Responding to the news that Bahrain’s Court of Cassation has upheld the conviction of Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders, based on views he expressed on Twitter, Lynn Maalouf Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:
“Today’s shameful verdict is a travesty of justice. The decision to uphold Nabeel Rajab’s conviction and five-year sentence simply for posting tweets expressing his opinions, exposes Bahrain’s justice system as a complete farce. His treatment by the Bahraini authorities is completely unacceptable.
“Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience. It is utterly outrageous that he has already spent two years behind bars – including nine agonizing months in solitary confinement, amounting to torture. Instead of prolonging his suffering and condemning him to several more years in prison the Bahraini authorities should quash his conviction and sentence and release him immediately and unconditionally.”
Last week, the British Foreign Office celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Human Rights Day by highlighting the courageous work of human rights defenders around the world.
When it comes to Saudi Arabia, however, the UK government’s support for human rights defenders is virtually nonexistent. It has been silent about the credible reports of torture, sexual harassment, and assault of Saudi women activists, who are detained in Saudi prisons for their peaceful activism.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and international media outlets have received reports that Saudi authorities have tortured and abused at least four detained female activists using electric shocks, whippings, and forcibly hugging and kissing them. At least one of the women reportedly attempted to commit suicide multiple times.
Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on women’s rights activists started just weeks before it lifted the ban on women driving in June, a cause for which many of the detained activists had campaigned. UK Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the lifting of the driving ban as an “important step towards gender equality,” and then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had expressed strong support for the “reformer” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, advocating that Britain’s role should be to “encourage him along his path.” Yet the UK has not spoken out to protect the activists who made the reform possible.
In a welcome move, May did deliver strong messages during her meeting with Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 in December on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. She also encouraged Saudi Arabia to seek a political solution to the Yemen conflict. The UK in the past has strenuously avoided strong criticism of the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated violations in Yemen, some of which are likely war crimes.
But May did not raise the fate of the detained women activists.
If the UK is serious about championing human rights defenders globally, it should urgently act on the shocking reports of Saudi Arabia’s brutal torture of women’s rights activists and publicly demand that Mohammad bin Salman and his government release all detained activists immediately.
We the undersigned call on Bahraini authorities to release Nabeel Rajab immediately, to repeal his convictions and sentences, and drop all charges against him. On 31 December 2018 the Court of Cassation in Bahrain may issue its verdict in the appeal of the five-year prison sentence handed to him for peaceful comments posted and retweeted on his Twitter account about the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, and allegations of torture in Jau prison.
We are concerned that the authorities intend to increase Rajab's prison sentence unopposed, by setting 31 December as the date for a hearing and possible issuing of a verdict, while most
Bahrainis and people around the globe will be focused on year-end celebrations. This is not an idle concern, as, opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman was arrested on 28 December 2014 and subsequently convicted and sentenced to four years in jail following an unfair trial. And last month, in yet another case brought against him on spying charges, the Court of Appeal overturned his initial acquittal and sentenced him instead to life in prison.
Rajab has been a tireless champion of human rights for many years, helping to found and run the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, both members of the IFEX network.
He has been detained since his arrest on 13 June 2016. He was held largely in solitary confinement during the first nine months of his detention, violating UN rules on pre-trial imprisonment, and has been subjected to humiliating treatment. His books, toiletries, and clothes have been confiscated and his cell frequently raided at night.
Rajab was sentenced to two years in jail in 2017 on charges of “publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state” during TV interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016 in which he stated that Bahraini authorities bar reporters and human rights workers from entering the country. He was sentenced in 2018 to five years in prison on charges of “disseminating false rumors in times of war” for tweets about torture in Jau Prison and the war in Yemen.
At its eighty-first session, 17-26 April 2018, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Rajab's “deprivation of liberty constitutes a violation of articles 2 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2 (1) and 26 of the Covenant – on the grounds of discrimination based on political or other opinion, as well as on his status as a human rights defender”.
We therefore urge Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel
Rajab, quash his convictions and sentences, and drop all charges against him; and undertake a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation into his allegations of ill-treatment. The findings of the investigation must be made public and anyone suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair proceedings.
As this case is part of a pattern of abuse and harassment against human rights defenders and journalists in Bahrain, we also urge the authorities to cease all such actions and ensure that the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press is respected.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bytes for All (B4A)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Free Media Movement
Globe International Center
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
Independent Journalism Center (IJC)
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
International Press Centre (IPC)
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM)
South East Europe Media Organisation
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Campaign Against Arms Trade
FIDH under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Gulf Institute for Human Rights
Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders
MENA Monitoring Group
OMCT under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
The upcoming parliamentary elections in Bahrain, scheduled for November 24, 2018, are occurring in a repressive political environment that is not conducive to free elections, Human Rights Watch said today. Bahrain’s allies should encourage the Bahraini government to take all the necessary steps to reform laws undermining freedom of expression and assembly and to release detained opposition figures.
In the latest instance of the crackdown on peaceful dissent, on November 13, 2018, a former member of parliament, Ali Rashed al-Sheeri, was detained after he tweeted about boycotting the elections. On November 4, the Bahrain High Court of Appeals overturned the previous acquittal of a prominent opposition member, Sheikh Ali Salman, sentencing him to life in prison on charges of spying for Qatar. Salman is the leader of Bahrain’s largest political opposition group, al-Wefaq, which was outlawed in 2016.
“By jailing or silencing people who challenge the ruling family and banning all opposition parties and independent news outlets, Bahrain is failing to create the conditions necessary for a free election,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain should immediately release political prisoners and review its decisions to shutter independent news outlets and political opposition groups.”
Since the nationwide anti-government protests in 2011, Bahraini authorities have arrested scores of prominent human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and opposition leaders, charging them on dubious terrorism or national security grounds, mostly for peaceful acts of protest. Security forces have been responsible for torture and widespread ill treatment of detainees and have dispersed peaceful protests with deadly force. The government has also dissolved all opposition political groups, including the secular-left National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) and the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. In 2017, the last independent newspaper in the country, al-Wasat, was forcibly closed.
On June 11, King Hamad signed an amendment to the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights that bans anyone who belonged to a dissolved political organization or who was previously convicted and sentenced to more than six months in prison from running for political office. This legislation effectively disqualifies opposition candidates from participating in the upcoming elections.
On November 15, the US Senate voted not to block a $300 million arms sale to Bahrain. Although 20 percent of the Senate, with members from both sides of the aisle, voted to block the sale, the arms sale is set to go through.
Bahrain’s allies, including the UK and US, should translate their criticism of Bahrain’s human rights abuses into concrete action, including by not approving future arms sales until such time as Bahrain releases all human rights defenders and dissidents serving long jail terms for peaceful expression and holds accountable officials and security officers who participated in or ordered the widespread torture during interrogations since 2011.
Bahrain’s allies should stop supplying weapons to Bahrain and other parties to the conflict in Yemen, while there is a substantial risk of these arms being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law there.
Bahrain should repeal the amendments to the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights and allow opposition candidates to run for office in the elections. The government should free anyone detained arbitrarily, including those detained for exercising their basic rights, such as Sheikh Ali Salman and Nabeel Rajab, and reinstate dissolved independent media outlets and political opposition groups.
“Bahrain’s allies should not give Bahrain a free pass and conduct business as usual while mass rights abuses persist,” Fakih said.
Saudi Arabia faced international scrutiny of its human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council on November 5, 2018, as countries pressed for concrete steps to end abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.
