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    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its deep concern over the Bahraini authorities continuing prosecution of free expression and opinion. BCHR is concerned about the legalization of criminalizing the right to exercise free expression under charges of “inciting hatred against the regime” and “insulting the King,” among others.  

    Bahraini authorities have increased the crackdown on individuals exercising free expression by convicting and sentencing them to years in prison over charges that do not conform with international human rights covenants. These charges have been used against, among others, human rights defenders, social media activists, and religious figures and clerics. In the past three weeks alone, the authorities have sentenced at least four individuals to more than 12 years in prison and more than BHD12,000 in fines for merely expressing their opinions. BCHR presents herein a few of the most recent cases as a sample of this serious human rights violation.

    In March 2016, the third low criminal court sentenced the owner of the Twitter handle “Takrooz”, Hussain Mahdi, to five years in prison and a BHD10,000 fine over charges of “insulting the King.” Mahdi was arrested in 2015 and subjected to ill-treatment. Similarly, Ebrahim Karimi, who had his citizenship revoked through an administrative decision in 2012, was arrested in 2015 and subjected to ill-treatment for allegedly running the Twitter handle “FreejKarimi”. On 1 April, 2016, the fifth criminal court sentenced him to two years in prison and BHD2,100 for “insulting a brotherly country and inciting hatred against the regime.”

    On 14 March 2016, Bahraini forces arrested human rights defender Zainab al-Khawaja at home and took her with her 15-month-old son to begin serving sentences in several cases, including two cases of “insulting the King” for tearing up his picture during peaceful protests.

    Moreover, numerous Shia religious figures and clerics have been accused and sentenced because of speeches they’ve delivered during Friday prayer sermons as part of their duty as clerics.

    Sayed Kamel al-Hashemi, a well-known religious figure and social advocate with no political involvement, was sentenced to a total of three years’ in prison: one year in prison for “inciting to hatred against a group of people” and two years in prison for “insulting the King.” Al-Hashemi was convicted based on speeches he delivered in Friday prayer sermons at a mosque in Barbar village and a social and religious center in Bani Jamra in October 2012. He was arrested under these charges for 10 days that same month. His trial began in 2013, he was sentenced in March 2014 and the sentence was upheld by the court of appeal in March 2016. Currently, al-Hashemi is at risk of being arrested.

    In December 2015, Sheikh Abdulzahra al-Mubasher was sentenced to two years in prison for “inciting hatred against the regime and insulting a historical figure that is respected by other groups” in relation to a speech he gave during the religious sessions of Muharram. He was arrested following that speech in October 2015. On 29 March 2016, a court of appeal upheld his sentence of two years in prison. Sheikh al-Mubasher is currently serving his imprisonment sentence.

    Several Shia clerics have been summoned and interrogated during the months of March and April 2016 due to speeches they delivered during religious sermons. Bahraini authorities summoned Sayed Majeed al-Mishal for interrogation. He was charged with inciting hatred against the regime for referencing the United Nations’ joint communication report during a speech at Friday prayers.

    It should be noted that since 2011 the government of Bahrain has harshened penalties and punishments in the law on charges related to free expression. In 2014, a bill was approved which increased imprisonment sentences and fines for whoever “offends the emir of the country [the King], the national flag or emblem.” The amendments introduced sentences of up to seven years’ imprisonment and up to BHD10,000 fines for any person committing these “crimes” according to the government of Bahrain. This amendment resulted in a wide space in criminalizing any form of expressing critical opinion about the King.

    The BCHR believes that the Bahraini authorities violate one of the fundamental human rights by criminalizing individuals for exercising  free speech using vague, broad, and undefined charges of allegedly “insulting the King” and “inciting hatred against the regime.” These charges are believed to have been introduced to silence dissidents and activists and prevent Bahrainis from demanding rights and political reform.

     

    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the government of Bahrain to:

    • Respect human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression without restrictions, conditions or arbitrary legal procedures;
    • Stop the targeting of peaceful human rights defenders and dissidents and allow them to freely exercise their right to freedom of speech;
    • Release all those detainees arrested for peacefully expressing or publishing their views; and
    • Stop imposing arbitrary restrictions on freedom of speech and repeal all laws that hinder the right to free expression.
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    The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) publishes today its Annual Report on Human Rights Violations in Bahrain.

    The report is a summary of the human rights violations BCHR was able to document over the course of the year 2015. It provides a solid background and case examples on the different ways Bahraini authorities repress their people: from enforced disappearance and torture to citizenship revocation. It is imperative that these violations do not come unnoticed to the world, to see the real situation human rights defenders and peaceful government opposition face daily in Bahrain.

    Several detainees reported to BCHR being subjected to psychological and physical torture, and being forced into signing false confessions. The majority of these cases involved people from the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain.

    The 2015 Annual Report has come to be thanks to the effort of the BCHR team on documenting human rights violations in Bahrain and its desire and dedication to encourage and support Human Rights and help those in need.

    Freedom of expression has been persistently prosecuted by Bahraini authorities throughout the year 2015 as a means to silence opposition”, said Nabeel Rajab, President of BCHR.

     

    Read Full Report Here.

