“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.
Bahrain has arrested four US citizens accusing them of “illegal activities” such as attacking security forces, reported the country’s interior ministry. The detained appear to be journalists who had been covering the anniversary of the 2011 Bahraini uprising.
“The General Director of Capital Governorate Police announced on Monday the arrest of four US nationals,” the ministry’s statement said, adding that one of them was female.
According to the statement, one of the arrestees “participated in attacks on the police officers” wearing a mask during the“riots” that broke out in Bahrain’s capital of Manama on Sunday. Anti-government protesters had been marking the fifth anniversary of a violently suppressed uprising which happened in in 2011. It ended in clashes with police.
Three more US citizens were later arrested at a security checkpoint in the same area. According to the General Director, all four detainees violated the country’s rules by providing false information on the purpose of their visit and claiming they were tourists as they entered Bahrain “between February 11 and 12.”
The ministerial statement also says that “at least some of the arrestees were in the country as members of the international media”adding that they had not registered with the relevant authorities and obtained media visas, providing no further details about their identities or about the organizations they work for.
According to AP, all four US citizens were journalists covering the anniversary of Bahrain’s 2011 uprising while they were working in the Sitra village not far from the Bahraini capital. Police first arrested a photographer working with the group and then the other reporters, AP reported citing anonymous witnesses.
“The four are suspected of offenses including entering Bahrain illegally … (submitting) false information to border staff and participating in an unlawful gathering. They have been afforded full legal rights in line with the kingdom’s procedures and constitution while investigations continue,” AP reported citing the Arabic version of the ministry’s statement.
Later in the day, Reporters Without borders confirmed the detained US nationals were experienced journalists and identified them as Anna Day and three members of her camera crew. The team is said to have most recently worked on virtual reality documentaries in Egypt and Gaza
In their statement, Reporters Without Borders demanded to release the four “rapidly and without harm“.
A spokesperson for Day’s family also rejected the four could be involved in any illegal behavior or non-journalistic activities, Reuters reports.
The US Embassy in Bahrain said it was aware of Sunday’s arrests but refused to reveal any information concerning the issue citing privacy concerns.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency said the journalists had “been afforded full legal rights in line with the kingdom’s procedures and constitution while investigations continue.”
The weekend’s demonstrations were organized by Shia forces throughout the island kingdom as part of a day of “civil disobedience against the regime.” That was the latest incident in a series of protests in the country, where the Shiite-majority population is ruled by a Sunni royal family.
The 2011 demonstrations in Bahrain were some of the largest in the Gulf States during the Arab Spring with the protesters demanding from King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to grant them more political rights.
After several waves of mass protests, the Bahraini monarchy launched a brutal crackdown against demonstrators killing dozens of people and injuring more than 3,000 during a military operation in February 2011.
Bahrain is an ally of the US and hosts its 5th Fleet.
(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.
Protesters hold placards with images of opposition leader and head of Al Wefaq party Ali Salman during a protest after Friday prayers in the village of Diraz west of Manama, July 3, 2015
Bahrain hit back at U.S. expressions of concern over the Gulf Arab kingdom’s treatment of opposition figures on Wednesday, saying all its actions followed due legal process.
The State Department on Tuesday said the arrest of Ibrahim Sharif, prosecution of Majeed Milad and reports that a case against Ali Salman, head of Bahrain’s main opposition group, had been reopened, “raise serious concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression”.
In response, Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement the individuals were detained on the basis of criminal acts not political expression. “The government of Bahrain will not tolerate incitement to violence, and it is the government’s duty to protect citizens, residents and visitors alike,” it said.
Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has experienced sporadic unrest since 2011 when its security forces ended mass protests calling for democracy in the country, which has a Shi’ite Muslim majority but a Sunni ruling family.
The opposition says the government, backed by its Sunni ally Saudi Arabia, is attempting to stifle free speech by detaining, prosecuting and jailing peaceful political dissidents.
The government has accused the opposition of stirring up violent protests and of links to Shi’ite Iran, which both it and Tehran deny.
The official BNA news agency said on Monday Rajab had been freed from a six-month jail term imposed in May for insulting the authorities. It cited health reasons for the release.
Last year Bahrain denied entry to a U.S. congressman seeking to meet opposition figures, and expelled U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski for meeting Ali Salman.
Bahrain’s King Hamad did not attend a summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Gulf Arab leaders at Camp David in May, choosing instead to send his crown prince while himself attending a horse show with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The US State Department announced that Washington would resume its military aid to Bahrain despite the Middle Eastern country’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
“While we do not think that the human rights situation in Bahrain is adequate…we believe it is important to recognize that the government of Bahrain has made some meaningful progress on human rights reforms and reconciliation,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Monday.
The US imposed ban on security assistance to Bahrain following 2011 demonstrations.
Bahrain’s military now can receive antitank missiles, Humvees, ammunition and small arms, Press TV reported.
Kirby also described Bahrain as “an important and longstanding ally” on regional security issues.
“Following the lift of these holds, we will continue to press Bahrain on our human rights concerns,” he said.
