Bahrain condemned for "shutting down democratic space"
Bahrain's authorities have come under severe criticism from the United Nations and civil society organisations in recent weeks as a consequence of their relentless crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders. According to a report released by Amnesty International on 7th September 2017 entitled - "'No one can protect you:' Bahrain’s year of crushing dissent", human rights defenders and activists are "among the at least 169 government critics and their relatives who have been arrested, tortured, threatened or banned from travel by the authorities between June 2016 and June 2017".
On 10th September 2017, in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described democratic space in the country as essentially being “shut down” and that “the government of Bahrain has imposed severe restrictions on civil society and political activism through arrests, intimidation, travel bans and closure orders, with increasing reports of torture by the security authorities”.
Bahrain was also featured prominently in a report released by UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour on reprisals against human rights defenders who have collaborated with the UN system. This report released on 22nd September 2017 found that the government of Bahrain had engaged in an “ongoing trend of major harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders; the imposition of travel bans on selected individuals; the arrest, detention, and ill-treatment of targeted individuals; and one particular case involving sexual assault and torture as a form of reprisal”.
UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn also condemned the authorities for “crushing of democracy” at a party conference on 27th September 2017.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported that human rights defender Zainab Al-Khamees, a member of the Bahraini Human Rights Society, was summoned for investigation on 6th September 2017. She complied with the summons and arrived at the appointed time. After a half-hour wait, she was interrogated briefly without the presence of her lawyer. She was questioned about her whereabouts on 11th August and accused of taking part in an unauthorised protest in Aali village, then released.
The trial of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab for tweets and comments critical of the authorities was once again postponed. On 27th September 2017, a court postponed the hearing until 19th November, in what was at least the 16th time it had been delayed, according to Human Rights Watch. As reported previously by the Monitor's research partner, Rajab is currently serving a two-year prison sentence after being found guilty on 10th July 2017 for “disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status".
In a positive development, on 22nd October Ebtisam Al-Saegh, the monitoring and documentation officer with Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, was finally released from Isa Town Women’s Prison, where she had been held since her arrest on 3rd July 2017. On 18th July, the prosecutor ordered Al-Saegh to be incarcerated for six months, pending an investigation under the anti-terrorism law levied against her for outspoken comments on the state's human rights violations, including her own allegations that she was tortured during her detention at a police station in May 2017.