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    3 February 2017

    Dear Mr Johnson,

    In light of recent developments in Bahrain, we write to raise our deep concern over the punitive trials of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who is being prosecuted in three separate cases for exercising his right to freedom of expression. As Foreign Secretary you have re-committed your Office to counter the shrinking of civil society space and promote the work of human rights defenders. We therefore urge you to give effect to this commitment by calling for the release of Nabeel Rajab.

    Nabeel Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division advisory committee and a founding director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights. He faces up to 17 years in prison on several charges, all related to his free speech.

    Nabeel Rajab, who has been in detention, largely in solitary confinement, since his arrest on 13 June 2016, currently faces two separate trials related to his right to free speech. In the first of these, he is charged with “spreading rumours in wartime”, “insulting a neighbouring country” (Saudi Arabia) and “insulting a statutory body”. The first two charges relate to Nabeel Rajab’s tweets published in March 2015 alleging torture in Jaw prison and criticising the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The verdict in his trial has been postponed several times suggesting that this is part of a deliberate strategy to harass him. His next hearing on this case is due to take place on 21 February.

    On 28 December, during a hearing on the Twitter case, the high criminal court authorised Nabeel Rajab’s release on bail; he was then immediately rearrested for investigation into the charge of “spreading false news in media interviews”.  According to the prosecution, Nabeel Rajab’s charge relate to comments given to media outlets in which he stated that foreign journalists and international NGOs cannot enter Bahrain and that the imprisonment of opposition actors was political and illegal. However, multiple international NGOs including Human Rights First, and Reporters Without Borders, as well as academics and journalists, have been denied access since 2012. Amnesty International has also not been granted access to Bahrain since January 2015. Meanwhile, political and unlawful imprisonments are common in Bahrain: Bahrain was the subject of six UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention rulings in 2014. Amnesty International has also documented many prisoners of conscience in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab’s next hearing on this case is scheduled for 7 February.

    In addition, Nabeel Rajab has a third charge against him for “spreading false news” after he an Op-Ed written in his name was published in the New York Times in September 2016.

    We note the UK Government’s statements in recent years relating to Nabeel Rajab. In 2014 for example, at the UN Human Rights Council the UK together with 46 other states, urged Bahrain “to release all persons imprisoned solely for exercising human rights, including human rights defenders, some of whom have been identified as arbitrarily detained according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.” Also, since your appointment as Foreign Secretary, the Government has, through Parliament and the UN Human Rights Council, expressed concern at the re-arrest of Nabeel Rajab and confirmed that UK officials continue to raise his case with the Government of Bahrain and attend each of his hearings.  While such efforts are welcome, it appears that the UK Government has not yet called for his release.

    Since your appointment, the human rights situation in Bahrain has further deteriorated. The recent resumption of executions and excessive use of force against protesters, contradict the Bahraini authorities’ rhetoric of progress being made.

    We strongly believe that the UK, following your and the Prime Minister’s visit to Bahrain in December, and particularly now that the UK has regained a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, should review its current policy on the human rights situation in Bahrain, publicly condemn regressive measures and call for the release of Nabeel Rajab and others detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression such as Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of al-Wefaq National Islamic Society.

    The UK’s significant historical, economic, security and political ties with Bahrain incur a responsibility to acknowledge and criticise negative human rights developments within the country. The UK’s voice is strongly heard in Bahrain, and we urge you to act publicly and promptly in support of Nabeel Rajab’s human rights work and call for his release.

    We would like to request a meeting with the FCO to discuss our human rights concerns in Bahrain and Nabeel Rajab’s case and hear the FCO’s views on his case and what the UK government can do to uphold its commitment to reverse the shrinking civil society space in Bahrain.

     

    Yours sincerely,

    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    Amnesty International UK
    ARTICLE 19
    Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
    Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
    Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
    English PEN
    European Centre For Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
    FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    Index on Censorship
    Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
    No Peace Without Justice
    PEN International
    Rafto Foundation
    REPORTERS SANS FRONTIÈRES (RSF)
    The Bahrain Press Association
    the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Individuals

    Clive Stafford Smith (OBE), director of Reprieve

    Professor Damian McCormack

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    On 25 January 2017 a Bahraini court ruled to jail three parents of extrajudicial killing victims who died during the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011. Zamzam Abdulla, the mother of the late Ali Mushaima was sentenced to one year in prison; while Jawad Al-Sheikh, the father of the late Ali Al-Sheikh, and Makky Abu-Taki, father of the late Mahmood Abu-Taki, were sentenced to three years each, based on charges of alleged “illegal assembly” and “insulting the king.” The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns these arbitrary sentences and calls on the government of Bahrain to drop all charges against these persons, to stop targeting the families of the victims of extrajudicial killing and to hold the killers of the three victims responsible.
     