     

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    12 April 2016

    HM Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa

    King of Bahrain

    Riffa Palace

    Manama, Bahrain

     

    Dear King Hamad,

    We, the undersigned Bahraini and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), would like to unequivocally condemn your government’s arrest of human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja along with her infant son. The implementation of Ms. Al-Khawaja’s prison sentence for merely exercising her right to free expression and assembly amounts to arbitrary detention is wholly unacceptable. While Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa indicated an intention to release her, she has not yet been freed from prison and we are concerned that these arbitrary charges remain against her. We therefore call on the Government of Bahrain to secure her immediate and unconditional release.

    On 14 March 2016, security forces raided the home of Ms. Al-Khawaja’s parents-in-law looking for her. When they did not find her there, they went to her apartment and arrested Ms. Al-Khawaja along with her 15-month-old son, Abdulhadi. After they temporarily detained her and her son at the Al-Hoora police station, the authorities informed Ms. Al-Khawaja that she would be taken for a medical examination at the Ministry of Interior before being transferred to the Isa Town Detention Center to serve out her prison term. From the time of her arrest at 3:45 pm until her midnight arrival at the detention facility, security services denied Ms. Al-Khawaja any food for her son, despite repeated requests. Isa Town Detention Center has recently suffered an outbreak of Hepatitis C which puts both mother and son at risk. The demeaning and dangerous conditions of the detention center where Ms. Al-Khawja and her infant son are kept indicate a gender specific attempt to destabilize and hinder her peaceful human rights advocacy.

    Bahraini courts sentenced Ms. Al-Khawaja to a total of three years and one month in prison, as well as a BHD 3,000 fine, on several charges related to her peaceful dissent and free expression. In December 2014, a court sentenced Ms. Al-Khawaja to three years and three months in prison on charges related to allegedly insulting a police officer during a peaceful protest and insulting the king by tearing up a photograph. In October 2015, Bahrain’s appeals court confirmed her conviction for insulting the king but reduced her sentence to one year in prison. Additionally, on 2 February 2016, the appeals court upheld a 9-month prison sentence against Ms. Al-Khawaja after she tried to visit her father, human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, in Jau Prison when he was on a hunger strike in August 2014.

    The international community has repeatedly expressed grave concern over your government’s decision to prosecute Ms. Al-Khawaja for exercising her right to free expression and assembly. In 2014, the UN Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, human rights defenders, and freedom of peaceful assembly and of association urged your government to drop all charges against Ms. Al-Khawaja, warning that her detention could be considered arbitrary. A year later, these same Special Procedures issued a joint communication to your government stating that Ms. Al-Khawaja’s sentencing appears to “indicate a prima facie violation of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of association, as set forth in articles 19 and 22 of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].” The United States Government has previously expressed concern over the fairness of Ms. Al-Khawaja’s trial, and – most recently – the Government of Denmark has raised Ms. Al-Khawaja’s case at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, insisting that she and her son be released. Furthermore, Ms. Al-Khawaja’s arrest comes during a session of the UN Committee on the Status of Women, where your government is taking part in discussions on how to protect women rights globally, while targeting women human rights defenders locally.

    On 7 April 2016, the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, stated that the authorities intend to release Ms. Al-Khawaja on humanitarian grounds. Sheikh Khaled provided no timeline for her release and her family has received no further guarantee that the government will release Ms. Al-Khawaja from prison. However, the foreign minister did indicate that the government will not drop any of the charges against Ms. Al-Khawaja, leaving her vulnerable to her re-arrest at any time.  

    We would like to join this growing chorus of international voices in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Zainab Al-Khawaja and her infant son. The broad criminalization of peaceful dissent and free expression in Bahrain, as well as the government’s continued harassment and detention of human rights defenders, contravenes your obligations under international law, and is wholly unacceptable.

    Sincerely,

    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

    Arab Center for the Promotion of Human Rights (ACPHR)

    Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

    Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

    Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)

    Cartoonists Rights Network International

    CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation

    Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

    European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)

    European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

    Freedom Forum

    Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

    Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda

    Human Rights Sentinel

    Index on Censorship

    Institute for the Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI)

    Institute of the Press and Freedom of Expression (IPLEX)

    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

    International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia Pacific

    Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO)

    Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture

    Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)

    Maharat Foundation-Lebanon

    MARCH

    National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)

    Nazra for Feminist Studies (Egypt)

    Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión (OLA)

    Pacific Islands News Association

    Pakistan Press Foundation (PFF)

    PEN America

    PEN Canada

    Salam for Democracy and Human Rights

    Saudi Organization for Rights and Freedoms

    Social Media Exchange (SMEX)

    Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State

    World Association of Newspapers and 

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    The US Department of State, through the Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor, published its report on Human Rights practices in Bahrain during the year 2015. Their full report can be found here or here on pdf format.

     

    "[...] significant human rights problems included lack of judicial accountability for security officers accused by the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of committing human rights violations; defendants’ lack of access to attorneys and ability to challenge evidence; prison overcrowding; violations of privacy; and other restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of press and association. Societal discrimination continued against the Shia population, as did other forms of discrimination based on gender, religion, and nationality. The government at times imposed travel bans on political activists in conjunction with arrest charges and in some cases continued to enforce them after authorities had dropped charges or pardoned the individual. The government maintained the revocation of citizenship for 31 individuals whose citizenship it revoked in previous years, and it revoked citizenship from another 72 who were not otherwise charged with any crimes. There were reports of domestic violence against women and children. Despite government efforts at reform, the rights of foreign workers, particularly domestic workers, continued to be restricted, leaving them vulnerable to labor abuses and human trafficking."

