Response to Bahrain’s High Level Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Concerns Over Bahrain’s Manipulation of Facts to Conceal Human Rights Abuses Amid Deterioration

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), following the statement made on Wednesday 26 February during the High Level Segment of the Human Rights Council by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Bin Rashid AlZayani, is concerned with Bahrain’s continued lack of genuine commitment for promoting and protecting international human rights. Mr. AlZayani took the opportunity during his statement to highlight Bahrain’s commitment to progressing human rights through its implementation of all recommendations from the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and its 2017 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), to applaud the Government’s National Plan of Action to prioritise human rights, and to sing praises of Bahrain’s cosmetic reform agenda – yet his statement was plagued with blatant mistruths that serve to perpetuate a narrative based on deceit and neglected to address the ongoing and systematic human rights violations in the country. We are especially concerned due to the fact that human rights have worsened over the past year following an intensified crackdown on freedoms of expression, association and assembly since 2017.

Counter to Mr. AlZayani’s claim that government and civil society cooperate together with pride and his assertion on the rights of non-governmental organisations to operate freely, all opposition parties and independent media have been dissolved. While Mr. AlZayani lauds the progress being made in Bahrain, political opposition leaders including Mr. Hasan Mushaima and his co-leader Mr. Abdulwahab Husain are currently serving life-sentences, while other political detainees remain behind bars.

While Mr. AlZayani celebrates the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Co-existence as a shining example of the tolerance practised in Bahrain, the Ministry of Interior has made it clear that something as trivial as criticising the government on social media can result in imprisonment. There have been concerning reports, including from the UN Committee on Civil and Political Rights, that security forces arbitrarily arrest human rights defenders, political opposition activists, and children.

Among those arbitrarily detained are Naji Fateel, blogger and a co-founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, and Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Fateel, arrested without a warrant in 2013, was tortured and sentenced on spurious charges to 25 years imprisonment for his activism. Meanwhile, Nabeel is currently serving five years for exposing torture in Bahrain’s Jau Prison and questioning Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen war. In spite of Mr. AlZayani’s praise of progress, it is evident that cooperation between government and civil society is impossible when opposition leaders and leading human rights activists languish behind bars.

In fact, this time last year, 167 individuals were sentenced in one mass-trial for participating in a peaceful sit-in between 2016 and 2017, in which five people were killed by police. A month later, 139 individuals were sentenced at once on terrorism charges, 138 of whom were also stripped of their citizenship.

Just last month, on 24 January 2020, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared yet another Bahraini prisoner arbitrary – Mohamed Merza Ali Moosa, a prominent athlete. According to the ruling, this case is one of the many from Bahrain that follows a pattern of arrest and detention which does not comply with international norms. Furthermore, the WGAD noted that Moosa was charged under the Act on the Protection of Society from Acts of Terrorism, a law that the Human Rights Committee has found to include an overly broad definition of terrorism that may result in violations of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Mr. AlZayani noted that women played an equal role in the sustainable development process in Bahrain. If he is referring to the way women, like their male counterparts, have been prosecuted for their defence of human rights, he is correct. ADHRB can further confirm that women political prisoners have faced abuse at every stage of the criminal procedure, including illegal arrests, physical, sexual and psychological torture to extract confessions, sham trials and inhuman prison conditions. Female detainee Hajer Mansoor was arbitrarily arrested in reprisal for the activism of her son-in-­law Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, and remains arbitrarily imprisoned to this day in the face of repeatedly expressed international concern.

Counter to what has been presented as a milestone in the national policy to promote human rights, the adoption of the 2016 law on alternative sanctions has been proven to discriminate against political prisoners. Further concerning is that ADHRB, along with multiple other independent bodies, can confirm that political detainees are subject to dscrimination through arbitrarily imposed measures that include systemic medical negligence, religious discrimination, and denial of family visits.

Any talk of judicial reform in Bahrain is farcical. Bahrain regularly displays a contempt of due legal process and continues to use torture as a tool to coerce confessions. The three executions carried out in 2019 and the reimposition of the death penalty on two torture victims just last month are highly disturbing evidence of this trend. The UN Committee Against Torture has noted that the use of torture in Bahrain is common is all places of detention, and that the government has failed to hold perpetrators to account. Likewise, ADHRB found that after its last UPR review, Bahrain only partially implemented 2 out of 176 total recommendations, while failing to fully comply with any of the Council’s recommendations.

ADHRB rejects the statement made by Mr. AlZayani on the situation of human rights in Bahrain, and reiterates our continued alarm at the severity of the deteriorations over the past year. The few internal human rights mechanisms that exist remain ineffective, lack independence from the government and have been criticised for covering up abuse. We therefore reiterate our call for the international community to press for urgent human rights reforms in Bahrain. We also call upon Bahrain to comply with its UPR recommendations and to allow UN Special Rapporteurs into the country to independently evaluate the state of human rights. Lastly, we call upon the members of the Council to hold Bahrain accountable for its deliberate manipulation of facts to conceal human rights abuses and failure to implement reform.