Unable to hide its human rights abuses, Bahrain the focus of UN scrutiny in 2022

In 2022, human rights violations in Bahrain were repeatedly the focus of the United Nations Special Procedures offices and the bodies responsible for monitoring the implementation of international treaties and agreements.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention issued opinions on the cases of political prisoners it considered to be arbitrarily detained by the Bahraini government, calling for their immediate release and compensation. A number of UN Special Rapporteurs also sent joint letters of allegation to the Government of Bahrain, the most prominent of which was the case of human rights defender Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace. Dr Al-Singace – imprisoned for life for his pro-democracy activism – was also mentioned by the UN Secretary-General in his annual report on reprisals against human rights defenders.

Reviews of Bahrain’s implementation of the recommendations of the Committee on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) were conducted, as well as a review of Bahrain by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on the government’s continued violations of human rights in multiple levels of Bahraini society.

Opinions Issued by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

In 2022, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) published three opinions on its website. Two of them relate to a number of cases of Bahrainis who have been arbitrarily arrested and the third highlights the government depriving a Bahraini citizen from performing his religious rights – a violation of freedom of religion and belief. The Working Group acknowledged that by detaining these people, the Bahraini government violated due process and international law. The working group also warned that depriving people of these freedoms may amount to crimes against humanity.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued the following opinions:

Soleimani cell case

On 20 July 2022, the working group published an opinion concerning the cases of five young Bahrainis who were sentenced by the Bahraini High Criminal Court on January 31, 2021 in an unfair mass trial consisting of 18 defendants. This has been known as the Soleimani cell case.

The Working Group found that the individuals were arbitrarily detained in violation of international human rights law and suffered illegal human rights violations. As a result, the WGAD called on the Bahraini government to take immediate measures, including the release of its prisoners. The individuals involved in this case are, Ali Naser Ahmed Naser, Ali Hasan Mansoor Yusuf Marzooq AlJamri, Ali Mohamed Hasan Ali Husain, Sayed Redha Baqer Mahdi Mohsen Fadhul, and Sayed Falah Hasan Naser Mohsen Fadhul.

The WGAD noted the government delay in presenting the victims before a judge, particularly in the cases of minors Ali Hasan AlJamri, Sayed Falah Hasan Fadhul, and Sayed Redha Baqer Fadhul, who, as minors, are subject to a strict standard of promptness obliging authorities to present them before the court within 24 hours of their arrest. The government has denied the allegations of torture inflicted on these victims, claiming it adhered to international standards. The WAGD found the government claims unconvincing and acknowledged the claims of torture to be credible and violations of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  Article 7 of the ICCPR, and Articles 2 and 16 of the Convention Against Torture.

The WGAD noted that the use of physical force on the minors in this case are considered violations of Article 37 of the Convention of the Rights of Children. The WGAD called for an independent investigation into these torture allegations and referred the case to the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The WGAD found that the government failed to guarantee the five individuals’ right to legal assistance at all times in accordance with Articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR. It reiterated that all persons deprived of their liberty have the right to legal assistance by counsel of their choice at any time during their detention, including immediately after apprehension. The working group concluded by expressing its concern over the health conditions of the prisoners and has called on the government to immediately release all five individuals, raising further concern for the many cases of arbitrary detention in Bahrain and noting the widespread or systematic deprivation of liberty, all violations of rules of international law, may constitute crimes against humanity.

Al Ashtar Brigades  Case

During the 94th session, the WGAD issued its opinion regarding four Bahraini individuals who were arbitrarily detained in an unfair mass trial of eight defendants. The four young men, Sayed Mujtaba Saeed Alawi Ali AlKhabbaz (a minor at the time of his arrest), Hasan Hameed AbdulNabi Ali Naser Meshaimea, Sayed Ahmed Hadi Alawi Amin Hasan, and Sayed Mahmood Ali Moosa Jaafar AlAlawi, were accused of belonging and taking part in activities of the terrorist organization, the AlAshtar Brigades. This organization was accused of targeting American interests mainly by planting explosive canisters.

After their arrest, government authorities tortured them to coerce confessions and they were sentenced to prison where they currently remain. Due to the violations endured by these four individuals, the WGAD determined they were arbitrarily detained under different categories and in violation of international law. It also issued recommendations to the government that included the immediate release of all four individuals.

The working group states that it’s not enough to have a legal basis for imprisonment, but that the authorities must also inform an individual of the reason for the arrest, something the Bahraini government failed to do. For this, and for not bringing the four individuals before a judge within 48 hours, the WGAD determined the government to have violated  Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right.