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    Bahrainis have always been committed to the principles of tolerance, coexistence, mutual respect and religious freedom. Bahrain has long been viewed as a role-model in the Gulf region for peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths and idealogies.  Over half of those living in Bahrain are expatriates, resulting in the country having a very religiously diverse population. The capital of Bahrain, Manama hosts churches, mosques, temples and a synagogue . Many of these religious centers and structures have been in place for decades with large and well-established congregations which have been welcomed by the Shiite and Sunni communities.

    Bahrain has always been home to numerous religious communities and non-state actors have spared no efforts in ensuring religous freedom is protected and religious and cultural tolerance is fostered.

    However, Bahrain has unfortunately witnessed an alarming rise in extremist ideologies being advocated throughout the region. This rise has created momentum for mass human rights violations committed against the Shia majority in Bahrain. On the 17th of April 2011 the government of Bahrain deliberately demolished a historical Shia mosque (Al-Barbaghy) which dates back to 1549. The demolition of 38 Shia mosques in 2011 was widely condemned internationally however the government of Bahrain has failed to hold those responsible for the destruction of 38 Shia mosques accountable for their actions. The government of Bahrain has also continued to persecute individuals based on their religious identity, political aspirations and social belongings. 

     

    On Bahrain's Religious Freedom Day we, the undersigned, recommit ourselves to:

    1. Defending and protecting religious freedoms in Bahrain as stated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 
    2. Demand the protection of religious minorities in Bahrain and defend their religious rights including the right of worship, observance and practice.
    3. Remember those who have been persecuted, tortured, and murdered for their faith and demand an immediate end to the persecution of the Shia majority in Bahrain.
    4. Rejecting policies and actions that target people  because of their religion or belief and call upon the governemtent of Bahrain to ensure equal enjoyment of human rights by all and fundamental freedoms shall not be deemed religious discrimination.
    5. Calling upon the government to undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating sectarian discrimination in all its forms and promote equal citizenship amongst all Bahrainis regardless of religion or faith.
    6. Motivate non-governmental organizations to counter the advocacy of sectarian hatred and encourage where appropriate, integrationist multi-sect non-governmental organizations and movements and other means of eliminating barriers between people of different faiths and to discourage anything which tends to strengthen sectarian divisions.

     

     

    Bahrain Center for Human Rights

    Bahrain Society for Human Rights

    Salam for Democracy and Human Rights

    Bahrain Human Rights Observatory

    Bahrain Human Rights Youth Society

    European-Bahrain Organization for Human Rights

    Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights

    Bahrain Forum for Human Rights 

    Lualua Center for Human Rights

    Manama Observatory for Human Rights

     
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    From Amnesty International

     

    Bahraini activist Dr Sa’eed al-Samahiji was sentenced to one year in prison on 7 April, on charges including “insulting a brotherly State” and “calling for participation in illegal demonstrations”. He was on hunger strike between 14 February and 31 March in protest at his ill-treatment in prison. He is a prisoner of conscience.

    Download the pdf file here.

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    From Amnesty International

     

    Ibrahim Karimi has been sentenced to two years and one month in prison on charges including “publicly insulting the King” which he has denied. He is a prisoner of conscience. He will be at immediate risk of expulsion after he completes his sentence as his nationality was arbitrarily revoked.

     

    Read the pdf file here.

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    From Amnesty International

     

    As Saudi Arabia receives Barack Obama today, Amnesty International is urging the US President not to turn his back on victims of repression and human rights violations across the Gulf states.

    In an open letter published ahead of Obama’s meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on 20 April and with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on 21 April, the organization has called on President Obama to ensure human rights abuses are not swept beneath the carpet.

    “President Obama’s trip offers a crucial opportunity for him to demonstrate a principled commitment to human rights and prove to the world that the US government will not sacrifice human rights in favour of US geopolitical and business interests,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

     

    Read the full letter here.

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  • 04/25/16--03:16: Echoes of the Arab Spring
  • Event in Heidelberg, Germany about the current situation of Human Rights in Bahrain with the participation of BCHR Vice-President Said Yousif Almuhafdah.

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    As we prepare to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the enforced dissolution of the Bahrain Photographic Society in April, as well as the restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly and the creation of civil society organizations.

    On 25 April 2016, the Head of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, Sheikha Mai Al-Khalifa, issued an order to disband the Bahrain Photographic Society, effective immediately. To justify the decision, Al-Khalifa declared it was based on the alleged "involvement of members of the Society in activities contrary to the law and public order."

    The Bahrain Photographic Society is a legal organization which was officially authorized in November 2015. It held its first presidential elections in January this year and has been active in organizing photography events and workshops, promoting photography in Bahrain.

    This is the latest attempt by the Bahraini authorities to target photographers and their freedom of expression and assembly. Several photojournalists are also imprisoned for simply doing their job. Award-winning photographer Ahmed Humaidan is currently in prison, serving a 10-year sentence for documenting pro-democracy demonstrations. Freelance photographer Hussein Hubail was condemned to five years in prison in April 2014 for allegedly "using social media networks to incite hatred of the regime,""calling on people to ignore the law" and "calling for illegal demonstrations."

    Photographer Jaffar Marhoon was arrested on 26 December 2013 and was convicted in 24 politically motivated cases, which resulted in the court sentencing him to life imprisonment on 4 February 2015.