The recent move by the US was criticized by Human Rights Watch.
The organization said the Persian Gulf state had continued to crack down on opposition figures.
“The Obama administration’s decision to lift restrictions on security assistance to Bahrain’s Defense Forces and National Guard is occurring in the absence of any real or meaningful political reform,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.
Scores of Bahrainis have lost their lives and hundreds of others wounded since the Al Khalifah regime launched crackdown on peaceful protesters in 2011.
Washington, which has its Fifth Navy Fleet in Bahrain, has particularly been criticized for backing the brutal Bahraini regime.
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.
“shared regional and strategic goals” and “reaffirm the UK’s commitment” to strengthening their ties with the Gulf monarchy.
Just a day earlier, a Bahraini court had extended the detention of one of the country’s most prominent human rights activists, Nabeel Rajab, for another two weeks. His alleged crime? Tweeting about torture and the war in Yemen.
Hammond has previously told the House of Commons that Bahrain, a long-standing ally and former protectorate of the UK, is “a country which is travelling in the right direction” and “making significant reform”. Last April, the Foreign Office even went as far as to predict that the country’s “overall trajectory on human rights will be positive” due to the “judicial and security sector” reforms being implemented. Delighted by the assessment, pro-government media in Bahrain repeated the Foreign Office’s claims with approval.
In 2014 Philip Hammond went to Bahrain to announce that the Royal Navy will set up a permanent base in the country
A year later, Amnesty International have published a report which points to a much bleaker picture of Bahrain’s alleged progress in implementing reform. Their research finds that, contrary to the Foreign Office’s predictions, “the human rights situation today remains dire and little has changed in practise”. Reforms have “so far proved inadequate” and have had “little impact” on the ground. “Torture remains rife”, “repression is widespread”, and impunity has been “entrenched”, rather than challenged, by the “inadequate investigations” led by state institutions set up apparently to bring greater accountability to Bahrain’s allegedly highly abusive security forces.
A case in point is the sentencing to death in February of three Shi’ite men accused of involvement in a bombing which killed three police officers in March 2014. Two of the defendants claim to have been forced to confess under torture, the details of which, as documented by both Amnesty and Bahraini human rights groups, are horrifying.
World News in Pictures
1 of 50
Abbas al-Samea, a 25-year-old teacher, says he was taken from room to room in Bahrain’s notorious Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) where he was sexually assaulted, burnt with cigarettes and given electric shocks on his genitals. Sami Mushaima, also detained at the CID, says he was punched in the mouth until he lost his front teeth, beaten all over his body and anally raped with an unknown object. Along with their co-defendant Ali Abdulshaheed al-Singace, both men were later found guilty in a trial which was widely condemned as unfair by human rights organisations.
According to Amnesty, the use of torture in cases like this “appears to be systematic”. Women and children are not exempt either. In November last year, at least thirteen women were arrested and allegedly tortured for organizing a public referendum in the run-up to parliamentary elections which were boycotted by the opposition. Around six months prior to that, Rayhana al-Mousawi was sentenced to five years in prison on charges which she confessed to after allegedly being beaten, stripped naked and threatened with rape and electric shocks. Even children as young as thirteen havereportedly been tortured on a “routine basis” to extract forced confessions.
Under the reforms initiated by the government in response to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), alleged abuses like these were supposed to have been stamped out and the officers responsible brought to justice. Amnesty’s report, however, finds that the institutions set up to do this are “not sufficiently independent, impartial or transparent” and have “largely failed to have a significant impact” on the ground.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), for example, was established by the Bahraini government in 2012 to “determine the criminal liability of government officials” responsible for abuses. Yet according to Amnesty, their investigations have “resulted in relatively few cases of alleged human rights violations being referred for trial, and most that have gone to trial have resulted in acquittals or…the imposition of lenient sentences that failed to reflect the gravity of the case.”
Judicial reform – cited by the Foreign Office as evidence of Bahrain’s improving human rights record – has seemingly also had little impact in practise, with Human Rights Watch (HRW)concluding last year that “Bahrain’s problem is not a dysfunctional justice system, but rather a highly functional injustice system. “ HRW’s UK director David Mepham has since dismissed the Foreign Office’s claims of judicial reform as “unfounded” and said “there is simply no basis” for its assertion that Bahrain’s “trajectory on human rights will be positive”.
If anything, the human rights situation is getting worse. In the last five months, several of the country’s most prominent human rights activists – including Nabeel Rajab, Zainab al-Khawaja and Maryam al-Khawaja – have been sentenced to jail. Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the country’s largest opposition movement al-Wefaq, has also been put on trial for allegedly inciting regime change.
The space for political opposition is Bahrain is thus disappearing quickly. According to the democracy-monitoring NGO Freedom House, the level of freedom in the country has declined year on year since the reform process began. In view of the available evidence, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director Joe Storkconcludes that “it’s difficult to see how anyone could claim with a straight face that Bahrain is on the path to reform. Unfortunately”, he says, “Bahrain’s allies in the West, in particular the UK, have become adept at seeing only what they wish to see.”