    The sons of the three parents were all killed during protests in 2011. Their deaths were documented by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Investigation (BICI) and the accountability of the Bahraini security authorities was confirmed. (Refer to details below.)

    The late Ali Mushaima, was the first to fall on 14 February 2011, when he received a shotgun blast in the back from close range from the security forces. Since the death of Ali Mushaima, his family has been targeted for insisting on accountability for the death of their son. Abdulhadi Mushaima, the father of Mushaima, was arrested in 2013 and 2014 and remained in custody for several days before being released. He was summoned for interrogation several times in the past years. Furthermore, in November 2014, his wife, Zamzam Abdulla, the mother of the late Ali Mushaima, was arrested from the Bahrain International Airport as she attempted to travel to Iran for a religious-tourism visit. She was interrogated at the public prosecution on charges related to “insulting the king” and “inciting hatred against the regime,” and released the next day.  On June 2016, both parents of Mushaima were banned from travel. On 25 January 2017, the mother received a sentenced of one year in prison for these charges.

    The policeman responsible for the death of Ali Mushaima was initially sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in January 2013, which was later reduced to three years’ imprisonment in October 2013. Furthermore, and while there was no confirmation whether the convicted policeman was ever detained to serve the sentence, it was reported that he received a royal pardon in May 2015.

    While a three-year imprisonment for the killing of Mushaima is a lenient punishment, many other families of victims of extrajudicial killings in the 2011 protests never had the death of their loved ones investigated, much less prosecuted by authorities.

    Makky Abu-Taki and Jawad Al-Sheikh have both been actively protesting to call for the investigation of the killing of their sons and have been targeted before. Both men were detained under very similar circumstances.

    Makky Abu-Taki was detained in November 2013 when he showed up at the Noaim police station to be interrogated. He went on to spend 45 days in detention where he was reportedly mistreated, beaten and insulted. He received no medical attention for 12 days despite the deterioration of his health until he eventually had to be referred to a specialized doctor. On 25 January 2017 he received a sentence of three years in prison for “illegal assembly.” He is currently outside Bahrain. Makky Abu-Taki’s son, 23-year-old Mahmood Abu Taki, was killed by gunshot wounds during the deadly dawn raid on the Pearl Roundabout on “Bloody Thursday,” 17 February 2011. To date, the Interior Ministry has failed to investigate this case and no one was prosecuted for his death.

    Jawad Al-Sheikh was arrested and detained several times over the past five years, including in October 2012 when he spent over two months in prison for allegations of “illegal assembly.” In November 2013, he was arrested during a raid of his workplace and interrogated about a speech he gave at a religious occasion. He was also mistreated and received no medical attention for the duration of his stay, despite his family's claims that he was suffering from rheumatism. On 25 January 2017, he received a sentence of three years in prison for “illegal assembly.” Jawad’s son, Ali Al-Shaikh, 14 years old, was killed after being directly shot at with a teargas canister which hit his head during a peaceful demonstration in his village in the morning during the Eid holiday on 31 August 2011. The Bahraini authorities have failed to bring anyone to justice over this death.
     
    This targeting of families of victims of extrajudicial killings is part of a bigger trend where families are targeted instead of the killers of their loved ones. The same targeting befell the families of Ali Al-Moamen, Ahmed Farhan,Qassim Badah, and many others, while those responsible for the extrajudicial killing were not held accountable for their actions. Through systematic acts of retaliation against the families of victims of extrajudicial killing, the authorities seek to dissuade victims’ families from demanding accountability for the killers of their loved ones. The Interior Ministry thus traps the families into a vicious circle of on-going summons and detention, on account of the families’ activism and calls for the prosecution of those responsible for the murders of their children.
     
    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and all of Bahrain’s closest allies as well as international institutions to pressure the authorities to:

    • Drop all charges against Zamzam Abdulla, Makki Abu-Taki and Jawad Al-Sheikh;
    • Stop acts of retaliation against activist families and the families of victims of extrajudicial killing;
    • End the systematic policy of impunity for human rights violators;
    • Hold to account those members of the security forces responsible for using excessive force against protesters; and
    • Comply with international human rights standards and implement much needed reforms to prevent human rights violations and to ensure investigation of and compensation for claims of abuse at the hands of the Bahraini authorities.


    More Information

    The cases of the deaths of Ali Mushaima, Mahmoud Abu-Taki and Ali Al-Sheikh were all investigated in the report by the BICI, which was presented in 2011.