    Sayed Ahmed Al-Mousawi, a photographer who has won 127 international awards for excellence in his field, was arrested on 10 February 2014, and subjected to enforced disappearance for at least four days. During this period, security forces severely tortured him. On 23 November 2015, Al-Mousawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Currently, he is serving his sentence at Jau prison.

    When it comes to attacks on associations, the Bahraini authorities have dissolved several societies. On 2014, Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments, Khalid Ali Al-Khalifa, filed an administrative lawsuit against Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society and the National Democratic Action Society ‘Waad’ on the pretext that public conferences held by the two societies committed administrative violations. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled in a court hearing in January 2014 to dissolve the Islamic Olamaa Council and liquidate its funds, following a lawsuit from the Minister of Justice alleging that the Council “practices political institutional activities that are immune from any legal control and which deviated in practicing this activity to the extent of incitement of violence.” The Teachers Association has been dissolved in 2011.

     

    The BCHR calls on the Bahraini government to immediately:

    • Respect the rights to freedom of assembly and expression;
    • End the ban on peaceful civil associations;
    • Put an end to the continued targeting of photojournalists and their families;
    • Put an end to all procedures and actions aiming at restricting or hampering freedom of association in Bahrain; and
    • Respect freedom of the right to associations and uphold commitments to international agreements.
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    During the past year, there was an increase in the number of interrogations, detentions, and arbitrary arrests of Shi’a Muslims, including clerics, for peaceful protests and criticizing the government’s human rights and religious freedom record. While the Bahraini government has made significant progress in rebuilding 30 mosques and religious structures it destroyed during unrest in the spring of 2011, it did not meet its self-imposed deadline to complete the process by the end of 2014. In addition, the government has yet to fully implement recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to redress past abuses against Shi’a Muslims and further improve religious freedom conditions.
     
     
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    Bahrain Center for Human Rights is seeking Interns to contribute to BCHR's website translation into French, preferably based in Paris. The work load varis weekly, therefore working schedule can be flexible, in agreement with the Head of BCHR in France. This internship position is unpaid.

    In performing his/her duties, the Interns will communicate directly with the Head of BCHR in France.

    The main duties involved include:

    • translation of documentation from Arabic/English to French
    • translation of advocacy documentation to be sent to legislative authorities in France e.g. letters to Members of the Parliament
    • administrative tasks such as managing office communication and the meetings' calendar

    Requirements:

    • A professional level of French is required. Experience in translating documentation is preferred.
    • Fluency in English/Arabic
    • Ability to work under pressure and to meet deadlines
    • Excellent communication skills
    • Ability to maintain strict confidentiality
    • An interest in human rights and in international relations

    To apply, send a CV and cover letter to: Mohamed Sultan, Head of BCHR in France at mohamed.sultan@bahrainrights.org

     

     
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    On 9 May 2016, Bahrain celebrated the culmination of the work of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), announcing that the implementation of all recommendations had been completed. The King awarded Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni a Bahrain Medal of the First Class, and state media reported that Bassiouni said the government of Bahrain had implemented the recommendations - a statement that he later said was inaccurate. The undersigned organizations strongly condemn the government of Bahrain’s lack of commitment to reform and the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain.

    King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa presided over an event marking the completion of the BICI recommendations. The official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported that Professor Bassiouni said that “the implementation of the recommendations has been within the context of sincere efforts by all those who were keen on the security, stability and development of Bahrain.” Professor Bassiouni later claimed that he was wrongfully cited by BNA; he did not clarify further, and confusion remains on what he meant by this statement. This sentiment contradicts the broad agreement among NGOs, experts and the national opposition that the BICI recommendations are far from being fully implemented.

    This outcome is alarming, indicating that the the government has little intention to meaningfully address to demands for justice and human rights. Moreover, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and its partners are worried that these governmental foretell the further deterioration of situation on the ground, as human rights reform is far from being implemented in Bahrain.

    In February 2011, almost half of the Bahraini population peacefully demonstrated against structural inequalities, corruption, oppression and a lack of government representation. In response, the government sent security forces to violently end the protests. Thousands of protesters were arrested, hundreds injured and many even lost their lives. In reaction to growing international pressures, the government established the BICI in July 2011 to investigate government abuses committed during the demonstrations and to recommend legal and policy changes to prevent such events from recurring. For this, the government received international recognition and praise, as an independent assessment of the situation in the country was indeed urgently needed.

    Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)’s independent report, issued jointly with Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), shows that Bahraini authorities have only fully implemented two out of 26 recommendations, while 16 were partially implemented and eight were not implemented. Bahrain continues to purposefully target human rights defenders, to imprison peaceful protestors and to suppress freedom of expression and the right to privacy, forcing some into exile and deporting others after revoking their citizenship.

    Prisons are filled with political opposition leaders for crimes including  “insulting the King”, peaceful protesters for insisting on their right to free expression, and journalists for critical reporting. Prisoners regularly report severe and systematic tortureaswellas physical and psychological assault. Frequently, authorities search houses without a warrant, confiscate personal items and deny victims access to a lawyer and the right to fair trial. Further, government violence even  targets children and subjects them to the same treatment including torture, physical and psychological assault, unfair trials and arbitrary imprisonment.