The WGAD indicated the Bahraini government guitly of another violation when a government prosecutor ordered the imprisonment of the four individuals and then referred the case to the criminal court. The WGAD states that a prosecutorial body cannot act as a judicial authority as the government prosecutor had done here.

The WGAD also states that it is unconvinced with the government’s denial of using torture against the four individuals. In particular, it considered that the complaint submitted by ADHRB presented a credible prima facie case that the individuals were in fact tortured. This is a violation the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ICCPR, as well as the Convention against Torture. In the case of AlKhabbaz, the use of torture against a minor violates the Convention on the Rights of Children. The government also violated these conventions when it allowed coerced confessions obtained from torture in the court proceedings for all four individuals. The individuals were also prevented from presenting evidence of their own for their defense.

In Alawi’s case, the WGAD stated that the government did not refute the accusations that it fabricated evidence against him. They also were concerned regarding the SIU’s role in the investigation into the use torture against detainees. The working group found that the violations of the individuals’ fair trial and due process rights in this case are strong enough to render their detention arbitrary according to article 3.

In this regard, the WGAD found that the violations of international laws by the Bahraini government against these four individuals make them arbitrarily detained. The working group asks the Bahraini to:

  • to release all four individuals immediately.
  • Provide compensation for the damage it caused.

Finally, the WGAD referred the case to the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, for appropriate action.

Abdul Nabi Abdul Hasan Ebrahim Khalil case

On September 6 2022, the WGAD published its opinion on the case of 50 year-old Abdul Nabi Abdul Hasan Ebrahim Khalil. Abdul Nabi was arrested and imprisoned for one year for recting prayers during the observance of the religious holiday of Ashura.

The Working Group confirmed that Abdul Nabi’s detention was arbitrary due to clear violations of due process and fair trial rights, in addition to its connection to his right to religious freedom, which made his detention discriminatory on the basis of his exercise of this right. As a result, the Working Group referred its case to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

The working group requested Bahraini authorities take the necessary steps as soon as possible to rectify and address Abd Al-Nabi’s case, release him unconditionally and grant him the right to compensation and other remedies in accordance with international law. It also requested they ensure a full and independent investigation into the circumstances of the arbitrary deprivation of Mr. Abd Al-Nabi Abd Al-Hassan Ibrahim Khalil’s  freedom and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for violating his rights.

In its concluding observations, the WGAD indicated that Abd Al-Nabi was the only prisoner of conscience who was released with 126 other criminal prisoners on April 3rd, 2021 noting that he was in fact prevented from reciting the visit of Ashura or participating in religious gatherings. He was forced to keep the authorities informed of his whereabouts until October 2021. Furthermore, the group highlighted the continued suspension of Abd Al-Nabi’s salary which has affected his family’s financial stability. It also requested the government to take the necessary measures to rescind or compensate for the prejudices that suffered Abd Al-Nabi suffered from.

Annual report submitted to the 51st session of the Human Rights Council

In its annual report, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention presented the four cases of Bahraini citizens Kamil Jomaa Hassan, Mohammad Ramadan, Hussein Moussa, and Abd Al-Nabi Khalil, in addition to 5 other young men who were sentenced in an unfair trial. Kamil Jomaa Hassan was declared arbitrarily deprived of his freedom under Articles 1, 3 and 5. Tthe WGAD noted that he had been released under a prolonged alternative sentence but that he is at risk of being re-arrested while the government fails to take any steps to provide compensation.

The WGAD named 5 young men, 3 of whom were minors, convicted in the Suleimani cell case and arbitrarily detained under the first and second categories. The detention of two of them was also considered a fifth category with regard to their right to freedom of expression and assembly.

The working group found that the detention of Abd Al-Nabi Abd Al-Hasan Khalil, who was sentenced for reading the Ashura visit, is arbitrary under the first, second, third and fifth categories. Mohammad and Hussein exhausted all legal remedies and face the imminent risk of execution.

