H.E. António Guterres
United Nations Secretariat Building
NY 10017, USA
13 February 2018
On the anniversary of the 14 February 2011 protest movement, IHRC is deeply concerned by the continued violations of human rights in Bahrain. According to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights’ estimations, today the number of people serving politically-related sentences in Bahrain has swelled to 4,000 political prisoners, a large number in a kingdom of just 650,000 inhabitants, representing the highest incarceration rate in the Middle East.
Seven years ago today we saw the start of the largest protest movement in Bahrain’s history, driven by calls for respect for human rights, democratic reforms, and an end to corruption. Seven years on, human rights abuses have regrettably risen on an unprecedented scale. Bahrain’s government has moved to restrict all political space for dissenting views, first of all by dissolving al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain’s largest opposition party, in 2016. The authorities also blocked access to the Al-Wefaq website and froze all its assets, with the party’s Secretary-General Sheikh Ali Salman seeing a jail sentence extended from four years to nine. In March 2017 another political opponent, the former Wa’ad party’s Secretary-General Ebrahim Sharif, was sentenced to three-years’ imprisonment and his party dissolved, after having completed a previous sentence of five years in 2016.
Ad-hoc measures enforced through violence and human rights violations have recently been entrenched into Bahraini law with the objective of suppressing any form of dissent. In February 2017, under the guise of counter-terror measures, Bahrain’s parliament approved a constitutional amendment aimed at repealing a constitutional principle which currently prevents military courts from trying civilians. Likewise, the Bahrain government restored law enforcement powers to the National Security Agency (NSA), which was directly involved in the arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture of civilians in 2011. The first trial of civilians by the Bahraini military was held in October 2017, when four defendants came before the military court on the political charge of belonging to a ‘terror cell’. Two out of the four defendants, Sayed Alawi and Sayed Fadhel, are victims of enforced disappearance since their arrest in 2016, and are at risk of torture and ill-treatment during their prolonged pre-trial detention.
Political activists, civil society organisations and religious leaders have been routinely persecuted and arrested by Bahrain’s government on the grounds of their political views or religious affiliation. Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders, is serving a two-year sentence in prison and is currently facing a further 15 years in multiple cases, all relating to his right to free speech. Other human rights defenders, such as Abdhuladi al-Khawaja and his daughter Zainab al-Khawaja, Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace and Khalil al-Halwachi, have remained arbitrarily detained despite international calls for their release, while many others are facing unlawful interrogations, travel bans and forced exile. In addition, in October 2017 Bahrain authorities convicted the family members of the UK- exiled human rights defenders Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, in what has been decried as a ‘collective punishment’ by the whole international community.
In 2017 the Bahraini government has carried out five executions by firing squads. The resumption of executions is effectively the end of a de facto moratorium on the death penalty that has been in place since 2010. In January 2017, the government carried out the executions of Sami Mushaima, Ali Al-Singace and Abbas Al-Samea, and soon thereafter in June, two more activists were put to death. All executions follow the same pattern of torture, serious due process violations, confession under duress, and making the victims stateless.
A major source of conflict has been the use of Sunni foreign recruits in the security services by Bahraini authorities. They have been seen by protesters, especially from the Shia community, as “the repressive arm of the state”, brought in to ruthlessly quell protests. That the Khalifa family, mostly with the help of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, is trying to foment sectarian division in the country for its own interests is a well-known fact. The continued use of these foreign recruits / mercenaries and the adoption of a sectarian security policy risks the country being drawn into a civil war of a sectarian nature.
Religious discrimination against Bahrain’s majority Shia community has increased dramatically in the last year. Since June 2016, there has been a dramatic increase in arrests, interrogations and charges laid against 75 Shia religious clerics, including on the grounds of “illegal assembly”, “inciting hatred against the regime” or “offending the Constitution”. Furthermore, the government has assembled a deeply sectarian police force and continues to naturalise foreign Sunnis and employ them in the security forces, encouraging them to use excessive force against the population to quell protests.
Stripping people of their nationality remains a weapon of political suppression in Bahrain. From 2012-2016 up to 350 peaceful Shia dissidents, members of the political opposition and Shia clerics have been charged with “acts of terrorism” and denaturalised by the government either under the Bahrain Citizenship Act or Protection of Society against Acts of Terror law, both of which allow the authorities to revoke the citizenship of any person deemed to have “harmed the interests of the Kingdom”. Sheikh Isa Qassim, the most senior Shia cleric in the country, was stripped of his citizenship in June 2016. On 26 January, in response to the numerous protests following his arrest, Bahrain security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters, leading to 20 arrests and the fatal wounding of 18-year-old Mustafa Ahmed Hamdan, who was shot in the head and later died after two months of lying in a comatose state. During his funeral in March 2017, attended by thousands of people, the Bahraini authorities also attacked mourners by firing tear gas and birdshot pellets. As a result of the protests, the Ministry of Interior has allegedly created a blockade around Duraz, home to Shaykh Isa Qassim, and established checkpoints at every entrance and exit to the village. After two months, the police carried out another lethal raid into the village, which resulted in five causalities, dozens of injuries and over 286 arrests, including Muhammad Abdulhassan al-Mutaghwi and Muhammad Husain al-Shebabi who, held incommunicado since their arrest, are now facing trial by the criminal courts on political charges.
Despite the intensified efforts in the last three years by the international community, culminating in three EU resolutions, four EU parliamentary questions and three UN reports by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings and the Special Rapporteur on Torture, IHRC is deeply concerned that the human rights situation in Bahrain continues to deteriorate since renewed protests erupted in 2011.
IHRC condemns the government of Bahrain’s entrenchment of human rights violations and urges the following actions to be undertaken by the international community:
– Immediately stop approving all arms exports to Bahrain to prevent Bahrain’s supporters in the international community violating the human rights of its citizens.
– It is imperative that the prevalence of torture by police and security services is highlighted and challenged at every opportunity and at the highest levels possible. Bahrain must be pressured to end the culture of impunity that ensures that both the policymakers and perpetrators of torture remain in positions of authority.
– Bahrain should be urged to allow democratic reforms to take place, strike off citizenship revocation laws and allow human rights defenders and activists to freely express themselves and to report human rights violations in Bahrain.
– Firmly condemn the use of mercenaries and foreign recruits in Bahrain and push the issue to the top of human rights priorities in 2018.
– Condemn the continued imprisonment of political activists. The lack of international standards in arresting and prosecuting these prisoners invalidates the sentences issued. Consequently, all trumped up charges should be immediately dropped and all detainees and prisoners released and all allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the Bahraini forces should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.