    On the case of Ali Mushaima (Case No. 1) the BICI stated:

    “898. The Commission received information that Mr Almeshaima left his home in Daih at approximately 19:00. At that time the police had already dispersed all of the protests in the area. The deceased was seen walking with security officers who were pointing their guns at him. He turned around to leave and was shot in the back. He ran home, collapsing several times before he arrived. He died on the way to the hospital.”

    And concluded: “900. The death of Mr Almeshaima can be attributed to the use of excessive force by police officers. At the time of the shooting, there were no reports of any disturbances in the Daih area. Furthermore, the fact that Mr Almeshaima was shot in the back at close range indicates that there was no justification for the use of lethal force.” More facts can be found on page 229 of the report.

    In the case of Mahmoud Abu-Taki (Case No. 3) the report stated:

    “908. The Commission received information that the deceased died at 03:00 on 17 February 2011. He was sleeping inside a tent at the GCC Roundabout when security forces began firing sound bombs, tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators. The deceased woke up and attempted to help those in the nearby tents to find a path to safety. While he was doing this, he was hit by a shotgun round fired by police officers. He was taken to SMC where he died. His body was examined by the coroner at the MoI, who concluded that his death was caused by a shotgun injury which resulted in internal bleeding.”

    And concluded: “910. The death of Mr Abutaki can be attributed to the use of excessive force by police officers.” More facts can be found on page 231 of the report.

    In the case of Ali Al-Sheikh (Case No. 44) the report stated:

    “1068. The forensic report of the Commission found that the deceased’s injuries were consistent with the deceased being struck by an unexploded tear gas canister fired at short range. The report concluded that the injuries were more consistent with a strike from a canister than from beatings.”

    “1070. The Commission received information that the deceased went to prayers at around 08:30 on the Eid holiday. He then went to Street No. 1, where he began protesting with a number of other persons. Witnesses stated that they saw a police officer standing out of the top window of the jeep, holding a tear gas gun, about 100 metres away. The protesters were then chased and ran in different directions. One individual was hit with a tear gas canister. Witnesses stated that they heard three shots and they believe that one of these shots hit the deceased. Another witness who was in a nearby cemetery stated that he saw a boy being chased by a police jeep with a police officer standing out of the top window of the vehicle. The witness then lost sight of the vehicle and heard shots being fired. The deceased was taken to Sitra hospital but was refused treatment and subsequently died.” More facts can be found on page 255 of the report.
     

     

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    UK authorities trained Bahrain’s police how to gather intelligence on protestors, and then tried to cover up the scheme, international human rights group Reprieve has found. The project took place after protestors in the Gulf kingdom were rounded up and sentenced to death.

    Britain’s Foreign Office paid for half a dozen Bahraini police officers to visit Belfast in August 2015, where the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) shared its expertise on gathering intelligence ahead of demonstrations.

    Protestors in Bahrain, such as Mohammed Ramadan, have been targeted by police and tortured into falsely confessing to capital crimes. Mr Ramadan, a father of three young children, is now on death row and could be executed at any time.

    The training, which also included sessions on water cannons, dog handling and public order tactics, was kept secret. The UK government has repeatedly denied providing public order training to Bahrain.

    Continue reading here.

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    The Bahraini authorities released on Friday (February 3, 2017) Sheikh Mohammad Al-Shahabi after spending 6 months in prison over taking part in Diraz protest held against the decision that revoked the citizenship of the highest religious leader, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim.

    Al-Shahabi was arrested among others over the charge of taking part in Diraz protest on June 20, 2016 and he is the first one who was released. The Appeals court had surprisingly commuted Al-Shahabi's sentence from 2 years to 6 months in prison.

    The authorities arrested a number of prominent Shiite clerics over taking part in Diraz protest. The regime's courts imprisoned them over charges of assembling and inciting hatred.  

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    Despite the record-low temperature recorded in Bahrain (7 °C) at dawn on Friday (February 3, 2017), protesters continued their demonstration outside the house of religious leader, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim.

    Protesters defied the cold, sleeping in the streets and alleys surrounding the house of Sheikh Isa Qassim, whom the authorities are trying over supporting pro-democracy rallies, and managing the Shiite religious Khums ritual.

    Today, Diraz saw mass demonstrations condemning the trial of Sheikh Qassim, and the authorities' prevention of the biggest Friday prayers for 6 months now.

    Continue reading here.

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    6 February 2017 -  The Bahrain Center of Human Rights (BCHR) publishes today its 2016 annual report on the status of human rights in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The report reviews the Bahraini government’s continual violations of its citizens’ rights and freedoms, and examines reprisals against human rights defenders.