    At the same time, the government has fostered a culture of impunity for the torturers of protesters and prisoners. The undersigned NGOs stress the importance of implementing all of the BICI’s recommendations to improve the human rights situation in Bahrain.

     

    We, the undersigned, therefore call upon the government of Bahrain to immediately:

    1. Implement the remaining partially or not fulfilled recommendations of the BICI with urgency and full commitment towards change in Bahraini governance, judicial, and human rights practices;

    2. End the use of systemic torture in prisons and police stations, and finally end the culture of impunity;

    3. End the practice of subjecting minors to torture, physical and psychological assault or any kind of ill-treatment in custody, and instead respect children’s rights to special protection as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Bahrain has ratified;

    4. Guarantee fair trials according to international legal standards to all defendants; and

    5. Refrain from targeting journalists, political opposition leaders, protesters and human rights defenders, and respect freedom of expression and assembly.

     

    And further call upon Bahrain’s international allies, including the United Nations, to:

    1. Push the Bahraini government to fully implement each BICI recommendation, according also to recommendations made during Bahrain’s Universal  Periodic Review; and

    2. Urge the Bahraini government to do so with complete transparency and the full participation of independent civil society and peaceful opposition.

     

     

    Signed:

    • Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
    • Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
    • European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Justice Human Rights Organization
    • Bahrain Human Rights Society

     

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    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the Bahraini parliament and Shura Council’s passage of amendments to the Political Societies Law, which places a ban on participation in political decision-making based on discriminatory religious grounds. We believe that it constitutes a violation to people's right to free association, freedom of speech and political activity.

    On 16 May 2016, members of the Bahraini parliament decided to pass a draft amending article 5 of the Political Societies Law (2005), which prevents any religious figure who delivers a sermon from joining political societies or from participating in political activities. The aforementioned amendment has been referred to the Shura Council (the upper house of the parliament), after recommendations were rejected from the parliamentary legislative and legal committee aimed at preventing the amendment. On 22 May 2016, the Shura Council has passed this law as well. The new draft law includes an article stating that “political societies’ heads and leaders shouldn’t be religious preachers, even if they occupy the position in the societies’ without being paid.”

    In defense of this draft amendment, lawmakers supporting this motion argued it would prevent religious acts from being politicized. This decision restricts people's ability to freely engage in religious practices, as those members willing to join political activities pertinent to the legislative process in Bahrain would now need to refrain from any activities carrying religious connotations.

    The decision is even more alarming, considering the fact that a significant number of religious figures in Bahrain are not only politically active, but also critical of the regime in Bahrain. Bahraini authorities have abused their power by discriminating based on religion, as evident in the example of clerics who are repeatedly summoned for their Friday prayer speeches, frequently resulting in arrests, including 20 religious figures  who have been arrested since 2011. These arrests were based on recordings of their speeches, which indicates an increase in surveillance and a grave restriction on freedom of speech. In addition, the Islamic Scholars  Council, which was the highest religious institute for the Shiite community, was dissolved in 2014. More recently, the Minister of the Interior told people not to exercise their right to free expression and “keep away” from discussing and talking politics in their gathering. He then focused on Shia when he criticized “Another matter: attempts to politicize Hussainiya rituals to spread chaos and incitement in an attempt to hijack these rituals away from their original purpose.

    It is important to note that while this amendment restricts individuals’ ability to practice political activity through civil society associations, it will not stop the government from appointing clerics who support its views directly into the Shura council, where at least two clerics are currently members appointed by royal decree.

    Unfortunately, the Bahraini government's practice of imposing restrictions on political activity, assembly, and association is not new or exclusive to this recent decision. Restrictions are facilitated by some of the articles of the Penal Code, Anti-Terrorism Law, as well as the 1989 Law of Associations and Social and Cultural Clubs, which puts Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) under the authority of the government through the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. These restrictions have been maintained further in 2005 with the establishment of the Ministry of Social Development, which created additional restrictions and places CSOs under extensive surveillance by the Ministry of Social Development and prevents their proper functioning in accordance with international principles of association.

    BCHR is deeply disappointed at yet another attempt from to curtail people's right to free association in violation of the right to non-discrimination of any kind, a right which is granted both in the national legislation and in international treaties on civil and political rights ratified by the government of Bahrain. According to article 27 of Bahrain's Constitution, the authorities should be held accountable for guaranteeing the right to form associations for all its citizens. Additionally, BCHR calls on the Bahraini government to abide by the international agreements including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - which it signed and ratified in 2006. Preventing religious figures from being politically active is in direct violation of article 4 of the ICCPR which states that national authorities should refrain from engaging in acts of discrimination of any kind against its citizens. Moreover, according to article 27 of the ICCPR, Bahrain should uphold the right to freely practice one’s religion, among other cultural principles.

    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the government of Bahrain to:

    • Uphold its commitments, through the ratifications of international human rights conventions, to respect and secure the right to association and to political participation on a fair basis, irrespective of religious or political beliefs;
    • End the practice of using legislative mechanisms to violate the right to free speech and association;
    • End the practice of using discrimination of any kind in pursuing its own interests against the interests of the Bahraini people;
    • End the practice of harassing opposition members based on their religious and political beliefs; and
    • Encourage equal treatment under the law for all its citizens, on a non-discriminatory basis.
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    On 22 May 2016, imprisoned human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja informed her family that she had fallen ill with the flu and was unable to take care of her 17-month-old son Abdulhadi, who is currently in prison with her. She also feared Abdulhadi would catch her sickness. Al-Khawaja’s husband went to the prison and requested to take his son out until his wife recovered from her illness. The prison administration told him that it was not allowed, and that the baby could not leave the prison, regardless of Al-Khawaja’s health situation. Upon hearing that, Al-Khawaja’s mother, Khadija Al-Mousawi, also went to the prison in an attempt to speak with them directly. After waiting for several hours outside the gates, she was told that she will not be allowed to take her grandson out. She then requested to be allowed into the prison to care for her daughter and grandson, a request that was also rejected.

