Protesters have continued regular protests in Bahrain since a 2011 uprising
Manama – Bahraini Court of Cassation overturned a nine-year jail term against opposition chief cleric Ali Salman, convicted of inciting hatred and calling for forceful regime change.
The court also overturned three death sentences and seven life imprisonment sentences against a group convicted of killing three police, including an Emirati officer, in a bomb attack more than two years ago.
On May 30, the appeals court reversed an earlier acquittal on four charges against Salman and sentenced him to nine years in jail. Earlier in June 2015, Salman was sentenced to four years in jail after being convicted of inciting hatred against the regime and calling for its change by force.
He was charged with “publicly insulting the Interior Ministry” and “publicly inciting others to disobey the law” through his speeches.
Salman’s case dates back to December 28, 2014 where he was detained and interrogated for the charges against him.
In the other ruling, the court of cassation ordered a retrial of the case of 10 defendants found guilty of planting a bomb in March 2014 in Deih Shiite village, which killed an Emirati police officer and two Bahraini policemen. The Emirati officer was part of the Saudi-led Gulf force.
(Beirut) – A Bahrain prosecutor on July 17, 2016, charged a correspondent for a French media outlet with violating the country’s licensing law for journalists, Human Rights Watch said today. The criminal charges against the journalist, Nazeeha Saeed, who has covered Bahrain’s domestic unrest for France 24 since 2009, violate her right to free expression and further undermines media freedom in Bahrain.
The authorities charged Saeed with working for foreign media without a license. United Nations human rights experts have stated that state licensing of journalists inherently violates freedom of expression. Saeed is also one of 23 people subjected to travel bans since the start of June. They include human rights lawyers and activists, trade union leaders, teachers’ and nurses’ representatives, and the president of the Bahrain chapter of Transparency International.
“Bahrain is making criminals of anyone who criticizes the government’s increasingly repressive policies,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Any government that claims to support press freedom needs to speak out loud and clear in support of Nazeeha Saeed.”
Saeed was only informed of the travel ban at the airport on June 29, when she attempted to leave Bahrain. She told Human Rights Watch that she has been unable to challenge the ban because she has not been able to find out the reason for it or by which ministry it was imposed. That would make the travel ban arbitrary.
A public prosecutor charged Saeed, on July 17, with violating article 88 of Bahrain’s press law, which states that correspondents for foreign media can only operate with a license from the Information Affairs Authority. The law requires renewing the license every year, and provides for a fine of 1,000 Bahraini dinars (US$2,650) for non-compliance.
On July 20, the Information Affairs Authority issued a statement saying it had warned Saeed several times that her license had expired, but failed to say that it had refused her attempt to renew it. Human Rights Watch has seen a copy of a letter that the agency sent to one of Saeed’s employers on June 16, 2016, which cites “the unsatisfactory evaluation of her performance by our specialists” as the reason for not renewing the license. Another journalist based in Bahrain, who requested anonymity, told Human Rights Watch that the agency has refused during 2016 to renew the licenses of at least two other journalists who had been working for foreign media.
Saeed, a Bahraini citizen, has worked as a journalist for foreign media in Bahrain since 2004. In 2011 she told investigators from the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry, an international panel appointed by the king to review the government’s response to widespread protests that year, that she had witnessed security forces fatally shooting a 61-year old protestor at close range during anti-government demonstrations.
Security forces subsequently detained her and, she told Human Rights Watch, accused her of working with Iranian television as part of a terrorist cell that sought to overthrow the ruling regime and of filing false media stories. Saeed testified in court that during this interrogation she was subjected to serious physical abuse, including being slapped, hit with fists, kicked, and struck with a hose. She filed a criminal complaint against the security officers she said were responsible but, in November 2015, the Justice Ministry said there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute them.
On June 29, when Saeed arrived at Manama airport to travel to Berlin, Interior Ministry officials told her that she was subject to a travel ban and could not leave Bahrain. She told Human Rights Watch that the officials were not able to give her any reason for the ban or tell her who imposed it or on what basis. She tried later that day to leave the country via the causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, but Interior Ministry officials there told her the same thing. In the days that followed, officials from the Criminal Investigations Directorate and the Office of the Public Prosecutor told her that there were no open cases against her.
Other Bahrainis facing similar arbitrary travel bans since the beginning of June include Mohamed al-Tajer, a human rights lawyer; Abdulnabi al-Ekry, a rights activist; Jalila al-Salman, the former vice-president of the dissolved Bahrain Teacher’s Society; Rula al-Saffar, a nurse and human rights activist; and Mohamed Sharaf, the president of the Bahraini chapter of Transparency International.
Article 12(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, states that the right of any person to leave their country, provided for in article 12(2), can only be restricted if necessary to protect “national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others,” or if the restriction is “consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.” The Human Rights Committee, the UN body of experts that interprets the covenant, has stated that state licensing or registration of individual journalists violates freedom of expression.
