Monday 28.8.2017 in Latest Developments in Bahrain Country Page
Authorities in Bahrain have continued their crackdown on freedom of expression with the sentencing of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab on 10th July 2017 to two years in prison for “disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status". As reported on the Monitor, Rajab was unable to attend the trial because he is currently in the Ministry of Interior Hospital, where he has remained since having surgery for bleeding ulcers in April 2017. The European Parliament and the Norwegian government have condemned Rajab's sentence. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Rajab is also facing charges for his social media activism on allegations of torture in Jaw Prison and Saudi-led coalition’s involvement in the war in Yemen. Therefore, he may face additional prison time.
Journalist Nazeeha Saeed has also been targeted again in recent weeks. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) an appeals court upheld the lower court's decision on her conviction for “working without a permit,” for which she was sentenced to pay 1,000 Bahraini dinars (approximately 2,650 USD). According to RSF, at least five journalists working for international media outlets, such as Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, France 24 and Reuters, have been refused accreditation renewal, although Saeed is the only one to have been prosecuted.
According to GCHR, on 24th June 2017 Al-Wasat newspaper was forced to lay off all its employees three weeks after being suspended by the authorities in Bahrain on 4th June. Al-Wasat was the last independent newspaper operating in Bahrain and its closure lands a further blow to freedom of expression in Bahrain.
According to Human Rights Watch, on 7th June, in the context of the diplomatic dispute between Qatar and other Gulf States, Bahrain's authorities announced that any speech critical of the measures the government has against Qatar or sympathetic to Qatar would be prosecuted as criminal acts.
On 3rd July 2017, human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh was arrested when security forces raided her home. She has reportedly been held in solitary confinement and subjected to ill-treatment. On 18th July, the Public Prosecutor ordered Al-Saegh to be incarcerated for six months pending investigation under Bahrain's anti-terrorism law. As reported previously on the Monitor, Al-Saegh was first detained for interrogation in May, when she was beaten and sexually assaulted by security officials before being released .
UN human rights experts have condemned her arbitrary detention and reiterated their “serious concerns regarding the wider context of a general crackdown and mounting pressure exerted on civil society and dissidents in Bahrain, the ongoing prosecution and punishment of human rights defenders, and especially intimidation and reprisals against people who have cooperated with UN human rights mechanisms”.
Amnesty International has called for her release, stating that:
“We are deeply concerned about Ebtisam’s wellbeing. When she was arrested in May 2017, she was beaten and sexually assaulted by members of the Bahraini National Security Agency. Bahraini authorities have failed to investigate those claims and we fear that she is at high risk of torture as long as she remains in custody”.
The United States 2016 International Religious Freedom Report, released on 15th August 2017, expressed grave concern about the actions of the Bahrain's government, specifically the arrest and detention of “Shia clerics, community members, and opposition politicians”.
According to a report by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights released on 13th July 2017, from January to June 2017, there have been 2,373 protests in Bahrain; 628 of which have been suppressed by riot police. The Centre also asserted that now "is a key moment to press for the end of the systematic clampdown on freedom of expression in Bahrain”. It also called the international community to be more proactive in pushing for
“lifting restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. It is pointless to talk about reforms and rule of law as long as exercising fundamental rights cannot be enforced and can result in your imprisonment”.