Statement by 12 NGOs: Bahrain is a Closed Country

2018-02-21 - 6:20 م

Bahrain Mirror: On the 7th anniversary of the peaceful popular movement of the Bahraini people which started on 14 February 2011, 12 NGOs called on the international community to help free human rights defenders in Bahrain, some of whom jailed for life, and stop the persecution of journalists simply for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

In their statement, the NGOs stressed that Bahrain now has a reputation as one of the few countries in which all well-known human rights defenders (who are not already in jail or in exile) have been banned from working freely or travelling. They noted that this is designed to isolate the human rights movement and cut its links with the international mechanisms in particular the United Nations, adding that a collective travel ban is essentially imposed on all human rights defenders, preventing them from participating in the activities of the three sessions held each year at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. "Likewise, international NGOs and journalists, along with UN experts, cannot freely visit Bahrain."

The organizations highlighted that Bahrain's most prominent human rights defenders are in jail, facing ill-treatment, statig that on 05 February 2018, Khadija Al-Mousawi tweeted that she visited her husband, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been targeted and abused in Jaw prison. He has been taken to hospital in shackles.

After he sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior in November 2017 about the conditions in prison, Al-Khawaja was also denied the right to make any phone calls until 17 December, which appears to be a reprisal against him for raising his complaint.

They further mentioned that another prominent human rights defender who has been ill-treated in detention (including being returned to unsanitary conditions following surgery, which resulted in an infection) is Nabeel Rajab, GCHR's Founding Director, Co-Founder and President of BCHR, FIDH Deputy Secretary General and a member of the Human Rights Watch MENA Advisory Board. On 15 January 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld the two-year prison sentence against Rajab for talking with various media outlets about human rights issues. On this sentence alone, he will remain in prison until December 2018, even though he has now been incarcerated already for 20 months since his arrest on 13 June 2016.

"One of the things that Rajab is accused of falsely stating is that journalists and NGOs are banned from entering the country. However, it is hard to dispute that the country is not only closed in term of civic society space, but equally not accessible for the international human rights observers. Among those NGOs which have not received permission to enter the country are signatories to this letter including FIDH, Front Line Defenders and GCHR, which has been waiting for the green light to enter the country to do a human rights mission since 2012."

A verdict is expected at the next hearing on 21 February 2018 and Rajab faces imprisonment of up to 15 years if convicted.

The statement noted that female human rights defenders were not spared torture and abuse in prison, mentioning in detail what the monitoring and documentation officer of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, Ebtisam Al-Saegh, went through.

"In 2017, the security authorities arrested and tortured many human rights defenders and then released them after forcing them to pledge to stop their human rights activities. Other people who were interrogated at Muharraq police station subsequently renounced their activism on Twitter and stopped tweeting. Only Al-Saegh strongly condemned these illegal practices, describing them on Twitter as a ‘crime against humanity.'"

The statement also listed the names of some activists who were banned from travel, such as Zainab Al-Khamees, Nedal Al-Salman, speaking of both of their interrogations and the charges raised against the latter.

As for journalists in Bahrain, the NGOs said that they are not able to work freely and have suffered terribly for covering human rights violations, noting that journalist Nazeeha Saeed, former correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, reported being tortured in 2011. She is no longer able to work as a journalist in Bahrain and forced to leave the country.

"On 30 October 2017, human rights defender and "Al-Wasat" journalist Mahmoud Abdul-Ridha Al-Jazeeri was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and his nationality was ordered to be revoked. On 28 December 2015, Al-Jazeeri was arrested during a raid on his home by security forces in plain clothes. His arrest came one day after he wrote an article reporting on the regular consultative (Shura) council's session, during which an MP asked authorities to punish Bahrainis who had their citizenship revoked on political grounds by depriving them of government housing. He was charged with supporting terrorism, inciting hatred of the regime, having contacts with a foreign country, and seeking to overthrow the government by joining Al-Wafa and the February 14 Youth Movement. He was subjected to ill-treatment in detention including being blindfolded and not being allowed to sit or sleep for almost three days. He is appealing the sentence."

The statement also referred to the closure of Al-Wasat newspaper and the dismissal of all its employees after the suspension of its activities by the authorities in June 2017.

The NGOs appealed to the United Nations mechanisms, the European Union, in addition to all governments with influence - in particular the United States and the United Kingdom - to apply serious pressure on Bahrain to demand the immediate release of all detained human rights defenders as well as all prisoners of conscience; and to protect public freedom, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and freedom of association; and to stop the security forces from practicing any form of torture or ill-treatment on detainees, a practice which is well documented in recent years and regarded as systematic in Bahrain.

They further called on the Bahrain authorities to allow the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, freedom of expression and torture to visit Bahrain immediately in order to meet representatives of civil society, meet detainees, assess the human rights situation in the country as well as to convey their recommendations to solve the crisis facing human rights defenders and journalists.

In addition, the groups called on the government of Bahrain to fulfill its promises made during Bahrain's Universal Periodic Review to uphold international standards protecting the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including by taking immediate steps to overturn the convictions, following unfair trials, of demonstrators and human rights defenders and activists, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, and immediately and unconditionally free them; and guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Bahrain, bring an end to the practice of torture and ill-treatment in prison, police stations or secret locations and bring perpetrators to justice immediately.

The NGOs also called for allowing human rights defenders to work freely inside of Bahrain, and travel abroad, including by removing travel bans against Nedal Al-Salman, Zainab Al-Khamees, and Ebtisam Al-Saegh; allowing foreign NGOs, journalists and UN representatives to freely visit Bahrain; ending the harassment of journalists and allowing all journalists to carry out their work without fear of reprisals.

The signatories of the statement are:

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
English Pen
FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Arabic Version


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