is economic, social and cultural,” said Rajab noting the disparities between opportunities for different citizens. “In other countries, people change the government. In Bahrain, the government changes us,” he commented. Preferential treatment of jobs and education for newcomers is changing the makeup of the population, and some people are being deprived of their citizenship.

    Al-Khawaja said that “Saudi Arabia is confident enough that they can get away with persecuting people who cooperate with the UN mechanisms,” even though the country is a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Many human rights defenders are in jail on lengthy sentences, she noted, mentioning, among others, Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Waleed Abu Al-Khair and Raif Al-Badawi, who was also sentenced to 1000 lashes, possibly starting with 50 lashes to be carried out on the same day as the event. “For others, they keep the threats of charges hanging to keep you silent.” Al-Khawaja noted a dangerous new cooperation between the GCC which allows Gulf countries to arrest any Gulf national facing charges.

    Melanie Gingell analysed the anti-terrorism laws recently approved in the UAE. She noted that many of the new offences had no link to violence and that the potential for them to be abused and used against peaceful pro-democracy protesters in the region was significant. She deplored the fact that Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, a member of the GCHR Advisory Board who is subject to an arbitrary travel ban, was unable to be present at the meeting.

    Rajab concluded, “Military relations should not take priority over human rights. Allies need to take on the positive role to promote human rights in the Gulf.”

    The event was organized by the Gulf Center for Human Rights in partnership with Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.


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    Worthy documentary tribute to Arab Spring protesters focuses on non-violent methods but fails to tackle a chaotic present

    Greg Barker’s documentary is a heartfelt, if historically disjointed, tribute to individuals who took part in the Arab Spring; these dignified Davids took on brutal Goliaths in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain. Some of these dictators went, and some have clung on, luxuriating in the support of the American and British governments.

    It is impossible not to be moved by the protesters’ passionate belief in liberty, but also, I think, not to worry about what has succeeded the Arab Spring: a troubling, complex situation from which this film largely averts its gaze. The key question is where on the spectrum between violence and non-violence protests should position themselves.

    The film vehemently argues for non-violence, although Barker’s interviewees seem to be under the impression that non-violence was the ANC’s approach. (Not exactly.) One Syrian protester makes a very powerful point: that non-violence was the only way to preserve a grassroots popular movement: “With militarisation comes the dependence on outsiders.” A heartfelt portrait of courage.


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    Why is the west still so close to reactionary monarchies in the Middle East when all the evidence suggests they’re on their way out?

    A few days ago, the American ambassador in Beirut said he was deeply concerned about the “paralysis of Lebanon’s political institutions”, and called for new elections to be held as soon as possible.

    This prompted a wry comment from the blogger known as The Angry Arab: “I would like the US ambassador in Saudi Arabia to call for elections ‘as soon as possible’.”

    The Angry Arab has a point. There are some countries where it’s OK for western diplomats to call for elections, and other countries where they wouldn’t dream of saying such a thing.

    The Gulf monarchies include some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes but so long as they can be regarded as “useful” friends, western governments let them off lightly. If they are criticised at all, it’s done cautiously … and preferably in private.

    This timidity is most apparent in the contrasting treatment of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran can be criticised vigorously – and deservedly so – but in terms of translating archaic religious ideas into government policies, our friends in Saudi Arabia are at least as bad. Internationally, Saudi Arabia has also managed to spread its baleful religious influence wider than Iran has done.

    Of course, it would be unfair to say that Saudi political institutions are paralysed, as they are in Lebanon – because Saudi Arabia, unlike Lebanon, doesn’t have political institutions in any meaningful sense. Its pseudo-parliament is appointed by the king, and political parties are not allowed. It did (rather nervously) hold municipal elections in 2005 and 2011. in which only men were allowed to vote, and for only half the seats. As a precaution against male voters electing the wrong candidates, the other half were to be filled by royal appointment.

    Being nice to Gulf autocrats certainly brings some benefits for western countries: we buy their oil and they spend the money on buying our weaponry. They also ingratiate themselves with the west by performing “useful” services from time to time – most recently when some of them joined the military alliance against Isis.