Allegation letters addressed to the Government of Bahrain by UN Special Rapporteurs

During 2022, UN special procedures teams sent four allegation letters to the government of Bahrain. These letters were published on the official UNwebsite:

Regarding the infection of prisoners with tuberculosis in Jaw Prison:

 On July 13th, 2022, the special rapporteur on the right of every human being to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health sent a letter of allegation to the government of Bahrain, in which he drew attention to a number of reported cases of tuberculosis in Jaw Prison; Ali Hussein Ahmad Issa Barakat, Hassan Abdallah Habib, Mortaza Mohammad Abd Al-Ridha Jaafar Mohammad were among the infected prisoners. The special rapporteur urged the government of Bahrain to take all necessary measures to guarantee their right of the infected prisoners and the right of all prisoners to access health care and reminded the government of Article 12, coupled with Article 2.2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, that Bahrain acceded to on September 27th, 2007, which enshrines the right of every individual, including prisoners and internees, to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

With regard to measures to prevent the spread of the disease, the rapporteur highlighted “the creation of conditions that would guarantee all medical services and medical attention in the event of illness.” The rapporteur requested the government of Bahrain to:

  •  Provide any additional information or comment on the allegations made in the letter.
  •  Provide details of the number of confirmed tuberculosis cases, as well as measures taken to reduce the spread of tuberculosis in the prison and to ensure that detainees and prison staff enjoy their full right to the highest attainable standard of health, including adequate access to medical services and health care.
  • Provide information on the health status of Mr. Habib, Mr. Mohammad and Mr. Barakat, as well as the status of implementation of the decision to refer Mr. Habib to the forensic physician and the status of the request submitted by Mr. Mohamed.

Regarding the status of Dr. Abd Al-Jalil Al-Singace

Three rapporteurs, the special rapporteur on people with special needs, the special rapporteur on the right of every human being to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, sent two joint letters of allegation to the government of Bahrain related to the case of political prisoner Dr. Abd Al-Jalil Al-Singace, the first on November 15th, 2022 and the second on December 30th, 2021. The letters were published in 2022 on the official website.

  • The first allegation letter

In the first allegation letter sent to the government of Bahrain on November 15th 2021 and published early in 2022 on the website, the special rapporteurs expressed their grave concern about the deteriorating health condition of Dr. Al-Singace, his continued detention, the confiscation of his academic research, and referred to the fact that Dr. Al-Singace was included in several correspondence from the offices of special procedures in addition to the 2011, 2012 and 2021 reports of the UN Secretary-General. They declared their support for statements in the report of the special representative on human rights defenders regarding the prolonged detention of human rights defenders, which calls on Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders.

  • The second allegation letter

In the second allegation letter sent to the government of Bahrain on December 30th 2021 and published in 2022 on the site, the special rapporteurs urgently requested updated information on Dr. Al-Singace’s health and the measures taken to provide him with appropriate medical care following the government of Bahrain’s failure to respond to the previous letter. The rapporteurs asked under what legal basis the government imposed restrictions on Dr. Al-Singace whom the government has prevented from contacting his family via video call and the continued confiscation of his research stressing that his arrest was only due to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work.

Regarding the political prisoner Ahmad Jaafar Ali

Three United Nations special rapporteurs, the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, sent a joint letter of allegation to the government of Bahrain and another to the Serbian government on February 21st 2022, in which they expressed their concern about the arrest and detention of activist Ahmad Jaafar Ali in Serbia and his extradition to Bahrain based on a red notice from Interpol.

In their letter to the Bahraini government, the rapporteurs raised serious concerns about Ahmad Jaafar’s denial of due process and fair trial rights, which is likely to increase the risk of torture and coerced confessions. The Special Procedures offices highlighted Bahrain’s arbitrary application of national anti-terrorism legislation and international security cooperation mechanisms in the extradition of Ahmad Jaafar, pointing the current possibility of sentencing him to death. They called on the Bahraini government to provide information regarding the fair trial and due process rights guaranteed to Ahmad Jaafar, the legal basis for his conviction, and the revocation of his Bahraini citizenship.

In their letter, the United Nations Team of Experts expressed to the Serbian government their concern about the extradition of Jaafar Ahmad to Bahrain, reminding the government of the principle of nonrefoulement and the procedures of international extradition law for arrest, detention and return.

UN Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals for cooperation with the United Nations: Human rights defenders in Bahrain

On September 14, 2022, a report was released on reprisals against human rights defenders for cooperation with the United Nations, in which the Secretary-General indicated that several UN actors, including the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), have addressed continued detention, sentencing under legislation combating terrorism, torture and medical negligence in Bahrain.

The report has raised the case of a prominent political prisoner and opposition leader Hassan Mushaimaa, who was prevented from contacting his family after he refused an offer of conditional release under the Alternative Penal Code in September 2021. Moreover, it has dealt with the case of prominent Bahraini activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who was arbitrarily arrested, severely tortured, and sentenced for his cooperation with the UN, and his current state of health is a matter of serious concern.

