The Bahrain Center for Human Rights welcomes the idea of establishing an Arab court to prosecute human right violators; however, the BCHR received the news of the Arab League Council's approval for Bahrain to host the permanent headquarters of the Arab Court with dismay regarding the seriousness of the objectives of establishing the court given the notorious record that the government of Bahrain and the members of the ruling family, including the top of the hierarchy the country’s King, have in the field of human rights and public liberties. These violations have been documented by leading human rights organizations. On the 8th of February 2010, Human Rights Watch issued its well-known report on Bahrain: ‘Torture Redux’. The report is based on interviews with former detainees and on forensic reports and courts. The report concluded that since the end of 2007 officials resorted to repeating the practice of torture in what seems like an attempt to extract confessions from suspects in security cases. In March 2011, the regime put civilians on trial in military courts; which is another addition to the violations of the judiciary in Bahrain that is incompatible with the international standards of fair trials. International condemnations were issued against the severe sentences handed down by the military court, among them the statement of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
- The High Commissioner for Human Rights says Bahrain trials bear marks of political persecution.
- The UN Secretary-General expresses his deep concern for the long prison sentences against the political and human rights activists in Bahrain.
- International human rights organizations condemn the severe sentences against the activists following unjust trials.
- Washington is ‘concerned’ about the life-imprisonment sentences against opposition in Bahrain.
- The British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East is concerned about the verdicts in Bahrain.
On the 17th of August, 2011, the BCHR released a report about citizens who were reportedly subjected to torture at the hands of members of the ruling family in Bahrain who beat and tortured political prisoners.
Top, right to left: Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa and Khalid bin Hamad Al-Khalifa (King’s sons)
Bottom, right to left: Noora bint Ebrahim Al-Khalifa (Drug Enforcement Administration), Khalifa bin Abdulla Al-Khalifa (Head of the National Security Apparatus), Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (The Director General of Police in the Southern Governorate)
On the 4th of May 2011, the BCHR released a report about the death of four citizens under torture in detention centers in Bahrain, among them a journalist and blogger.
The graveness of the brutal and systematic torture practiced by the authorities in Bahrain against political detainees and human rights activists in detention centers was evident in the documentation of four cases of death under torture that took place within nine days, amongst them one of the founders of Alwasat newspaper and an Internet activist.
From right to left: Kareem Fakhrawi, Zakariya Al-Asheeri, Hassan Jassim and Ali Saqer.
The BCHR also released a number of reports that state that the authorities in Bahrain have adopted a policy of impunity. A video clip was recently spread on the internet showing Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, the longest standing unelected prime minister in the world of 43 years, visiting an officer who has been repeatedly pointed out as being involved in torture by victims but was acquitted in court, to thank him and to reassure that impunity exists.
On the 7th of July, 2013, a pro-government account uploaded a video of the Prime Minister on Youtube during his visit to Officer Mubarak bin Huwail following his acquittal on 1 July 2013 from charges related to torturing medics in the detention center in 2011.
(For more information: http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/6205)
A screenshot from the video (Mubarak bin Huwail to the left, Prime Minister in the center)
On the 26th of July, 2013, Amnesty International released a report: ‘Still no justice for torture cases, the torture of Nazeeha Saeed’.
And on the 27th of July, 2013, Frontline Defenders released: ‘Bahrain: Trial of Human Rights Defender Mr Naji Fateel Falls Short of International Standards’.
Naji Fateel is a member of the Board of Directors in the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), and an active human rights defender who documents and reports on human rights violations in Bahrain.
This is in addition to the violations of the government of Bahrain against freedom of press. Although Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa pledged to support freedom of the press and reform, however, the situation last year did not improve. Throughout the past year, several journalists and bloggers in Bahrain were subjected to harassments, assaults, arrests and torture due to their work. Journalists working near pro-democracy demonstrations were targeted in a systematic manner by the security forces.
