Profile in Persecution: AbdulNabi AbdulHasan Khalil (Al-Sammak)

48-year-old AbdulNabi AbdulHasan Khalil, also known as AbdulNabi Al-Sammak, was a security guard at the Ministry of Education in Bahrain when he was arbitrarily arrested by the Bahraini authorities on 3 September 2020 because of reciting Ziyarat Ashura during the first 10 days of Muharram. He was sentenced to one year in prison later after being charged with publicly insulting symbols and persons subject to glorification among people who follow the Islamic faith. He is currently detained in Jau Prison.

AbdulNabi was summoned for investigation three times because of reciting Ziyarat Ashura, a Shia prayer that is widely used and found in officially registered books in Bahrain, Gulf states, and other Muslim countries, during the first ten days of Muharram, which is the period of Ashura, a commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husain. His lawyer was prohibited from attending the interrogations. On 3 September 2020, after being subject to interrogation at Al-Naeem Police Station, authorities arrested AbdulNabi there without presenting to him any arrest warrant. Authorities justified his arrest by accusing him of insulting and cursing the Companions of the Prophet while reciting Ziyarat Ashura at Matam AlSamakeen in Manama throughout the period of Ashura, even though legitimate religious institutions confirm that the four individuals referred to in the prayer do not represent any of the Companions of the Prophet. On that same day, he was able to meet his family after his arrest. However, he has not been able to meet them again since then. Three days after his detention at Al-Naeem police station, he was transferred to Al-Hoora police station, where he was interrogated for four days, before being transferred to the Dry Dock Detention Center.

AbdulNabi was not brought promptly before a judge, and he did not have sufficient time and facilities to prepare for the trial. Furthermore, he was denied access to his lawyer for a long period of time. Consequently, AbdulNabi was convicted of publicly insulting symbols and persons subject to glorification among people who follow the Islamic faith, even though he provided evidence against his charges, by presenting a religious document from legitimate religious institutions confirming that the prayer does not insult or curse any of the Companions of the Prophet, and by confirming that he read the prayer from a book that is licensed by official institutions concerned with authorization. He also explained to the court the meaning of the phrases which were the reason for his arrest, but the judge and the court rejected his evidence and explanations. On 25 October 2020, he was sentenced to a year in prison. AbdulNabi appealed his sentence, and the date for reviewing the appeal is set for 9 February 2021.

While being detained, AbdulNabi was subject to discriminatory treatment based on his Shia sect, and his salary was cut off. As a result, he submitted a letter of complaint to the court regarding the suspension of his salary and its effect on his family. On 24 December 2020, AbdulNabi called his family for the first time after not being in contact with them for four days. The reason for this disconnection was a collective punishment because one of AbdulNabi’s inmates knocked on the door of the room to summon the police officer. As a result, all the inmates were prevented from leaving the room for four days, and thus prohibited from going out in order to call their families. Recently, on 2 January 2021, AbdulNabi was transferred to Jau Prison.

AbdulNabi’s interrogation and arrest because of practicing his religious rituals, denied access to his lawyer, unfair trial, salary suspension, discriminatory treatment based on his religious sect, and detention under inhumane conditions violate both the Bahraini Constitution as well as international obligations to which Bahrain is party, namely, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Since AbdulNabi’s conviction depended on the misinterpretation of the prayer he recited despite the fact that a clear and legitimate interpretation was presented in court disputing the charges,  we can conclude that AbdulNabi is arbitrarily detained by Bahraini authorities on the basis of his freedom of religion.

Accordingly, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls upon Bahrain to uphold its human rights obligations by investigating the allegation regarding Abdulnabi’s denial of access to his attorney, the sectarian discrimination AbdulNabi faced,  and the inhumane use of collective punishment in prison. ADHRB also urges Bahraini authorities to take a fair decision regarding AbdulNabi’s appeal, drop the charges against him and hold a fair retrial if any charges can be substantiated,  in addition to ending the discriminatory treatment against people belonging to the Shia sect.