Rising Human Rights Challenges in the Gulf Region and Beyond
16. The authorities in Bahrain continued their harsh crackdown on protesters, civil society leaders, human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists in 2013, evident since the protests began in February 2011. Despite numerous undertakings given to the international community, including during its Universal Periodic Review in 2012, the Bahraini government failed to implement the key recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which issued a report in November 2011 endorsed by the King. Impunity continues for those responsible for the torture and deaths of protestors in 2011. The harassment of human rights activists and lawyers through arbitrary arrests, detention and systematic ill-treatment and torture in detention remained a key feature of the Bahraini human rights landscape. Numerous human rights defenders are behind bars on trumped up charges, having faced or facing judicial proceedings that do not meet international standards of fair trial.
17. On 7 January 2013, Bahrain’s highest court upheld convictions against 13 leading activists for their role in anti-government demonstrations in 2011. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR), expressed concerns about the lack of fairness and due process afforded to the defendants. The Court ruling came more than a year after the government’s pledge to implement the recommendations of the BICI, which called on authorities to “commute the sentences of all persons charged with offences involving political expression not consisting of advocacy of violence” and to overturn convictions imposed after grossly unfair trials. GCHR received reports that the prisoners were subjected to ill-treatment and torture while in detention.
18. In April, the Bahraini authorities indefinitely postponed, for the second time, the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez. In May, GCHR, with the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, (BCHR), initiated a joint appeal to Juan Mendez, Margaret Sekaggya and Frank La Rue, respectively UN Special Reporters on torture, on the situation of human rights defenders, and on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The appeal was signed by over 50 NGOs worldwide and called for an investigation into torture in Bahraini prisons. Bahrain ratified the 1984 Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 1998 and is thus required under international law not only to take effective measures to prevent torture but also to investigate credible allegations of torture. GCHR documented numerous claims of ill-treatment and torture in detention throughout 2013, none of which were adequately investigated by the authorities.
19. A clear example of the culture of impunity evident in Bahrain is the case of human rights defender and journalist Nazeeha Saeed, Bahrain correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya. According to Saeed, she was tortured at Riffa police station in 2011. She was “blindfolded, kicked, punched, and slapped. Her hair was pulled, she was whipped with plastic tubing, had a shoe forced into her mouth and her head dunked into a toilet.” Saeed obtained three independent medical reports which confirmed that she was subjected to torture, two of which were issued by doctors working for the Ministry of the Interior. Despite the clear evidence of torture and the fact that she identified five of her alleged torturers, only one of them, policewoman Sarah Al-Moosa, was taken to court by the Public Prosecution Office. Al-Moosa was acquitted of all charges on 22 October 2012 and her acquittal upheld on 23 June 2013. No one has thus been held accountable for the torture of Nazeeha Saeed.
20. In October, three medics, arrested during the 2011 protests, sent a letter from Jaw prison, seen by GCHR, outlining their poor conditions of detention, including ill-treatment, overcrowding, and poor hygiene and health standards. They announced their intention to set up an independent body of Medics for Human Rights. The letter was signed by Ibrahim Al-Demistani, a nurse and secretary general of the Bahrain Nursing Society, Hasaan Matooq, an emergency department nurse at the Salmaniya Medical Complex and Dr Ali Al-Ekri, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.
21. In November, the Bahraini authorities rejected a request by GCHR, along with a coalition of international NGOs, to observe a hearing in the case of Naji Fateel, co-founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) and a prominent blogger. Naji Fateel was arrested without warrant on 2 May 2013 and held incommunicado for three days, during which time he was allegedly tortured at the Criminal Investigation Directorate and taken to the Ministry of Interior hospital twice for treatment. At his first Court hearing, Fateel spoke about the torture he had been subjected to and took his shirt off to show the marks on his back. He alleged that he was subjected to electrical shocks to his genitals, to his left foot and to his back, in addition to simulated drowning, severe beatings, hanging by his hands from the ceiling, sexual harassment and threats of rape and sleep deprivation. There has been no investigation into these allegations and Fateel was prevented from attending his next Court hearing, in an attempt to silence him, GCHR believes. Fateel was sentenced on 29 September 2013 to 15 years in prison for “the establishment of a group for the purpose of disabling the constitution” under Article 6 of the Terrorism Act. This followed a six-month sentence imposed in May on charges of “attending illegal gatherings.”
22. GCHR is particularly concerned at the targeting of human rights defenders in Bahrain who cooperate with the UN system. In October, human rights defender, co-founder and President of the BYSHR, Mohamed Al-Maskati, was summoned to Al-Khamis Police Station where he was interrogated on charges of “inciting hatred against the regime.” Al-Maskati had been actively cooperating with the OHCHR, and had visited the relevant UN Special Rapporteurs in August 2013. Human rights defender Hussain Jawad, the Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR), was arrested, detained for 15 days and charged with “inciting hatred of the regime” based on a speech he gave in Manama in November. He was known to have been in communication with the OHCHR. Jawad was also one of 18 human rights defenders who were named with photographs in a pro-government newspaper, Akhbar Alkhaleej, in late November, accused of human rights violations and “terrorist” activities in a blatant attempt to tarnish their names and reputations.
23. Protests in Bahrain continue to be restricted and forcibly dispersed. On 14 August 2013, the ´Tamarrod´ movement organized peaceful protests around the country, with many shops and businesses closing for the day. These protests were met with an aggressive crackdown by the authorities and the arrest of several human rights defenders. The police closed off a number of streets with razor wire and used tear gas to disperse those who gathered to protest. Dozens were arrested without warrants prior to the protests and at least 13 arrests were made on the day. Many of those arrested reported that they were severely beaten during the arrests. On 9 August 2013, the Acting President of BCHR and Co-Director of GCHR, Maryam Al-Khawaja, was informed she was not allowed to board a flight to Bahrain from Copenhagen as the Bahraini authorities had banned her from entering the country. Al-Khawaja had publicly announced that she intended to observe the protests on 14 August.
24. In November, GCHR, along with BCHR, Front Line Defenders, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) called on the Bahraini government to release imprisoned human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, in accordance with article 349 of the Bahraini Criminal Procedure Code, on the basis that he had completed two thirds of his sentence. Rajab, who is President of BCHR and Secretary-General of GCHR, has been unfairly imprisoned since 9 July 2012 for his leadership in advocating for the promotion and protection of human rights in Bahrain. Rajab is also on the MENA Advisory Board of Human Rights Watch and is a Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). He remains behind bars.
25. Further examples of the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain include the following. On 31 July 2013, online human rights activist Mohamed Hassan was arrested and held incommunicado in detention for a week. His lawyer Abdul Aziz Moussa, was later arrested when he publicly reported that there were marks on his clients’ arms from having been tortured in detention. On 6 September 2013, 20-year-old Hussain Ali Abdul Nabi, a member of the Documentation Team of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, was arrested and detained for 45 days. A prominent Bahraini blogger, Ali Abdulemam, owner of one of the most popular websites in Bahrain bahrainonline.org, on which the first calls for the 14 February 2011 protests were made, fled into exile from Bahrain after over two years in hiding after having been sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for his role in the protests.
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