26 June 2018 – Yesterday, Bahrain’s Fourth Criminal court sentenced female activist Najah Ahmed Yousif to three years in prison on charges relating to free expression. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly condemns the arrest and sentencing of Najah Ahmed Yousif and calls on the Government of Bahrain to overturn Yousif’s sentence and immediately release the activist.
Najah Ahmed Yousif was originally arrested on politically motivated charges back in April 2017, following her social media activity criticizing the 2017 Grand Prix in Bahrain. In recent years, Bahraini authorities have committed severe human rights abuses to suppress dissent during the Formula One Grand Prix, particularly since the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in 2011. In 2012, a father of five, Salah Abbas was shot dead by the police after taking part in a peaceful demonstration. That same year, 22-year-old videographer and journalist Ahmed Ismail Hassan was shot to death by Bahraini security forces while covering protests around the Formula One Grand Prix. Later, in 2016, 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani was fatally injured by security forces during his arrest.
Though Yousif’s social media posts peacefully criticized the race’s presence in Bahrain, the government claimed she was using her posts to “promote and encourage people to overthrow the political and social systems.” As the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) reported, following her arrest, Yousif was interrogated by the National Security Agency (NSA), Bahrain’s chief intelligence body that is notorious for torture. NSA personnel regularly beat and sexually assaulted Yousif during her detention. Authorities also threatened to rape her and kill her sons.
The NSA has launched a campaign of reprisals against activists since it was re-empowered by the king in January 2017. That year, NSA personnel subjected Ebtisam al-Saegh, another female human rights defender, to seven hours of torture and interrogation for her activism, including her work with the United Nations (UN). She was blindfolded, beaten, sexually assaulted and psychologically tortured.
The arrest, torture, and imprisonment of the Yousif violates her right to free expression online and demonstrates the government’s commitment to closing even virtual space for activists and human rights defenders in Bahrain. Due process abuses remain rampant, and Yousif’s case is clearly in direct contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Convention Against Torture.
“Bahrain has effectively closed all civil and political space. Najah Ahmed Yousif’s case is just one of many that showcases the lengths the Government of Bahrain will go to suppress criticism and free expression,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “The international community must join together to pressure Bahrain to end this appalling and inhumane treatment of activists and call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.”
The government’s severe abuse of another activist over peaceful, online posts underscores its continual disregard for basic human rights as well as its violent opposition to critical free expression. ADHRB calls on the Government of Bahrain to release Najah Ahmed Yousif and overturn her sentence, as well as the sentences of all other unjustly imprisoned activists.