    “It has become clear to me that my grandson Abdulhadi is no longer only accompanying Zainab in prison, but rather a prisoner himself who cannot leave regardless of the situation,” Khadija Al-Mousawi noted.

    On 09 May 2016, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Zainab Al-Khawaja and a Russian female prisoner would be released as foreign nationals on humanitarian ground because of their children.

     

    This followed a statement made on 07 April 2016 after her arrest on 14 March 2016 by the Foreign Minister during a press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he said that Zainab Al-Khawaja would be released. After the second statement, Zainab and the Russian prisoner met with the head of the prison administration, who informed them that they were not obliged to act upon the Foreign Ministry’s statement. She added that she had spoken with the sentencing judge who had confirmed that as far as they are concerned, there was no decision to release Zainab Al-Khawaja or the Russian prisoner.

    Al-Khawaja is sentenced to a total of three years and one month in prison, on a variety of charges including two sentences for ripping a picture of Bahrain’s monarch and one year in prison for allegedly “insulting” a police officer. All charges against Al-Khawaja are related to her exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. For more information see: http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1203

    The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses its concern about the ongoing judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain and reiterates its calls on the authorities to:

    1. Release Zainab Al-Khawaja, her son Abdulhadi and all human rights defenders in Bahrain immediately and unconditionally and ensure their protection from any harassment, torture, and persecution in relation to their peaceful human rights activities.

    2. Overturn prison sentences handed down against Zainab Al-Khawaja in all these cases that contravene international law;

    3. End the judicial harassment of Zainab Al-Khawaja; provide a birth certificate to her son and renew her passport; and

    4. 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.

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    The Bahrain Center of Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the Bahraini authorities’ continued persecution and detention of Shia clerics merely for exercising their right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

    On 24 May 2016, the third criminal court sentencedSheikh Mohammed Al-Mansi to one year imprisonment without bail on charges of inciting hatred against the regime and insulting the Ministry of Interior (MOI). During the previous session on the 19 May 2016, Al-Mansi’slawyer, pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against his client. Sheikh Al-Mansi argued that he was exercising his right to speech and he explained that his speech merely reflected the reality, but under no circumstances did it reflect hatred towards the government or the MOI.

    Sheikh Al-Mansi was originally arrested on 15 April 2016, and taken to a police station for interrogation due to a sermon he gave at a Friday prayer which the authority said he was not authorized to. Al-Mansi is a prominent religious figure and a cleric, one of the Shia scholars supporting the opposition and once a member of the now dissolved Islamic Scholar Council. He is known for continuing to speak about demolished Shia mosques, whose destruction was ordered by the authorities in attempts to oppress the Shia Muslim community, and to lead prayers at their sites. Since the pro-democracy protests in 2011, approximately 38 Shia mosques have been demolished by the authorities, yet no one has been held accountable.

    Al-Mansi joins at least another 19 clerics who are currently detained as per BCHR records. Since 2014, Bahrain has deported at least 2 clerics after dropping their citizenship without court order. And in 2014, Bahrain dissolved the Islamic Scholar Council, which was the highest religious institute for the Shia community. In addition, a ban on clergy men participation in political decision-making has been applied through a law modification.

    BCHR is deeply concerned with the Bahraini authorities’ continuous retaliation against citizens demanding the fulfillment of their fundamental human rights. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as a signatory party, Bahrain must abide to respect and uphold freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

    The ICCPR was signed and ratified in 2006 by the government of Bahrain. Within the ICCPR, article 18 and 19 explicitly state the rights to freedom of religion and expression, which have largely been breached by the government in numerous cases. The imprisonment of Al-Mansi disregards his right to freedom of religion. Within the ICCPR, article 18.1 states that all individuals have the right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.The charge raised against Sheikh Al-Mansi further contradicts article 19.2 on his right to voice his opinions.

    BCHR believes that governmental retaliation against Sheikh Al-Mansi were meant to curtail his influence as a cleric on the Shia Muslim community, and to silence his criticism of the discriminatory behaviour shown by the authorities in relation to this community.

     

    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the government of Bahrain to:

    • Uphold its commitments to respect and secure the right of freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and thus abide by ratified international human rights conventions;
    • End the targeting of peaceful religious leaders including Sheikh Mohammed Al-Mansi and 19 other Shia clerics in detention and allow them to freely exercise their right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression;
    • End the practice of violating human rights by engaging in discriminatory judicial practices against members of the opposition; and
    • Release all those detainees arrested for peacefully expressing their views and opinions.




     

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    Amnesty International has published a statement raising the alarm in the case of Bahraini lawyer Taimoor Karimi, rendered stateless and now at imminent risk of expulsion after the Appeal Court in Manama upheld his sentence on 23 May. 

