14 Apr, 2015

Open Letter from Nabeel Rajab to President Obama

From: Nabeel Rajab
President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Isa Town Detention Center

Dear President Obama,

I write to you from a Bahraini jail cell, and this message was never meant to go beyond its walls. Even though I have never advocated for violence nor harmed another living soul, I have spent 28 of the last 36 months in a Bahraini prison for actions that can only be counted as crimes in a nation that stifles free expression and criminalizes open assembly. I have documented my government’s use of torture. I have reported on civilian casualties in Yemen. I have held a different opinion than that of a king. In retaliation, I may spend the next ten years of my life in jail.

While my government punishes me for demanding an end to its assault on civil and political rights, other GCC states, especially Saudi Arabia, subject human rights defenders to harsher abuse. Their repression can be seen in the flogging of free speech activist Raif Badawi and the death sentence against the religious scholar and human rights advocate Nimr al-Nimr. Saudi courts even sentenced Raif’s lawyer, Waleed abu al-Khair, to 15 years in prison. We as human rights defenders are targeted for giving voice to the marginalized, people seeking to take the reins of their own destiny; our governments do everything in their power to prevent us from acting upon the best ideals of our conscience.

The message you directed toward your Gulf allies last week laid the foundation for real change. Your words tacitly acknowledged what we in the region understand: only democracy can bring stability to the Middle East. And while democracy may take time to develop, the process cannot begin unless our right to free speech is protected. Right now, our governments divide us along religious lines, preventing us from collectively challenging extremism within our societies. As well, our rulers aggressively punish critics of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. We simply ask, however, for greater democratic participation in our nation’s affairs, and the ability to freely express our contempt for violence and extremism.

I thank your administration for calling for my release, and the release of my fellow human rights defenders. I urge you to defend our right to free speech when you meet with the monarchs of the Gulf, and call for:

  • The immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners;
  • An end to the criminalization of free speech and expression, including any laws against criticism of government institutions or defamation of a king;
  • The cessation of all acts of torture and reprisal in GCC detention centers; and
  • The protection of free and open civil society space capable of fostering long-term stability and growth in the region.

The citizens of Bahrain and her neighbors have extraordinary potential. With unshackled voices, we can build stability and challenge extremism. What we need today is space for tolerance, plurality, and honest dialogue, the foundations of a democratic process that the reprisals against me and my colleagues seek to undermine.

Yours Sincerely,

Nabeel Rajab

Click here to read publication of the letter on New York Times

13 Apr, 2015

Authorities Further Attack Human Rights Lawyer and Others Whose Citizenship has been Unlawfully Revoked

On 5 April 2015, authorities in Bahrain arrested human right lawyer Taimoor Karimi, who had his citizenship revoked in 2012. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the authorities’ continued targeting and harassment of activists whose citizenship was illegally revoked.

On 5 April 2015, ten Bahrainis who had their citizenship revoked had an appeal hearing against the court’s initial sentence of deportation and a BHD100 fine that was issued on 28 October 2014. The trial was postponed to 6 May; however, after leaving the court, a policeman called back lawyer Taimoor Karimi, seized his driving license and asked him to stay at the courtroom. He was asked to pay the fine of BHD100, an amount he didn’t have at the time. He was immediately arrested without allowing him to contact his lawyer or family.

Karimi was kept in a room in the public prosecution until 2 pm. Then he was handcuffed and transported to Passport and Residency Directorate where he was kept for five more hours without taking care of his basic needs, including food, drink or being allowed to use the toilet and pray until he started calling and banging on the door. He suffers from high blood pressure and wasn’t given his medicine or allowed to contact his family.

Security forces attempted twice to take Karimi to Jaw Prison but failed to do so because of administration issues so he was taken back to the Passport and Residency Directorate twice. He was finally detained in Jaw Prison and was allowed to call his family after a full day between detention centers. At Jaw Prison, he was kept in the cell for foreigners and wasn’t allowed in the cells where Bahrainis are detained. On 6 April, his family paid the fine but he wasn’t allowed to leave before being sponsored by one of his relatives. Karimi and his sponsor were told to be present at the Passport and Residency Directorate after his next appeal hearing.