Country representatives gathering in Geneva for the periodic review of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record made recommendations that included the immediate release of Saudi activists – including women driving activists – jailed solely for peacefully advocating reform. They also called for an end to discrimination against women and justice for the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, including assuring accountability for his killers.
“Many countries have problematic records, but Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression, which have come into focus in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia should respond to international criticism of its human rights record and make meaningful changes, including the immediate release of jailed human rights defenders as a first step.”
Among the recommendations were to respect freedom of expression and the rights of human rights defenders. Since Mohammad bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017, Saudi authorities have escalated an intensified a coordinated crackdown on dissidents and human rights activists.
On May 15, just weeks before the Saudi authorities lifted the ban on women driving on June 24, Saudi authorities began arresting prominent women’s rights activists, accusing several of them of grave crimes such as treason that appear to be directly related to their activism. By September, at least nine women remained detained without charge, though some anticipated charges could carry prison terms of up to 20 years. The nine are Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassema al-Sadah, and Amal al-Harbi.
More than a dozen prominent activists convicted on charges arising from their peaceful activities are serving long prison sentences. They include Waleed Abu al-Khair, a human rights lawyer serving a 15-year sentence imposed by the Specialized Criminal Court in 2014, on charges stemming solely from his peaceful criticism of rights abuses in media interviews and on social media.
Regarding the Khashoggi killing, recommendations during the November 5 session included inviting “a team of international experts to participate in the investigation,” as well as collaborating with the Human Rights Council to “establish a hybrid mechanism for the impartial and independent investigation.” On October 20, Saudi Arabia admitted that people acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia had murdered Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.
Human Rights Watch has said that other countries should reject Saudi Arabia’s attempted whitewash of the killing and that the UN should open an investigation to independently determine the circumstances surrounding the killing. The inquiry should include determining Saudi Arabia’s role, and identifying those responsible for authorizing, planning, and carrying out the apparently brutal murder.
Saudi Arabia also faced calls to abide by international humanitarian law in its military operations in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, including apparent war crimes, and has failed to carry out meaningful and impartial investigations into alleged violations. The work of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), established by the coalition in 2016, has fallen far short of international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence. As of September, the unit had cleared the coalition of wrongdoing in the vast majority of airstrikes investigated.
Country representatives also recommended that Saudi Arabia end discrimination against women, including by ending the discriminatory male guardianship system. Under this system, women are not allowed to apply for a passport, marry, travel, or be released from prison without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son. One country urged Saudi Arabia to guarantee women’s rights by enacting anti-discrimination legislation.
Saudi Arabia faced numerous calls to end the death penalty or adopt a moratorium on executions, especially for child offenders and for people convicted of “non-serious crimes.” Saudi Arabia has executed over 650 people since its previous Universal Periodic Review in 2013, over 200 of them for nonviolent drug crimes. International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances.
In 2018, Saudi authorities began seeking the death penalty against dissidents in trials that did not include accusations of violence, including for supporting protests and alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. A handful of men are on death row for offenses allegedly committed when they were children.
Country representatives also said that Saudi Arabia should accede to major human rights treaties and covenants, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which along with Universal Declaration of Human Rights make up the International Bill of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia is one of only a handful of countries in the world that have not signed or ratified those treaties, though Saudi representatives have claimed since 2009 that ratification is under consideration.
“The world should seize this opportunity to demand justice for Saudi Arabia’s serious rights abuses and harmful practices, many of which have been going on for decades,” Page said.
Responding to the news that the cases of twelve men from Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority who were sentenced to death last year have been transferred to the ‘Presidency of State Security’, a body under the King’s direct authority mandated to address all state security matters, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:
“The families of the men are terrified by this development and the lack of information provided to them on the status of the cases of their loved ones. Given the secrecy surrounding Saudi Arabia’s judicial proceedings, we fear that this development signals the imminent execution of the twelve men.
“The Saudi Arabian authorities sentenced these men to death in 2016 for spying for Iran after a grossly unfair mass trial. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executioners and regularly uses the death penalty as a political tool to crush dissent from the country’s Shi’a minority, demonstrating its total contempt for the value of human life.
“It is not too late to save the lives of these men. We are urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately quash these sentences and establish an official moratorium on executions, as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty completely”.
“The Bahraini authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Sheikh Ali Salman and quash his politically motivated conviction and sentence”.
“The international community’s silence on the continued crackdown on dissent must also come to an end. Instead of ignoring criticism of Bahrain’s human rights record, the country’s political allies must use their influence to push for the release of Sheikh Ali Salman and all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain”.
Reacting to the news that the European Parliament has condemned the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia following the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi and called for an arms embargo, Covadonga de la Campa, Interim Director of the Amnesty International, EU Office, said:
“The recent killing of Jamal Khashoggi has exposed the limits of silent diplomacy when faced with a sharp and sustained disregard for human rights. Amnesty International has documented scores of unlawful attacks committed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen, including indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes that have killed and injured civilians and destroyed scores of homes, schools, hospitals, markets and mosques.
“Given the clear evidence that arms could be used to commit serious violations in Yemen, all arms-supplying states must suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and its coalition members.
“We welcome the European Parliament’s strong criticism of Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on activists and journalists. Until recently the Kingdom’s blanket suppression of human rights has largely been met with a deafening silence from the international community. Although exceptionally gruesome, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi is sadly not exceptional. It falls squarely within a long-standing pattern of repression and a crackdown on peaceful dissent which has only intensified since Mohammad bin Salman became Crown Prince.”
Following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is once again under the global spotlight.
Turkey’s President Erdogan said he believed the death of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul was a “savage murder”.
But Khashoggi’s killing is only the latest in a long line of violations to add to the Kingdom’s appalling human rights record.
1 - Devastating war in Yemen
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has contributed significantly to a war that has devastated Yemen for the last three-and-a-half years, killing thousands of civilians, including children, by bombing or shelling hospitals, schools and homes. Amnesty International has documentedof international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Despite this, countries including the US, UK and France continue to make lucrative arms deals with the Saudis.
2 - Relentless crackdown on peaceful activists, journalists and academics
Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to power, many outspoken activists have been arrested orto lengthy prison terms simply for exercising peacefully their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The authorities have targeted the small but vocal community of human rights defenders, including by using anti-terrorism and anti-cyber crime laws to suppress their peaceful activism in exposing and addressing human rights violations.
3 - Arrests of women’s rights defenders
Earlier this year, a number of prominent women’s rights defenders were arrested in Saudi’s ongoing crackdown on the human rights community. Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef have all beenwithout charge since May. Following their arrests, the government launched a chilling smear campaign to discredit them as “traitors”. They may face trial before a counterterror court and risk a lengthy prison sentence.
4 - Executions
Saudi Arabia is consistently amongst the, with dozens of people being put to death annually, many in gruesome public beheadings. We consider that the death penalty violates the right to life and is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Moreover, there is no evidence anywhere in the world that the death penalty deters crime, yet Saudi Arabia continues to sentence people to death and execute them following grossly unfair trials. So far this year, Saudi Arabia has executed 108 individuals, almost half of them for drug-related offences.
5 - Punishments that are cruel, inhuman or degrading
Saudi Arabia’s courts continue to impose sentences of flogging as punishment for many offences, often following unfair trials.was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison simply for writing a blog. Amputations and cross-amputations, which invariably constitute torture, are also carried out as punishment for some crimes.