“Bahrain’s repressive tendencies clearly illustrate why governments should have no role in saying who should be allowed to practice journalism,” Stork said.
Manama – Bahraini authorities said they have detained five members of a terrorist cell linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and the so-called Iraqi Hezbollah.
Security forces said that the suspects had received intensive military training in making bombs and carrying out terrorist activities at the camps of IRGC and Iraqi Hezbollah.
Bahraini Security Forces captured the terrorist network two weeks ago in a preemptive strike.
A source at the Ministry of Interior confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper the news that the cell is linked to people in Iran and the suspects arrested in Bahrain.
“A secret terrorist plot aided by the so-called Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Hezbollah terrorist organization was foiled,” said the ministry.
“It targeted the security of the kingdom of Bahrain by plotting to carry out a series of dangerous bombings,” it added.
The ministry announced that its security forces had collected items suspected to be explosives and moved them to a safe location, away from the residential area where they were being stored.
The security forces discovered a number of weapons, communication devices and equipment used in detonating bombs. The police also seized daggers, knives covered with polyurethane bags and various currencies.
Investigations and testimonies of the five members of the cell revealed a series of important security information.
The five members are:
Mohammed Abduljalil Mahdi Jassim Abdullah (28, a private company employee) received military training in Iran that included the use of pistol and automatic weapons, such as Kalashnikov and PKG. He also received training in bomb-making and assembly and in the use of explosives such as TNT and C4. Ali Ahmed al-Musawi, living in Iran, coordinated the training and provided Mohammed with logistical support.
The investigations revealed that when Mohammed returned to Bahrain, he decided with others to use a car repair workshop in Hamad Town to store bomb-making materials and weapons. The group built a hidden room to conceal the contraband. In addition to the weapons and explosives training he received abroad in 2013, the suspect also watched films of bombings conducted by the Hezbollah brigades in Iraq.
Mahmood Jassim Marhoon Mohammed Marhoom (26, a private company employee) received military training in Iran by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and in Iraq by the Hezbollah brigades.
Jassim Mansoor Jassim Shamloh (25, a private company employee) confessed receiving batteries from the first suspect to be used in bomb-making and remote control devices. He hid the items in his father’s home in Hamad Town until the first suspect asked for them.
Ahmed Mohammed Ali Yousif, 23, confessed providing assistance to the third suspect by transferring the batteries, remote controls and wires for making bombs to his flat with full knowledge of their nature and purpose.
Khalil Hassan Khalil Ibrahim Saeed (20, a student) received a number of batteries and remote controlled bomb detonators from the first suspect who asked him to hide them at his home. He had full knowledge of the nature and purpose of the items.
The Interior Ministry’s counterterrorism investigations continue as part of the ongoing national security operations. The ministry called any citizen who has information about suspicious activity to inform the authorities.
An anti-government protester stands in front of riot police while photographing other demonstrators in Manama, Bahrain. On Tuesday, June, 14, 2016, Bahrain said it has suspended all activities by Al-Wefaq, the largest Shiite opposition political group, and frozen its assets amid a widening crackdown on dissent, five years after the country’s Arab Spring protests
The Bahraini government has issued a statement angrily condemning the US and Britain for their “unacceptable interference” in internal policy, after the two nations criticized the government’s ban on the largest opposition group in the nation.
The tiny nation of Bahrain has struggled with its treatment of their opposition since the Arab Spring. The royal family and by extension the government are Sunnis, but a majority of the population are Shi’ites. This has sparked repeated protests, with the Shi’ites claiming they are discriminated against in top positions around the country.
The banning of al-Wefaq, a Shi’ite group, continues that, with the US State Department calling the group a “nonviolent opposition,” and warning that banning them was undermining regional stability in the Persian Gulf.
A joint statement was issued today by several top Shi’ite clerics, saying they believe that the ban of Wefaq is part of a larger attack on their existence and identity.
Bahraini officials denied that, accusing the Shi’ites of being in league with “forces abroad,” and insisting that the banning of Wefaq was “just” and “transparent.” Bahrain typically accuses opposition politicians of being secretly directed by Iran.
“The absurd charges against Zainab Al-Khawaja are not recognized under international law, and demonstrate the lengths the Bahraini authorities will go to in order to silence freedom of expression and peaceful dissent.”
Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja
Bahraini authorities must immediately release human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, who was arrested and taken into custody today along with her baby son Hadi, Amnesty International said.
“Zainab Al-Khawaja and her family have been relentlessly targeted by Bahraini authorities for speaking out against human rights violations,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“Her convictions are for nothing more than tearing up photos and seeking to visit her father in prison. If this arrest means the start of her prison sentence, she will be a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression.”
