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  • 09/07/16--01:39: Punishing Dissent in Bahrain
  • Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist in Bahrain, has racked up a long rap sheet of trumped-up charges over the past decade for peacefully exercising his right to criticize the government. The latest charges illustrate how far the gulf nation’s leaders are willing to go to crush dissent. On Monday, prosecutors in Bahrain announced that Mr. Rajab had been charged with “deliberate dissemination of false news and spreading tendentious rumors that undermine the prestige of the state.” His supposed offense? Writing an op-ed article, titled “Letter From a Bahraini Jail,” which was published Sunday in The Times.

    Read full article here

     

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    The Spokesman of the US State Department, Mark Toner, said in yesterday's ( 6 September) Press Briefing that the United States is "very concerned" about Nabeel Rajab's ongoing detention and about the new charges filed against him. He further stated that the US Government calls on the Government of Bahrain "to release him immediately".

    Read the transcription of the press briefing here on the State Department's webpage or watch the piece here via twitter.

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    The Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights said that The Australian Greens (Australia's Green Political Party) has promised to intervene diplomatically to halt the export of advanced monitoring devices to the Bahraini Interior Ministry. These devices are used in the authorities' repression of pro-democracy peaceful protests.

    Read full article here.

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    The US State Department on Tuesday called for Rajab's immediate release after The New York Times published a letter by the activist that said he was facing prosecution for his work exposing human rights abuses in Bahrain and criticising the war in Yemen.

    Prosecutors in Bahrain filed new charges on Monday against an unidentified man, believed by rights activists to be Rajab, for "publishing a column in a foreign newspaper in which he deliberately spread news, statements and false rumours that undermine the kingdom's stature".

    "The case is still being investigated by the public prosecution," said a  Bahraini government spokesperson, who did not name Rajab as the subject of the new charges. "The public prosecution is independent of the government. Every suspect, as per the laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain, is not guilty until proven otherwise."

    Read full article here

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    Bahrain Mirror: Head of the Monitoring and documentation department at the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR), activist Fatima Al-Halwachi, said that her father Khalil Halwachi (59 years), who has been in the pre-detention prison since over 2 years, suffered from a new stroke in prison which made him lose the ability to move his body.

    Fatima posted on her own twitter account saying that her father was transferred to the Dry Dock prison's clinic and he did not receive the adequate medication or needed treatment.

    She continued "in a short phone call with my father from the prison, he explained the symptoms he suffered from; inability to move his body, numbness and pain in the stomach, chest and heart."

    Read full article here

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    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses grave concern over the increasing number of activists convicted for exercising their freedom of speech on vague charges including “insulting the King of Bahrain”, “inciting hatred against the regime” and insulting other state institutions. BCHR strongly condemns the continuing restrictions of the right to freedom of expression in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

    On 31 August 2016, Bahraini authorities sentenced three activists and social media users, who posted statements online or delivered speeches in which they allegedly insulted the King of Bahrain or the Kingdom’s authorities. One case concerns 33-year-old Taiba Ismaeel, who was sentenced to one year in prison and to a punitive fine of 1,000 Bahraini dinars for a number of tweets she had published on her personal Twitter account. The Bahraini authorities arrested her on 26 June 2016, without presenting a warrant for her arrest, and searched her apartment and confiscated her mobile phone. The public prosecution interrogated Ismaeel on the following day and charged her with allegedly “insulting the king and inciting hatred against the regime,” charges that have been used repeatedly by the authorities against Twitter users.

    A second Twitter-related case concerns Hameed Khatam, who was arrested on 25 July 2016 from his house in Samaheej and charged with “insulting the king and inciting hatred against the regime” for comments he made on his personal Twitter account. Following a quick trial, the authorities sentenced Khatam to two years in prison. Both Khatam and Taiba were accused of using anonymous twitter accounts.

    Another case concerns the cleric Majeed al-Mishal, who was sentenced to two years in prison. Al-Mishal, who is the head of the highest Shia religious institution in Bahrain, was arrested at the end of July 2016 and charged with leading the sit-in in Duraz and calling people to join the rally. The Duraz sit-in started in the wake of Sheikh Isa Qassim’scitizenship revocation and caused widespread protests in the country and in Qassim’s home town of Duraz in particular. In addition to the charges over instigating the Duraz protests, the Bahraini authorities charged Al-Mishal with inciting hatred against the regime.