6 - Routine torture in custody
Former detainees, trial defendants and others have told Amnesty International that the security forces’ use of torture and other ill-treatment remains common and widespread, and that those responsible are never brought to justice.
7 - Systematic discrimination against women
Women and girls still face entrenched discrimination in Saudi Arabia, and are legally subordinate to men in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance and other aspects. Under the guardianship system, a woman cannot make decisions on their own; instead, a male relative must decide everything on her behalf.
8 - Entrenched religious discrimination
Members of the Kingdom’s Shi’a minority continue to face entrenched discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Scores of Shi’a activists haveor long prison terms for their alleged participation in anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012.
9 - ‘What happens in the Kingdom, stays in the Kingdom’
The Saudi Arabian authorities have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against peaceful activists and family members of victims who contact independent human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, or foreign diplomats and journalists.
10 - Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
Following Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific killing, Amnesty International is calling for the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tointo the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi's extrajudicial execution, possible torture and any other crimes and violations committed in his case.
The organization spoke to relatives or family members of 11 prisoners, held in various detention facilities around the country, and received credible reports of a healthcare system marred by negligence, delays and arbitrary exercise of authority.
“The reports we heard from prisoners’ relatives paint a stark picture of medical negligence and intentional ill-treatment in Bahrain’s prisons. Although medical treatment is provided, it is far from adequate, and prisoners are frequently subjected to disruptions, delays and needless, petty cruelty,” said Devin Kenney, Amnesty International’s GCC researcher.
“In one appalling case, a man with stage-three cancer was sent back to prison just days after a biopsy – the same individual recently had to wait for more than a month for his medication. Another man has lost at least seven teeth since being detained, due to denial of dental treatment. We are urging Bahrain’s authorities to take immediate steps to ensure all those in state custody can access adequate health care, as they are obliged to do under international law.” said Devin Kenney.
Amnesty International is calling on the authorities at Jaw prison, the women’s jail and prison at Isa Town, and all other places of detention in Bahrain, to abide by international human rights law and standards in their treatment of detainees and prisoners. They must ensure that detainees and prisoners enjoy the standards of health care that is available in the community, without discrimination.
The ongoing arbitrary detention of several women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia is outrageous, Amnesty International said today, as three prominent activists reach 100 days of being held without charge.
Since May, at leastin Saudi Arabia have been detained without charge. Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef were all imprisoned on 15 May and today (23 August) marks 100 days since their detention.
“It is absolutely outrageous that so many brave human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are still being held without charge – apparently for simply speaking out against injustice,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns.
“They have been detained without charge and with no legal representation for more than three months. This must not go on any longer. The world cannot carry on looking the other way as this relentless persecution of those who stand up for human rights in Saudi Arabia continues.”
To mark the 100 day anniversary, Amnesty International is today mobilising its supporters worldwide to stand with the detained human rights defenders. As part of the campaign, Amnesty International supporters are gathering in multiple cities around the world to protest outside of Saudi Arabian embassies. They will be putting pressure on the Saudi Arabian authorities, as well as their own governments, to take action to secure the release of the women human rights defenders and all prisoners of conscience who have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef have faced accusations in state-aligned media which include forming a “cell” and posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric”. Amnesty International understands that the three women may be charged and tried by the country’s notorious counter-terror court, which has been used in other instances to try human rights defenders and deliver harsh prison sentences.
Earlier this month,prominent women human rights activists - Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada - were also detained. Others detained recently include women’s rights activists Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani, and activists who have previously been persecuted for their human rights work, such as and Khalid al-Omeir. Hatoon al-Fassi, a prominent women’s rights activist and academic was also reportedly detained a few days after Saudi Arabia lifted the driving ban in June.
So far, a total of 12 human rights defenders have been detained: eight women and four men. The crackdown began shortly before. Many of the activists detained campaigned for the right to drive and the end of the repressive male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia for many years.
“The international community must push the Saudi Arabian authorities to end this targeted repression of activists in the country. States with significant influence in Saudi Arabia – such as the USA, UK and France – should do much more to campaign for their release,” said Samah Hadid.
“Saudi Arabia must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, and end the draconian crackdown on freedom of expression in the country.”
Saudi authorities have arrested the internationally recognized women’s rights activist Samar Badawi and an Eastern Province activist, Nassima al-Sadah, in the past two days, Human Rights Watch said today. Badawi and al-Sadah are the latest victims of an unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement that began on May 15, 2018 and has resulted in the arrest of more than a dozen activists.
Badawi, a recipient of the United States’ 2012 International Women of Courage Award, is best known for challenging Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system. She was one of the first women to petition Saudi authorities to allow women the right to drive as well as the right to vote and run in municipal elections. Al-Sadah, from the coastal city of Qatif, has also long campaigned both for abolishing the guardianship system and lifting the driving ban. She was a candidate in the 2015 local elections, the first time women were allowed to run, but the authorities removed her name from the ballot, ultimately barring her from running.
“The arrests of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah signal that the Saudi authorities see any peaceful dissent, whether past or present, as a threat to their autocratic rule,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “After the recent arbitrary arrests of businesspeople, women’s rights activists, and reformist clerics, Saudi Arabia’s allies and partners should question what ‘reform’ really means in a country where the rule of law is disdainfully ignored.”
Saudi authorities, under the ultimate direction of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, have stepped up arrests and prosecutions of dissidents and activists since early 2017. As the arrests escalated, Badawi and al-Sadah, like the other women’s rights activists recently arrested, had largely gone quiet in their social media and other public advocacy.
Saudi authorities have targeted and harassed Badawi for years. In addition to her advocacy for women’s equality, she has campaigned energetically for both her former husband and her brother to be released from prison. Waleed Abu al-Khair, her former husband, is serving a 15-year sentence for his human rights work, and Raif Badawi, her brother, is a blogger serving a 10-year sentence for expressing controversial opinions online. In December 2014, Saudi authorities barred her from travelling abroad and in January 2016, they briefly detained her over her peaceful human rights advocacy.
On July 30, authorities also arrested Amal al-Harbi, wife of the leading Saudi activist Fowzan al-Harbi. He is serving a seven-year sentence for his work with the now-banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), one of the country’s first civic organizations. It is unclear why Saudi authorities have targeted Al-Harbi.
The recent crackdown on women's rights activists began just weeks ahead of the much-anticipated lifting of the driving ban on women on June 24, a cause for which many of the detained activists had campaigned. While some have been released, others remain detained without charge. They include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, and Hatoon al-Fassi, all women’s rights activists, as well as supporters of the movement, including Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, a lawyer; Abdulaziz Meshaal, a philanthropist; and Mohammed Rabea, a social activist.
Authorities accused several of those detained of serious crimes, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties” under thin legal pretenses. Government-aligned media outlets have carried out an alarming campaign against them, branding them “traitors.” The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that nine of those detained will be referred for trial to the Specialized Criminal Court, originally established to try detainees held in connection with terrorism offenses. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.
Dr. al-Fassi, a renowned scholar and associate professor of women’s history at King Saud University, was one of the first women to acquire a Saudi driver’s license. Saudi authorities arrested her just days before lifting the ban. Numerous other women’s rights activists have since been placed under travel bans.