    In its statement, Amnesty International is calling for urgent action for appeals to be sent in English and in Arabic, addressing the King of Bahrain, the Ministry of Interior and the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs and urging them not to proceed to the expulsion of Taimoor Karimi, and to rescind the decision stripping him of his Bahraini citizenship.

    Read the full statement here.

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    Today, 30 May 2016, the Bahraini Court of Appeal toughened the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, to nine years in prison, instead of originally a four years’ imprisonment sentence. The court convicted him of “attempting to overthrow the regime”, the same charge from which he was previously acquitted.

    We, the undersigned NGOs, strongly condemn the Government of Bahrain’s increasing Sheikh Ali Salman’s sentence - over free expression related charges – in a trial that lacked due process. We express grave concern over the authorities’ continued prosecution and targeting of the country’s political opposition figures, which undermine efforts exerted by these figures to democratize Bahrain.

    Sheikh Ali Salman is the Secretary-General of the largest legally permitted political society in Bahrain, Al-Wefaq. On 28 December 2014, Bahraini security forces arrested Sheikh Ali Salman, just two days after his re-election as the society’s Secretary General – when he delivered a speech calling for reforms in the country’s political system.

    Six months later, on 16 June 2015, the Criminal Court sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman to four years in prison for “publicly inciting hatred, inciting civil disobedience of the law, and insulting public institutions” in his speeches and acquitted him of “attempting to overthrow the regime”. Although the main evidence on which the court based the conviction was Sheikh Ali Salman’s speeches, the judge refused the defense team’s request to present supporting evidence, including the recordings of the very speeches he was prosecuted over.

    Today, nearly one year later, the Court of Appeal has not only upheld the four-year imprisonment sentence of Sheikh Ali Salman, but it has also further punished him for “attempting to overthrow the regime” – the charge which the criminal court had previously acquitted him of. Regardless of clear and persistent evidence, demonstrating Sheikh Ali Salman’s peacefulness in action and in speeches, the Government of Bahrain has chosen to escalate its action against him, and extend his sentence. He is now continuing to serve this sentence in Bahrain’s Central Prison at Jau.

    The Bahraini Government’s actions are a clear indication of its total disregard for the potential implementation of real political reforms, and for engagement with other political societies and figures in any form of dialogue.  The authorities targeting of opposition political figures and their societies appears to be a part of its determined policy to further stifle the opposition, and maintain the status quo for its own agenda.  

    In September 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared that Sheikh Ali Salman had been arbitrarily detained by the Government of Bahrain. The decision, which cites both free expression and due process concerns, requests that the Bahraini government release Sheikh Salman immediately, and provide him with an enforceable right to compensation against the government.

    Sheikh Ali Salman is one of three opposition political societies’ Secretary Generals currently in detention over charges in violation of their right to freedom of expression.  Fadhel Abbas, the Secretary General of the Democratic Unity Gathering Society (Al-Wahdawi), was sentenced to five years in prison for criticizing the killing of civilians in the war on Yemen. On 12 July 2015, Ebrahim Sherif, former Secretary-General of Wa’ad Society, was re-arrested shortly after his release following five years in prison. This second arrest was due to a speech he delivered at a public event, in which he mentioned the authorities were committing human rights violations, and called for political reform.

    The government of Bahrain’s prosecution, sentencing, and detention of prominent Bahraini political figures is in direct violation of international human right conventions, to which Bahrain is a signatory. These include the right to freedom of expression and to freedom of association, as set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Article 19 and Article 22.

    We call on the government of Bahrain to:

    • Reverse the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman and release him immediately, and unconditionally;

    • Cease targeting Sheikh Ali Salman and other political activists in Bahrain, and guarantee their freedom of expression; and

    • Ensure that political societies and activists are able to conduct their work in a safe and enabling environment, without fear of reprisal.

     

    Signatories,

    Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

    Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

    European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

    Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO)

     

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    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is deeply concerned over the Bahraini authorities’ continuous unlawful arrests and use of torture to coerce confessions against citizens, including people with physical disabilities. BCHR has documented the cases of Sadiq Abdulameer Alqamar and Mohamed Hasan Buhmaid, currently detained and awaiting trial.

    On March 2015, Sadiq Abdulameer Alqamar (21 years) was arrested in the area of Dar Kulaib together with four other people, and taken to the police station at Hamad Town Roundabout 17. The charges brought against him were placement of unidentified objects, using fake explosives and burning of tires.

    According to information provided to BCHR,  Sadiq was subjected to torture during interrogation and was forced to sign a confession of his alleged accusations. He was later summoned to attend the fourth criminal court on 9 May 2016, when he submitted medical reports describing his disability and thus his physical inability to commit the acts listed in his charges. Alqamar has been suffering from extreme weakness in the muscles of his upper limbs since his early childhood; this physical disability means that he has been dependent on others throughout his life for all his daily activities, as stated by his parents.
    Despite being identified as a “person with special needs” in the medical report, the judge assigned to his case ordered his arrest. Alqamar is currently detained at Dry Dock prison, awaiting his trial.

