Bahrain’s dissolution of a major political opposition society is the latest troubling move in its blatant campaign to end all criticism of the government, Amnesty International said.
The secular National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) was dissolved today after having issued a statement in February, saying that Bahrain was suffering from a “constitutional political crisis” amid continuous human rights violations. The group was subsequently charged with “advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes and lawlessness”.
“By banning major political opposition groups, Bahrain is now heading towards total suppression of human rights,” said Lynn Maalouf, Director of research at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional Office.
“The suspension of Wa’ad is a flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association, and further proof that the authorities have no intention of delivering on promises of human rights progress.”
The Bahraini security forces used excessive force against protesters in the village of Duraz, the majority of whom were peaceful, as part of an ongoing crack down on the village which has been under siege by the authorities for 11 months, according to evidence uncovered by Amnesty International.
At least one person has been killed and hundreds injured as security forces fired birdshot from shotguns and teargas against protesters. According to Amnesty’s sources, during the violent clashes, the houses surrounding that of leading Shi’a spiritual leader Sheikh Issa Qassem were raided and people inside arrested.
“Today’s disturbing developments again show the consequences of rampant impunity enjoyed by the security forces. There must be a prompt, independent investigation and those responsible for unlawful killing and other arbitrary or abusive force must be prosecuted. The authorities must rein in the security forces, order that they strictly comply with international standards on police use of force, and ensure the right to peaceful protest is protected,” said Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns, Middle East at Amnesty International
Bahrain’s authorities have dramatically escalated their crackdown against perceived critics with 32 people summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecution within the past five days and charges brought against the majority of them, said Amnesty International, less than a week ahead of the country’s UN human rights review session in Geneva on 1 May.
Those summoned include human rights defenders, political activists, lawyers, a journalist and relatives of victims of human rights violations, raising fears that they are being targeted as part of a deliberate attempt to stop them – and deter others - from criticizing Bahrain ahead of and during its upcoming review at the UN Human Rights Council.
“The intensified crackdown against Bahraini dissidents in recent days is highly alarming and exposes the shocking extremes to which Bahrain’s authorities are prepared to go to silence criticism of their human rights record,” said Samah Hadid Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International’s Beirut Office
The King of Bahrain ratified a constitutional amendment today that paves the way for military trials of civilians, in yet another example of Bahrain’s efforts to dismantle access to justice and fair trial, said Amnesty International.
“This constitutional amendment is a disaster for the future of fair trials and justice in Bahrain. It is part of a broader pattern where the government uses the courts to crackdown on all forms of opposition at the expense of human rights,” said Lynn Maalouf, head of research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.
“Instead of moving to correct its shameful history of unfair trials and impunity for violations, authorities in Bahrain have decided to further undermine faith in the independence and fairness of the courts and of the justice system as a whole.”
Amnesty International is alarmed by the vaguely worded amendment which could be used to try, before a military court, any critic deemed to be a threat to Bahrain’s national security or its “independence, sovereignty or integrity”, including – as has been the case in the past – peaceful activists prosecuted on trumped-up charges.
The Bahraini authorities have once again displayed their ruthless determination to silence activists and crush all signs of dissent by charging prominent political figure Ebrahim Sharif with “inciting hatred against the regime” in a series of tweets, said Amnesty International.
Ebrahim Sharif, former Secretary General of secular opposition party, the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), was summoned for questioning this morning by the prosecution unit for terrorist crimes. He was released shortly afterwards but only after being informed that he was being charged with “incitement to hatred against the regime” over a series of tweets. One of the tweets included an Amnesty International social media graphic featuring 20 individuals who have been imprisoned in violation of their human rights since the 2011 uprising.
“Once again Ebrahim Sharif is being unjustly punished simply for exercizing his right to freedom of expression. The charge against him is ludicrous and must be dropped immediately,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s office in Beirut.
Authorities in Bahrain must refrain from using excessive force against protesters, Amnesty International urged as mass protests are under way on 14 February, to mark the sixth anniversary of the 2011 uprising.
Bahrain is on the verge of a human rights crisis, as recent weeks have seen a pattern of increased repression, characterized by violence against protesters, executions, arbitrary detentions and a crackdown on freedom of expression.
