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    On 11 May, the Bahrain High Court of Appeal upheld the death sentence imposed against Maher Abbas Ahmed. His case will now go before the Court of Cassation. Maher Abbas Ahmed will be at imminent risk of execution if the sentence is upheld again.

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    Bahrain’s Fourth High Criminal Court will reconvene on Sunday, 21 May, to hold the 13th trial in the case against the country’s most prominent Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim. The Bahraini government arbitrarily denaturalized Sheikh Isa Qassim in June 2016. The authorities are charging Sheikh Isa Qassim with alleged money laundering along with two others, Sheikh Hussain al-Qassab and Mirza al-Dirazi. We, the undersigned organizations, strongly condemn the Bahraini government’s arbitrary revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship and the charges against him, Sheikh al-Qassab, and al-Dirazi.

    Ahead of the previous hearing on 7 May 2017, several US-based NGOs that work on international religious freedom issues sent a letter to Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s king, urging the government to drop all charges against Sheikh Isa Qassim and reinstate his citizenship. Additionally, a group of international NGOs sent letters to the heads of state of the US, the UK, the EU, and to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, asking officials to publicly call on the Bahraini government to drop the charges against the three defendants. To date, the organizations have received no response to any of these letters.

    The trial of Sheikh Isa Qassim on Sunday will occur while US President Trump visits Saudi Arabia. At a summit convened by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, the president is predicted to address ways for Muslim countries to cultivate religious tolerance. “While President Trump talks to Muslim leaders, including GCC officials, in Saudi Arabia about religious tolerance, the Bahraini government at the same time is promoting religious intolerance,” said ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “The Bahraini authorities, by denaturalizing and prosecuting Sheikh Isa Qassim for religious practices, have shown they will criminalize actions of individuals based solely on religion. This will only continue to cause further instability in the country.”

    During the 7 May hearing, the lead judge in the case, Ali al-Dhahrani, was absent from the proceedings. Judge al-Dhahrani, son of a previous Shura Council leader, Khalifa Ahmed al-Dhahrani, is the head of the Fourth High Criminal Court and has a documented history of presiding over trials with vast due process violations. Al-Dhahrani ruled on cases heard in the 2011 National Safety Courts and has dismissed testimonies stating that torture was used to extract coerced confessions from defendants. Al-Dhahrani has allowed coerced confessions to be admitted as evidence in cases. In September 2013, al-Dhahrani led the Court in the conviction of 50 defendants, including human rights defenders, on politically-motivated terror charges. His court has also rendered many stateless under the anti-terrorism law.

    Presiding in the absence of al-Dhahrani at the 7 May hearing were three Egyptian judges - Osama al-Shaadhaly as head judge, with Wael Ibrahim and Saber Jumaa. Witnesses reported increased security on the day of the hearing. Authorities reportedly prevented cars from stopping around the building and heavily searched individuals before permitting them to enter the courtroom. Authorities barred some individuals from entering the courtroom to observe the trial; witnesses reported that entrance was mainly limited to diplomats, state media, and government officials. Attendants also reported that 12 diplomatic officials were present in the court. One government-appointed defense lawyer, Abdulrahman Khashram, was present at the hearing.

    Background on the Case

    The Bahraini government first announced that it had unilaterally decided to revoke the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim on 20 June 2016. The Ministry of Interior stated that the decision was “administrative” and cited Bahraini nationality law, stating that Sheikh Isa Qassim had allegedly caused “damage to the interest of the State or [took] actions contrary to the duty and loyalty to it.” Following Sheikh Isa Qassim’s denaturalization, the Public Prosecution in July 2016 charged Sheikh Isa Qassim, Sheikh al-Qassab, and al-Dirazi with alleged money laundering. The charges relate solely to the Shia religious practice of khums, which is a payment made by Shia Muslims to Shia clerics for charitable distribution to the community.