15 police jeeps arrived at Zainab Al-Khawaja’s home this afternoon to arrest her, closing down the entire street, according to her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja.
Zainab Al-Khawaja has been a prominent figure in human rights activism in Bahrain since the 2011 uprising and has spent almost a year and a half in prison. She is currently facing a prison sentence of three years and one month and a 3,000BD fine linked to various court cases against her, including for tearing up a photograph of the King. If the fine is not paid, her prison term will be extended by around a year and a half.
Her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a leading activist and prisoner of conscience, has been serving a life sentence since 2011. Her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja has been charged with “assaulting police officers” while being searched.
Maryam Al-Khawaja, who lives outside Bahrain, told Amnesty International that she fears Zainab’s latest arrest is linked to her own recent outspoken condemnation of human rights violations in Bahrain.
“The absurd charges against Zainab Al-Khawaja are not recognized under international law, and demonstrate the lengths the Bahraini authorities will go to in order to silence freedom of expression and peaceful dissent,” said James Lynch.
(Beirut) – Bahrain’s most prominent opposition figure faces four years in prison on speech-related charges following an unfair trial. The authorities should vacate Sheikh Ali Salman’s conviction on charges that violate the right to freedom of expression and release him without delay.
On June 16, 2015, Bahrain’s Fourth Superior Criminal Court convicted Salman of three speech-related charges and sentenced him to four years in prison. A Human Rights Watch review of trial documents shows that the presiding judge refused to allow Sheikh Salman’s defense lawyers to present potentially exculpatory evidence, including recordings of speeches he was prosecuted for, on the grounds that “the intent of them is to raise doubts about the substantiating evidence that has persuaded the court.” His appeal is scheduled for September 15.
“The court’s refusal to consider crucial defense evidence confirms the political nature of Sheikh Ali Salman’s prosecution,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. “The manifest unfairness of the trial means the authorities should release Salman immediately.”
Salman, in detention since his arrest on December 29, 2014, is secretary general of Al Wifaq, by far the country’s largest legally recognized opposition political society. Bahrain’s chief prosecutor, Nayef Yousef Mahmoud, said that his detention related to “a series of recent statements and pronouncements.” Despite the fact that the charges related to his speeches and sermons, the presiding judge never allowed Salman’s lawyers to present video or audio evidence of the allegedly offending speeches and sermons to the court.
On February 17, 2015, Salman’s lawyers wrote to the chief justice of the court to request that the trial be held in a venue equipped with audio-visual equipment. They received no response.
Instead of reviewing the actual content of Salman’s speeches, the court in its ruling appeared to rely on testimony from Khalid al-Sa’idi, an Interior Ministry officer who, according to the judgment, “said that he himself had listened to recordings of these sermons and speeches.” Al Sa’idi’s written description of Salman’s speeches in the Directorate of Crime Detention report, which formed the basis of the prosecution’s case against Salman, may have misrepresented their content.
In that report, which Human Rights Watch has reviewed, al-Sa’idi claimed that during a sermon on October 10, 2014, Salman said, “The people have bigger and bigger force in them. All that you need to do is call forth this force. I’m talking now about military force.” The recording of the actual speech, which can be viewed on the internet, shows that Salman actually said “I am not talking about military force.”
The court acquitted Salman of one charge, advocating the overthrow of the government by force, concluding that the prosecution provided “no certain proof of the advocacy of the use of force, threat, or unlawful means to change the political system.” However, the judge’s refusal to allow the introduction of recordings of actual speeches as evidence constituted a fundamental violation of Salman’s right to a fair trial. Bahraini authorities should release him immediately and either drop the charges or retry Salman on any charges that do not themselves violate the right to freedom of expression or other basic rights, Human Rights Watch said.
Salman’s four year prison sentence is based on three two-year convictions, two of which will run concurrently. He received the maximum sentence of two years in prison for insulting the Interior Ministry, under article 216 of the penal code. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has ratified, has stated that “states parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”
A separate conviction was related to a speech in which Salman called on Bahrainis to exercise their right to free assembly, in opposition to a law that arbitrarily restricts that right. The court found Salman guilty of “public incitement to disobedience of the law” in violation of article 173 of the penal code, citing article 19 of the ICCPR to argue that the state can restrict the right to free expression where necessary to protect public order. The Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment 34 (2011), insisted that any restriction on freedom of expression “conform to the strict tests of necessity” and “may never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multi-party democracy, democratic tenets, and human rights.”
The court convicted Salman of “inciting hatred” of naturalized Bahrainis, in violation of article 172 of the penal code.
“The behavior of the court in Sheikh Ali Salman’s case shows again that Bahrain’s justice system has been incapable of delivering justice,” Whitson said.
Human rights in Bahrain continue to be seriously violated. In the past number of days an independent newspaper has been suspended and a prominent human rights defender arrested.