    Mohamed Hasan Buhmaid (23 years) suffering from hearing impairment and a speech disorder, was arrested from Karzakan village on May 10, 2016 by security forces dressed in civilian clothes. He was taken to the police station at Hamad Town Roundabout 17, but shortly after he got transferred to the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID). Buhmaid was charged with illegal gathering and conducting an attack on a police car. As reported by his family, who had long been unable to get information on the reasons behind his arrest, he has been subjected to food deprivation and to torture under interrogation, including being forced to stand for long hours, and beaten, kicked and slapped each time he would move. Buhmaid was forced to sign a confession of his alleged accusations while being blindfolded. Similarly to Alqamar’s case above, he is currently in Dry Dock prison awaiting trial.

    BCHR draws the alarm on governmental actions subjecting people with physical impairments to arbitrary arrest and torture. Moreover, BCHR draws attention on the authorities’ disregard of medical evidence supporting these two young men claims of innocence in relation to their charges, based on their physical disabilities.

    This is not the first time BCHR document cases of this kind. The continuation of violations against  detainees with special needs is an indication of lack of  any significant improvement to the treatment of disabled persons arrested in Bahrain.

    Based on these two cases above, Bahraini authorities are in breach of international legislation concerning persons with disabilities, more specifically, of legislation stating their legal right to due process. As a signatory member to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since June 2007, Bahrain should promote, protect and ensure “the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote the respect for their inherent dignity”. According to article 12.3 in this convention, states need to “take appropriate measures to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity”.
     

    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the government of Bahrain to:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release all detainees with special needs, who have been arbitrarily arrested and all other political prisoners in Bahrain;
    • End the practice of subjecting detainees, including persons with disabilities, to arbitrary arrests and systematic torture under interrogation in order to obtain confessions and
    • Uphold national and international legislation prohibiting the ill-treatment, physical and mental torture of detainees.
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    We, the undersigned NGOs, strongly condemn the Bahraini government’s use of the death penalty, lengthy imprisonment sentences, and revocation of citizenship, amid ongoing credible allegations of torture, ill-treatment and deprivation of due process.

    On 31 May 2016, an appeals court in Bahrain upheld the death sentences of three individuals - Sami Mushaima, Abbas Al-Samea, and Ali Abdulshaheed Al-Singace; and life sentences for six others - Ali Jameel Al-Samea, Taher Al-Samea, Husain Ahmed, Hasan Sabah, Ahmed Matooq and Redha Mushaima; and revoked the citizenship of eight of them. The detainees were arrested over two years ago, on 3 March 2014, by security forces in house raids, on charges of allegedly using improvised explosive devices which led to the killing of three police officers, one of them being an Emirati citizen. The state-sponsored media quickly published photos of the defendants accusing them of murder, before the investigation was even completed. On 26 February 2015, the High Criminal Court convicted them of all charges and passed sentence.

    BCHR has been closely monitoring these cases, raising the alarm on more than one occasion on questionable interrogation practices and ill-treatment of these detainees, who were refused access to their families and lawyers. They said that they were subjected to torture during interrogation to force them to confess. Despite being presented with evidence to prove their innocence, the court convicted and sentenced them to the harshest of punishments. All defendants denied the charges against them, and pleaded innocent.

    As reported to BCHR, the security forces subjected detainees to more than a week of enforced disappearance, during which they were allegedly tortured.  Sami Mushaima, who is one of three individuals sentenced to death for his alleged planning of the bombing event, has claimed that the security forces tortured him to force his confessions by beating him in his genital area, and keeping him handcuffed at all times, even in his prison cell. They also forced him to stand for hours and limited his access to toilet. Abbas al Samea– similarly sentenced to death – also alleged he was subjected to various form of torture, including electric shocks, sleep deprivation, and sexual assault. Other detainees in the case have reported being subjected to the same forms of torture.

    Additionally, the defendants’ lawyers were prevented from accessing the case files during trials, and from cross-examining the public prosecution’s witnesses. As such, the prisoners’ legal representatives boycotted the hearings and protested the unjust and biased investigation and trial. This is a clear violation of their legal right to due process. Consequently, the case document that was submitted by the public prosecutor relied entirely on a confession obtained through torture.

    We continue to note the escalation of harsh sentences issued by Bahraini courts in absence of due process and over politically motivated charges. In May 2016 alone, BCHR registered a total of 2,211 years’ worth of prison sentences, across more than 44 cases all related to the political unrest in Bahrain. 207 persons were subject to these sentences, where some of them have to pay a total of BHD 412,400 in fines (the equivalent of USD$$1,093,959.20). Moreover, 36 individuals had their citizenship revoked through court orders.

    According to article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), every individual has the right to life, and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his right. Article 6(2) mentions that countries which have not abolished the death penalty may not impose a death sentence against individuals if they cannot be guaranteed the right to a fair trial and where other ICCPR rights have been violated. This right to a fair trial will include the presumption of innocence and the right to examine witnesses. According to the interpretation by the UN Human Rights Committee, all ICCPR provisions must be upheld throughout proceedings. This includes the absolute rights under article 7 not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for any purpose.

    We, the undersigned, therefore call upon the government of Bahrain to:

    • Annul the death penalty convictions and life imprisonment sentences levelled against the 10 defendants;
    • Immediately launch an investigation into the allegation of torture and prosecute all individuals found responsible for the crimes of torture and or/cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment;
    • Immediately and unconditionally release all political detainees who have been arbitrarily arrested for politically motivated charges due to the popular movement for freedom and democracy; and
    • Guarantee the right to a fair and impartial trial, as well as the right to legal counsel for all political prisoners in the Bahraini detention system.

     

    Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

    European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

    Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO)


     

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