    The right to freely exercise one’s freedom of expression is often criminalized in Bahrain, including through the use of social media platforms such as Twitter. Since the beginning of 2016, BCHR has recorded ten sentences issued by either primary or appeal courts based on charges including “insulting the king”, “inciting hatred against the regime” or “insulting Ministry of Interior”. The sentences total 27 years and five months in prison, and fines of 12,100 Bahraini dinars (USD 32,100). In five of these ten cases, the charges were based on statements posted on Twitter, totaling ten years, five months in prison and fines totaling 12,100 Bahraini dinars.

    Besides, eight others are currently on trial for similar charges, and at least five of them are currently detained. Among them is BCHR’s president and leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who is facing charges including “insulting ministry of interior” in relation to tweets and retweets posted in 2015 about the war in Yemen and torture at Jaw prison. Rajab faces imprisonment of up to 15 years if convicted. However, his trial has been postponed three times and is now expected to take place on 6 October 2016.

    A frequent target of the Bahraini government is activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, who has been imprisoned repeatedly over the last five years. Most recently, the authorities arrested Al-khawaja on 14 March 2016 to serve a sentence of 2 years and 4 months in prison and fined 3,000 Bahraini dinars (USD 7,900) for charges over tearing a photo of the king. Although she was released on 31 May 2016, on "humanitarian" grounds, her sentence has only been suspended and she was forced into exile in Denmark due to threats of indefinite detention.

    Based on Article 214 of the 1976 Penal Code, “a punishment of imprisonment for a period of no less than one year and no more than seven years and a fine of no less than BD1,000 and no more than BD 10,000 will be inflicted upon any person who offends in public the Monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag or the national emblem.” It is not specified within the language of the law what constitutes an offence, allowing space for the authorities to criminalize any form of criticism of the king.

    BCHR is deeply alarmed about the growing practice of curtailing dissent and the rights to freedom of speech and of expression including on Internet platforms in particular. We condemn the increasingly pervasive tactic to diminish access to information and any critical commentary of the government by blocking media website platforms, interrupting access to the Internet, and attempting to prevent the exposure of any form of information that does not align with government rhetoric.

    The Bahraini government’s actions are in direct violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of expression on any platform. It states that “every individual 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 the frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of his choice.”

    In view of the abovementioned, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release all Internet users and activists arrested and imprisoned for merely exercising their rights to freedom of speech and expression;
    • Abide by international human rights standards by upholding the right to freedom of expression without any restrictions;
    • End the politically-based retaliation against activists as well as social media users who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression and allow them to freely exercise their rights to free speech.
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    Bahrain's Shiite clerics sent a letter to the Head of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the diplomatic missions of Member States at the Geneva council during its 33rd session.

    They declared in their letter that the rising sectarian persecution against the Shiite majority is reaching dangerous levels.

    In their letter dated Friday (September 9, 2016) the reigious scholars listed a chain of governmental actions that was recently conducted against the Shiite majority, most serious was the trial of Shiite spiritual leader in Bahrain, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, and the revocation of his citizenship, on the basis of performing a Shiite religious obligation (Khums).

     

    Continue reading here.

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    In testimony today before the U.S. Congress’s Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley will urge U.S. policymakers to take action to press for human rights reforms in Bahrain. He will also urge members of Congress to support a bipartisan bill that would ban the sale of small arms and ammunition to Bahrain until the government demonstrates human rights progress on recommendations laid out in a 2011 report. 

    “Through the smallest country in the Middle East, Bahrain exemplifies several of the major challenges for U.S. policy in the region,” Dooley noted in his prepared statement. “2016 promises to be a definitive year as a series of issues converge to threaten Bahrain… The remaining months will be important as President Obama shapes his legacy in the Middle East.”

     

    Continue reading here.