Arrest and torture of journalists
Arrests and Trials of Internet Users
On the 9th of July 2012, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the former Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three months in prison and was arrested on the charge of ‘insulting the citizens of Muharraq through Twitter’ for information he published on Twitter demanding the Prime Minister to step down, and discussing his visit to the Island of Muharraq. Although he was acquitted of this charge in the Court of Appeal, he remains in prison serving another 2 year sentence on the charge of participating in demonstrations and calling for gatherings through social networks. On the 17th of December 2012, Acting Vice-President and Head of Monitoring & Follow Up at BCHR Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdah was arrested while monitoring a demonstration in the Manama and posting tweets on Twitter about the suppression of demonstrators and documenting the violations. He was accused of ‘spreading false news through Twitter’; he spent a month in detention. Despite being acquitted from the charges by the Court on the 11th of March 2013, the Public Prosecution appealed against the acquittal sentence.
The prominent Bahraini blogger Ali Abdulemam was sentenced to 15 years in absentia by a military court on the 22nd of June 2011 on the charge of ‘being part of a terrorist organization and the attempt of overthrowing the government’. Ali Abdulemam is the founder of Bahrain Online, a Bahraini electronic forum bahrainonline.org, where critical opinions of the government are published regularly, and where the first call for protests on 14 February 2011 appeared. He was also arrested from September 2010 to February 2011, and was subjected to torture during that period.
Denial of Access to the country
On the 14th of July, 2012, Bahrain deported the American film director Jane Marlow, after she was arrested for a short while and questioned before being deported to Jordan. The authorities accused her of forging the visa application and filming a documentary without obtaining permission. Nick Kristof, who writes for the New York Times, was denied from entering the countries border’s on 20 December 2012 when he was informed that he was in the ‘black list’. The journalist, who is a two time Pulitzer Prize winner, strongly criticizes the Bahraini authorities in his reports. During his last visit to Bahrain in December 2011 he was subjected to an attack by the use of teargas and was arrested for a short while along with the cameraman accompanying him. Habiba Hamed stated that she was interrogated for 5 hours in Bahrain airport on the 11th of February 2013, and then she was denied access, although she had not come to submit a report about the political situation. The authorities checked her Twitter account and found that it contained comments about Bahrain. They wanted her to apply for a visa through the Ministry of Information first, before coming to Bahrain. On the 19th of April, 2013, the ITV News crew were held while they were filming in Bahrain and were then taken to the police station where they were asked to leave the country, although their visa was approved by the relevant ministry. The decision to deport them followed a report released the night before by the Channel in which it criticized the Bahrain government.
On the 9th of August 2013, the BCHR released a report regarding the preventing of traveling for the Acting President of the BCHR and the Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights Ms Maryam Al-Khawaja to Bahrain on British Airways. Al-Khawaja was denied boarding by British Airways at the order of the government of Bahrain. Al-Khawaja had decided to visit Bahrain to monitor the situation before planned protests on the 14th of August.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies also released a report on the 14th of March 2013 regarding the attack carried out by the GCC governments against human rights defenders because they deal with the UN, the report was titled, “Cut off from the World: Systematic Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders in the Gulf Region for Engaging with the United Nations”. The report addresses the governmental attacks, acts of threats and defamation carried out by the governments of some of the GCC countries such as Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against human rights defenders; as a result of their cooperation with the mechanisms of human rights affiliated with the UN during the last two years, and especially in the context of its 21st session of the Human Rights Council that was held in September 2012.
The report presents an overview of the suppressive existing laws in these countries, which criminate work in the field of human rights, including working with international mechanisms of human rights.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights asserts that the government of Bahrain is ineligible to host and establish an Arab court that attends to defending and reprising human rights violators and criminals. These type of courts require international standards and the involvement of the opinion of human rights organizations. The host country of such a court should be chosen on the basis of whether this country holds a respectable human rights record which Bahrain lacks; causing dozens of negative reactions from international organizations as well as media. Bahrain also lacks the presence of effective assurances to meet the aspirations of neutrality and justice.
The BCHR is concerned that due to the track record of human rights violations in Bahrain, that such a court will be used as a tool against civil society and independent human rights organizations; just as the local judiciary system has become a tool to target and imprison activists.