“Bahrain is at a tipping point. The first two months of 2017 alone saw an alarming upsurge in arbitrary and abusive force by security forces as well as the first executions since the uprising in 2011,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office.
“The authorities must rein in the security forces, respect the rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression, and stop executions, otherwise a full blown human rights crisis risks breaking out.”
In response to the news today that the Bahraini authorities have postponed the verdict in the case of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, Samah Hadid, Deputy Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International’s Regional office in Beirut said:
“The Bahraini authorities must stop playing games with Nabeel Rajab’s freedom. He has been arrested and released repeatedly over the past five years and has been banned from leaving the country. By postponing his trial for a sixth time today they are cruelly stringing him along as punishment for his peaceful activism. Their refusal to release him from custody in December despite a court order suggests this is part of a deliberate strategy to harass him.
“Instead of flouting his rights to freedom of expression and depriving him of his liberty they should end this campaign of harassment, immediately and unconditionally release him and drop all the charges against him.”
Bahraini authorities must immediately commute the death sentences of two men at imminent risk of execution, Amnesty International said today, and warned that the harsh response to protests against three executions carried out by firing squad on 15 January risks plunging the country into a human rights crisis.
Five years after Bahrain’s 2011 uprising, which saw peaceful protesters beaten, shot, and killed in the streets, key reforms introduced to address human rights violations by the security forces have yet to deliver justice to the vast majority of victims and their families, said Amnesty International in a new report published today.
The report, Window-dressing or pioneers of change? An assessment of Bahrain’s human rights oversight bodies, exposes serious shortcomings in two UK-supported institutions that have been repeatedly trumpeted by the Bahraini and British authorities as evidence of the country’s human rights progress.
Bahraini authorities must immediately and unconditionally release human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and opposition leader Fadhel Abbas, two prisoners of conscience who are facing long prison sentences for using Twitter to voice concerns about human rights abuses in the conflict in Yemen, Amnesty International said today.
Both men have criticized the killing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which includes Bahrain. They have already been wrongfully detained for months and are expecting their respective court verdicts in the next week.
“It is an outrage that Nabeel Rajab and Fadhel Abbas have spent even one minute in jail – the Bahraini authorities cannot silence every last critic by throwing them behind bars. They must drop all charges against Nabeel Rajab and quash Fadhel Abbas’ five year jail term, and immediately cease their relentless crackdown on freedom of expression,” said Samah Hadid, Deputy Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International's Beirut regional office
In response to a Bahraini court’s decision today to uphold the dissolution of the country’s main opposition political group, Al-Wefaq, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director, Philip Luther said:
“The decision to uphold the dissolution of Al-Wefaq is a flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association and a brazen attempt to suppress criticism of the government in Bahrain.
“The Bahraini authorities have not presented any credible evidence that Al-Wefaq is anything but a peaceful opposition movement which has been seeking reform in the country in the face of increasing government repression.
“In the absence of independent institutions to scrutinize the government and hold authorities to account, peaceful opposition movements are particularly important. Silencing critical voices encourages further human rights violations and abuse of power.”
Bahraini authorities must immediately release human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and drop all charges against him ahead of his trial next week over Twitter posts criticizing the war in Yemen and allegations of torture in Bahrain’s main prison, Amnesty International said today, reiterating its call on the government to end its barefaced assault on freedom of expression.
The European Parliament also called for Nabeel Rajab’s immediate and unconditional release today in an urgent resolution that expressed grave concern over the ongoing campaign of repression of human rights defenders, political opposition and civil society. Bahrain has witnessed a month of intensified clampdown on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement.
In a shocking attack on the right to freedom of expression Bahrain’s authorities today upheld the conviction of opposition leader Sheikh ‘Ali Salman and increased his prison sentence from four to nine years for giving speeches in which he criticized the government, said Amnesty International.
“Sheikh ‘Ali Salman’s conviction is clearly politically motivated and is designed to send a message to others that even legitimate and peaceful demands for reform will not go unpunished. He is a prisoner of conscience and should never have been put on trial in the first place. He must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
There is a problem with Bahrain’s jails and courthouses: they have revolving doors. Too many human rights defenders are caught in cycles of judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, and restrictions on travel, or worse.