The report also included the case of Dr. Abdul Jalil Al Singace, which was mentioned in the reports of the Secretary-General in 2011, 2012 and 2021, in the last report, as well as the denial of Dr. Al Singace from the medical treatment he needs due to his hunger strike and disabilityThe report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations also drew attention to the continued harassment and intimidation of Bahraini human rights defender Sayed Ahmad Al Wadaei and his family members, who fell victim to the Pegasus spyware penetration between June 2020 and February 2021, a fate also faced by the activist and former political prisoner Ibtissam Al Sayegh, who was arrested before; her phone was hacked with Pegasus at least eight times in 2019. She has suffered various forms of reprisals over the years because of her activism and cooperation with United Nations bodies.

Treaty body recommendations submitted to Bahrain

On July 19, 2022, and as part of the process of reviewing the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Bahrain, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (CCPR) at its 135th session, assessed Bahrain’s commitment to the concluding observations and recommendations related to military courts, death sentences, and freedom of opinion and expression. It was found that Bahrain had failed to properly implement the committee’s recommendations.

However, on 2 December 2022, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) released its concluding observations for its 2022 review of the Kingdom of Bahrain. The committee criticized Bahrain’s human rights record with regard to “de facto and de jure” discrimination, including issues related to space for civil society and human rights defenders, human trafficking and migrant workers, nationality laws, and the rights of the Baharna and Ajam communities.

Bahrain’s failure to abide by the recommendations of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights regarding various human rights violations (CCPR):

Bahrain received scores C and E on recommendations relating to the military court, the death penalty, and freedom of expression, with E being the lowest score:

  • At the level of military courts:

The committee regretted the lack of information on any measures taken after the adoption of the concluding observations of the 2017 amendment review, and granted Bahrain grade (C) on the extent of its commitment to the concluding observations related to military courts.

  • Regarding the death penalty:

The Committee regretted the lack of information on specific measures to restore the moratorium on the death penalty and ensure that it is imposed for the most serious crimes and not by the military court. The committee reiterated the recommendation and requested information from Bahrain about the investigations conducted regarding the use of torture to get confessions as well as procedural guarantees in death penalty cases and their results, and requested statistics on death sentences and executions during the reporting period, to be disaggregated by sex, nationality and type of crime. On the proposed evaluation of Bahrain’s compliance with the concluding observations regarding the moratorium on executions, it was given a low grade (C) because the Committee understood that the State party’s intention was to consider abolishing the death penalty if other countries did so.

  • Regarding freedom of opinion and expression:

The Committee regretted that the Bahrain government considers its national law and redress mechanisms sufficient to guarantee freedom of expression and that there is no information on the measures taken to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code. It also regretted the lack of information on the measures taken to decriminalize the abovementioned acts, while not releasing detainees to exercise their right to freedom of expression. The Committee asked for information on plans to release the three human rights defenders named, on the increasing targeting of online activists and journalists, through spyware, as well as on investigations into the abuses these individuals suffered and whether the perpetrators were held to account, and requested information on reprisals against organizations that submitted reports to the United Nations.

Bahrain received score E for lack of measures to decriminalize criticism of government officials and score C for failure to protect activists and journalists and to release those detained for exercising their right to expression.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination CERD criticizes Bahrain’s shortcomings on key human rights issues

The UN CERD issued the following in its final observations for this year’s review of Bahrain:

  • The government should provide additional information on the ability of national courts to intervene on human rights, and that it should include a clear definition of racial discrimination.
  • There is a lack of independence and transparency in the country’s National Institution for Human Rights.
  • The government should amend its legislation to decriminalize activities related to the defense of human rights, with the aim of facilitating the work of human rights defenders.
  • Notes Bahrain’s work to establish the National Institute for Human Rights, which is still not sufficiently accredited due to its insufficient independence from the government.
  • There are concerns about the lack of protection for migrant domestic workers, stating that they do not enjoy full protection under local labor law – including from sexual exploitation.
  • The nationality law be brough in line with the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and to amend its provisions relating to women to allow the granting of nationality to their children.
  • Raising concern about the presence of about 1,000 stateless persons, especially activists and human rights defenders.
  • Raising concern about reports of structural discrimination in law against indigenous peoples, and urgently call on the government to study this issue and allow them to enjoy their rights, in line with the requirements of the Convention.
  • Raising concern about the racist treatment of the Shiite community in Bahrain, who are punished by imprisonment on charges of incitement to hatred.