Saudi women’s rights activists have not only petitioned successive government authorities to reform discriminatory laws and policies, but also sought to change societal attitudes. While the government has recently introduced limited reforms, including allowing women to enter some professions previously closed to them as well as lifting the driving ban, the male guardianship system, the main impediment to the realization of women’s rights, remains largely intact.
Under this system, women must obtain permission from a male guardian – a father, brother, husband, or even a son – to travel abroad, obtain a passport, enroll in higher education, get a life-saving abortion, be released from a prison or shelter, or marry.
“Allies and partners considering opportunities for closer ties with Saudi Arabia during this period of ‘reform’ should speak out against Mohammad bin Salman’s ultimately self-defeating repression. Any economic vision that seeks to open up Saudi Arabia while throwing real reformers in jail may well end badly for everyone,” said Whitson.
Bahraini authorities should restore citizenship to hundreds of nationals whose citizenship they revoked through executive orders or court decisions since 2012, rendering most of them stateless, Human Rights Watch said today.
According to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), authorities have, since 2012, revoked the citizenship of at least 738 nationals – 232 in 2018 alone – in a process that lacks adequate legal safeguards. This includes many human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, and religious scholars. The vast majority of Bahraini citizens stripped of citizenship are left effectively stateless, and some have been deported.
“Bahrain seems intent on earning the dubious honor of leading the region in stripping citizenship,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While authorities claim that these acts are linked to national security, they are in fact punishing many people merely for peacefully voicing dissent.”
All known citizenship revocations since January 1, 2018, have been handed down by civil or military courts, BIRD said. Human Rights Watch has documented widespread fair trial violations in both court systems, in particular since the authorities’ crackdown on anti-government protests after 2011. The violations include a lack of access to lawyers, especially during interrogation, and allegedly coerced confessions.
In 108 cases prior to 2018, authorities directly revoked a person’s citizenship through a royal decree or Interior Ministry order, according to BIRD.
Criminal court decisions are subject to appeal. Royal decrees and ministerial orders are subject to two levels of court appeals. But courts have rarely – if ever – overturned a citizenship revocation ordered by the Interior Ministry or royal decree, a human rights activist who asked to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch.
Between May 15 and 25, 2018, courts ruling in various trials revoked the citizenship of a total of 128 defendants, according to BIRD. Among the recent court orders revoking citizenship, on May 15, a criminal court stripped 115 nationals of their citizenship after a single mass trial, also sentencing them to prison terms for allegedly forming a terrorist group. On May 21, a criminal court revoked the citizenship of nine nationals and sentenced them to various prison terms for terrorism-related charges. Authorities revoked the citizenship of four more nationals in two trials between May 22 and 25.
The government has deported eight people to Iraq since the beginning of 2018, after courts stripped them of Bahraini citizenship.
Bahrain made amendments to the Citizenship Law of 1963 in July 2014. Article 10 permits the Interior Ministry, with cabinet approval, to strip the citizenship of a person who “aids or is involved in the service of a hostile state” or who “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.”
In 2015, the Interior Ministry stripped the citizenship of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a prominent Bahraini human rights advocate. He was on a list of 72 persons whose citizenship the Interior Ministry revoked. The group included human rights defenders, political activists, and journalists, whom authorities accused of having “defamed the image of the regime, incited against the regime and spread false news to hinder the rules of the constitution,” and “defamed brotherly countries,” among other allegations. Alwadaei has since 2012 lived in the United Kingdom, where he is seeking asylum.
In 2016, the government revoked the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim, a prominent Shia cleric regarded as the spiritual leader of the now-dissolved main opposition group to the government, Al Wifaq. Authorities kept him under house arrest until July 9, then granted him a temporary passport to travel to the UK for urgent medical procedures.
Bahraini authorities have either jailed or exiled the country’s preeminent human rights defenders after trials that did not meet basic due process standards. The authorities have also resorted to harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, and prosecution of their family members.
Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality, or of the right to enter his own country. In 1999, the Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, stated that, “'The scope of ‘his own country’ is broader than the concept ‘country of his nationality,’” and that it would apply to people who have been stripped of their nationality in violation of international law.
A United Nations report from 2013 says that, “International law … obliges States to provide for an opportunity for the meaningful review of nationality decisions, including on substantive issues.” The report states that if the citizenship of a national is revoked, “lodging an appeal should suspend the effects of the decision, such that the individual continues to enjoy nationality – and related rights – until such time as the appeal has been settled.”
Article 29 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, states that, “Every person has the right to a nationality, and no citizen shall be deprived of his nationality without a legally valid reason.”
“What Bahraini authorities have done in stripping away hundreds of people’s citizenship clearly violates international norms,” Goldstein said. “Bahrain should promptly do the right thing and restore citizenship to those victims.”
Families of the detained search in vain
Families of the detainees told Amnesty International about their desperate search for information. Mothers, wives, and sisters of those forcibly disappeared have been holding protests for nearly two years now, making the rounds between government and prosecution offices, security departments, prisons, coalition bases, and various entities handling human rights complaints.
A prominent Shiite cleric in Bahrain who led a now-shuttered opposition party was acquitted Thursday of spying charges with two colleagues, marking a rare victory for activists in the island kingdom amid a yearslong clampdown on dissent.
Sheikh Ali Salman headed the Al-Wefaq political party, the largest Shiite opposition group in the kingdom, and served as a central figure in Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring protests.
A lawyer previously involved with Salman’s case, Abdulla al-Shamlawi, said the cleric would be released in December after he finished serving some four years in prison in another case widely criticized internationally.
“It is defusing unnecessary circumstances,” al-Shamlawi said. “It is very good.”
Prosecutors later issued a statement saying they planned to appeal, alleging there was “strong evidence” against the three men.
Activists praised the court decision, but said Salman should be immediately freed.
“Sheikh Ali Salman had been used as a pawn in Bahrain’s game of power politics,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. “Despite his acquittal, Sheikh Salman will continue to languish in Jaw Prison for exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
Salman, 52, long has been targeted by Bahrain’s government. In 1994, he was arrested, tortured and detained for months without trial before being deported and forced to live in exile for over 15 years, according to the United Nations.
He was a prominent figure in Bahrain’s Arab Spring protests in 2011, in which the island’s Shiite majority and others demanded more freedoms from the Sunni monarchy.
In December 2014, two days after being re-elected as Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general, Salman was again arrested by security forces. This time, prosecutors brought him to trial on charges he insulted the Interior Ministry, which oversees police, incited others to break the law and incited hatred against naturalized Sunni citizens, many of whom serve in the island’s security forces. While Bahrain’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression, authorities routinely arrest and charge activists over their comments.
The U.N.’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions issued a report in November 2015 criticizing the arrest and calling for Salman’s release. The report also described its decision as “only one of several opinions that have found Bahrain to be in violation of its international human rights obligations.”
In Thursday’s case, Salman and two other officials from Al-Wefaq, Sheikh Hassan Ali Juma Sultan and Ali Mahdi Ali al-Aswad, faced spying charges. The charges came after Bahrain state television in August aired recorded telephone calls between Salman and Qatar’s then-Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani during the 2011 protests. It remains unclear who gave state television the recordings, though activists suspect the island’s intelligence services leaked the call.
Bahrain is one of four Arab countries that have been boycotting Qatar for over a year as part of a wider diplomatic dispute.
The call between Salman and the Qatari official at the time were aimed at peacefully resolving the 2011 protests, which ended when Bahraini, Emirati and Saudi security forces violently put down the demonstrations. A government-sponsored report on the 2011 protests and unrest noted Bahrain’s opposition accepted that mediation while Bahrain’s government rejected it.
