Human Rights Defender Ebtesam al-Saegh Lawlessly Detained for Second Time in as Many Months; Grave Fears of Renewed Torture

At approximately 11:45 p.m. local time in Bahrain, on the night of 3–4 July, long-time human rights defender Ebtesam al-Saegh was detained by state security for the second time in as many months. When Ms. al-Saegh was last detained in the final days of May, the officers torturing her – using physical violence, sexual abuse, and threats to murder her and her children – openly told her they were from Bahrain’s notorious National Security Agency (NSA), and were equally open about the fact that they were torturing her precisely because she was a human rights defender.

Ms. al-Saegh has been a vital advocate for human rights in Bahrain at a time when voicing such opinions inside the country has become extraordinarily dangerous. She has been one of the few people left willing to speak openly on behalf of human rights in Bahrain, and has done so persistently and courageously at increasingly steep personal cost.

In the latest incident, at around midnight a large force of masked, armed security officers deboarded from civilian and police vehicles in front of the al-Saegh family’s home, entered the house with no warrant, and took Ms. al-Saegh away from her husband and children without a word as to why or where she was being taken. Though it is impossible to know for certain when it is the NSA kidnapping someone in Bahrain – by design, because they operate with no identification or accountability – the modus operandi strongly suggests that this detention is their work. Masked men seizing people from their homes in the dead of night with no due process has long been the Agency’s stock-in-trade. Ms. al-Saegh’s family report that they are as confident as they can be that it was the NSA that took her.

Past NSA accomplishments such as the killing by torture of prominent newspaperman Karim Fakhrawy during the Arab Spring made the Agency so notorious that it was forced to go underground for several years after 2011. The Bahraini king recently reauthorized the NSA to serve once again as a “law enforcement” body – in effect, an organ of lawless abduction – which further raises the probability of its involvement in tonight’s action.

Given the known facts of Ms. al-Saegh’s previous detention, she remains at extremely high risk of torture until her location is ascertained and her attorney and international human rights monitors are given unrestricted access to visit and communicate freely and confidentially with her. That is of course pending her release, with compensation, since the Bahraini state can adduce no credible reason for her repeated detention other than its fury that she will not be silent on human rights.

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain denounces this abduction in the strongest terms and expresses its grave fear for the safety and well-being of Ms. al-Saegh. It is imperative that international pressure – in particular, from Bahrain’s key allies and enablers in the U.S. and U.K. – be brought to bear if she is to be freed and saved from further abuses. The Bahraini state today acts without shame or restraint; only the international community’s sense of decency might impose some limits to its behavior.