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    Chairman McGovern, Chairman Pitts, members of the Commission, thank you for the invitation to testify on Bahrain. This hearing comes at the end of a week when Bahrain’s most notable human rights defender had an op-ed in the New York Times, only to be charged the next day with “deliberate dissemination of false news and spreading tendentious rumors that undermine the prestige of the state.” In response, the Times ran a stinging editorial which notes that relying “on rulers who have responded to dissent with torture, tear gas, jail cells and travel bans is not a defensible long-term strategy.” 

    As you know, the majority of Bahrainis are Shiite but the country is ruled by the Al Khalifa family, a Sunni-dominated autocratic monarchy that has shown a clear aversion to meaningful reform, despite a number of cosmetic initiatives. In 2011, the authorities used lethal force to suppress a largely peaceful pro-democracy movement, which proved to be a turning point and required the government to engage more directly – and publicly – on structural reform. Unfortunately, although King Hamad appointed an independent commission – the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) –  to document human rights violations and dutifully accepted all of its recommendations, he has done little to implement the most substantive ones.

     

    Read the full statement here.

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    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, Calls on Bahraini Government to Comply with Human Rights Mechanisms

    In a welcome move, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed his concern about the current situation in Bahrain as the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council opened in Geneva on 13 September 2016.

    He articulated his concerns about the harassment and arrests of human rights defenders and political activists. Furthermore, he criticised Bahraini legislation for enabling the revocation of citizenships.

    “The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly, and with punishing clarity, how disastrous the outcomes can be when the government attempts to smash the voices of its people instead of serving them.”

     

    He called for more intensified cooperation by asking the Bahraini government “to comply with the recommendations of the Human Rights mechanisms” and to engage more productively with his office and the Human Rights Council’s special procedures. Bahrain’s human rights record will be examined under the Universal Periodic Review in 2017. He stressed that, “Only by working together can we solve our common problems. There is no alternative.”

    In support of High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein’s comments, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) calls on the Bahraini government to:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release all arrested human rights defenders and political activists, including BCHR’s founders Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who are detained for expressing their opinion;
    • Adhere to international human rights standards by respecting as well as upholding the right to freedom of expression without any restrictions;
    • End the practice of arbitrary citizenship revocation and reinstall all citizenships revoked for politically-motivated purposes; and
    • More actively engage with the Human Rights Council and UN mechanisms, including the upcoming Universal Periodic Review.

    Listen to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein's full statement here

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    The intervention was delivered under Item 3 on arbitrary detention in Bahrain by Sayed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy at the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, together with the American for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

    See full remakrs below.

     

    Mr. Chair-Rapporteur,

    Alsalam Foundation, together with Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy would like to raise our concern over the remarkably high number of arbitrarily detained prisoners in Bahrain.  The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s has regularly raised its concern regarding the systematic use of arbitrary detention in Bahrain, in particular noting cases of prominent political and civil society figures.

    For example, Hassan Mushaima, Secretary General of the Haq Movement for Democracy has been the subject of multiple urgent communications by the Working Group since his arbitrary detention began in March 2011, yet the Bahraini government continues his arbitrary life sentence to this day.

    Likewise, Bahraini authorities also continue to arbitrarily detain Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace, one of Bahrain’s leading human rights and democracy leaders, and a colleague of Mushaima. Five years into his detention Dr. al-Singace’s health is in poor condition.

    Finally, on 13 June 2016, Nabeel Rajab, was again arrested for his work as a human rights defender. Nabeel has been the subject of a number of Working Group decisions, including a similar instance in 2013, in which the Working Group concluded his detention to be arbitrary and in violation of articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

    These cases are but some of the nearly 4,000 cases of the widespread and systematic arbitrary detention ongoing in Bahrain. Mr. Chair-Rapporteur, in instances such as this in Bahrain, what recommendations does your mandate have toward dismantling and reversing such an institutionalized system of abuse?

    Thank you.

    Access the intervention in pdf format here.

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    The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra'ad Al-Hussein said on Tuesday (September 13, 2016) that Bahrain should pay more heed to human rights.Referring to Bahrain, Zeid further noted that in the past decade, outcomes were proven time and time again to be disastrous when the Government attempted to crush its people's voices instead of protecting them.