    For the last half-century or so, this has formed the basis of British and American policy in the Gulf and the benefits it brings have blinded our governments to the long-term cost, which is potentially very high.

    The danger in ignoring the negative side of the Gulf/west relationship has become increasingly apparent since the Arab uprisings broke out almost four years ago. Fearful of popular demands for accountable government, Gulf states have mostly aligned themselves with the counter-revolutionary side.

    When protesters challenged the monarchy in Bahrain, Gulf rulers sent in troops to prop up the king. They sabotaged the Yemeni revolution with a “transition” deal that allowed the ex-president Saleh to stay in the country causing mayhem, and they are now backing Sisi’s new dictatorship in Egypt – which can only create more problems for the future.

    In more general ways, Gulf states (along with other ancien regimes in the Middle East) are fuelling turmoil in the region rather than alleviating it. “The cultural, educational and religious stagnation evident in so much of the Middle East and North Africa,” a recent report by the Soufan security intelligence group said, “does not encourage any new way of thinking about the future beyond a desire to return to the past and start again.”

    And the report warned:

    ”So long as governance in so many countries fails to meet the expectations of the people, there will be a steady flow of hopeful recruits to the ranks of the Islamic State; and many others who lack the means or opportunity to travel may be tempted to follow its directives within their own countries.”

    Unless these regimes change their ways radically and quickly, they will eventually be swept away. Almost all of them are incapable of such reform, so we have to consider them doomed.

    This is something western policymakers can’t afford to simply brush aside. They need to take into account not only the problems these regimes are causing but the likelihood that they will not be in power for many more years – and act accordingly. For a start, that means becoming a lot more circumspect than at present in our dealings with them.

    Britain’s current relations with Bahrain, for example, are bafflingly cosy – even to the extent of removing an ambassador who upset the Bahraini authorities by meeting some members of the opposition, and replacing him with one who is much more amenable.

    Britain also relies heavily on arms sales to the Middle East, on the dangerous assumption that the regimes buying them will still be in power to take delivery, and for as long after that as the weapons remain usable.

    In 2012 David Cameron jubilantly announced a £2.5bn order for 20 warplanes from Oman, which he said would support thousands of jobs in the UK.

    But deliveries are not due to start until 2017, and neither Cameron nor anyone else can be sure that Sultan Qaboos, the ailing tyrant who seized the Omani throne with British help 44 years ago, will be there to receive them – or who may eventually end up using them.


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    He was shouting as he was being beaten. Prisoners could hear his screams. The autopsy showed a disfigured face, a fractured skull, broken ribs, and an exploded kidney. Meet Hasan Alshaikh, 36 years old, who died as a result of torture in a prison in Bahrain. He had served more than half his sentence.

    On November 6, 2014 the Bahrain Ministry of Interior tweeted that a prisoner had died in prison:

    For more specification it was stated that his was not a natural death:

    Hasan Alshaikh joins a list of at least five other prisoners who have died due to torture in Bahrain since 2011, and I share with him something that is unfortunately common in my country—we were both victims of torture.

    On the night of July 30, 2013, I went to sleep thinking of trivial things such as what I would do on the weekend, and whether I should continue with my piano lessons. Little did I know that such decisions would soon be out of my hands.

    At dawn on July 31, I was grabbed from my bed and taken to the Central Intelligence directorate (CID), where I was tortured for five days.

    Having worked with human rights organizations for a few years I had read many testimonies regarding torture in Bahrain, so I was more prepared than most others for what would come. Not that it made much difference, but at least it helped me keep some degree of sanity. During the days I was kept in detention I was handcuffed and blindfolded but I still had the knowledge and my instinct was to keep doing what I was trained to do.

    I started collecting information. I was kept in a makeshift cell about six-by-six. The structure of the room suggested that it has recently been subdivided. The plywood walls didn't reach the ceiling. There weren’t a large number of rooms, but they tried to give you the illusion that the place was larger than it was by walking you in circles around the place.

    I started doing things like counting the number of doors I heard being shut when the guards did their routine search to make sure nobody was sleeping or sitting down (we were forced to remain standing the whole time). This indicated that there weren't many rooms in the place. This was significant, because it meant any building could be turned into a torture chamber and that the traditional mechanisms to keep track of detention facilities were ineffective.

