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Bahrain

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Last updated on 07.03.2018 at 15:47

Bahrain-Overview

Bahraini authorities severely restrict civil liberties through an orchestrated campaign of unlawful arrests, revocation of citizenship, enforced disappearances, detention and torture of activists and journalists. This assault on civil society, which began following widespread peaceful demonstrations in 2011, continues despite recommendations made by a state-sponsored commission in 2011.

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 Bahrain's assault on human rights continues

Bahrain's assault on human rights continues

Freedom of expression in Bahrain was dealt a further blow with the sentencing of Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab on 21st February 2018 to five years’ imprisonment. Rajab was sentenced after posts on social media denouncing the use of torture in Jaw prison and exposing the killing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.

Expression

Freedom of expression in Bahrain was dealt a further blow with the sentencing of Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab on 21st February 2018 to five years’ imprisonment. Rajab was sentenced for posts on social media that denounced the use of torture in Jaw Prison and exposed the killing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), an independent observer reported that the court proceedings were very short and Rajab’s lawyer, Jalila Al-Sayed, was not allowed to speak during the court proceedings. The trial has been widely criticised for contravening international standards of due process. The verdict was condemned by international actors, including the European Union, that reiterated calls for his release. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, Rajab is already serving a two-year sentence for his human rights activities and is reportedly dealing with several medical issues.   

On 14th February 2018, the seventh anniversary of Bahrain’s popular uprising, NGOs called upon the international community to help free human rights defenders in Bahrain and push for an end to the persecution of journalists. Following the uprising in 2011, nearly all of Bahrain's most prominent human rights defenders have been imprisoned or forced into exile. The group called upon the country's authorities to uphold commitments to fundamental freedoms. The statement read:

"We, the undersigned NGOs, appeal to the United Nations mechanisms, the European Union, in addition to all governments with influence - in particular the United States and the United Kingdom - to apply serious pressure on Bahrain to demand the immediate release of all detained human rights defenders as well as all prisoners of conscience; and to protect public freedom, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and freedom of association; and to stop the security forces from practicing any form of torture or ill-treatment on detainees, a practice which is well documented in recent years and regarded as systematic in Bahrain".

With leading figures like Nabeel Rajab behind bars on trumped-up charges, the thirteen human rights NGOs also urged the authorities to overturn the recent string of convictions. 

The fightback from civil society comes at a crucial moment; 2017 was reportedly the worst year in terms of human rights abuses, according to a statement by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on 23rd February 2018. ADHRB documented numerous human rights abuses committed against human rights defenders and journalists throughout 2017, as well as the use of extrajudicial killings of civilians. The statement also noted increasing efforts by the government to close civic and political space.

Association

On 19th February 2018, the government confirmed the closure of Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest political opposition society. Al Wefaq was first shut down by the authorities in July 2016 and a recent ruling by the Court of Cassation made the closure definite. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the closure of the society came about due to allegations of organising demonstrations and sit-ins. In addition to the dissolution of the society, its leaders, Sheikh Ali Salman, Sheikh Hassan Ali Juma Sultan and Ali Mehdi Ali Al Aswad, now stand accused of plotting with Qatari authorities to destabilise Bahrain. Their trial will reportedly take place sometime in March 2018. 

The final ruling on the dissolution of Al Wefaq exemplifies how the government has continued to close political space in Bahrain. In particular, many human rights groups have cited the authorities' exploitative use of anti-terror laws to sideline the political opposition and silence critics of the government.

Association

Even though the Bahraini Constitution guarantees the freedom of association in Article 21, a 1989 Societies Law makes it illegal for any group to operate without a permit. The state specifies the scope of each organisation’s activity and CSOs are prohibited from operating outside of that strictly-defined mandate.

Even though the Bahraini Constitution guarantees the freedom of association in Article 21, a 1989 Societies Law makes it illegal for any group to operate without a permit. The state specifies the scope of each organisation’s activity and CSOs are prohibited from operating outside of that strictly-defined mandate. Authorities also keep a close watch on civil society’s communication with external actors. Activists working in the field of democracy and human rights face particularly serious harassment by security forces. Some human rights organisations have been shut down or taken over by the authorities, forcing them to carry on their activities clandestinely, while others were refused registration in the first place. Such interference in the affairs of organisations is justified under the pretext of maintaining security and stability. The government has also placed several restrictions on receiving foreign funds and to do so prior approval from the relevant authorities is mandatory.


Peaceful Assembly

Public assemblies are banned by the authorities in Bahrain, although protests continue to take place in defiance of the authorities. Even though the right to gather peacefully is protected by Article 28 of the Bahraini Constitution, in practice assemblies are rarely authorised, forcing activists to gather without the protection of the law.

Public assemblies are banned by the authorities in Bahrain, although protests continue to take place in defiance of the authorities. Even though the right to gather peacefully is protected by Article 28 of the Bahraini Constitution, in practice assemblies are rarely authorised, forcing activists to gather without the protection of the law. No gathering can take place near public buildings, and in no part of the capital, Manama. Protests that do occur are regularly met with excessive force and the arrest and torture of protest organisers and participants. Extrajudicial killings of protesters have also taken place. Despite the risks, protests continue on almost a daily basis in an attempt to draw attention to human rights abuses and to commemorate the peaceful uprising in 2011.


Expression

The Bahraini Constitution provides very limited protection for the freedom of expression. According to the law, it is necessary for all publications to obtain government approval. Most media in Bahrain avoids criticism of the Monarchy, particularly following a legal amendment that increases punishment for insulting the King to between 2 and 7 years.

The Bahraini Constitution provides very limited protection for the freedom of expression. According to the law, it is necessary for all publications to obtain government approval. Most media in Bahrain avoids criticism of the Monarchy, particularly following a legal amendment that increases punishment for insulting the King to between 2 and 7 years. Those that attempt to take an independent line risk being targeted or shut down. In August 2015, The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression wrote to the Bahraini authorities expressing his concern at the temporary suspension of Al Wasat, the only newspaper that takes an editorial line that is somewhat independent of the government. Individually, journalists are subject to serious harassment and similar treatment to that meted out to human rights activists. Although over 90% of people access the Internet, social media sites including Facebook and Twitter cannot be used freely, rather, online content is used to level charges against people and arrest them.


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