    Read full article here.

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    In 2011, the Government of Bahrain violently suppressed the country’s peaceful pro-democracy movement. More than half of the population protested structural inequalities, corruption, repression, and a lack of democratic political representation. In response to the protest movement, the Bahraini government dispatched security forces to quell the demonstrations, leading to thousands of arrests, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of deaths. From athletes to lawyers, and students to nurses, the government targeted anyone who raised a dissenting voice with media attacks, home raids, arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, torture, and even extrajudicial killing.

    Over the last five years, the government has only intensified its control of civil society by interrogating, arresting, and imprisoning hundreds of human rights defenders, journalists, political opposition leaders, and religious figures. In just the first eight months of 2016, Bahraini authorities have targeted prominent activists like Nabeel Rajab and Sheikh Maytham al-Salman and initiated an unprecedented campaign to restrict the rights of the country’s Shia religious leadership. In response to the increased suppression of religious freedom, in particular, five UN Special Procedures recently released a joint statement urging Bahrain to end its “persecution of Shias,” who continue to be “targeted on the basis of their religion.”

    It is against this backdrop that the international community has issued numerous statements expressing concern for ongoing human rights violations Bahrain and calling for reform. In this report, Collective Efforts: International Calls for Accountability and Reform in Bahrain, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Right & Democracy (BIRD) analyze all the statements and resolutions of the member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), the European Parliament (EP), the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), and the UN Secretary-General since 2011 in order to track the international reaction to the deterioration of Bahrain’s human rights situation.

    Specifically, this report examines the five joint statements on Bahrain issued by the UN Human Rights Council, the eight resolutions on Bahrain passed by the European Parliament, and all statements and press releases issued by the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Special Procedures since 2011. ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD have found that despite numerous calls from these widely respected institutions and leaders, the Government of Bahrain has largely continued to violate basic human rights including those to free expression, assembly, and association. In 2016 alone, the authorities have: arrested and forcibly exiled activist Zainab al-Khawaja; rearrested human rights defender and BCHR president Nabeel Rajab; dissolved the largest political opposition group, Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society; extended the sentence of Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman; issued multiple travel bans against human rights defenders and activists; and, denaturalized Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, who is widely regarded as the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shia community. As one Bahraini activist recently described these developments to ADHRB, “[in the] last few weeks, civil society came under direct and open assaults by authorities and the government became bolder than ever in targeting religious leaders, human rights defenders and civil society organizations that expose corruption, highlight human rights violations, and demand democratic reforms.”

    By providing a brief overview of the international community’s past engagement on Bahrain, this report also provides a clear picture of what new action the international community must take to improve the country’s human rights situation. Though the statements and resolutions described here represent significant international efforts to drive positive change in Bahrain, ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHR find that the current approach is no longer appropriate for the scale of ongoing human rights violations. To effectively pressure the government to reconsider its intensified assault on civil society and the public freedoms, it is time for the HRC to issue a resolution on Bahrain. A resolution will best reflect the increasing seriousness of the situation and send a clear message to the Government of Bahrain that the international community will not tolerate the continued violation of basic human rights.

    For the full report, please click here.

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    On 14 September, the intervention under Item 2 on the Annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was delivered by Husain Abdulla form Alsalam Foundation at the 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, together with the Americans for Rights and Democracy in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Institure for Rights and Democracy.

    See full remarks below. Watch full intervention here.

    Mr. President,

    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) welcomes the statement of the High Commissioner and thanks him for calling this Council’s attention to the situation in Bahrain.  

    Indeed, we share all of his concerns and regret that in the last few months, we have observed an intensification of all violations in Bahrain. In June, we were deeply concerned by the re-arrest of leading Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab, coming only weeks after a Bahraini court had extended the arbitrary sentence of main political opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman.