    “The nationality of Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim was revoked before the trial even began, which clearly indicates that the legal actions that proceeded after his nationality was stripped are part of the government’s reprisal campaign against him,” stated Sheikh Dr. Maytham al-Salman, Senior Advisor for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “He is solely being punished for supporting democratic and human rights reforms in Bahrain. Qassim’s trial for practicing religious rituals is baseless and could lead to further instability in Bahrain and in an already tense region.”

    This move by the Bahraini government was met with international criticism. On 20 June 2016, the same day the Bahraini government announced Sheikh Isa Qassim’s denaturalization, the US State Department said it was “alarmed by the Government of Bahrain’s decision to revoke [his] citizenship”  and “remain deeply troubled… by the practice of withdrawing nationality of its citizens arbitrarily.” The European Union also warned that “revoking the citizenship of prominent figures such as Sheikh Isa Qassim risks increasing divisions and sectarian differences”.

    Following the Bahraini authorities’ decision to denaturalize and bring charges against Sheikh Isa Qassim, there has been an ongoing, peaceful sit-in around his home in Diraz to protect him from possible deportation. Since June 2016, over 80 Shia clerics have been interrogated and at least nine sentenced for the exercise of their freedom of assembly and expression. The Bahraini government has set up barriers around Diraz, only allowing residents of the village to pass. Additionally, authorities have reportedly barred Friday prayers from the largest Shia mosque in Bahrain where Sheikh Isa Qassim preached.

    In August 2016, five UN Special Procedure mandate holders issued a joint statement urging Bahrain to “end the persecution of Shias.” The mandates called on the Government of Bahrain to “stop such arbitrary arrests or summons and release all those who have been detained for exercising their rights.” Additionally, the UN urged the Bahraini authorities to “not resort to repressive measures and… enter into dialogue with all relevant parties in order to prevent unnecessary conflict or violence.”

    The denaturalization and charges against Sheikh Isa Qassim are related solely to the practice of his religion and should therefore be deemed arbitrary. The Government of Bahrain, if it sentences Sheikh Isa Qassim to jail and deportation, risks causing heightened tensions and increased instability. We, therefore, strongly urge the Bahraini government to do the following:

    • Reinstate the Bahraini citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim
    • Drop all charges against Sheikh Isa Qassim, Sheikh Hussain al-Qassab, and Mirza al-Dirazi, as they relate solely to the practice of their religious faith
    • Stop the judicial harassment and interrogation of individuals for their participation in peaceful protests
    • Drop the charges against those religious clerics who have been charged in relation to their internationally-sanctioned rights to exercise free assembly and association
    • Meet the UN’s calls to end the systematic persecution against the Shia majority population in Bahrain

     

    Signed,

    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

    Bahrain Center for Human Rights

    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

    European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

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    A court in Bahrain on Sunday convicted the spiritual leader of the country's Shi'ite Muslims of collecting funds illegally and money laundering and sentenced him to one year in jail suspended for three years, local media reported.

    The court also ordered Ayatollah Isa Qassim, who is in his mid-70s, to pay 100,000 Bahraini dinar ($265,266) in fines over the charges, which emanate from the collection of an Islamic tax called Khums, which in Shi'ite Islam is collected and spent by a senior cleric in the interests of the needy.

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  • 05/23/17--06:26: Dear Nabeel: We are with you
  • As Nabeel Rajab approaches a year in detention for exercising free speech, Index on Censorship expresses its solidarity with the 2012 Freedom of Expression Award winner.

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    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Bahrain police firing tear gas and shotguns entered a town on Tuesday morning where a monthslong sit-in has supported a prominent Shiite cleric who had his citizenship stripped by the government. At least one protester was killed and others were wounded, activists said, and authorities arrested 50 people.

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    Activists said security forces killed a protester during a raid on the home village of Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslim spiritual leader on Tuesday.

    Bahraini authorities said they made several arrests but did not comment on the reported death in Diraz, where supporters of Ayatollah Isa Qassim from the island kingdom's minority Shi'ite community have set up a protest camp.

