Bahrain: Concern over Human Rights Defenders Prosecuted and Sentenced to Prison

Press release

Geneva-Manama-Paris, 21 June 2013. In Bahrain, human rights defenders are being harassed, arbitrarily detained for months and ill-treated or tortured for their human rights work. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), express their deep concern over the sentencing of three human rights defenders to prison on 22 May 2013 as well as about the judicial harassment against Mr. Mohammed Al-Maskati.

On May 22, 2013, Mr. Naji Fateel, a board member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYHRS), was sentenced by the Manama Criminal Court to six months’ imprisonment for “illegal gatherings” in relation to a gathering on 24 January 2012 organised in BaniJamrah in which he did not participate. Mr. Fateel was arrested without a warrant after his house was raided by members of the security forces, dressed in civilian clothing, at dawn on 2 May 2013. He was allegedly subjected to severe torture at the Criminal Investigation Directorate. Reports allege that he was subjected to electrical shocks to his genitals, left foot and back in addition to simulated drowning, severe beatings, threats to publish his wife’s photographs (taken from a camera confiscated by the security forces when his house was raided), insults, hanging by his hands from the ceiling, sexual harassment and threats of rape, standing for hours, and sleep deprivation. He was taken to the Ministry of Interior hospital twice for treatment due to the torture. In another case, he is also facing charges of “establishment of a group in order to disable the provisions of the Constitution” [1]. He remains currently in Dry Dock Detention Centre. He was granted access to his lawyer, however he complained about not being provided adequate medical care.

On the same day, blogger Ms. Zainab Al Khawaja and Ms. Masooma Al Sayed, both known for their participation in peaceful gathering calling for reforms and the respect of human rights in Bahrain, were sentenced by the Manama lower criminal court to three months and six months’ imprisonment, respectively, for “illegal gathering”, “assaulting a female officer” and “inciting hatred against the regime” in reference to events that go back to December 2011. Our organisations recall that on 16 December 2011, Ms. Al Khawaja staged a sit-in to call for reforms and more rights at Abu Saiba roundabout and was joined by several women. The riot police fired teargas canisters to disperse them. Ms. Al Khawaja continued her sit-in peacefully and refused to move and she was shot at directly with a teargas canister [2]. She was then handcuffed, dragged across the pavement by her handcuffs, had her Muslim head scarf removed and was slapped by a female police officer. She was further cursed and beaten in the police station. Ms. Masooma Al Sayed continued her peaceful sit-in with Ms. Al Khawaja and refused to move. She was handcuffed and arrested. Ms. Al Sayed was also subjected to ill-treatment: she was kicked on her right leg which caused her to walk with a limp for a time and red marks around her wrists were apparent from the handcuffs. Both women were detained for around a week at that time then were released pending trial. Moreover, since 27 February 2013, Ms. Al Khawaja is serving in Isa Town Women a six months and 22 days sentence in two other cases on charges of “insulting a public official, entering a restricted zone “the pearl roundabout” and illegal gathering”. With these sentences, Ms. Al Khawaja will remain in prison until the end of 2013. In total she stood for more than 13 cases against her and she was sentenced in most of them to either prison or fines at least one more case is still in hearing process and verdict is expected on 25 June 2013 [3]. Since 4 March 2013, Ms. Al Khawaja was not allowed to receive visitation from her family, including her 3 years old daughter, due to her refusal to wear the prison uniform as prisoner of conscience. Furthermore, she is not allowed to go out to the prison yard, or to receive personal items including hygiene items from her family. As for Ms. Masooma Al Sayed, she remains free as of now.

On 19 June 2013, Mr. Mohammed Al-Maskati, President of BYSHR, appeared before the Lower Criminal Court on charges of “participation in illegal protests” in relation to a peaceful gathering held in Manama on 12 October 2012 to call for human rights and democracy in the country. As Mr. Al-Maskati’s lawyers asked for the case file, the judge decided to postpone the case to July 9, 2013. Mr. Al-Maskati could face three to six months’ imprisonment. On October 17, 2012, Mr. Al-Maskati had appeared before Bahrain’s public prosecution under these same charges. He had been summoned the day before to Al Hoora police station, where he had been kept overnight before being referred to the prosecutor’s office. On October 17, he was released on bail, but charges against him had remained pending since then.

Accordingly, BCHR and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders call on the Bahraini authorities to put an immediate end to these acts of repression including judicial harassment against human rights defenders, to release them immediately and unconditionally, since their detention is arbitrary and to implement without any further delay the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report and of the Universal Periodic Review that include the release of all prisoners of conscience arbitrarily detained, end of torture and other ill-treatments and to make accountable those responsible of such grave human rights violations. The organisations also urge the Government of Bahrain to schedule the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture without any further delay, as this visit was twice postponed.

The organisations also urge the international community and in particular the States that closely cooperate with the Kingdom of Bahrain to call upon the Bahraini authorities to:

· Immediately release Naji Fateel and Zainab Al-Khawaja as well as all other detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Bahrain;

· Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Naji Fateel, Zainab Al-Khawaja, Masooma Al Sayed and Al-Maskati as well as all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

· Put an end to acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against all human rights defenders in Bahrain and guarantee that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions;

· Stop the on-going daily human rights violations, and the escalating attacks against human rights defenders;

· Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

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