UN Special Procedure offices express their concern over violations faced by four Bahraini individuals for their participation in peaceful protests

Three United Nations Special Procedures offices published on their website on 16 February  2023 an allegation letter sent to the government of Bahrain regarding the violations faced by four Bahraini youths, three of whom were minors and one a human rights activist, after their arrest for their participation in anti-normalization peaceful protests in Aali in October 2021. Yusuf Ahmed Hasan  Kadhem, Jaafar Habib  Kadhem, Sayed Ali  Maki Hasan, and Husain Arafat Maki Naiser were arbitrarily arrested and denied a fair trial for exercising their right to participate in protests. They were all sentenced on 31 May 2022 to one year in prison and a 500 Bahraini Dinar fine.

This letter was sent following a complaint drafted and raised to the Special Procedure offices by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), which serves as the source of the information, through its UN Complaint Program. ADHRB welcomes the comments from the Special Procedures offices, and echoes their calls for Bahrain to uphold its international obligations and respect the human rights of all people in Bahrain including children and human rights defenders.

This allegation letter, which was sent on 16 December 2022, was signed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, outlined the cases of the four individuals and expressed concern over the allegations, which constitute severe human rights violations. Consequently, the letter asked the government of Bahrain to provide further information in response to these allegations. Moreover, they indicated their serious concern that three of the arrested youths were minors who were not provided with the adequate treatment. Therefore, the special rapporteurs called on Bahrain to end these violations and hold their perpetrators accountable in accordance with the relevant international conventions and laws to which it has acceded.

The letter focuses on the events that occurred following the arbitrary arrest of the four individuals. All of the victims except Yusuf Kadhem were minors at the time they were arrested without a warrant. They were sentenced in absentia for participating in peaceful protests against normalization of Bahrain’s relations with Israel. Thus, they were not given adequate time or facilities to prepare for the trials, denying them their right to a fair trial and due process. In addition, all four individuals did not have access to a lawyer during their interrogations, and the three minors were interrogated without the presence of a guardian. They were all charged with illegal assembly and possession of explosives on 31 May 2022 and sentenced to one year in prison and a 500 Bahraini dinar fine. The court of appeal upheld the judgment of Yusuf Kadhem, but reduced the sentence of the three minors to three months and fine from 500 dinars to 110 dinars . In December 2022, two individuals were released and the remaining two prisoners were also later released under alternative sentences.

In the letter, the Special Procedures mandate holders stated the following:

“.. [W]e wish to express our concern over the alleged arbitrary arrest and conviction of Mr. Yusuf Ahmed Hasan Kadhem, Mr.... , Mr. Sayed Ali Mustafa Majid Maki and Mr...., over charges that may be directly related to the exercise of their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Furthermore, we wish to convey our concern over the alleged infringements of Mr. Yusuf Ahmed Hasan Kadhem’s, Mr...., Mr. Sayed Ali Mustafa Majid Maki’s and Mr.  ...rights to a fair trial and due process. Convictions reportedly took place in absentia, which impeded lawyers to adequately prepare an adequate judicial defence, in accordance with international norms and standards related to a fair trial.

We would like also to express serious concern over the arrest of the minors ... , without an arrest warrant or being provided with the reason for their arrest despite their age; and the denial of their right to benefit from the presence of their guardian or legal counsel during the interrogation.”

The Annex of the letter listed the relevant international conventions and provisions, reminding the Bahraini government of its obligation to comply with these laws. According to the three rapporteurs, if these alleged facts are confirmed, then Bahrain would have violated articles 9, 14, 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and articles 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which Bahrain has ratified. First, article 9 of the ICCPR guarantees the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty and article 14 guarantees the right to a fair trial. Second, article 19 of the ICCPR guarantees the right to opinion and expression, including political discourse. The letter also states that under the same article, states have the burden of proof to demonstrate that any restrictions of these rights are compatible with the ICCPR. Moreover, articles 21 and 22 of the ICCPR guarantee the right of peaceful assembly, and the right to freedom of association with others, respectively. Therefore, it is an obligation for states to respect these rights and ensure that everyone can enjoy these rights without discrimination. Concerning the Convention on the Rights of Children, the rapporteurs indicated that the convention guarantees the protection of children during detention, including the presence of a guardian. The allegation letter also referenced the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as one of the individuals is a human right defender, particularly articles 6, 9, and 12, which protect the right to association and fundamental freedoms.

ADHRB welcomes this allegation letter by the three Special Procedures offices and echoes their concerns regarding warrantless arrests and unfair trial proceedings of the four individuals, who include three minors. Moreover, as one of the four individuals was a human right activist, ADHRB reiterates the Special Procedure offices concern regarding the targeting of human rights activists by Bahrain while exercising their freedom of expression. Despite all four individuals being released, we call on Bahrain to hold the perpetrators accountable for the violations they committed and put an end to impunity. Finally, ADHRB urged Bahraini authorities to remedy the four  individuals for the violations they endured.