    Remaining handcuffed with your hands behind your back for a long period drains your strength. After a while your circulation stops and your limbs become numb. We were allowed to go to the bathroom once every shift, so we would take the opportunity even if we weren't in need of the toilet, as it was the only chance to have our handcuffs removed.

    I learned to slide my hands beneath my feet (our hands are handcuffed behind our backs)  and relax the blindfold a bit, so when I was taken to the bathroom I was able to examine the place. I started noticing how orders were passed between the officers and guards. From speaking to the inmates I was with later on and getting their testimonies, I learned that if you had a green Post-it on your door you were not allowed to sit or sleep; a yellow Post-it meant you were allowed to sleep at night; no Post-it on the door of your cell meant you were allowed to sit. This was significant because it showed that there was a hierarchy and a system in place. These weren’t unilateral decisions.

    During my torture sessions I was told what I should say to the public prosecutor. They told me the questions I would be asked and the answers I should give. The fact that I was asked exactly the same questions by the public prosecutor as my torturers said, convinced me that the level of co-ordination we used to suspect did in fact exist in Bahrain.

    I was warned that if I complained to the public prosecutor about being tortured I would be tortured even more. Had my lawyer not tweeted about it, I would have expected that to happen. Many other inmates had experienced this, as they were questioned by the public prosecutor without a lawyer present.

    When I was later transferred to the detention centre, I met many who would recognize and trust me. A 16-year-old fellow detainee saw that I was allowed a notebook and looked at me with envy. As hard as a simple thing like a notebook was to come by in a place like that, I couldn't deprive him. I gave him the notebook and he surprised me when he started his own project, making and distributing a form to the inmates, asking them to write down their stories and describe how they were tortured. 

    The “torture note”, as I used to call it, was more than words on paper—it was the manifestation of evil. It was agony reading those stories of people from so many different backgrounds, age groups and parts of the country. That notebook was the shame of my nation and proof of the structural failure of a country. It strengthened my conviction that torture in Bahrain is a matter that goes far beyond our imagination.

    The death of a new inmate in prison was not a surprise. It was only a matter of time before someone proved too weak to withstand the practices of Bahrain's prisons, and add to that the lack of medical care, the deteriorating conditions in our overcrowded prisons and the tendency for violence to escalate.

    The torture that led to the death of Hasan Alshaikh was committed by three members of the prison staff. Three, meaning it was a group decision: none of the three staff members thought it wrong to beat inmates, which points to a general environment of acceptance of torture. One of Hassan Alshaikh’s torturers was the lecturer in charge of rehabilitation of drug abusers. How was he selected for such a position is an indication of another structural failure in the system.

    Eight other prison staff came forward to testify as witnesses to the torture and killing of Alshaikh. Why none of them came forward to stop the crime while it was happening is further evidence of the atmosphere of tolerance of torture. Other inmates could only sit and listen to him scream to death.

    Hasan Alshaikh will not be the last victim of torture in Bahrain, especially not as long as western allies continue to praise the “reforms” made by the Bahraini government. The level of insult I feel every time I read comments about “reforms” from allies like the UK is far worse than the injuries I sustained in prison, and it's not making my frequent nightmares any better.

    On behalf of Hasan and 80 other inmates whose stories I have read, I would like to ask you a favour: please tweet or write to Mr. Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary at Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and ask him kindly to stop insulting us.


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    A video recently emerged showing a Bahraini police officer mistreating a prisoner and showering him with insults, while making references to the man’s Shiite faith. The video, posted on Monday to YouTube, quickly went viral – to the extent that the Bahraini authorities were forced to respond. The day after its release, the Interior Ministry announced the suspension of the police officers involved and the opening of an investigation. According to our Observer, it's all a smokescreen.

    The images were posted by activists of the February 14 movement, the group behind the protests against the Sunni monarchy headed by King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa. The movement is now regarded by Bahraini authorities as a terrorist organisation.

