Growing concern over the continuous persecution of civil society, journalists and activists

Association

On 6th March 2017, authorities in Bahrain began legal proceedings to dissolve the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), the country’s leading secular, leftist opposition organisation, on the grounds that it had incited acts of terrorism and advocated for the violent overthrow of the regime. The move to dissolve Wa'ad came after Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs issued a statement with unsubstantiated claims against the organisation.

This is not the first time that Wa’ad and its leaders and members have been targeted. The organisation's leader, Ebrahim Sharif, has been harassed, arrested and tortured multiple times, while other members have been interrogated, banned from travelling or had their homes attacked. The organisation was initially suspended in November 2014, and its headquarters has been burnt down and vandalised several times between 2011 and 2016.

Also in early March 2017, the brother-in-law and mother-in-law of Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), were detained in the country. Al-Wadaei is currently living in exile in the United Kingdom, where he fled after being tortured in Bahrain. He had his citizenship revoked in February 2015 as punishment for his human rights activism.

Peaceful Assembly

According to reports from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, on 26th January 2017, approximately 20 individuals with masks, dressed in black civilian clothing, and carrying firearms attacked civilians who had gathered to demonstrate next to the home of Shia Cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, in the village of Duraz. Protesters have been there since June 2016, when the Ministry of the Interior revoked Qassim's nationality. At least one demonstrator, a teenager, was critically wounded, while several others were also injured in the attack.

On 18th February 2017, another active protester, Nader Abdulemam, was arrested and sent to Jaw prison for the remaining four and a half months of his sentence. Abdulemam was convicted of participating in and inciting demonstrations in 2013. 

Also in February 2017, the lower house of Bahrain's National Assembly passed a constitutional amendment to allow military courts to try civilians. If passed by the upper house as well, the bill will amend Article 105(b) of the 2002 Constitution, which currently prevents military courts from trying civilians, unless the king has declared a state of martial law. There are growing concerns that the new regulations will be applied in cases involving peaceful protesters and other human rights defenders and activists.

Expression

Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), has appeared in court on two separate cases, while being kept in prison without bail. The accusations against him concern a number of media interviews he gave and tweets he published about human rights violations in the country. On 28th December 2016, Rajab was freed on bail in a case involving published tweets, but was then immediately taken into custody again on other accusations. His court date for one of the charges has been postponed but he potentially faces up to 18 years in prison, if convicted of these two cases. He could possibly be given additional years if sentenced for articles he wrote for the New York Times and Le Monde.

In Duraz, where protests have been ongoing, telecom companies have been deliberately disrupting Internet services for the last eight months. Access to the internet has been reportedly cut off every day between 19:00 and 1:00. 

In a joint submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) 27th session working group, GCHR, BCHR and CIVICUS raised their concern over the government of Bahrain's deliberate targeting of human rights defenders, journalists, religious leaders and other activists and citizens. The UPR submission drew attention to the extreme restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly, as well as the failure of the authorities to implement the recommendations on freedom of expression that Bahrain had already accepted during previous UPRs.

The United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also addressed the serious situation in Bahrain during his report to the UN Human Rights Council on 8th March 2017. The High Commissioner expressed grave concern over the increasing number of human rights violations in Bahrain, and in particular, the growing repression of civil society and human rights defenders. He also urged the government of Bahrain to extend invitations to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and OHCHR to visit the country and monitor the situation.