End persecution of human rights defenders in Bahrain now, says international appeal to UNHRC

Press release

As human rights groups lobbying during the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), we call on UNHRC member states participating in Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to join us in urging Bahrain to accept the UPR recommendations, to be adopted on 19 September. We particularly urge the international community to call for the unconditional release of human rights defenders, bloggers, peaceful opposition activists, and all those jailed for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ensure that those who participate in the UPR process do not face reprisals.

The following are among the human rights defenders who are currently jailed in Bahrain:

  • Nabeel Rajab, sentenced on 16 August 2012 to three years’ imprisonment in relation to three cases brought against him for calling for and participating in peaceful gatherings that the government deems “illegal”. His family has reported his ill-treatment in prison, where he is held separately from other political prisoners.
  • Zainab Al-Khawaja, arrested on 2 August 2012 after she staged a one-woman protest calling for the release of her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. It was her fifth arrest since April 2012. On 4 August, she was accused of tearing a photo of the King at the police station and remains in detention, facing 13 charges in total. She requires medical attention for a broken leg suffered during a demonstration.
  • Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, whose life sentences were upheld by the High Criminal Court of Appeal on 4 September 2012 in the high-profile case of 13 political and human rights leaders. Despite allegations of confessions made under torture, the men were among 21 originally sentenced by military court in June 2011 to between two years and life in prison on charges including “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.” In the same case, Blogger Ali Abdulemam was sentenced to 15 years in absentia and his whereabouts are unknown.

Other people from all walks of life including journalists, doctors, teachers, lawyers and athletes have been jailed, tortured, threatened and persecuted for speaking out about human rights violations that occurred after hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets in February 2011 to call for reforms. Regular protests occur in Bahrain, and many demonstrators continue to be injured, including by teargas or birdshot, or jailed for participating in demonstrations.

In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which was mandated by the King to investigate reports of serious human rights violations that occurred since February 2011, released its report. Among the recommendations, the BICI called for the cases of over 300 individuals jailed for peacefully expressing their views to be transferred to civil court, and for an investigation into allegations of torture in detention, which was used to extract confessions. The BICI also recorded a culture of impunity in the deaths of prisoners in custody due to torture, and called for the authorities to hold those responsible accountable. Estimates by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), of which Nabeel Rajab is President, put the number of political prisoners at 3000 as of today, and rights groups continue to record cases of torture and mistreatment in prison.

We remain concerned for the safety of Bahraini human rights defenders, particularly after those who participated in Bahrain’s UPR in May 2012 were threatened by Bahraini authorities and pro-government media. According to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), its President Mohammed Al-Maskati received death threats in the past week for his participation in the current session of the UNHRC.

We are among over 100 NGOs, UN experts, 27 UNHRC members states, the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commission for Human Rights calling on all members of the UN HRC to press the Bahraini authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace and all those jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, observing due process, as recommended by the BICI;
  • Implement all 176 recommendations in Bahrain’s UPR, including to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, not just 156 of them;
  • Suspend and then revoke the use of penal code articles that violate the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly;
  • Comply with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998, and international human rights treaties and documents ratified by Bahrain, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • Guarantee the safety of Bahrainis who attend the UNHRC sessions, ensuring they won’t face reprisals as a result of their participation in the peaceful promotion of human rights protection.


Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Bahrain Rehabilitation & Anti Violence Organisation (BRAVO)
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Media Support (IMS)
Khiam Rehabilitation Centre
No Peace Without Justice

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