    The video takes place in a police car, with a prisoner sitting on the back seat between two police officers in uniform, his hands tied behind his back and his head covered by his shirt. It is clear he is Shiite due to the police’s mention of "zawaj al-mut'a", literally meaning "pleasure marriage", the name given by Shiite Muslims to “temporary marriage”. The marriage is agreed between potential spouses for a limited period of time and generally sealed by a religious authority. This form of union, which is still practiced by a number of Shiites, is rejected by a large majority of Sunnis.

    The policeman sitting in the seat next to the driver (whose face is hidden) asks the prisoner if he can make a "pleasure marriage" with his sister. "Do you agree?" yells the police officer. The prisoner nods his head as the officer continues: "And a Sunni, can she have a zawaj al-mut'a?". The prisoner remains silent, so the police officer gets angry: "Do not even say ‘Sunni’, you son of a b***!". The officer proceeds to punch the prisoner on the head and back while the other policemen try to calm him down.

    The Interior Ministry said on Tuesday via its Twitter account that an investigation had been launched and that the police officers involved in the video had been suspended from their duties.

    "However, Said Yousif Al-muhafdah, vice-president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, believes it is certain there will be no legal consequences for the police officers.

    Unfortunately, the police officers who commit abuse or even acts of torture are spared due to a culture of impunity. Since 2011, there have been 7 or 8 proven cases of abuse, which came to light thanks to leaked videos.

    Each time, it's the same scenario: the authorities announce the opening of an investigation, but the investigations go nowhere and very rarely result in sanctions. The ministry’s announcements are only intended to calm public opinion and sell a semblance of democracy abroad.

    In the rare cases where there is a conviction, the sentences are eventually reduced. In May 2013, a police officer sentenced to 7 years of prison for shooting an unarmed demonstrator dead saw his sentence reduced to 6 months.

    That same year, the court acquitted two police officers who killed a demonstrator by shooting him with buckshot pellets. The court found that the two officers had not fired with the intent to kill, and were therefore free to go [Editor’s Note: In May 2014, an unarmed 14-year-old protestor was also killed by buckshot pellets during a demonstration].

    In April 2012, police officers were involved in a case involving thugs damaging a grocery store owned by Shiites. The scene was recorded by the store’s security camera, but it did not lead to an investigation, even though the faces of the police officers were clearly identifiable in the video.

    This situation will not change until Bahrain has effective institutions and most notably an independent judicial system. To achieve that would require genuine democratic reform, and that is still a far-off dream."

    The organisation Human Rights Watch issued a report last May denouncing impunity and judicial bias in the kingdom. "In Bahrain, a police officer who kills a protester in cold blood or beats a detainee to death might face a sentence of six months or maybe two years, while peacefully calling for the country to become a republic will get you life in prison,” the report states.

    Bahrain is a Shiite-majority country (about 75 percent of the population), ruled by an exclusively Sunni monarchy and government. Since February 2011, members of the Shiite community who feel discriminated against regularly go into the streets in protest. In May, the International Federation for Human Rights estimated that at least 89 people had been killed since the start of the protests.


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    The Bahraini Ministry of Interior continues to detain a mother and her premature son. – The child who is six months old and in fragile health – are being held on charges related to freedom of assembly. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) call for the immediate release of Zahra Al-Shaikh and her son, Hussein Habib Mubarak.

    The Al-Shaikh family informed the BCHR that their 24 year-old daughter Zahra Al-Shaikh was arrested along with her infant child from al-Hodh al-Jaf Prison on Saturday 27 October 2014, as she visited her husband Habib Mubarak, who is being detained on charges related to his alleged involvement in an arson case. Al-Shaikh’s arrest came after a sentence was upheld by an appeals court on 20 January 2014 against her on charges of unlawful assembly in the capital city of Manama. She was previously detained in 2012 for 4 months on similar charges; however, she was released on bail during her trial. It should also be mentioned that Al-Shaikh was transferred to a psychiatric hospital after her mental health deteriorated due to the stressful conditions during her first detention. Her family fears that the current state of her mental health could deteriorate further during her present detention.

    The aforementioned NGOs are concerned that the conditions of the family’s current detention are unsuitable, due in part to the fact that Zahra was extremely distressed during her family’s most recent visit to see her in prison. Zahra’s family claims that she was unable to speak throughout the visit and inconsolable.