    We have also been extremely concerned with the Government of Bahrain’s clear campaign against its Shia population. In June, we were alarmed by the decision to revoke the citizenship of Bahrain’s Shia spiritual leader Sheikh Isa Qassim. Unfortunately the practice of citizenship revocation has become all too customary in Bahrain. However, the denaturalization of Sheikh Qassim provoked an unprecedented number of protests in Bahrain with people gathering in numbers unseen since 2011. Bahrain has since arrested a number of these peaceful protesters and has imposed a blockade on the town of Sheikh Qassim’s residence, Diraz, where several protesters have been unable to exit, and others unable to enter.

    We welcome the High Commissioner and his office’s engagement on these and many other issues and ask that he continue to call on Bahrain to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. We share his view that the last 10 years have shown with “punishing clarity” what happens when peaceful voices are smashed and warning bells ignored by the international community.

    Thank you.

    Read the intervention in pdf format here. Watch full intervention here.

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    On 14 September, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), together with the Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) together with a larger group of NGO sponsors organized a panel event entitled "Closing civil society, religious and political space in Bahrain", held in Geneva at the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council.

    Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, Vice-President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) spoke of the past few months and the steep intensification of human rights violations in Bahrain, particularly, the re-arrest of BCHR President Nabeel Rajab. He also highlighted that none of his staff from the ground had been able to travel to Geneva. Sayed Yousif, who has been in exile in Germany since 2012, also explained that sectarian discrimination against Bahrain’s majority Shia community continues to represent a key dimension of the situation in Bahrain. He recalled how in just the past months, Bahrain revoked the citizenship of the leading Shia religious cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose trial had since begun in July 2016.  He also pointed to the dissolution of Bahrain’s largest political society Al-Wefaq. In light of recent events, al-Muhafdha concluded with determination: “We are at the human rights council to assure a resolution that establishes an independent monitoring mission in Bahrain.”

    Read the full description of the event below. Access the full description in pdf format here.

     

    33rd Session of the Human Rights Council: Closing Civil Society, Religious & Political Space in BahrainDescription: Displaying IMG_3003.JPG

    Today on 14 September 2016, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) together with a larger group of NGO sponsors organized a panel event entitled “Closing civil society, religious and political space in Bahrain”. The event was held in parallel to the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

    Michael Payne, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain’s International Advocacy Officer introduced the panel and observed that many familiar faces from Bahraini civil society were missing due to blanket travel bans that had been imposed by the government since last session of the HRC, preventing Bahrain’s grassroots civil society from engaging with the United Nations and its Member States. Welcoming the UN High Commissioner’s comments on the concerning situation in Bahrain yesterday, he presented ADHRB’s new report “Collective Efforts”, a report which assesses international statements made by several actors over past years to raise attention to the concerning human rights situation in Bahrain. He summarized the findings of the report. He concluded that while statements by the international community had helped to constrain the Government of Bahrain, there was a clear lack of progress and political will to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, which demands a much stronger international response towards Bahrain. Description: Displaying IMG_2958.JPG

    Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, Vice-President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) spoke of the past few months and the steep intensification of human rights violations in Bahrain, particularly, the re-arrest of BCHR President Nabeel Rajab. He also highlighted that none of his staff from the ground had been able to travel to Geneva. Sayed Yousif, who has been in exile in Germany since 2012, also explained that sectarian discrimination against Bahrain’s majority Shia community continues to represent a key dimension of the situation in Bahrain. He recalled how in just the past months, Bahrain revoked the citizenship of the leading Shia religious cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose trial had since begun in July 2016.  He also pointed to the dissolution of Bahrain’s largest political society Al-Wefaq. In light of recent events, al-Muhafdha concluded with determination: “We are at the human rights council to assure a resolution that establishes an independent monitoring mission in Bahrain.”