Responding to the news that Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition have launched an offensive on the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said:
“The assault on Hodeidah could have a devastating impact for hundreds of thousands of civilians – not just in the city but throughout Yemen.
“With an estimated 600,000 people living in and around Hodeidah, all sides to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to ensure that the civilian population is protected.
“Equally vital is that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Huthi forces ensure the flow of aid and essential goods isn’t impeded in any way, as millions of people remain at risk of famine across the country.
“Hodeidah’s port is crucial to a country that is 80% dependent on imports to meet basic necessities. Cutting off this crucial supply line would further exacerbate what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“During the past three years of fighting in Yemen, all parties to the conflict have disregarded their obligations under international humanitarian law, consistently carrying out unlawful attacks that have killed or injured civilians. A repeat of such violations in Hodeidah would put thousands of lives at risk and must be avoided at all costs.”
Responding to the news that Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist in Bahrain, has had his appeal against his conviction for peacefully expressing his opinions online upheld, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:
“The Bahraini Court of Appeal has missed a vital opportunity to do the right thing and set Nabeel Rajab free.
“His ongoing detention is further proof of the Bahraini authorities’ relentless determination to squash the right to freedom of expression and silence any peaceful criticism.
“It is absolutely outrageous that he has to spend another single day behind bars solely for expressing his opinion online.
“The authorities must immediately release Nabeel Rajab and drop all charges against him.”
In February this year, Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to five years in prison. The sentence is related to posts and retweets shared on his Twitter account regarding alleged torture in Bahrain’s Jaw prison, and the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.
Nabeel Rajab is now expected to pursue a final appeal before Bahrain’s Court of Cassation.
Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been relentlessly harassed and intimidated for his peaceful human rights work and has been in and out of prison since 2012 on various charges related to his peaceful activism. He has been banned from leaving Bahrain since November 2014.
In the most recent round of prosecutions, Rajab has been detained since June 2016, and earlier this year was handed an additional two-year prison sentence for TV interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016. The Court of Cassation in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, upheld his sentence on 15 January 2018, convicting him of “disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status”.
The jailing of a prominent human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for posts he made on Facebook and Twitter is a devastating blow to freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International said today.
Ahmed Mansoor was this week sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined 1,000,000 Emirati Dirham (approximately USD $270,000) for posts he made on social media.
“Ahmed Mansoor is one of the few openly critical voices in the UAE, and his persecution is another nail in the coffin for human rights activism in the country,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
“The decision to lock up Ahmed Mansoor for the next 10 years for simply sharing his opinion on social media is what causes the real damage to the UAE’s reputation and so-called ‘social harmony’, not Ahmed Mansoor’s peaceful activism.
“Ahmed is a prisoner of conscience who has been targeted, tried and sentenced for using Facebook and Twitter to share his thoughts. He should never have been charged in the first place and now he must be released immediately.”
Mansoor was reported to have been convicted of “publish[ing] false information, rumours and lies about the UAE” which “would damage the UAE's social harmony and unity.”
The prosecution characterized his so-called crime as “publish[ing] false information to damage [the] UAE’s reputation abroad” and “portray[ing] the UAE as a lawless land.” Mansoor had also been charged with “cooperating with a terrorist organisation operating outside the country” but was acquitted on this charge.
Mansoor was sentenced at the State Security Chamber of the Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi. He can appeal his sentence to the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court.
Mansoor’s trial began in mid-March this year, and continued at a hearing on 11 April. A third hearing may have taken place on 9 May but there has been no confirmation of this. He was sentenced on 29 May, but the news was only revealed yesterday.
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor, which includes the quashing of his sentence. Pending his release, Ahmed Mansoor must be granted immediate and regular access to a lawyer, his family and any health care he may require.
Ahmed Mansoor has been detained since 20 March 2017 and held for most of this time in solitary confinement. His place of detention has never been officially confirmed and he has been granted only two visits from his family; when his family visited him, they and Ahmed were both brought to the prosecutor’s office.
This is not Ahmed’s first conviction for expressing his opinion. In 2011, the Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court sentenced him to three years in prison for “insulting UAE leaders by delivering speeches and public lectures” and “provid[ing] false reports and information about the UAE that would harm the policies of the state”, in addition to “contacting international rights and political organisations working abroad”. He did not serve that sentence, however, as he was pardoned by the UAE President.
“The crown prince, who has styled himself as a reformer with Western allies and investors, should be thanking the activists for their contributions to the Saudi women’s rights movement,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the Saudi authorities appear to be punishing these women’s rights champions for promoting a goal bin Salman alleges to support – ending discrimination against women.”
Local state media outlets identified the long-time rights advocates Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, and Eman al-Nafjan, along with Mohammad al-Rabea, an activist, and Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, a human rights lawyer, among those arrested. It is not clear if the detained activists have been charged with the offenses the State Security cited.
Saudi activists told Human Rights Watch that the seriousness of the allegations and the viciousness of the deeply personalized media campaign are unprecedented and shocking. Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper reported that those arrested could face up to 20 years in prison. Al-Jazirah, a local daily newspaper, published a photo of al-Hathloul and al-Yousef on its front page under a headline describing them as citizens who betrayed the state. A pro-government Twitter account posted images of those arrested with the word “traitor” splattered in red across their faces. Saudi Arabia does not permit any independent media to operate in the country.
Several of the detained activists are best known for campaigning against the ban on women driving and publicly advocating abolishing the male guardianship system, which gives men the authority to make a range of critical decisions on behalf of their female relatives. Their arrests come ahead of the anticipated lifting of a ban on women driving on June 24.
Saudi rights defenders said that in September 2017, the day the lifting of the ban was announced, officials working for the king’s office (also known as al-Diwan al-Malaki in Arabic) had phoned prominent activists, including some of those now detained, and warned them not to speak to the media.
Al-Yousef, 60, is a retired professor of computer science at King Saud University, and a leading activist in the longstanding campaign against the male guardianship system. Under this system, women need the permission of their male guardian – who may be their father, husband, brother, or even son – to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married, or even leave prison.
Al-Nafjan, 39, is an assistant professor of linguistics at a university in Riyadh, and the author of a popular blog on Saudi society, culture, and women’s rights. She has written about women’s rights for numerous international media, including the New York Times and the Guardian. In 2013, al-Yousef and al-Nafjan protested the driving ban by filming as they drove by police stations in Riyadh and were both briefly detained.
Saudi authorities detained al-Hathloul, 28, in November 2014, as she attempted to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates while live-streaming to bring international attention to the issue. She was held in a juvenile detention center for 73 days. She has built a significant social media following since then, with over 300,000 followers on Twitter, which has widespread popularity in Saudi Arabia.
Mohammad bin Salman has offered rhetorical support for women’s rights reforms, especially during his whirlwind public relations tour in the United States and Europe promoting business opportunities and promising “a return to moderate Islam.” During his interview with 60 Minutes on March 19, he said: “Saudi women still have not received their full rights. There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still don’t have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go.”
Such reforms have so far been limited. In addition to planning to lift the driving ban, the authorities have allowed women to hold jobs previously closed to them, such as air traffic control, border control, and traffic police. However, the male guardianship system, the most serious impediment to women’s rights, remains largely intact.