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    DUBAI — Bahraini security forces on Tuesday raided the home of the kingdom's top Shi'ite Muslim spiritual leader and arrested a number of people, activists and a security official said.

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    Two days after President Trump said US relation with Bahrain was set to improve, the government in Bahrain is escalating violations against its Shia population throughout the besieged village of Duraz. Early this morning national security forces, including Special forces, entered Duraz and opened fire on peaceful sit-in in support of Sheikh Issa Qassim. One protester has been killed and more than 100 injured, mostly with bird shot pellets. At least 50 protesters have been arrested following the raid of Sheikh Qasim’s house. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) was able to obtain information from the ground via internet communication platforms in the morning of the attacks; few hours later, the internet was shutdown in Duraz.

    If the violations continue, denied by the Bahraini government and ignored by the international community, another cycle of violence and crackdown will undoubtedly take place in a region with hundreds of new victims, embittered by the repeated denial of their rights as human beings and Bahrainis” said Sheikh DR Maytham Al Salman, BCHR Senior Advisor,“Bahrain’s overwhelming use of military force against its own civilian population and peaceful protesters is nothing but collective punishment”.

    Based on a video recorded with mobile phones by residents in Duraz and shared with BCHR, army vehicles have been spotted entering Duraz. Residents partaking into a month-long open sit-in were attacked by government forces with tear gas and shotgun pellets.

    These violations are being committed with total impunity, they are generating a perception in Duraz that simply being from Duraz and from Shia background is enough to be targeted” said BCHR.

    The US and the British government, which are allies of Bahrain and have the greatest leverage, have minimized and actively ignored UN concerns and reporting on the situation. Since June 2016, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng expressed concern at the decision taken by the Interior Ministry of Bahrain to revoke the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qasim and on the impact this decision can have in increasing tensions among the different constituencies in the country, but his call has been disregarded by the international community.

    BCHR call on the Bahraini Government and its allies, to fully support unhindered and immediate access to the region for independent organizations, media, and human rights groups, and to lift restrictions on freedom of movement imposed on the population of Duraz.

    BCHR believes that the government should immediately issue clear public orders to the security forces and all other security agencies deployed in Duraz to withdraw and cease abuses of civilians, including the massive arrests, raids and use of disproportionate force against civilians. The Bahraini authorities should also immediately establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations of abuses in Duraz.

    These unwarranted attacks against residents peacefully gathering in front of the house of the Shia Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qasim follow his Sunday’s trial outcome, when he was sentenced to one year in prison with suspended sentence and to pay fine of 100 thousand dinars. The Ministry of Interior issued a statement earlier on twitter, claiming the attacks were meant to “preserve law and order” and later tweeted that the police had arrested a number people in Duraz wanted by the government and hiding in the village of Duraz.

    The village of Duraz has been under siege for almost a year now, following the revocation of citizenship of the highest Shia cleric in Bahrain, Sheikh Isa Qasim, in June 2016.

    Residents in his village have staged open-ended sit-ins in front of his house since he was stripped of his nationality, launching a year-long series of restrictions of free movement for the app. 20.000 people living there. Moreover, internet shutdowns have become the norm from 7pm til 1am, which impacted negatively the village’s businesses. Arrests and summons for interrogation have been used against participants in the sit-ins since the start of the siege, with sentences being issued against Shia clerics and other people partaking in peaceful gathering in Duraz.

     

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    Five people have been killed when police opened fire on protesters in Bahrain on Tuesday, as supporters of a jailed Shia cleric clash with security forces.

    Police opened fire on a sit in in Diraz, close to the capital Manama, where a sit-in outside the home of cleric Isa Qassim was held.

    "Five deaths have been registered among the outlaws" the interior ministry reported in a Twitter message.

    Witnesses had earlier told AFP that several civilians were wounded when police officers fired at demonstrators throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces.

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    Bahraini police raid on the hometown of a prominent Shiite cleric facing possible deportation has left at least five demonstrators dead and 286 people arrested in an assault in which officers fired tear gas and shotguns at protesters.

