On Human Rights Day, Systematic Abuses Persist in Bahrain

10 December 2019 – Today is Human Rights Day, commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In honor of this occasion, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) reiterates our call for all governments around the world to protect and promote fundamental human rights without prejudice. In particular, we note with regret the continued deterioration in the human rights situation in Bahrain in the past year.

On 31 December 2018, mere weeks after the most recent Human Rights Day, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation upheld the five-year sentence for human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, for tweets highlighting torture in Bahraini prisons and criticizing the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. This was despite the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issuing an Opinion in his case, that his detention is arbitrary, in violation of his right to free expression, and discriminatory on the basis of his human rights activities. He has now exhausted all domestic remedies and will remain in prison until 2023.

In October 2018, Bahrain gained a seat on the Human Rights Council (HRC). Bahrain ran unopposed, effectively guaranteeing it membership despite an atrocious record of systematic human rights violations, including consistent acts of reprisal against activists for engaging with the HRC itself. Bahrain’s tenure as a Member on the Council started in January 2019. Since then, the government has continued to engage in human rights abuses.

In January 2019, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation upheld a ruling which dissolved the opposition group National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) and confiscated its assets, and the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of 115 Bahraini individuals in the mass trial of the Zulfiqar Brigades, despite a previous communication on this case by the Special Procedures offices, alleging torture to produce confessions.

In February 2019, the Court of Cassation issued its final verdict against Bahraini human rights defender Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei’s mother-in-law, Hajer Mansoor Hassan, brother-in-law, Sayed Nizar Alwadaei and cousin, Mahmood Marzooq Mansoor, upholding their three-year prison sentence. All three individuals are imprisoned in reprisal for Sayed Ahmed’s activism. On 27 February 2019, Bahrain issued a verdict in a mass trial of 171 defendants, sentencing 167 people to prison terms for their participation in a non-violent sit-in in Duraz.

On 16 April 2019, Bahrain’s Fourth High Criminal Court issued the final verdict in the trial of the so-called “Bahrain Hezbollah cell,” despite concerns regarding arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment during the mass trial of 169 defendants. The court acquitted 30 defendants and revoked the citizenship of 138 individuals, it sentenced 69 defendants to life in prison, 39 to 10 years in prison, 23 to seven years in prison, and eight men to five years in prison or fewer. The court also fined 96 defendants 100,000 Bahraini dinars – approximately 26,500 USD. As a result of international disapproval of Bahrain’s use of mass citizenship revocation, on 20 April 2019, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa AlKhalifa issued an order reinstating the citizenship of 551 individuals previously stripped of their Bahraini citizenship through criminal convictions. Since 2012, the Bahraini government has denationalized 990 people, meaning that the status of 439 persons born with Bahraini citizenship remains unknown. Many of those renationalized are still sentenced to the death penalty or life in prison.

In late May 2019, the King of Bahrain amended Article 11 of Bahrain’s counter-terror legislation to extend outside of Bahrain’s territory and to include criminal liability for anyone who possesses statements allegedly supporting terrorism “for a purpose of distributing it or informing others about it.” Bahrainis can now be charged with “promoting terrorism” for simply liking or sharing a tweet that the Bahraini government deems “damages national unity.”

On 26 July 2019, Bahraini photojournalist Moosa Mohammed scaled the Bahraini Embassy in London in protest of the impending executions of torture victims Ali AlArab and Ahmed AlMalali. He urged the Bahraini government to halt the executions, echoing calls made by the UN Special Procedures, international governments and parliamentarians, and international non-governmental organizations. In response to Mohammed’s peaceful protest, the staff at the Bahraini Embassy reacted with violence – allegedly beating him and threatening to throw him off the roof of the embassy.

On Saturday 27 July, the Government of Bahrain executed 25-year-old Ali AlArab and 24-year-old Ahmed AlMalali. Both individuals had been convicted and sentenced to death in a mass trial marred by allegations of torture and due process violations alongside 58 other individuals on 31 January 2018. A third individual from Bangladesh was also executed. Presently, there are eight other Bahrainis at imminent risk of execution, with ten other individuals on death row still undergoing appeals of their cases.

In August 2019, hundreds of Bahraini prisoners and detainees went on hunger strike to protest prison conditions, including the imposition of glass barriers during visits, arbitrary searches of prisoners and their families, and religious discrimination. The strike ended, without any of these demands being addressed by the authorities.

On 27 November, Bahrain’s High Criminal Appeals Court delayed a judgment due in the case of Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa – both men had previously been sentenced to death on the basis of torture-tainted confessions. The verdict will now be issued on December 25 – Christmas Day 2019, in keeping with a Gulf tradition of using Western holidays to commit human rights abuses.

On 28 November 2019, Moosa Mohammed’s brother Abbas was arrested in Bahrain, shortly after it was reported that Moosa had filed a criminal complaint with the London Metropolitan Police. Arresting officers reportedly raided Abbas’s family home, beat him, and arrested him without a warrant.

These human rights abuses are not unique to calendar year 2019 however, as Bahrain has consistently suppressed civil society, committed reprisals against activists and their families, and cut off the country from the international community. Since 2011, Bahrain’s authorities have subjected nearly every human rights activist and political opposition figure to arbitrary arrest and detention, including human rights defenders like Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and Ebtisam AlSaegh; Al-Wefaq Secretary-General Sheikh Ali Salman; Al-Wahdawi Secretary-General Fadhel Abbas; former Wa’ad Secretary-General Ebrahim Sharif; and scholar-activist Dr. Abduljalil AlSingace, among many others.

“Human Rights Day – meant to be a celebration – is instead a sobering annual reminder of the dismal human rights situation in Bahrain,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB’s Executive Director. “Every year there are new atrocities to report – mass trials, executions, new death sentences, new restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and religion. This year is no exception, which is worsened by the fact that Bahrain currently enjoys a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The international community must hold wrongdoers to account, and must particularly ensure that perpetrators of human rights abuses cannot use membership in the HRC to whitewash abuses.”

On the occasion of Human Rights Day, ADHRB calls on Bahrain to adhere to its international commitment to uphold fundamental freedoms and basic human rights, and additionally calls on their close international allies – like the United States and United Kingdom – to play a positive role in guaranteeing these protections.