In mid-September 2017, Saudi authorities arrested dozens of people, including prominent clerics and intellectuals, in what appeared to be a coordinated crackdown on dissent. Other Saudi activists and dissidents are serving long prison terms based solely on their peaceful activism, including Waleed Abu al-Khair, Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abdullah al-Hamid, Fadhil al-Manasif, Sulaiman al-Rashoodi, Abdulkareem al-Khodr, Fowzan al-Harbi, Raif Badawi, Saleh al-Ashwan, Abdulrahman al-Hamid, Zuhair Kutbi, Alaa Brinji, and Nadhir al-Majed.
“Every government that believed that the Saudi crown prince is a reformer and a champion for women should demand the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights activists,” Whitson said. “It’s not real reform if it takes place in a dystopia where rights activists are imprisoned, and freedom of expression exists just for those who publicly malign them.”
UN human rights experts* have called for the retrial of four men sentenced to death by a Bahraini military court in a collective trial that breached fair trial and due process guarantees and confessions obtained under torture.
They welcomed the news that the King of Bahrain commuted the death sentences to life in prison but deplored the imposition of the capital punishment in the first place. “The fact remains, that they should have never been convicted on the basis of flawed trials, let alone sentenced to death, and they still face life sentences,” they said.
The men, Mohamed AbdulHasan AlMutaghawi, Fadhel Sayed Radhi, Sayed Alawi Husain and Mubarak Adel Mubarak Mahanna, were sentenced to death by the Bahraini High Military Court on 25 December 2017 on charges of participating in a terrorist cell and attempting to assassinate Bahrain’s Defence Forces Commander-in-Chief. Two others facing the same charges were sentenced in absentia. All of them in addition had their citizenship revoked. They saw their appeals rejected by the Bahraini Military Court of Cassation on 25 April 2018.
Prior to their conviction, it is understood that the men were forcibly disappeared for several months, held in solitary confinement in small cells for a prolonged period and subjected to torture and ill-treatment to obtain confessions which were then used against them in court. They did not have access to legal representation until late in the trial proceedings and the court reportedly refused to investigate the defendants’ allegations of torture in custody.
“While welcoming the decision to annul the death sentences, we call on the authorities to ensure that the four men are retried in accordance with international law and standards“, the experts said. “The allegations of enforced disappearance and torture must be promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated with a view to holding those responsible to account and preventing future similar occurrences.”
They further urged the King of Bahrain to pardon all other death sentences and ensure that all these and other pending capital punishment cases are retried in full respect of fair trial and due process guarantees in compliance with the treaty obligations the country has undertaken under the ICCPR and CAT.
“We also ask that the authorities reinstate the citizenship of all four men as well as that of all others that have been punished in the same manner in the same collective trial against established international human rights law and standards”, they added.
This was the first trial of civilians by a military court in Bahrain since 2011, after the King of Bahrain amended the constitution in 2017 to allow for the military trial of civilians. The UN experts called on the King of Bahrain to reverse the amendment.
The experts had previously sought clarifications from the Government on this case.
The human rights situation in Bahrain continued to deteriorate in March 2018. 1668 serious human rights violations were observed between the 1st and 31st of March 2018, including arbitrary arrests, house raids, unfair trials, crackdown on peaceful protests, restrictions on freedom of movement, prohibition of Friday prayers, media materials that incite hate speech, enforced disappearance, torture, ill-treatment, injuries, destruction or confiscation of property and violation of freedom of religion and belief.
While the number of violations in March exceeded that of the previous month by 563 violations, the total violations were distributed as follows: 115 cases of arbitrary arrests; 42 cases of forced disappearances; 96 citizens received arbitrary sentences – the sum of which amounted to 599 years and 11 months in prison; 60 cases of torture and ill-treatment; 489 media materials that incite hate speech; 152 unlawful raids on houses and residential facilities; 86 crackdowns on peaceful gatherings and protests; 550 individuals who were arrested or accused were referred to court because of trials that violate freedom of expression and peaceful assembly; violation of freedom of movement by the continuation of the siege on Duraz area for 648 days and the imposition of house arrest on the highest religious authority for the Shiite Muslims in Bahrain, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, for 311 days without a judicial order or administrative decision; violation of freedom of religion and belief by prohibiting the Friday prayer in Duraz 5 times in March bringing the number of prohibitions to 90 times since 2016; 1 case of unlawful confiscation of property; and 10 cases of destruction of property.
In March, Bahrain witnessed 296 protests, while since the beginning of the year the number of protests has reached 1153 even though there has been a complete ban on peaceful assembly for 1277 days. The number of arbitrary arrests since the beginning of the year has reached 315. Since 2012, the nationalities of 579 citizens have been revoked for political reasons. Moreover, since the beginning of the year, there have been 358 illegal raids on homes and residential facilities. The total number of human rights violations that occurred in January, February and March are 3539.
Bahrain’s interior minister has threatened to crackdown on dissidents and activists who criticize the government online, Human Rights Watch said today.
Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, the interior minister, said on March 25, 2018, that the government was already tracking accounts that “departed from national norms, customs and traditions,” and threatened unspecified new legislation and heavy punishments against “violators.”
“No one can mistake the government’s latest assault on the shrinking space for dissent,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A vow to punish those who ‘depart from national norms and customs’ is clearly aimed at anyone who criticizes the government’s policies.”
Bahraini authorities have gone after scores of activists, journalists, and photographers since nationwide anti-government protests in 2011. People targeted as dissenters have been harassed, imprisoned, ill-treated, arbitrarily stripped of their nationality, and forced into exile. The authorities have also prosecuted family members of activists in trials tainted by dubious terror-related charges and due-process concerns.
Human Rights Watch has documented how Bahraini authorities already actively police and punish online dissent, blocking numerous websites and publications, and arresting and harassing bloggers, journalists, and activists. The Bahrain Watch, a nongovernmental group, has reported that Bahraini authorities have used malicious links to determine who was behind certain social media accounts that they disapproved of.
One of Bahrain’s preeminent human rights defenders, Nabeel Rajab, is serving seven years in prison for speech crimes after two separate trials, in 2017 and 2018. In the latest trial, a court sentenced Rajab to five years in prison on February 21 for tweets that criticized the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen.
Since June 2011, 13 prominent dissidents have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including seven sentenced to life in prison. They include a leading long-term human rights advocate, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and Hassan Mushaima, leader of the unrecognized opposition group Al Haq.
In May 2017, a Bahraini court dissolved the leading secular-left National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad). In June, the government ordered the suspension of Al Wasat, Bahrain’s only remaining independent newspaper.
In March 2017, a court sentenced Duaa Alwadaei, wife of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, advocacy director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), to two months in prison in absentia for “insulting” a public official. And on October 30, a court sentenced three other relatives of Alwadaei – Sayed Nazar al-Wadaei, Mahmood Marzooq Mansoor, and Hajar Mansoor Hassan – to three years in prison on dubious terrorism related charges despite allegations of coerced confessions and other serious due process violations.
Sayed Nazar Alwadaei faces a total of 13 years in prison after additional convictions in two separate trials on dubious terrorism charges and sentences of three years and seven years.
The Bahrain Press Association (BahrainPA), a UK-based non-profit organization, reported that the Bahrain Cassation Court on March 27 upheld a 10-year prison sentence and stripping of citizenship for Sayed Ahmed Al-Mousawi, a photographer, arrested in 2014 after covering anti-government protests. His father told Human Rights Watch at the time that interrogators questioned his son about his work, which included photographing the 2011 protests.