At approximately 9am on 8 August 2015 human rights defender Dr. Maitham Al Salman, Head of the Religious Freedom Unit of Bahrain Human Rights Observatory was arrested upon his arrival at Bahrain airport and remains in detention. He was travelling home from a meeting on hate speech organised by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is a prominent human rights activist who is well known for his engagement with various international mechanisms including the UN. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that his arrest is a form of reprisal for such engagement and a direct result of his human rights work.
On 6 August 2015, the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) suspended the newspaper Al-Wasat, the only independent newspaper in the country. The newspaper reports on various issues including on protests and human rights events and is known for its balanced journalism. Its suspension is a flagrant violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The IAA claims that the decision to indefinitely suspend the paper is due to “violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries.”
On 03 August the Information Ministry released a statement, which said that it would “not hesitate to take necessary legal measures to stop the publication of false or misleading information.” Following this statement Al-Wasat received a warning from the authorities relating to an opinion piece by Hani Al-Farden published on 01 August called “And they will never approve of you”, in which he wrote about opposition members being accused with treason on social media.
Authorities have previously targeted Al-Wasat in an attempt to curtail freedom of the press. In June 2015, a defamation case was brought by a Member of Parliament against Hani Al-Farden and the Editor in Chief Mansoor Al-Jamri, following an article which he wrote about meetings with, and support for Syrian, armed groups by members of parliament. It is scheduled for hearing in September 2015. In August 2014 another defamation case was taken against the paper. It had also been briefly suspended in 2011 and three of its editors were put on trial and forced to leave their jobs at the newspaper.
The suspension of Al-Wasat and arrest of Dr. Maitham Al Salman have taken place against a background of continuous curtailments of the right to freedom of speech and expression by the authorities. Journalists, media workers and human rights defenders are frequently targeted for expressing their opinions, objectively reporting on events and for their work in promoting and protecting human rights. The GHCR expresses serious concern over these restrictions and violations of fundamental rights.
The GCHR urges the authorities in Bahrain to:
Immediately and unconditionally remove the suspension against Al-Wasat;
Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Maitham Al Salman;
Ensure that journalists, media workers and all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
Thousands of Bahrainis took to streets today chanting angry slogans ahead of the judgement session of Sheikh Ali Salman, the opposition leader and Secretary General of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society.
A number of large protests marched several villages across the country, whilst Duraz, west of Manama, saw the largest protest which followed the Friday central prayer.
The protesters raised pictures of Sheikh Ali Salman denouncing his trial and demanding his immediate release. Leading clerics in Bahrain issued a joint statement on Wednesday calling for wide demonstrations to call for Salman’s release and acquittal.
“We demand to stop the trial of Sheikh Ali Salman and to release him and declare his acquittal; especially as the merits of conviction are weak and irrelevant, his innocence is unquestionable”, the statement said. The clerics added that his release will “effectively contribute to establishing a phase of openness and understanding towards producing a real resolution which can save this country from its crises.”
The peaceful protests were faced with suffocating tear gas by security forces.
Amnesty International criticized Thursday’s decision, saying it shows a “complete disregard for the right to freedom of expression.”
Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is helped to his front door as well-wishers push in to greet him at his home in Bani Jamra, Bahrain, on Saturday, May 24, 2014, after spending nearly two years behind bars. Rajab was charged sentenced Thursday with an additional six months behind bars for insulting the government on Twitter
MANAMA, Bahrain — A Bahraini appeals court on Thursday upheld a verdict against prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab for insulting government ministries on Twitter, his lawyer said.
The decision confirms a January verdict against Rajab, who was sentenced to six months in prison for insulting the ministries of defense and interior in tweets alleging that Bahrain’s security institutions were incubators for extremist ideology.
Rajab had been allowed to remain free on bail pending appeal, but he was detained early last month on suspicion of separate charges related to different comments he made on Twitter. That case is still ongoing and he remains behind bars.
Rajab will seek to have the charges in Thursday’s decision overturned by the court of cassation, the last court of appeal, lawyer Jalila al-Sayed told The Associated Press.
Bahrain is an important Western ally in the Gulf, and hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The tiny island nation has faced four years of unrest led by its majority Shiites calling for greater political rights from the Sunni leadership. With help from security forces from neighboring Gulf states, Bahrain put down widespread protests in 2011. But occasional demonstrations still occur, and anti-government activists frequently clash with riot police.
Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and is active in other rights groups. He has been detained and prosecuted over Twitter comments in the past.
Amnesty International criticized Thursday’s decision, saying it shows a “complete disregard for the right to freedom of expression.” It called for Rajab to be released immediately and said his incarceration is proof that government promises of reform are “empty gestures.”
“Bahrain today remains a country where exercising freedom of speech is treated as a crime,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East.