BAHRAIN: Implementation of even more draconian measures against fundamental freedoms: further risks for human rights defenders!

Urgent Appeal

Paris-Geneva, August 13, 2013. Ahead of peaceful protest planned in Manama on August 14, the King of Bahrain banned any protest and sit-in in the Capital and ordered the implementation of a set of draconian measures which will further jeopardise a number fundamental freedoms in the Kingdom, thus putting human rights defenders activities at further risk.

On August 1, 2013, the King of Bahrain ordered the implementation of a set of 22 recommendations that were adopted in the framework of an exceptional session of the National Council (NC) held on July 29, 2013.

Such recommendations include:

- the “loss of Bahraini citizenship for all those who commit crimes of terrorism and incitement to terrorism”

- the “ban of all sit-ins, assemblies and protests in the capital Manama”

- the provision of security forces with the “necessary and appropriate mandate to protect the society from terrorism”

- the importance of “notifying ambassadors of foreign countries to not intervene in the internal affairs of Bahrain, and respect international law”

- a recommendation to “all relevant state bodies to implement the legal procedures against all those who use social media in an illegal manner, and to increase the penalty against all those who use websites to publish false information to foreign agencies, which jeopardises the stability and security of the country”

- the interpretation of the non-violation of the fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of expression, in a manner that balances implementation of the law and the maintaining of human rights.

These measures amount to the implementation of some kind of new state of emergency granting the authorities excessive powers allowing them to arbitrarily restrain fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of association.

The unprecedented repressive character of such recommendations could result in further muzzling human rights activities in the country, in view of the broad interpretation of “terrorism” generally applied against human rights defenders and peaceful opponents.

Indeed, the fact that the authorities have already announced that the August 14 protest would be severely repressed if actually held is a clear indication that political opponents and human rights defenders may be considered “terrorists” and fall within the scope of the new legislation.

In addition, the degree of detail of some of the recommendations aims at directly targeting the legitimate and peaceful activities carried out by a number of Bahraini human rights defenders and human rights organisations in the country and abroad.

The Observatory is all the more concerned as on August 9, 2013, Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and a Bahraini citizen living abroad, was denied boarding a British Airways flight to Bahrain. At the counter of the Copenhagen airport, she was informed by an employee that the denial was based upon “orders from the Bahrain Government”. The employee added that it was the first time she had witnessed such a situation in her daily work. Ms. Al-Khawaja mentioned to the employees that she was a Bahraini citizen and that she had travelled to Bahrain with British Airways in January 2013, but to no avail. British Airways later stated that the company had to “respect individual government requests”, without providing more details. Ms. Al-Khawaja is contemplating ways to lodge a legal action.

Ms. Al-Khawaja was planning to monitor the situation on the ground during the August 14 planned protests in Bahrain, and to visit her detained father, human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, currently serving life imprisonment for his peaceful human rights activities. She was also planning to visit her sister, human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, also detained at the Isa Town Female Detention Centre. On May 22, 2013, Ms. Zainab Al Khawaja and Ms. Masooma Al Sayed, both known for their participation in peaceful gatherings 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[1].

The Observatory firmly denounces the intensifying crackdown on the Bahraini civil society, and reiterates its call on the Bahraini authorities to comply with the international human rights instruments ratified by the Kingdom of Bahrain, with the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For more information, please contact:
· FIDH: Audrey Couprie: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39

[1] On December 16, 2011, Ms. Al Khawaja had 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 and then handcuffed her and dragged across the pavement by her handcuffs. She was further cursed and beaten in the police station. See Joint BCHR-Observatory Press Release, June 21, 2013.

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