BFHR: The humanrights situation in Bahrain continued to deteriorate in February 2018. 1105serious human rights violations were observed between the 1st and 28thof February 2018, including arbitrary arrests, house raids, unfair trials, crackdown on peaceful protests, restrictions on freedom of movement, prohibition ofFriday prayers, media materials that incite hate speech, enforced disappearance, torture, ill-treatment, injuries, destruction or confiscation ofproperty and violation of freedom of religion and belief.
While thenumber of violations in February exceeded that of the previous month by 110violations, the total violations were distributed as follows: 83 cases ofarbitrary arrests; 31 cases of forced disappearances; 97 citizens receivedarbitrary sentences, including 10 death sentences that are between the stagesof appeal and cassation; 16 cases of torture and ill-treatment; 374 media materialsthat incite hate speech; 76 unlawful raids on houses and residential facilities;51 crackdowns on peaceful gatherings; 290 persons who were arrested or accused werereferred to court because of trials against freedom of expression and peacefulassembly; violation of freedom of movement by the continuation of the siege onDuraz area for 617 days and the imposition of house arrest on the highestreligious authority for the Shiite Muslims in Bahrain, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim,for 280 days without a judicial order or administrative decision; violation offreedom of religion and belief by prohibiting the Friday prayer in Duraz 4times in February bringing the number of prohibitions to 85 times since 2016;16 injuries due to the suppression of peaceful gatherings; 7 cases of unlawful confiscationof property; and 4 cases of destruction of property.
In February,Bahrain witnessed 513 protests, while since the beginning of the year thenumber of protests has reached 860 even though there has been a complete ban onpeaceful assembly for 1246 days. The number of arbitrary arrests since thebeginning of the year has reached 204. Since 2012, the nationalities of 580citizens have been revoked for political reasons. Moreover, since the beginningof the year, there have been 214 illegal raids on homes and residential facilities.The total number of human rights violations that occurred in January andFebruary are 2100.
The 7th of November 2012, was marked as the day when stripping of citizenships has emerged as one of the most disturbing methods used to silence dissent in Bahrain. That was when the Bahraini Minister of Interior revoked the nationality of 31 citizens, among them were clerics, former MPs, academics, journalists, human rights defenders, and members of civil society.
The numbers quickly escalated afterwards, as unrest is still ongoing. Until now, rights groups have counted a number of 578 Bahraini citizens whom citizenships were effectively revoked and are rendered stateless. Among them are 19 Shia clerics including three at ranks of Ayatollahs: Isa Qassim, Husain Najati, and Mohammed Sanad.
SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights has launched today, the 23rd of February 2018: "Ana Bahraini" network in both Arabic (https://www.anabahraini.org/ar) and English (https://www.anabahraini.org) with the support of a number of human rights organizations, media platforms and research centers. The network is supported by: Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Bahrain Forum for Human Rights, the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights, Sentinel HRD, Bahrain Mirror and Bahrain Center for Studies in London.
“Citizenship is the most basic and fundamental right of every individual. One losing his/her nationality consists a social demise. One possession of citizenship should not be seen as privilege or reward for allegiance, and its revocation should not be wielded as a weapon of control and oppression. The citizenry is above government and absolutely not vice versa. Citizenship revocation only enhances the discretionary and arbitrary power of the executive authority” said Jawad Fairooz, President of SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, also a former Bahraini MP whose nationality has been revoked.
“Ana Bahraini” network is interested in supporting and defending Bahrainis whose citizenships were arbitrarily revoked due to political and identity backgrounds.
The website gathers all relevant content, including lists of many of the affected persons, as well as the position of both the Bahraini government and the international community. The website also aims at creating a dedicated space for the cases of revoked citizenship in Bahrain and at publishing significant data, reports and news from various human rights organizations, media and research centers that could serve as references in both Arabic and English languages.
Organizers are seeking through this network to cooperate with all interested individuals or groups. Contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bahrain High Criminal Court on February 21, 2018, sentenced the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to five years in prison for criticizing torture in a Bahrain prison and Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. The new sentence is in addition to the two-year sentence that Rajab is already serving on other charges related to peaceful expression.
“The new prison sentence for Nabeel Rajab is only the latest chapter in years of persecution and efforts to silence an activist solely for his efforts to sound the alarm on human rights abuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rajab should never have faced such charges or spent one day in prison for them.”
Authorities first arrested Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and deputy secretary general of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), on April 2, 2015, and filed charges based on his allegations on social media of torture in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison. Authorities released him provisionally on humanitarian grounds on July 13, 2015, but re-arrested him on June 13, 2016, for criticism in television interviews of the Bahraini authorities’ refusal to allow journalists and rights groups into the country.
This criticism led to a two-year prison term that a criminal court imposed in July 2017. The Court of Cassation upheld that sentence on January 15.
The new sentence is based on Rajab’s tweets on the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, which have killed thousands of civilians, and on alleged torture in Jaw Prison.
The BCHR reported that the Bahrain High Criminal Court had convicted Rajab based on article 133 of the Criminal Code for “disseminating false rumors in time of war”; Article 215 on “offending a foreign country” – in this case Saudi Arabia; and Article 216 for “insulting a statutory body,” based on comments to the media in March 2015 about alleged use of excessive force by security forces to quell unrest at Jaw Prison. Rajab can appeal this sentence.
Rajab, who also spent eight months in pretrial detention, appears at times to have been subjected to treatment that may amount to arbitrary punishment. He was held in solitary confinement for more than two weeks after his arrest in June 2016. Rajab’s health also deteriorated while in detention, his family has said. While in detention he has had several surgical procedures, suffered heart palpitations that led to hospitalization, and developed other medical conditions, including a low white blood cell count, his family said.
Rajab is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.
The sentencing of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to five years in prison today for peacefully expressing his opinions online illustrates the Bahraini authorities’ utter contempt for freedom of expression, said Amnesty International.
The sentence relates to posts on his Twitter account in 2015 as well as retweets about alleged torture in Bahrain’s Jaw prison, and the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.
“The conviction of Nabeel Rajab today is a slap in the face to justice. This sentence demonstrates the authorities’ ruthless determination to crush all forms of dissent and leaves no room for doubt about the extreme lengths to which they are willing to go to in order to silence peaceful critics,” said Heba Morayef, MENA Regional Director at Amnesty International.
“This shameful verdict must be quashed and the authorities must drop all pending charges and immediately release Nabeel Rajab. It is absolutely outrageous that he be forced to spend a further five years in jail simply for daring to voice his opinions online.”
Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been relentlessly harassed for his peaceful human rights work and has been in and out of prison since 2012 on various charges related to his peaceful activism. He has been banned from leaving Bahrain since November 2014.
Nabeel Rajab has been detained since June 2016 and is now serving a two-year prison sentence for TV interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016. The Court of Cassation in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, upheld his sentence on 15 January 2018, convicting him of “disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status”.
On 4 September 2016, an open letter was printed under Nabeel Rajab’s name in the opinion pages of the New York Times which described the situation in Bahrain and his own trial, and urged the Obama administration to use its leverage to resolve the conflict in Yemen.
The next day, the public prosecution interrogated and charged Nabeel Rajab with “spreading false news and statements and malicious rumours that undermine the prestige of the state” in relation to the article. No trial date for this case has yet been set.
