Bahrain: release all prisoners of conscience
On February 14, 2011, the majority of Bahraini people began protests demanding greater civil and political rights. The same day the first demonstrator was killed by security forces. Over the next few months a human rights crisis unfolded. Excessive force was repeatedly used by security forces against peaceful protesters and close to 50 people were killed and hundreds others injured. . More than 4,000 protesters were dismissed from their jobs or expelled from university for having participated in the protests.
Hundreds of people were also arrested and tried before military courts, with many reporting they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. Some of them are still currently in prison serving sentences for charges related to the use of their legitimate right to freedom of expression and assembly.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Ebrahim Sharif, together with other 12 opposition activists are among the prisoners of conscience that remain in detention after receiving sentences of up to life in prison in an unfair and politically motivated trial before a military court. Mahdi Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, former president of the Bahrain Teacher’s Association, is serving a ten year prison sentence for calling for a strike during the February 2011 protests. Mahmood AbdulSaheb is currently serving a three and a half year sentence imposed by a military court for assembling during protests and distributing pictures of injured protesters. All of them say they were tortured during the first weeks of their detention.
Write to the King of Bahrain urging him to immediately release the 14 opposition activists, Mahdi Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Mahmood Abdulsaheb because they are prisoners of conscience imprisoned only for exercising their legitimate rights of freedom of expression and assembly.
Further urge the King to:
- release and drop the charges against anyone else on trial or serving a prison sentence for “offences” related to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly
- launch independent and impartial investigations into allegations of torture and to bring to justice anyone found responsible for human rights abuses, at any rank in the chain of comman
If you are on social media, you can also send Tweets to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (see contact details below).
His Majesty Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa
Office of His Majesty the King
P.O. Box 555
Fax: + 973 17664587
Salutation: Your Majesty
Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa
Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs
P. O. Box 450
Fax: +973 17536343 or 17531284
Salutation: Your Excellency
Ambassador for the Kingdom of Bahrain
3502 International Drive NW
Washington DC 20008
On November 23, 2011 the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), set up by royal decree on 29 June, presented its findings to the King of Bahrain. The BICI’s report concluded that widespread human rights violations had taken place – including excessive use of force, widespread torture and other ill-treatment of protesters, unfair trials and unlawful killings – and made a number of recommendations which the King promised to implement.
So far, however, the government’s response has only scratched the surface of these issues. Reforms have been piecemeal, perhaps aiming to appease Bahrain’s international partners, and have failed to provide real accountability and justice for the victims. Human rights violations are continuing unabated. The government is refusing to release scores of prisoners who are incarcerated because they called for meaningful political reforms, and is failing to address the Shi’a majority’s deeply-seated sense of discrimination and political marginalization, which has exacerbated sectarian divides in the country.
In recent months, the Bahraini authorities have become more concerned with re-building their image and investing in public relations than with actually introducing real human rights and political reforms in their country. Indeed, for the authorities, much is at stake. They are keen to portray Bahrain as a stable and secure country in order to stave off international criticism. But as the country is about to host the Formula 1 Grand Prix on 20-22 April, after the event was cancelled last year in response to the instability in the country, daily antigovernment protests continue to be violently suppressed by the riot police that use tear gas recklessly and with fatal results. Acts of violence by some protesters against the police have also considerably increased in the last three months.
Holding the Grand Prix in Bahrain in 2012 risks being interpreted by the government of Bahrain as symbolizing a return to business as usual. The international community must not turn a blind eye to the ongoing human rights crisis in the country. The government must understand that its half-hearted measures are not sufficient - sustained progress on real human rights reform remains essential.