Authorities crack down on protests against executions

Peaceful Assembly

As demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the executions of Ali Al-Singace, Abbas Al-Samea, and Sami Mushaima on 15th January, the Bahraini authorities reportedly responded by teargassing and shooting at protestors. Photos shared on Twitter showed demonstrators with injuries from pellet guns. The Bahraini authorities justified their actions by stating that protestors had set fire to a city hall.

The three men whose executions sparked the protests had been convicted on charges of “organising, running and financing a terrorist group [al-Ashtar Brigade] with the aim of carrying out terrorist attacks” and “possession and planting of explosives with the intention to kill”. Their alleged actions had resulted in the deaths of three policemen. Distrust of the verdicts against them, had spread, however, along with concerns regarding the lack of respect for due process guarantees during their trials. As reported by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, the organisation which led international pressure to stop the execution, the accused had been tortured into confessing.

According to Agnes Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, the use of torture, the unfair trial and the fact that the accused were convicted on the basis of flimsy evidence turned these executions into extrajudicial killings.

Expression

Human rights defenders, journalists, media outlets and online bloggers continue to be targeted in Bahrain for reporting and expressing their opinions and beliefs. Further legislative restrictions were introduced that could be used to target human rights defenders, journalists, protestors and ordinary citizens using social media.

On 5th January, the Bahrain government issued Royal Decree 1/2017 granting the National Security Agency (NSA) judicial powers to arrest and detain civilians suspected of involvement in "terror crimes". NSA officials had already played a leading role in the brutal suppression of the 2011 pro-democracy protests, and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) had issued recommendation 1718, requiring the Bahraini government to strip the NSA of law enforcement powers and limit its role to information gathering.

Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s most high profile human rights defender, remains in detention. After a hearing on 28th December he was kept detained despite a court order to release him. He was taken back into custody in relation to a different investigation over televised interviews dating back to 2015 and early 2016. Numerous organisations have repeatedly called for his release but have so far been unheeded.

On 16th January, a hearing was scheduled to take place in the trial of Bahraini human rights defender and award-winning journalist Nazeeha Saeed. The hearing was later postponed until 28th February. As reported by the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Saeed had been summoned for interrogation on 17th July and charged with unlawfully working for international media under Article 88 of Law 47/2002. This article prevents all Bahraini journalists working for foreign news agencies from freely conducting their work without first obtaining a license from the Ministry of Information Affairs (MIA), which must be renewed annually. Saeed had applied for renewal of her license but her application had been arbitrarily rejected.

As documented by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB):

"Nazeeha Saeed is only one of many journalists, photographers, and bloggers targeted by Bahraini authorities since the Arab Spring protests. Since 2011, government authorities have detained, harassed, or tortured journalists, including Saeed, Qasim Zainal Deen, and photographer Ahmed Humaidan, for documenting the government’s suppression of demonstrations. In 2016, Reporters without Borders ranked Bahrain 162nd out of 180 countries on its press freedom index, and at least six journalists are currently imprisoned in Bahrain. Many more individuals are detained on charges related to social media use and other forms of free speech"

On 17th January, the MIA suspended the online edition of the only independent newspaper in the country, Al-Wasat, for "repeated publication of material inciting division in the community, jeopardizing national unity and disrupting public peace". No further evidence or justification was provided to back these accusations. The suppression of Al-Wasat’s online edition came a day after the controversial executions of Ali Al-Singace, Abbas Al-Samea and Sami Mushaima by firing squad. Al-Wasat was the only newspaper in Bahrain whose 16th January print edition carried front-page headlines of the execution. The newspaper also included photos of the executed victims, the views of independent local and international NGOs, and reporting on the popular reaction in the streets.

Association

The forced shut down of Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest political opposition group, was amongst concerns raised at the UN General Assembly by the US government representative on 14th December. The Bahraini government spokesperson responded by stating that the Bahraini authorities had dissolved the organisation because its rhetoric “encouraged violent extremism, sectarian discord, and sedition”, but again failed to substantiate any of these allegations, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.