    Ariel Plotkin, Campaigner on Bahrain at Amnesty International stated that Amnesty was also deeply alarmed by the situation in Bahrain. Similarly, she recognized the escalation in past months of violations to freedom of expression, association and assembly.  She highlighted that this recent repression in Bahrain had also been unprecedented. Elaborating on the recent highlights such as the extension of Al-Wefaq’s General Secretary Sheikh Ali Salman’s sentence from 4 to 9 years, the revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship, and the subsequent arrest of peaceful protesters who staged a sit-in outside Sheikh Qassim’s home in the village of Diraz to protest his denaturalization; Ariel expressed her serious concern over what future measures could be taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain. “The once thriving and courageous civil society in Bahrain, is at risk of disappearing,” said Ariel. She concluded by calling on Bahrain to annul the dissolution of Al-Wefaq, to re-instate the citizenship of those whose nationality was arbitrarily revoked, to release all prisoners of conscience, to end all forms of repression and finally, to comply with all of its human rights obligations.Description: Displaying IMG_2976.JPG

    Dr. Dwight Bashir, Co-Director of the US Commission on International and Religious Freedom introduced himself as a regular visitor to Bahrain. He said he had been travelling to the country every year since 2009. Having recently returned from Bahrain, he provided a fresh assessment of the situation, citing in particular, the “systematic discrimination” faced by the majority Shia religious group in the country. He recalled that in some of his meetings with the Bahraini government, a common explanation for many of the extreme measures taken was the role of Iran and the concern over foreign agents. He stressed that “nothing had been produced” to justify these claims by the Government. He also highlighted that laws were being applied on this basis, but that these allegations were “not only inaccurate, but outright false.” He further expressed concern that the shutdown of opposition group Al-Wefaq, left nothing open for discussion. Citing his experience, he said what he observed in Bahrain was a polarization of extremes, both on the side of the majority Shia population and the minority Sunni population. This left people only to align with the government, or against the government. He emphasized the importance of religious freedom as a public and private human right that when violated, could have devastating consequences, consequences with which the international community is all too familiar.  “When you go to the heart of someone’s faith and their personal belief – this becomes a huge concern,” he said.  He also marked that while the Government of Bahrain had rebuilt 27 of the 30 Shia religious sites it had demolished in 2011, their position on some key sites was that they would facilitate the legal paperwork and that this was enough. In addition to their other attacks on the Shia, however, they showed little will to diffuse sectarian tensions. Ending on the point of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s potential upcoming conviction, he stressed that if convicted, Sheikh Isa Qassim’s conviction would be seen as a direct attack on the Shia population, leaving open all possibility for extremism to grow in appeal.

    Description: Displaying IMG_2991.JPG

    Laila Matar, Human Rights Watch UN advocate, thanked her fellow panellists for painting an “accurately grim” picture of the situation in Bahrain. She recalled that a big group of states had come together in Geneva one year ago (in September 2015) to express concern over the situation, but that the lack of collective action since, from a body that was mandated to address such issues, was unacceptable. She highlighted the extreme level of reprisals that had occurred since the last session of the Human Rights Council and expressed that these actions seemed to suggest that Bahrain felt emboldened by the silence of the international community. She also highlighted that while the international community seemed silenced, the deterioration in Bahrain had not been ignored by the experts of the Human Rights Council, as seen by the many communications of the Special Procedures, the report of the Secretary General and the concern expressed by the High Commissioner. She spoke clearly to Bahrain and the international community, pronouncing that “repression and support for repression is not a long-term strategy for stability.” This became a serious concern once Bahrain closed any political outlet for the frustration of people on the ground.

    Upon conclusion of the panellist’s comments, moderator Michael Payne asked Ariel Plotkin whether Bahrain, once recognized as an example of civil society activism in the region, was still representative of this. Plotkin replied that while the restrictions on civil society were challenging and had resulted in a closing of civil society space inside Bahrain, she still felt that Bahrain was a good example because she had seen how voices that had been smashed and particularly, voices of Human Rights Defenders who had been exiled, have only become louder outside of Bahrain. She described that it was fascinating how they have adapted to the circumstances and thus could still be looked to as an example of activism for the region.

    Michael also asked Bashir about how the polarization of extremes in the country could be reversed. Bashir responded that the international community had to encourage greater efforts by Bahrain to draw back its repression. He said that there needed to be a genuine will from Member States to look at the early warnings and react. Laila also added that a political impasse had been reached in Bahrain, thus the opposition did not have any more confidence in any government-led political processes. She commented that there was, now, more than ever, a need to provide incentives and costs for Bahrain to take clear and strong measures to rebuild this confidence, and that this push in the right direction could only be directed by the international community.

