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.
Authorities deported four of them to Najaf, Iraq – two brothers, Ibrahim and Ismail Darwish, on January 29, and Adnan Kamal and Habib Darwish on January 30, a human rights activist in Bahrain told Human Rights Watch. Due to concerns for their safety, the human rights activist requested to remain anonymous. Bahrain deported another four to Najaf on February 1: Abdulnabi al-Mosawi; his wife, Maryam Ibrahim; and his two brothers, Mohamed al-Mosawi and Abdulamir al-Mosawi. The ninth person, Adnan Ahmed Ali, was not in Bahrain when the judgment was delivered. The human rights activist said that Ali had agreed to voluntarily leave Bahrain for Iran some years ago.
These nine people were part of a larger group of 31 people, including opposition political activists, lawyers, and rights activists, whose citizenship an Interior Ministry decree revoked on November 7, 2012. The ministry based its decision on Article 10 (3) of the Bahraini Citizenship Act of 1963, claiming the 31 were “damaging the security of the state.” Only 18 of the 31 were in Bahrain at the time. Only an estimated five had dual citizenship, leaving the majority affected by the 2012 decision stateless.
The activist also told Human Rights Watch that the High Appeal Civil Court had moved up a session to consider the group’s appeals from December 31, 2017, to October 26 without informing the legal teams. Though the lawyers were not at the hearing and had no opportunity to present their cases, the court refused to rescind the order. The court action deprived the 31 people of their chance to exhaust all legal means to challenge the charges against them, the activist said. The Appeals Court used this decision in its ruling to uphold the deportation orders for the nine members of the group.
Since 2012, Bahrain’s courts have on several occasions issued mass sentences that included stripping of citizenship and prison terms. The 47 people stripped of citizenship on January 31 were among 60 the Fourth High Criminal Court sentenced that day on charges of forming a terrorist group.
Bahrain’s Supreme Court on January 29 also upheld a one-year prison sentence for Sheikh Isa Qassim, a Shiite spiritual leader of the now dissolved main opposition group al-Wefaq, and confirmed the revocation of his citizenship.
On July 24, 2014, Bahrain’s Official Gazette published amendments to the Citizenship Law of 1963. 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.” The July 2014 amendments to Bahrain’s citizenship laws grant the Interior Ministry additional authority to revoke the citizenship of people who fail in their “duty of loyalty” to the state.
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 their nationality. Article 12 of the declaration states that, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived 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 signed, 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.
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.”
“By slapping human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, and religious scholars with arbitrary citizenship revocations and deportations, Bahraini authorities are reducing courts to rubber-stamps on their quest to stifle dissent completely,” Whitson said.
Brothers Ismail and Ibrahim Darwish were expelled to Iraq at 09:00am on 28 January 2018, followed by Adnan Kamal and Habib Darwish on 29 January 2018. Four other people, Mohammed Ali, Abdul Amir, Abdulnabi Almosawi and his wife Maryam Redha, who also had their nationality revoked that same year, were told they would be forcibly deported to Iraq on 1 February 2018.
“The Bahraini government is using revocation of nationality – rendering many of its citizens stateless in the process - and expulsion, as tools to crush all forms of opposition, dissent and activism.” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East research director
“It is doing so with little to no pushback from the international community, including key allies such as the United Kingdom that could use their leverage to publicly condemn these actions,”
“Turning citizens into stateless people and banishing them by forcing them to leave the country is a violation of international law. Bahrain’s authorities must immediately halt all planned expulsions and allow those it has already expelled to return to the country and reinstate their nationality.”
The four men who were expelled are part of a group of 31 Bahraini citizens who were stripped of their nationality on 7 November 2012 on grounds that they had caused “damage to state security”. The 31 people, who were never officially notified of this decision and learned about it from the media, include activists who are now in exile, a lawyer, Shi’a clerics, two former members of parliament and other individuals with no political or religious affiliation.
Since 2011, the Bahraini authorities have revoked the nationality of over 550 people, including at least 150 in 2017.
Article 10 of the Bahrain Citizenship Law and its amendments stipulates that nationality can be revoked if a person engages in the military service of a foreign country; if a person helps or engages in the service of an enemy country; or if a person causes harm to state security.