    Read the full report here

    The year 2016 witnessed an unprecedented crackdown on human rights in the Kingdom of Bahrain since the pro-democracy uprisings in 2011. The Bahraini authorities sought to attack freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by pursuing arbitrary arrests, attacking peaceful human rights demonstrations and issuing harsh sentences based on political grounds.

    The year has witnessed a long series of reprisals against the human rights community in Bahrain. It started with the arresting, and imprisoning of  prominent human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja in March 2016 and her 15-month toddler on charges related to her exercise of freedom of expression and peaceful dissent against the authorities. She was detained for three months in prison before she was released and forced to go into exile in June 2016. A brief time  later in the same month the renowned human rights defender and President of BCHR Nabeel Rajab was arrested following a police raid on his home.  His arrest signified the beginning of a series of systematic acts of   judicial harassment against him based on charges related to his freedom of speech. This programmatic abuse of Rajab’s freedoms is still ongoing as he continues to be kept in detention, where he has been  for over 230 days. Moreover, members of the civil society including members of BCHR’s staff based in Bahrain, were summoned to interrogations based on inaccurate and misleading charges.  Individuals were also subjected to travel bans. Travel bans were  usually handed down before the start of the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva. Due to the continued judicial harassment by the authorities, some members of the human rights community were forced to go into exile.

    Almost simultaneously the authorities decided to effectively curtail all freedoms in Bahrain by shuttering the largest political opposition party in Bahrain, Al-Wefaq, in June 2016. This ban came  after authorities increased the prison sentence of its General Secretary Sheikh Ali Salman to 9 years in May 2016. Other political leaders continued to face judicial harassments, Ebrahim Sharif has been sentenced to 1 year in prison in February 2016 for a speech and later interrogated over another press statement.

    Religious Freedoms were also under attack.  Repression heightened in June 2016 as dozens of clerics were summoned, interrogated, prosecuted and sentenced to prison over charges related to freedom of speech and assembly. Shia civil society organizations were shutdown and  the citizenship of the highest Shia spiritual leader, Sheikh Isa Qassim was revoked without due process and he was later put on a trial on groundless charges. 

    According to the report’s findings, Bahraini authorities have during 2016 arbitrarily arrested 1,312 people, including 187 children. Harsh sentences have thereafter been issued by the Bahraini courts in politically motivated cases, of which 40 cases are related to freedom of expression and 19 cases related to freedom of assembly. 91 Life sentences were passed as well as 4 death sentences upheld. 204 citizenship revocation orders were recorded. Furthermore, BCHR has documented 1,523 protests during 2016, of which 155 were attacked by the riot police.

    Torture has been documented, yet again, as a tactic for confession extraction. These unreliable confessions are then used as evidence in courts to convict innocent people. The death of one victim, Hasan Al-Hayky, was  reportedly caused by torture that occurred during his detention in August 2016. Bahraini prisons remain densely populated, with the largest number of prisoners relative to the size of its population in the world.

    Our President Nabeel Rajab has been detained for more than 230 days since his arrest in June 2016, and he pledges to continue his peaceful work for the human rights defending. Human rights are universal and indivisible, and applicable to all citizens of this world. BCHR and Nabeel Rajab, and all other Bahraini human rights activists, free or incarcerated, will continue promoting and defending human rights in the Kingdom of Bahrain, not only because we believe  that freedom is a birthright for the human kind, but because it is the right thing to pursue and to strive for.

    The past year has witnessed significant, and  major violations of  human rights, and it has  ended with executions of three torture victims who were sentenced to death in late 2016, and executed in  January 2017. There is a  duty on all human rights believers and supporters around the world to stand up for the rights of the Bahraini people and to stop the ongoing deterioration of freedom in the country. The international community must show solidarity with the Bahraini people and condemn these human rights violations. Bahrain’s close allies, the United States and the United Kingdom in particular, have a vital role to play, they must  voice their condemnation  of  this continuing  crackdown on rights, and  defend the rights of Bahraini citizens and human rights defenders in Bahrain.  They must bring Bahrain to the right path, by  urging it to  respect its obligation towards the international treaties of Human Rights.

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    Bahraini Fourth Criminal Court announced that a hearing will be held on February 28 to review the case of 10 suspects involved in terrorist crimes and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Iraqi Hezbollah.

    Chief of Anti-Terror Crime Prosecution, Attorney-General Ahmed al-Hammadi said the public prosecution has completed its investigations in the case of forming a group to carry out terrorist acts.

    Hammadi said that seven of the ten suspects are in custody while the other three are fugitives abroad. He explained that they would be referred to the court on charges of joining and running a terrorist group, possessing explosive devices and tools used to make them and forearms, and training on using them.