    The Interior Ministry said the operation on Tuesday targeting Diraz, home to Sheikh Isa Qassim and a long-running sit-in supporting him, was to "maintain security and public order." It called the area a "haven for wanted fugitives from justice."

    Activists shared photographs and videos showing youths throwing stones and climbing on an armored personnel carrier. Gunfire could be heard in one video as white smoke from tear gas hung in the air. Another video showed a bulldozer smashing through the area that once hosted the sit-in.

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    Bahraini forces clashed with Shiite Muslim protesters, killing five people and wounding hundreds of others in a flare-up of a long-running confrontation between the Sunni monarchy and majority Shiite population, activists and Amnesty International said.

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    Human Rights First today called on the Trump Administration to condemn the actions of Bahraini security forces who reportedly attacked peaceful protesters in the village of Duraz. Local reports indicate that at least one man has been killed and many other injured.

    "The security force raid is deeply disturbing, and we urge the Bahraini security forces not to attack peaceful protestors,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. "It is especially alarming that the raid comes just two days after President Trump met the king of Bahrain and assured him that there would no longer be any strain on the U.S.-Bahrain relationship. President Trump should immediately speak out against these attacks and make clear that repression of peaceful civil society will damage the bilateral relationship with Bahrain."

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    A Bahrain court fined a prominent journalist 1,000 dinars ($2,650) on Thursday for reporting in the kingdom without official permission, her lawyer said, after a trial seen by rights groups as an example of diminishing press freedom.

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    The Bahraini security forces used excessive force against protesters in the village of Duraz, the majority of whom were peaceful, as part of an ongoing crack down on the village which has been under siege by the authorities for 11 months, according to evidence uncovered by Amnesty International.

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    The clip is only a minute and a half, but the White House video of President Trump meeting the king of Bahrain last week caps years of misguided American policy on the kingdom. It’s also been followed by a sharp, violent attack on internal dissent against the monarchy.

    In the film the pair sit awkwardly and exchange stiff, stilted conversation, but Trump’s message is clear. “Our countries have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won’t be strain with this administration,” he said, suggesting Bahrain is about to enjoy a new era free from White House criticism of human rights abuses. “We’re going to have a very, very long-term relationship. I look forward to it very much - many of the same things in common,” said Trump.

    Two days after the meeting Bahrain’s security forces attacked an 11-month protest near the house of senior Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim. Demonstrators had gathered to protect the cleric after his citizenship had been stripped last June. Five people were killed in the attack, and hundreds arrested.

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  • 05/29/17--02:58: Situation in Bahrain
  • "The recent clashes between security forces and civilians in Duraz village in northwest Bahrain, resulting in the reported death of at least five Bahraini citizens and the arrest of hundreds of others, represent a worrying development.

    The Bahraini Government has the sovereign right, and responsibility, to undertake domestic security operations to ensure the safety of its citizens. However the authorities should apply the principle of proportionality when using force and be mindful of the repercussions that an escalation of violence will have for the Kingdom's objective to achieve national reconciliation.

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    PRESIDENT TRUMP’S distorted foreign policy was exemplified this week in the contrast between his meeting with Arab autocrats, on whom he lavished goodwill, and U.S. NATO allies, whom he harshly and publicly critiqued.

    Last weekend, Mr. Trump promised Saudi Arabia and other Sunni dictatorships that they “will never question our support,” adding, “We are not here to lecture.” But on Thursday he declined to restate the U.S. commitment to defend its democratic European allies if they are attacked, as Article 5 of the NATO treaty provides. Instead, Mr. Trump restated his wrongheaded and erroneous charge that allied governments “owe massive amounts” for military defense, and quarreled with the president of the European Council over climate change and the threat posed by Russia.

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    Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Bahrain authorities to drop its prosecution of the journalist Nazeeha Saeed on the eve of a verdict in her case, and to halt their efforts to intimidate journalists.