This paragraph is framed too broadly and does not clearly define what could amount to “harm to state security” - thus enabling the state to crush the legitimate and peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly through revocation of nationality, even when doing so renders people stateless.
On 28 October 2014 a lower court in the capital, Manama, ordered the deportation of 10 out of the 31 people whose Bahraini nationality was arbitrarily revoked on 7 November 2012 and fined them 100 Bahraini Dinars.
On 29 January 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld the citizenship revocation and the one-year prison sentence, suspended for three years, of Sheikh Isa Qassem, the country’s most prominent Shi’a cleric and spiritual leader of the al-Wefaq opposition party, who is also now at risk of being forcibly expelled.
Bahrain’s preeminent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, is serving a two-year sentence for speech crimes, a punishment that a Manama appeals court upheld on January 15, 2018. Rajab faces an additional 15 years in a separate trial on charges that include tweets criticizing the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen. A Bahraini court in May dissolved the secular-left National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) after the group condemned the January execution of three men. And in June, the government ordered the suspension of Al Wasat, Bahrain’s only independent newspaper.
“Bahrain’s tolerance for dissent is approaching vanishing point, erasing whatever progress it made after promising to make reforms following the unrest in 2011,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.
Bahrain’s authorities placed 20 rights activists, lawyers, and political opposition figures under a de facto travel ban in September that prevented them from attending Geneva meetings in connection with Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
According to one human rights group, Bahraini authorities also stripped at least 156 citizens of their nationality in 2017, leaving them de facto stateless. Authorities also enacted a law that allows for the prosecution of civilians in military courts. In 2017, Bahraini courts sentenced to death a total of 14 people, including Sayed Alawi, a civilian engineer, who was one of six sentenced to death by a military court on December 25, 2017, for alleged terrorist activities.
Two relatives of Sayed Alwadaei, a human rights defender exiled in the United Kingdom, were sentenced to three years and another relative to six years in prison, on terrorism-related charges, despite due process violations and allegations of ill-treatment and of coerced confessions. It was not the first time that Bahraini authorities have targeted relatives to pressure or punish activists in exile.
The oversight bodies that the government set up in 2012 in response to a recommendation by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, failed to perform their stated mission of investigating credibly allegations of prison abuse.
Death or Confession": a report by human rights organizations monitors the torture of civilians in Bahrain's first military trial
Four Bahraini human rights organizations issued a report under the title of "Death or Confession", a report that monitors the violations due to secret military courts that tried civilians whose confessions were extracted under torture. These civilian were accused of attempting to commit crimes against Bahrain Defense Force, including human rights activist Mohammed Al Mutghawi and Sayed Alawi Husain, who is the personal attendant of the highest religious cleric in Bahrain Shaikh Isa Qassim.
It is important to note that this is now the first military trial for civilians since the recent legal amendment to the military judiciary.
The human rights organizations participating in drafting and writing of this report are: Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Forum for Human Rights, Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) said that "the trial violates fair trial procedures and that some of the accused were subjected to torture and ill-treatment". It added: "The recent constitutional amendment to the military judiciary was used to expose them to a trial that produces harsh sentences, as well as the arbitrariness of punitive sentences against three accused persons arrested as children", explaining that "two of the accused were forcibly disappeared around the year, namely Sayed Alawi Husain and Fadhel Abbas, without being investigated for their enforced disappearance.
The President of the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights, Baqer Darwish, said that the "judiciary did not investigate the defendants' allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Military courts resorted to intimidating methods to threaten some of the families of victims and lawyers by exposing them to degrading treatment if violations were revealed on the media, or by human rights organizations". He also noted "In view of this, the judiciary has used the decision to secrecy of hearings to commit abuses and to enable those involved in torturing the accused with impunity".
Asma Darwish, the Head of International Relations in SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, pointed out that "the right to fair trials is an inherent right of any citizen anywhere and at any time, and no one has the right to violate such rights. incompatible with these inherent rights. Therefore, the decision to try citizens in military courts must be brought to an end because they do not conform to these inherent rights".
Yahya Al Hadid, President of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, criticized the "role played by the National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) by issuing a statement praising the proceedings of the case, while it did not mention in its statement on the 14th of November 2017 that the military judiciary is not the usual judge stipulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That means the NIHR is contributing to the legitimization of the role of the military judiciary in the trial of civilians in spite of its violations to the international Military Justice Law. It also did not have a clear position on the matter of the enforced disappearance of the four defendants".