It is important to note that nine other Bahrainis are facing the same situation and are required to find sponsors or else they’ll be deported by force. The Government of Bahraini revoked the citizenship of more Bahrainis in 2014 which increases the number of individuals at risk of deportation. Moreover, their bank accounts were seized on orders from the authorities and they’re unable to even change the ownership of their properties.

BCHR believes that the authorities are deliberately harassing and humiliating those whose citizenships have been revoked, and particularly those who have had undertaken human rights activities. The actions taken by the Government of Bahrain are in direct violation of Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees everyone “the right to a nationality” and states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Immediately halt the deportation of the nine Bahrainis, which is in violation of Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
  • Immediately reinstate the nationality of the 31 whose citizenship was revoked in 2012, and;
  • Accede to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
8 Apr, 2015

FIDH/OMCT/ECDHR/BCHR/BIRD/ADHRB joint letter to the EU on the arrest on Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain

Brussels, 7 April 2015,

Dear Ms Vice-President/High Representative,

On 2 April 2015, at approximately 4:00 PM local time (GMT+3), Bahraini security forces and police arrested Nabeel Rajab, prominent human rights defender and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). Reports indicate that over 20 police vehicles surrounded his home in Bani Jamra. In a statement shortly following his arrest, the Bahraini Ministry of Interior confirmed the charges against Nabeel, stating that he “posted information that could incite others and disrupt civil peace,” and that he “illegally defamed a statutory body.”

Nabeel Rajab has been accused of insulting a statutory body (by denouncing acts of torture in Jaw prison) and spreading rumours during wartime (by criticising Bahrain’s involvement in the current conflict in Yemen). Nabeel remains under solitary confinement in prison, as is not expected to be released before 11 April 2015, at the earliest. For these two charges, Nabeel Rajab faces up to 10 years in prison.

In an opinion piece that Nabeel published on Huffington Post last week, Rajab stated, “Prisoners have rights and prisons should be centres of rehabilitation. In Bahrain, inmates are punished for being inmates, and punished collectively. Torture is a crime against humanity, yet it is a constant feature in Jaw.”

This is not the first time that the government has punished Rajab for exercising his internationally-guaranteed right to free expression. In May 2014, Rajab completed a two-year prison sentence after taking part in peaceful assemblies and protests criminalized by the government. Mr Rajab is currently facing another trial for a previous tweet he wrote in September 2014. His appeal for this 6 months sentence was scheduled for 15 April. It however took place on 5 April and was then delayed until 4 May, the prosecutor arguing the existence of new evidence under this case. Further, Nabeel’s home was raided that same day and all the electronics in his home (whether his own or not) were seized for evidence.

Nabeel has previously reached out to the EU to seek support for his case and long standing battle for Human Rights in Bahrain. In past occasions, the European External Action Service and the European Parliament have issued formal statement demanding his immediate release, as well as of others fellow human rights defenders and Bahraini citizens labelled criminals by the Government for peacefully speaking their mind about the human rights violations and democratic deficit in Bahrain. Despite these gross human rights abuses and the blatant injustice they suffer, the EU institutions have not used their full leverage on the matter.

Nabeel’s case is just an example of the many injustices committed in Bahrain and in the Gulf Region daily, because they dare to speak out and to defend basic human rights and ideals. Injustice does not stop there; the treatment detainees receive in prisons amounts to grave torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, putting their physical and mental health at grave risks, as well as the health and security of their relatives.

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (representing Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of FIDH and OMCT, urgently seek to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Bahrain and the Gulf Region and call upon the European Union to stand firm against these abuses of freedom suffered by many. We also urge you to ask for the charges brought against Nabeel, and other unjustly imprisoned Bahrainis, to be dropped immediately and for their unconditional release.