Two weeks after the 3-year prison sentence against prominent human rights defender Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, Bahraini courts continue the judicial harassment of human rights defenders in reprisal for their role in the protest movement that erupted in 2011 in the country.
On September 4, the High Court of Appeals upheld the life sentence against Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder of the GCHR, former President of the BHCR and former Middle East and North Africa Director at Front Line, as well as jail sentences against 19 other leading political and human rights activists including seven in abstentia. They were originally sentenced on June 22, 2011 by a military court created under temporary martial law under various charges, including including “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempt to overthrow the Government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country” and “collection of money for a terrorist group”. A retrial was granted, but some charges were only slightly changed. The High Court of Appeals was expected to issue its verdict on June 14, 2012, but postponed it without giving any explanation, after refusing to hold any hearing session between October 2011 and late April 2012. Moreover, allegations of confessions under torture have not been investigated during the retrial.
In addition, dozens of other human rights defenders are facing ongoing judicial harassment and some of them remain arbitrarily detained. Those harassed include the blogger Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, who has been detained since August 2, 2012 after she peacefully protested alone at Al Qadam roundabout against the arbitrary detention of her father, Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. On September 4, 2012, the Lower Criminal Court resumed her trial on charges of “damaging property belonging to the Ministry of Interior”. The next session is scheduled on September 10, 2012.
In addition, on September 4, 2012, the Third Lower Criminal Court was due to issue its verdict against 28 medical professionals, including nurses, consultants, surgeons and ambulance drivers, under charges including “hatred against the regime” and “taking part in an illegal gathering”. However, the verdict was postponed to September 11, 2012. The Observatory recalls that the confessions were allegedly obtained under torture1.
This repressive climate continues despite recent international denunciations addressed to the Bahraini authorities in the past weeks by key figures. For instance, on August 23, 2012, Ms. Margaret Sekkagya, Mr. Maina Kiai and Mr. Frank La Rue, respectively United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, firmly condemned the ongoing “campaign of persecution” and urged the Bahraini authorities “to comply with the rights to peaceful assembly and expression and immediately release those arbitrarily detained for exercising their legitimate freedoms”. The UN experts further recalled that “the continuing repression of free speech in Bahrain runs counter to international law and standards that individuals will not be prosecuted for peaceful political speech”. Moreover, it is expected that further recommendations regarding the situation of human rights in Bahrain will be adopted during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council, on September 19, 2012.
The Observatory firmly denounces the new sentences against human rights defenders in Bahrain and recalls the authorities’ obligation to comply with the international human rights instruments ratified by the Kingdom of Bahrain, and with the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It reiterates its call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders detained, since their detention and ongoing judicial harassment are arbitrary and merely aim at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities.
For more information, please contact:
FIDH: Arthur Manet: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18