    Continue reading here.

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    The International Press Institute (IPI) today urged Bahrain to free prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab after prosecutors said a charge that he spread “false news” harming the state’s image stemmed from his claim that journalists and international NGOs were banned from entering Bahrain.

    The disclosure, the first time that Bahrain’s government identified the basis for the charge, came on Jan. 23 during the first hearing in the case against Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and co-founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

    Neither Rajab, who reportedly was not notified of the hearing in advance, nor his attorney were present and the case was adjourned to Feb. 8. The case is related to statements Rajab made in interviews with news media in 2015 and 2016.

    Continue reading here.

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    The British government has admitted it funded training that taught Bahraini police how to "command and control" demonstrators, after its denials were exposed by a human rights group.

    Rights organisations warn that the UK’s support for the Bahraini police force, which is frequently accused of abuses and using excessive force to quell peaceful pro-democracy protests, risks "helping arrest and execute people who are guilty of nothing more than calling for reform."

    Continue reading here.

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    MPs and Lords have expressed “significant concern” over the lack of transparency, accountability and leadership of a £1bn government fund aimed at tackling conflicts and building stability overseas.

    An inquiry into the conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF) described it as “opaque” and said the government had failed to provide enough evidence to scrutinise the fund effectively. The secrecy surrounding the fund, which comes partly from aid money, undermined the government’s objectives for transparency over aid funding, according to the joint committee on the national security strategy.

    Read more here

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    The Trump administration is poised to move quickly to approve major weapons packages for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that President Obama blocked during his final months in office over human rights concerns in both nations, U.S. officials and congressional sources say.

    While the White House declined to discuss its plans, one U.S. official directly involved in the transfers told The Washington Times that a roughly $300 million precision-guided missile technology package for Riyadh and a multibillion-dollar F-16 deal for Bahrain are now in the pipeline ready for clearance from the new administration.

    Read more here

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    Donald Trump's administration is reportedly preparing to approve major arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

    The multi-million and multi-billion dollar deals were blocked by former President Barack Obama during the final months of his administration over human rights concerns. 

    Read more here.

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    Bahrain said on Thursday it had foiled an attempt by "terrorist fugitives" wanted in connection with a January prison break to flee by sea to Iran. Security forces foiled the "trafficking" attempt in a dawn operation, a statement published on the interior ministry's Twitter account said.

    "Preliminary joint investigation indicates the fugitive boat was heading to Iran," the message said, adding further details would be announced later.

    The ministry said in January that one policeman was killed when armed men attacked Jau prison in Bahrain, freeing several convicted inmates, describing the incident as a terrorist act.

    Read more here.

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    British parliamentarians have questioned the use of money from a £1bn ($1.24bn) annual aid programme to fund projects in Bahrain despite continuing human rights concerns in the Gulf kingdom.

    report published on Tuesday by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy found that management of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) was “opaque” and that most funded projects were hidden from public scrutiny.

    The committee also highlighted concerns raised by Bahraini human rights activists and the human rights advocacy group Reprieve about projects funded by CSSF money in Bahrain.

    Read more here.

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    The Bahraini authorities released on Friday (February 3, 2017) Sheikh Mohammad Al-Shahabi after spending 6 months in prison over taking part in Diraz protest held against the decision that revoked the citizenship of the highest religious leader, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim.

    Al-Shahabi was arrested among others over the charge of taking part in Diraz protest on June 20, 2016 and he is the first one who was released. The Appeals court had surprisingly commuted Al-Shahabi's sentence from 2 years to 6 months in prison.

    The authorities arrested a number of prominent Shiite clerics over taking part in Diraz protest. The regime's courts imprisoned them over charges of assembling and inciting hatred.  

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    Military courts in Bahrain could soon be expanding their powers and may gain jurisdiction to prosecute civilians if a new constitutional amendment is passed. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is greatly concerned with the potential consequences such a distortion of legal power would have on the right to fair trials and urges the Bahraini Government to act in accordance with international legal standards.

    On 5 February 2017, the Bahraini Parliament provided initial approval on the constitutional amendment put forth by Royal Decree (7/2017) and referred it to the Parliamentary Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee for review. The proposal amends the wording of art. 105(b) of the constitution which originally limits jurisdiction of military courts to military offences committed by military personnel, and civilians only when martial law has been declared.

    Article 105(B): “The jurisdiction of military courts is restricted to military crimes that are committed by employees of the Bahrain Defence Force, the National Guard and the general security forces. It cannot enjoy wider jurisdiction except in the case that martial law is announced according to the limits set out by law.”