    Zahra Al-Shaikh’s son, Hussein Habib Mubarak, has suffered numerous illnesses since birth, and consequently has a weakened immune system. As a result of his weakened state, he has specific healthcare and nutritional needs, which cannot be met in the women’s prison where he is being detained with his mother. The prison administration has refused to provide the necessary food that meets the child’s dietary requirements, and has not provided a reason for their failure to meet these needs.

    The BCHR has previously published a report regarding unsuitable conditions of prisons, particularly during the extreme weather experienced during the summer and winter months. In January 2014, the detained human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja reported that the rancid smell of the holding cells had forced prisoners to keep the air-conditioning system on despite the cold weather – this caused numerous health problems among the women.

    ADHRB, BCHR and BIRD believe that Al-Shaikh’s detention on charges of unlawful assembly is a deliberate violation of the internationally agreed right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”


    The aforementioned organizations call on Bahrain’s allies to ensure that the Government of Bahrain:

    • Immediately release Zahra Al-Shaikh and her son and drop the charges against her related to freedom of assembly.
    • End the practice of bringing charges against dissidents, and violating their human rights in relation to freedom of expression and assembly, in an attempt to silence their criticism of the government.
    • Dramatically improve the conditions inside the Bahraini prisons, and ensure that all detainees are guaranteed access to adequate healthcare and nutrition.
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    The imprisoned human rights activist Abdel Hadi al-Khawaja has said that Bahrain’s upcoming elections do not include any provisions for the political rights of citizens, as set out by Article 21 of the International Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Citizens are not participating in any real or effective way in organising public affairs, and the will of the people is not a source for the government’s authority. Firstly, this is because citizens do not have either direct or indirect election rights to choose the country’s president. Secondly, it is because citizens do not enjoy equal rights to employment and public jobs. Rather, these privileges are apportioned according to family and ethnic ties, and to political allegiance to the powers that be. Thirdly, the elected representatives will lack legislative power and to bring those with real decision-making powers to account. Fourthly, members of councils across the country will be subject to the will of the executive power, as exercised by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.


    Khawaja added that the Bahraini elections lack transparency and equality. This is due firstly to manipulation of the residential composition of Bahrain through politically-motivated naturalization. Additionally, there is manipulation of the distribution of constituency boundaries on the basis of sectarian affiliation and political leaning. The authorities dominate the voting and the orientation of large swathes of the naturalized electorate, who have never previously lived in Bahrain, as well as those of employees of the security services and military personnel. Moreover, the voting process and the rules regulating it are controlled and subject to censorship. Finally, the authorities have complete control over media in the country.


    Khawaja said that it is impossible to guarantee the political rights of citizens without first securing their civil rights and general freedoms, based on a free and independent judiciary. These rights and freedoms include: freedom of political parties and organisations; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of assembly and peaceful protest. It is also imperative that individuals be protected from rights violations such as: arbitrary detention; torture; irregular trials. The elections can have no legitimacy against the current backdrop of oppression and restricted freedoms.


    Khawaja pointed out that, since the escalation of popular protests in February 2011, the authorities have proceeded to benefit from their hegemony over the Shura Council, parliamentary representatives and employed them within the judiciary, as well as the security and media apparatus. Using these tactics, the authorities strike a balance between escalating the security measures to restrict freedoms and pretending that there is real political dialogue and forthcoming reforms in the national interest. After all this, the authorities suddenly announced that they were organizing elections, without the agreement of the opposition and in contravention of their human rights commitments. This only increases feelings of frustration and popular anger, and could lead to an unprecedented explosion.


    Based on all of this, Khawaja believes that boycotting is an important method of protest. However, it will not be enough to force the authorities to respond to demands for reform and to comply with its obligations. A boycott alone is not enough to quell the rage swelling in people’s hearts. Society groups, activists and individuals must therefore unite their efforts in order to escalate their peaceful activists in an effective and organized way. Through this, they will gain greater solidarity and international support, which will help them in achieving their just goals, foremost among them that power be put in the people’s hands in a real way and that human rights be strengthened in all fields. All this will not be possible without concerted efforts and courage – we must be prepared to sacrifice. Demands are not won through wishing – it takes struggle and strife.




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