    Nazeeha Saeed, former Bahrain correspondent of France 24 and Radio Monte-Carlo Doualiya, was accused by the information ministry last summer of working as foreign correspondent without authorization after the ministry refused to renew her accreditation in June. She is facing a possible fine of up to 1,000 dinars (2,400 euros).

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    New information:

    The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about another imminent trial hearing of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, co-founder and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), founding Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH from 2012 to 2016 and a member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch.

    Mr. Nabeel Rajab has been one of the country’s most vocal human rights defenders, denouncing human rights violations within the country’s Jaw prison, and denouncing Bahrain’s participation to the bombings of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

    According to the information received, after a series of postponements, Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s trial on the “Television interviews case” is scheduled to take place before the Manama’s Fifth High Criminal Court on May 30, 2017. Additionally, Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s trial on the “Twitter case” is now set for June 14, 2017 (see background information).

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    The year 2017 began with many political repercussions in Bahrain and far from any reform progress at all levels, including the political, human rights, economic, civil and social levels. Attempts are still continued to silence the voices calling for the transition toward democracy. The most recent was the suppression of a peaceful sit-in in Duraz area in a systematic policy to eliminate all forms of movement demanding rights and freedoms.
     
    Joint forces of security raided the area of Duraz with tear gas and fission bullets, and caused the deaths of five citizens and dozens wounded and the arrest of 286 people from the site of the sit-in when raids on houses and residential neighborhoods continue and the arrest of individuals is monitored until this very moment.
     
    This security campaign concurred with the summoning of a group of human rights defenders and activists in documenting and monitoring violations from the ground, along with some social media bloggers. During the investigation, they were subjected to torture, ill-treatment and intimidation by the National Security Agency amid pro-government media campaign carried against them in the country.
     
    In May of this year, a number of human rights defenders entered for interrogation by the National Security Service, inside the security complex, the third floor. An interrogation was initiated against the law for long hours while standing and blindfolded for this entire period. Lawyers were not allowed to follow the proceedings of the investigation, in which these activists were severely beaten.
     
    These activists have also been subjected to religious slur, insulting, , defamation, verbal harassment, sexual assault and electric shocks, as well as attempts to intimidate them by some of their family members if they do not leave their work with local and international human rights organizations. Interrogators have asked them to inform their colleagues to stop working in this field and some were forced to post on Twitter stating their suspension of activities in human rights and media.
     
    The undersigned human rights organizations strongly oppose the continued intimidation of human rights defenders in Bahrain and assert that their detention, ill-treatment and torture are tools used to limit activities of civil society to modify, correct and develop human rights conditions in the country.
     
    In an escalation that the undersigned organizations object to, the interrogation sessions were directed at imposing flagrant threats to arrest and torture all human rights activists and individuals without regard to the international human rights system and mechanisms, in particular the Office of the Higher Commissioner for Human Rights OHCHR and the United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs.
     
    Accordingly, the undersigned NGOs call upon the Bahraini government to respect the constitutional principles and abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Defenders. We also urge the authorities in Bahrain to take the necessary measures to stop the targeting of human rights defenders as well as to activate the international mechanisms that protect members of civil society organizations who are living in difficult and dangerous situations and are eyewitnesses to the recent repression inside the country.
     
    This statement confirms that these measures are attempts by the state to silence any voices calling for reform on the rights level, amidst procrastination in issuing a democratic law for civil action instead of the arbitrary law that allows for serious security interventions in civil societies work and activities.
     
    Amid a hostile political environment that does not guarantee the free exercise of human rights groups and organizations and in a context that violates the international right to freedom of opinion and the shrinking of the public sphere for those who carry out activities that preserve human rights in the country, we, the undersigned organizations affirm that these harassments are reflecting clear intentions; to besiege and stifle the activities and initiatives of human rights organizations, and to try to make human rights work - whether through organizations or through initiatives - a risky process.
     
    The signatories:
    • SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
    • The European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights
    • Bahrain Forum for Human Rights
    • The Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
    • The International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms
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