    The proposed amendment however allows the military courts to prosecute civilians, as it includes the general security forces under its jurisdiction. No limitations of military courts are imposed in the proposed amendment. The amended text now reads thus:

    “This law regulates the military courts and sets out their jurisdiction, which includes the Bahrain Defence Force, the National Guard and the general security forces.”

    Within the next few weeks the Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee will discuss the proposal and conceive a report; the National Assembly will then consider the proposal.

    The explanatory memorandum supplied by the Directorate of Legal Affairs said that: “It has become necessary to empower the apparatus of the military courts to achieve the aforementioned goals ... according to this, the jurisdiction of the military courts will be broadened to include crimes determined by the law. This will safeguard the safety, prestige and interests of the military apparatus throughout the Kingdom, and especially that of the Bahrain Defence Force, which is responsible for defending and protecting the nation, and for guaranteeing the independence, sovereignty, safety and security of its territory. It is especially important since crimes relevant to military institutions require greater flexibility and speed to investigate and prosecute them, in the shortest possible time, in order to guarantee the safety, security and stability of the nation.”

    According to art. 120(a) of the constitution, the King and two-thirds of members of the Consultative Council and Council of Representatives must approve the amendment for it to pass.

    The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have both held that military courts should not be used to try civilians. If this constitutional amendment is passed, it will be in violation of Article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees that: “In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

    The lack of due process when prosecuting civilians in front of military courts has been demonstrated in 2011. In 2011, following pro-reform protests, hundreds of people including lawyers, medical staff, athletes and activists were sentenced in front of a military court, following Royal Decree (18/2011) declaring a State of National Safety. The State of National Safety was terminated on 1 June 2011, however a military court continued hearings until 6 October 2011. On the military courts, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report has stated that: “fundamental principles of a fair trial, including prompt and full access to legal counsel and inadmissibility of coerced testimony, were not respected” (para. 1720.)

    The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay criticised the practise of trying civilians in military courts in Bahrain in 2011: “The trial of civilians before military courts is always a cause of concern... The defendants are entitled to fair trials before civil courts, in accordance with international legal standards and in keeping with Bahrain’s international human rights obligations.” Human Rights Watch has described the Bahraini military courts as a "travesty  of  justice," while Amnesty International has described them as a "sham" and "a parody of justice." expressing concern that those prosecuted would not receive fair trials and proper legal representation.

    The members of the court are appointed by the chief  of  the  army. As per BCHR’s 2011 documentation, the  court  showed  a lack of impartiality  by  not  allowing  access  to  lawyers  or  family  for  the  defendants,  not  presenting  evidence,  and  ignoring  claims  of torture. The  defendants  were  often  not notified  of the  charges  against them until their court hearing. There was a  ban  on  pens  and  paper  pads during hearings.  Furthermore,  making a  statement  to  any  media  outlet  was  prohibited  even  for  journalists  and  the  media  was  restricted  to  state-run  television.  Journalists representing non-Bahraini outlets were not granted access to the hearings.

    Dr. Alaa Shehabi described her 2011 experience of the courts as follows: “The military court buildings in Riffa are relatively new. Built in 2007, one wonders if they were built with its current use in mind. Upon entering, one is only allowed to carry their ID card, no watch, no paper, no pens, no jewellery - not even a wedding ring. I had to remove my headscarf and earrings during the painstaking electronic and hand search. There is an army officer standing every couple of metres in the lobbies and court rooms. This building, with only two courtrooms, was clearly not designed to handle this number of trials in one day. Female detainees are held in the lawyers' room for lack of space, male detainees are made to stand in the sun because of overcrowding in their holding cells and lawyers have to hang about in the lobby - as their room is now occupied by the female prisoners."

    Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the authorities in Bahrain to:

    • Halt and cancel the proposed constitutional amendment that will allow civilians to be tried in military court and violates the right to a fair trial;
    • Adhere to the international and Bahraini law, which provides for the right of the accused to have fair litigation and an adequate defense; and
    • Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

     

    Additional Information

    The explanatory note supplied by the Directorate of Legal Affairs said that:

    “The instruments of the military courts, including the Bahrain Defence Force, the National Guard and the general security forces, are part of the general judiciary of the Kingdom of Bahrain. They are focused on following up legal and judicial matters with the responsible military officials and the like, especially as regards criminal charges. There can be no doubt that the establishment of these bodies is not restricted to pursuing these charges – their fundamental aim is to safeguard the privacy of the military apparatus and the secret nature of the information revealed within them. They are to be regarded as the protective shield of the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

    “In light of the crises the Gulf Arab region is currently experiencing and the resulting spillovers that threaten society at large and its very bases – not to mention the phenomenon of terrorism and the proliferation of terrorist groups that disturb the security of the GCC, and the various regional wars - it is clear that it is necessary to promote peace and national as well as regional security. Safeguarding measures must be taken to increase the level of protection, the capabilities of military institutions and the scope of areas under their jurisdiction. This is especially true since the Bahrain Defence Force is currently carrying out its national and regional duties by safeguarding the security of the GCC and taking part in a number of fighting missions and military operations. In fact, its forces are constantly spread out inside and outside the Kingdom.”