On 19 December 2016, an article was published in Nabeel Rajab’s name in Le Monde. Two days later, he was interrogated at the Criminal Investigation Directorate, accused of “spreading false news and statements and malicious rumours that undermine the prestige of Bahrain and the brotherly countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and an attempt to endanger their relations”. The case was referred to the public prosecution but it is unknown if he will be officially charged.
On 12 September 2017, the Terrorism Prosecution interrogated Nabeel Rajab in connection with comments and an image posted on social media accounts running in his name in January 2017. An image of the King of Bahrain with a Quranic verse asking whether he believed that “no one had power over him” was posted on an Instagram account in his name while comments on non-cooperation with national institutions and a call to protest against the January 2017 execution of three men were posted on his Twitter account. He denied the charges of “incitement to hatred against the regime”, “incitement to non-compliance with the law” and “spreading false news”. The case has yet to be referred to trial and could be activated at any time.
Arbitrary arrests, raids and restrictions on freedom of movement
121 cases of arbitrary arrest, including 6 children, were recorded,climaxing on January 23, 2018 and amounting to 44 unlawful arrests and 138 raids on houses and residential establishments that werecarried out without arrest warrants, and in a manner that spreads terror amongcitizens. In addition, the freedom of movement was violated through the continuationof the security siege on Duraz for 589 days and the imposition of house arreston the highest religious authority for the Shiite Muslims in Bahrain, AyatollahSheikh Isa Qassim, for 252 days without a judicial order or administrativedecision.
On January31, 2018, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim was transferred to the hospital after a13-day deliberate delay by the authorities, as he was scheduled for surgery onJanuary 18, 2018, therefore his rights to treatment and to freedom of movementwere violated.
Meanwhile,the security authorities continued to violate freedom of religion and belief bybanning Friday prayers at Duraz for 4 times in January, bringing the number to81 preventions since 2016. In addition, 200Bahraini citizens have been accused or arrested in the Public Prosecution andpresented to the Bahraini judiciary for reasons relating to freedom ofexpression and peaceful assembly.
Hate speech: 342 media materials
342 mediamaterials and messages that incite or help to incite hatred against humanrights defenders, political activists and Bahraini citizens were observedinJanuary. Those materials are divided into 89 media articles published in theofficial press and 253 materials published on social media by users thatinclude official and media figures, such as Assistant Undersecretary forInformation and Follow-up at the Prime Minister's Court, Ibrahim Al-Dosari,Ministry of Information Affairs’ adviser, Sawsan Al-Shaer, former MP MohammedKhaled, and journalists Faisal Al-Sheikh, Farid Hassan, Mona Mutawa and SaeedAl-Hamad.
The mediamaterials inciting hatred published in local press are as follows: 18 articlesin the Bahraini Al-Ayam newspaper, 25 articles in Akhbar Al-Khaleej newspaper, 13articles in the Bahraini Al-Bilad newspaper, and 33 articles in the BahrainiAl-Watan newspaper.
Torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance and destruction ofproperty
18 cases oftorture and ill-treatment, which climaxed on January 14, 2018, were observed.The cases include four women and eight children – one of them an infant – who weresubjected to ill-treatment while attempting to enter the sieged area of Duraz. Inaddition, three children from Buri were also subjected to ill-treatment. Thedetained child, Sayed Hadi Ali Ne'ma from Iskan Aali and detainee Ammar AbdulGhani from Al-Daih were subjected to torture. Moreover, the right to treatmentand health care of Hasan Mushaima, Secretary General of the Movement for CivilLiberties and Democracy (HAQ), was violated. Moreover, 2 cases of destruction of property were observed onJanuary 24 and January 27, 2018. Also, 17 cases of enforced disappearance ofBahraini citizens were observed, including Ali Hussein Jassem who disappearedfor 45 days, Salman Ismail who disappeared for 40 days, Hussain Humaid Madanwho disappeared for 28 days, Mustafa Bahr who disappeared for 27 days, AbbasRahma who disappeared for 20 days and Mansour Al-Dulabi who disappeared for 20days.The cases of enforced disappearances were regionally distributed as follows:10 cases from Duraz, 3 cases from Nuwaidrat, and 1 case from each of Manama,Abu Saiba, Bilad Al-Qadeem, and Barbar.
In addition,77 Bahraini citizens were handed arbitrary sentences, whichclimaxed on the 24th and 29th of January, 2018, amountingto 24 cases. The total arbitrary sentences amounted to the following: 679 years of imprisonment, 3 years of imprisonment suspended forone year term, total fines of US $268,000, 39 sentences of revoking nationalities, and 10 sentences of deportingcitizens whose nationalities were revoked, four of them were deported before January1, 2018. In addition, the death sentence against Maher Al-Khabaz was upheld,even though four UN experts issued a report saying that he was subjected to tortureand ill-treatment. 2 death sentences were issued against Ali Al-Arab and AhmadAl- Mullali. Also, amongthose who were arbitraily imprisoned are 4 women.
The trial hearings,which violate the freedom of political action of Bahraini opposition leaderSheikh Ali Salman, as well as two former MPs of the Al-Wefaq parliamentarybloc, Sheikh Hassan Sultan and Ali Al-Aswad, continued.The fourth hearing washeld on January 4, 2018 and the fifth hearing on January 25, 2018. In the fifthhearing, Sheikh Ali Salman emphasizedthat the audio recordings which were usedas indictments for the charge of spying for Qatar are cut in a way thatdistorted their contents.
On January 16,2018, Bahrain's Court of Cassation upheld a two-year prison sentence againstNabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and DeputySecretary-General of the International Federation for Human Rights. A statementby the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said,“We are very worried about Nabeel's safety and well-being,”adding, “Authoritiesshould release him immediately, drop the charges against him, and investigatethoroughly his possible ill-treatment in detention.”
Appeals hearingsat the military judiciary for 17 civilians and one soldiercontinued to be held,in which civilian victims were tortured and ill-treated. Three appeals hearingswere held on January 10, 14 and 31, 2018, and the case was reserved until February21, 2018 without investigating the torture complaints which include 11violations: torture by electric shock, enforced disappearance, sleep andbathing deprivation, severe beatings and solitary confinement. On December 25, 2017,the military court sentenced five civilians and one soldier to death in thiscase, including human rights activist and head of Liberties and Human RightsDepartment at Al-Wefaq Society, Mohammed Al-Motaghawi, and the personal escortof Sheikh Isa Qassim, communications engineer Sayed Alawi Hussein.
Bahraini authorities have deported eight stateless Bahrainis, whom they had previously stripped of their citizenship, since January 29, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The deportations followed an appeals court decision to uphold a 2012 ruling that ordered the deportation and stripping of citizenship of nine Bahraini nationals for “damaging state security.”
Since 2012, Bahraini authorities have stripped 578 nationals of their citizenship, leaving many stateless. In the most recent cases, on January 31, the Fourth High Criminal Court stripped 47 people of their citizenship on terrorism related charges, and on February 1 the same court stripped another 25 people of their citizenship. Bahrain should immediately put an end to these arbitrary deportations and restore citizenship to those who have been left stateless or whose citizenship was revoked unfairly or arbitrarily, Human Rights Watch said.
“Bahraini authorities have dropped all pretense of pluralism and tolerance for dissent and are clearly stripping away the citizenships of people whom they find undesirable,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Right Watch.
On January 24, the First High Court of Appeal upheld a November 7, 2012 ruling to strip citizenship from the nine people and to deport them, according to a news report citing their lawyer.