Bahrain: Increasing resort to judicial repression against dissenting voices

Press release
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Judicial harassment has increasingly become common practice in repressing dissenting voices in Bahrain. The series of custodial sentences issued by the Bahraini courts against activist Zainab Al Khawaja over the past week represents a flagrant illustration of this trend.

“Clearly, the Bahraini judiciary is increasingly instrumentalised as a tool to silence and repress any sort of criticism in the country” said FIDH President, Karim Lahidji.

On December 9, Zainab Al Khawaja was sentenced to 16 months in prison on charges of ‘destroying government property’ after she ripped up a picture of the King of Bahrain whilst in detention in 2012. Only a few days before, on December 4, she had already been sentenced to a three year prison term for ‘insulting the King’, as well as being subject to a fine of 3,000 Dinars (approx. $8,000 USD) for a very similar case. In late October, Zainab tore up a photo of the King of Bahrain before the Court. [1] Since 2011, she has faced dozens of prosecutions, mostly founded on charges relating to her exercise of fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. [2]

Zainab al Khawaja is not however the only activist victim of judicial harassment. Human rights defender, Maryam Al Khawaja was sentenced in absentia on December 1 to one year in prison on charges related to an alleged assault on a police officer in Manama airport. [3] While prominent human rights defender Abulhadi Al Khawaja is currently serving a life sentence and has been detained since April 2011, [4] Nabeel Rajab still faces charges of ‘insulting a public institution and the army’ via Twitter, an offence punishable by up to six years of imprisonment. The verdict in this case should be issued on January 20, 2015. Meanwhile, Rajab is banned from leaving the country. [5]

Moreover, on November 27, human rights defender Ghada Jamsheer, was immediately sent back to prison after she was released upon completion of 10 weeks imprisonment. [6]

FIDH calls upon the Bahraini authorities to put an immediate end to judicial harassment against human rights defenders and peaceful activists. FIDH recalls that the repression of activists and human rights defenders is part of a systematic pattern of human rights violations committed since the 2011 uprising. FIDH and its member organizations in Bahrain have documented the repeated repression and imprisonment of human rights defenders and journalists. In addition to this, the use of anti-terrorism measures to crack down on basic human rights, as well as various repressive measures against political parties, have been increasingly reported in Bahrain.

Furthermore, FIDH calls on the international community to urge the Bahraini authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders and political opponents currently imprisoned in Bahrain. FIDH considers that strong allies of Bahrain such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and France should not tolerate the Bahraini authorities continuous violations of human rights, and should accordingly apply the utmost pressure to ensure the Bahraini guarantees and respects fundamental human rights.

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