    “It has become necessary to empower the apparatus of the military courts to achieve the aforementioned goals and aims by replacing Article 15(B) of the constitution with a new article – according to this, the jurisdiction of the military courts will be broadened to include crimes determined by the law. This will safeguard the safety, prestige and interests of the military apparatus throughout the Kingdom, and especially that of the Bahrain Defence Force, which is responsible for defending and protecting the nation, and for guaranteeing the independence, sovereignty, safety and security of its territory. It is especially important since crimes relevant to military institutions require greater flexibility and speed to investigate and prosecute them, in the shortest possible time, in order to guarantee the safety, security and stability of the nation.”

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    Authorities in Bahrain must refrain from using excessive force against protesters, Amnesty International urged as mass protests are under way on 14 February, to mark the sixth anniversary of the 2011 uprising.

    Bahrain is on the verge of a human rights crisis, as recent weeks have seen a pattern of increased repression, characterized by violence against protesters, executions, arbitrary detentions and a crackdown on freedom of expression.

    “Bahrain is at a tipping point. The first two months of 2017 alone saw an alarming upsurge in arbitrary and abusive force by security forces as well as the first executions since the uprising in 2011,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office. “The authorities must rein in the security forces, respect the rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression, and stop executions, otherwise a full blown human rights crisis risks breaking out.”

     

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    14 February 2017 – On the anniversary of the 14 February 2011 protest movement, we, the undersigned, are deeply concerned that Bahrain’s human rights situation has now reached unprecedented lows. Bahrain’s precipitously worsening rights record is damaging not just for Bahrain, but for the stability of the entire region. The 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, set to begin on 27 February, marks a moment when the international community can likewise express concerns on the continued human rights violations in Bahrain and urge Bahrain to undertake urgent steps toward reform. Bahrain’s 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review, which will occur in May 2017, provides another opportunity for the international community to raise their concerns concerns. We, the undersigned, strongly encourage international actors to seize these opportunities, and condemn the exacerbated violations of human rights occurring in Bahrain.

    Six years ago today began the largest protest movement in Bahrain’s history. Protests driven by calls for the respect of human rights, democratic reforms, and an end to corruption , swelled in size in the face of police brutality. Protesters, centering their demonstrations around the iconic Pearl monument, numbered in the many tens of thousands. Their calls for dignity and democracy were quashed after a month: on 14 March 2011, when Saudi and Emirati forces entered Bahrain and a state of martial law was declared. Hundreds of people were arrested, tortured, and sentenced by military court. Several people died in the custody of the security forces and National Security Agency.

    Faced with international pressure, the Government of Bahrain commissioned an independent international panel of human rights experts to investigate and document abuses committed in February–June 2011 and make key recommendations to the government for reforms. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry issued their report, published in November that year, set out 26 recommendations that were accepted by all parties in Bahrain. These recommendations called for accountability, justice for victims, national reconciliation, a moratorium on the death penalty and respect for the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. These recommendations were further echoed by the international community a year later in Bahrain’s second  Universal Periodic Review.

    Six years on, the situation has regrettably grown increasingly worse. Ad-hoc violence and human rights violations have now been entrenched into Bahraini law. The National Security Agency, stripped of law enforcement powers after their role in torturing Bahrainis, were regranted powers of arrest and interrogation in January 2017. The Government is currently pursuing a constitutional amendment that opens the door to empower martial courts to try civilians. Arbitrary denaturalization has been established within Bahraini law, and to date approximately 350 people have been stripped of citizenship, most of them through arbitrary administrative orders or following unfair trials. The majority have been rendered stateless.

    The Government of Bahrain crossed a new red line on 15 January 2017, when it illegally executed Ali Al-Singace, Abbas Al-Samea and Sami Mushaima. All three of the men suffered torture to coerce false confessions that were used to  convict them in a deeply flawed trial that violated numerous international fair trial standards. The Court of Cassation, Bahrain’s supreme court of appeals, upheld their convictions in early January 2017, and the government  carried out the executions less than a week later. Ali, Abbas and Sami are the first persons executed in Bahrain since 2010, and the first executed for politically-related charges since 1996. Their executions were condemned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings.