    Ahmed Ali, Legal Officer from the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy raised a question to Ariel Plotkin about UK assistance in Bahrain and Amnesty International’s assessment of this program and its effectiveness. Ariel elaborated on some of the UK assistance programs and added that given the recent turn of events, these programs did not really seem to be having their desired effect.

    Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain mentioned reports that torture in Bahrain was no longer an issue in the country’s prisons, he asked Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha whether these reports were accurate. Sayed Yousif disagreed and cited a number of examples. He noted in particular that the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) mandated to hold the perpetrators of torture accountable, had been totally ineffective and were not transferring any of the complaints they had received to the courts. Thus, he concluded that there was still a strong “culture of impunity” in Bahrain.Description: Displaying IMG_3013.JPG

    An audience member from a youth organization also posed a question to the panel, citing a case that he had read about and asking the panel how many children and youth were being held in Bahrain’s prisons. Sayed Yousif opened that over 120 children and youth had been subjected to imprisonment since January 2016.

    Finally, Erin Sigmon, from Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain asked what more could be done by civil society to pressure greater action by Member states.  Laila Matar frustratedly concluded that unfortunately it came down to political will of Member States. However, she encouraged civil society to call into question the silence on Bahrain and continue to demand the Council to be non-selective and address country situations based on solid criteria.

    This event was organized by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

    This event was also sponsored by Amnesty International, FIDH’s Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders.

     

    Read the full description of the event in pdf format here.

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    At the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council held in Geneva, the government representative from the Kingdom of Bahrain completely denied the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the small island kingdom, when stating: “Our progress in the field of human rights continues.”

    Responding to opening remarks by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein,on 13 September 2016, in which he noted that “the past decade has demonstrated repeatedly, and with punishing clarity, how disastrous the outcomes can be when the government attempts to smash the voices of its people instead of serving them,” the Bahraini representative claimed that concerns about the harassment and arrests of human rights defenders and the revocation of citizenships were both “mistaken and inaccurate.”

    While national human rights institutions have been set up in response to heavy international criticism of the authorities’ violent response to the peaceful, pro-democratic uprising in 2011, these institutions - in spite of the government’s claims to the contrary - have not delivered on promises to ensure accountability and redress for victims of human rights violations. According to the third annual report from the Office of the Ombudsman there have been no convictions in alleged cases of torture since the office began receiving complaints. The Government of Bahrain nevertheless insisted: “These activities and programs are productive – having encouraging results.”

    It thus appears that the Government of Bahrain is in complete denial of the current state of affairs, something which became blatantly obvious when the Bahraini representative made the following remark:

    “The Kingdom of Bahrain wholeheartedly agrees on the desirability of engaging productively with the High Commissioner’s Office. It has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness and readiness to do so.”

    Yet, as documented in the reportCharting the Seas of Abuse: Analysis of United Nations Special Procedure Communications to the Kingdom of Bahrain 2011 – 2016, the Government of Bahrain has accumulated since 2011 a total of seven outstanding visit requests by the UN Special Procedure mandate holders. Bahrain’s statement given today at the Human Rights Council therefore stands in stark contrast to its actions and seems to completely deny the basis for the numerous statements of concern about the continued, ongoing and deteriorating human rights situation in the Kingdom from the international community.

    In the new reportCollective Efforts: International Calls for Accountability and Reform in Bahrain, BCHR together with partner organizations conclude that it is time for the Human Rights Council to issue a resolution on Bahrain that not only reflects but insists on the increasing seriousness of the human rights situation in Bahrain. This must be done to send a clear message to the Government of Bahrain that the international community will not tolerate the continued violation of basic human rights in the Kingdom.

    At the time of writing, all public figures of BCHR residing in Bahrain have been banned from leaving the country, including to attend the UNHRC33, and some are detained and/or being prosecuted for their peaceful human rights activities.

     

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    See below an unofficial transcript of the full text of the statement delivered by the representative of Bahrain at the 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 14 September.