The report recommended the repeal of the constitutional amendment and the restoration of Article 105 of the Bahraini Constitution as it was; to ensure that civilians are not tried in military courts and to repeal Law No. 12 of 2017 amending the Military Jurisdiction Law, which allowed civilians to be tried by military courts. That is to also open an independent investigation into all complaints of violations in this and other cases, concerning complaints of torture and ill-treatment.
The report also stressed that the UN Secretary-General, the High Commissioner and the members of the Human Rights Council should urge the Government of Bahrain to adopt the basic principles on the independence and application of the judiciary. That is in order to ensure that the Government of Bahrain retracts the trial of civilians in military courts and amends the law. It also urges the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers to request a visit to Bahrain and to call on the Bahraini authorities to accept the request for his visit.
To read the report click here
Reuters: Bahrain's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric underwent surgery on Friday, activists said, after he was hospitalized following months under virtual house arrest.
Qassim, who is believed to be in his 70s, was suffering constant pain and excreting blood, citing a groin hernia, diabetes and a form of heart disease, the group said on Nov 27.
DJIBOUTI (Reuters) - Late last year, the Kota Nazar, a Singaporean ship with 636 containers of steel, paper, medicine and other goods, set sail to Hodeida, the largest cargo port in war-torn Yemen.
It never got there. Like dozens of other ships carrying food and supplies to Yemen over the past 30 months, the Kota Nazar was stopped by a Saudi Arabian warship blocking Yemen’s ports on the Red Sea.
Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have been stationing naval forces in and around Yemeni waters since 2015. Western governments approved the show of military force as a way to stop arms reaching Houthi fighters trying to overthrow Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
The de facto blockade is exacting a dire humanitarian toll. The Saudi-led coalition’s ships are preventing essential supplies from entering Yemen, even in cases where vessels are carrying no weapons, according to previously unreported port records, a confidential United Nations report and interviews with humanitarian agencies and shipping lines.
A U.N. system set up in May 2016 to ease delivery of commercial goods through the blockade has failed to ensure the Yemeni people get the supplies they need.
The result is the effective isolation of Yemen, a nation of 28 million people where a quarter of the population is starving, according to the United Nations. The war has claimed 10,000 lives. Half a million children under the age of five are severely malnourished, and at least 2,135 people, most of them children, have died of cholera in the past six months.
Aid agencies have ramped up their deliveries of food to some parts of Yemen this year. But Yemen imports more than 85 percent of its food and medicine, and commercial shipments have plunged. In the first eight months of this year, only 21 container ships sailed to Hodeida, according to port data compiled by the U.N. World Food Programme and Reuters. By comparison, 54 container ships delivered twice the volume of goods in the same period last year. Before the war, 129 container ships reached the port in the first eight months of 2014.
Food and medicine are being choked off. No commercial shipment of pharmaceuticals has made its way to Hodeida since a Saudi-led airstrike destroyed the port’s industrial cranes in August 2015, according to the administrator of the port, which is under Houthi control. In at least one case this year, a blocked commercial shipment contained humanitarian aid as well.
Representatives of the Houthi movement could not be reached for comment. Yemeni government officials declined to comment.
Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, the Saudi ambassador to the U.N., denied last week that the coalition was blocking commercial shipments of food, medicine and fuel. Mouallimi said Yemen was receiving humanitarian aid.
”I can assure you that no shipment of humanitarian aid is being prevented from reaching Yemen by the coalition or for that matter by the Yemeni government. We have given clearance to all such requests for docking by any ship that carries humanitarian aid to the people of Yemen.
“We are the largest contributor of aid to the people of Yemen so it doesn’t make sense for us to, on the one hand, be providing that aid and, on the other hand, be blocking it somewhere else.”
In the cases of the Kota Nazar and 12 other ships examined in detail by Reuters, the Saudi-led blockade turned away or severely delayed vessels carrying aid and commercial goods before they reached Yemeni ports even though the United Nations had cleared the cargo and there were no arms aboard. Seven of those vessels were carrying medicine and food in addition to other supplies.
Aid shipments are caught in the net. One of the seven vessels was carrying antibiotics, surgical equipment and me