    Most leading human rights defenders and political opposition leaders have been targeted with harassment, censorship, arrest or arbitrary imprisonment in relation to their work. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, faces up to 17 years in prison in multiple cases, all relating to his exercise of his free expression and his work as a human rights defender. Yet other human rights defenders are forced to work quietly or have been banned from travel on multiple occasions, while still others, like Zainab Al-Khawaja, have been forced into exile for their outspoken criticism of human rights violations.

    The leader of the Al Wefaq Islamic Society, Sheikh Ali Salman, is serving a 9-year prison sentence, and his party – the largest in Bahrain – was dissolved in 2016. The leaders of other opposition parties are also in prison, including Fadhel Abbas of Al-Wahdawi and Hassan Mushaima of Al-Haq. Ebrahim Sharif, former leader of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), served four years in prison between 2011 and 2015, and was re-arrested within weeks of his release for making a political speech.

    Security forces continue to employ excessive use of force to quell protests, and demonstrators are injured nightly by the use of birdshot pellets and tear gas. The prison population continues to grow in Bahrain, with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights estimating over 3,000 prisoners serving politically-related sentences. Meanwhile, as peaceful leaders have been imprisoned and security forces continue to employ excessive force, increasing violence against the state has also been registered.

    There is no accountability in Bahrain. To date, no senior officials have been held accountable for torture, excessive use of force or extrajudicial killings in Bahrain. Senior Bahraini leadership, including the Minister of Interior, who has held his position for 13 years, have never been investigated for command responsibility of the security forces which conducted arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture. The military judge who oversaw the sentencing of hundreds of torture victims, doctors, trade unionists, protesters and political leaders in 2011, Mansour Al-Mansour, was never held to account. Instead, in 2016, he was appointed to a Saudi Coalition military unit which investigates humanitarian law violations in Yemen.

    The Government of Bahrain has created institutions which allege to investigate human rights abuses, including the Police Ombudsman, the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC), the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR). Yet none of these institutions are independent or effective. The Ombudsman and PDRC are tied to the Ministry of Interior, of which they are supposed to be the watchdog. The Special Investigations Unit lacks independence from the Public Prosecution, which is involved in systematically using confessions extracted under torture to prosecute victims, and it is complicit in absolving the state of torture allegations, as in the case of Abbas Al-Samea. The NIHR’s membership is largely drawn from state employees and it has never criticised the government for human rights abuses, and it most recently wrongly declared the January 2017 executions were to international standards. These are the same executions which the UN human rights procedures condemned.

    Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “Bahrain is in the process of establishing a de facto state of martial law. The situation is worse now and more volatile than at any time in the past. Bahrain’s ally, the United Kingdom, no matter its intentions, has used its influential role to help protect the state against demands for rights reform. Bahrain has shown a total disregard for human rights and the dignity of its citizens. The question remains, how deep must this rejection of rights go before the UK criticises Bahrain?”

    Husain Abdulla, Executive Director, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain: It is now more crucial than ever for the international community to refocus on Bahrain’s rising crisis. The people of Bahrain have valiantly maintained their peaceful struggle for human rights and democratic values in the face of mounting state repression. Bahrainis need to know that the international community are likewise committed to these aspirations, and that they will not allow short term economic or other interests to trump international human rights values.

    We, the undersigned, condemn the Government of Bahrain’s entrenchment of human rights violations. We call on Bahrain to respect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, the right to a fair trial and the protection of all people from torture. We call on the international community to hold Bahrain to account, in particular in the upcoming 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council and Bahrain’s 3rd Universal Period Review cycle.

     

    Signed,

        Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

        Bahrain Center for Human Rights

        Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

        European Center for Democracy and Human Rights

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    Anti-government protesters in Bahrain clashed with police on Tuesday as they marked the sixth anniversary of the tiny island kingdom's Arab Spring uprising.

    Images posted on social media showed masked protesters hurling rocks and other projectiles at riot police, who responded with tear gas. Protesters elsewhere were seen marching peacefully through rain-soaked streets, carrying the national flag.

     

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    Bahrain’s Day of Rage on 14 February 2011 kickstarted one of the largest popular uprisings in the country’s history. Bahraini youth took to social media and called on people “to take to the streets” in protest of the endemic corruption, discrimination and injustice.

    Many of the 55 peaceful demonstrations on the day were met with violence from police and soldiers, leaving more than 30 protesters injured and one dead.

    Six years on, the Bahraini government has fostered an atmosphere of fear and repression, through the detention and torture of opposition leaders, designed to stifle all dissent.

     

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