    The Kingdom of Bahrain wholeheartedly agrees on the desirability of engaging productively with the high commissioner office. It has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness and readiness to do so. In fact, a detailed program of work has been agreed between us and the OHCHR under the current technical capacity-building program. Although one event took place in Bahrain in May 2016, our repeated request for further activities as agreed have not been met with positive response. We will look forward to the OHCHR’s prompt and positive engagement.

    Our progress in the field of human rights continues. In addition to many domestic initiatives, Bahrain has a variety of bilateral, technical and capacity-building programs with different countries and partners, including reputed international organizations and NGOs. These activities and programs are productive – having encouraging results.

    The High Commissioner’s concerns regarding Bahrain are mistaken and inaccurate. Every person under arrest in Bahrain has been charged with the violation of the penal court and the general criminal law of the land. In addition, Bahrain’s law of citizenship complies with the international laws applicable to the Kingdom.

    The High Commissioner also made a general statement regarding the first decade. This surely does not apply to Bahrain. I remind this (...)  Council of the numerous unprecedented reforms in Bahrain since the adoption of the national action charter in 2006.

    These reforms have been repeatedly affirmed in this Council in the past decade. In addition, finally Bahrain has responded to every communication received under the Special Procedures – this shows positive and constructive engagement across the Council, which will continue.

    Thank you Mr. President.

     
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  • 09/14/16--09:11: HRC33: EU statement Item 2
  • At the 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council Geneva, 13-30 September 2016, EU delivers a statement  under Item 2 related to the High Commissioner for Human Rights' report. EU states concern regarding allegations of human rights violations in Bahrain, and calls on the government to extend an invitation to the UN Special Raporteur on Torture.

    Check the full text of the statement here.

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    Citizens of Diraz and the protestors in front of Sheikh Isa Qassim's house staged a crowded protest that wandered the streets of the village, demanding putting an end to Al Khalifa monopoly over power.

    Read the full article here

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    Human rights groups have written to 50 states urging them to call on the Bahraini authorities to release Nabeel Rajab, who is facing up to 15 years’ in jail for comments he made on Twitter. Rajab has also been charged with “defaming the state” by publishing “false news... and malicious rumours that undermine the prestige of the kingdom” following the publication of an article by him on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

    Read the full article here

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    15 September 2016 – The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, together with 21 other NGOs, yesterday wrote to the governments of 50 states urging them to publicly call for the release of Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who faces up to 15 years’ imprisonment for comments he made on Twitter. Last week, Bahrain brought the new charge of “defaming the state” against him, after an op-ed was published under his name in The New York Times.

    The letter from 22 NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, urges the 50 governments to "speak out on Bahrain’s continued misuse of the judicial system to harass and silence human rights defenders, through charges that violate freedom of expression."

    Read the full letter here.

    Among those addressed are the governments of France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. While the US State Department called for Nabeel Rajab’s release on 6 September, other governments have not done so. The 50 states addressed in the letter are all previous signatories of statements at the United Nations criticizing Bahrain's ongoing human rights violations and calling for progress.

    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Al-Hussein, used his opening statement at the 33rd Human Rights Council this week to raise concern over Bahrain's harassing and arresting human rights defenders. He cautioned Bahrain: "The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them."

    Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been held in pre-trial detention since 13 June. During this time he has been held largely in solitary confinement, and his health has deteriorated as a result. Since 2011, Nabeel Rajab has faced multiple prosecutions and prison sentences for his vocal activism. He was subjected to a travel ban in 2014 and has been unable to leave the country.

    In his current trial, Nabeel Rajab faces charges including “insulting a statutory body”, “insulting a neighbouring country”, and “disseminating false rumours in time of war”. These are in relation to remarks he tweeted and retweeted on Twitter in 2015 relating to torture in Bahrain's Jaw prison and the role of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in causing a humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

    Nabeel Rajab’s next court session has been set for 6 October, when he is expected to be sentenced.

    Read the full letter here.

    Background

    NGOs and others have been urging action on Nabeel Rajab’s case since he was imprisoned in pre-trial detention in June. On 2 September, 34 NGOs wrote a letter to the King of Bahrain calling for Nabeel Rajab's release.

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