Mistreatment of detained human rights defenders in Bahrain

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mr. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Mr. Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH-1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland

Dear Special Rapporteurs La Rue, Mendez, and Sekaggya,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE adds its voice to the undersigned international NGOs to express serious concern over the treatment of Bahraini human rights defenders whom we believe to be detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. We have received alarming reports of torture and ill-treatment in prison, which contravene Bahrain's obligations under international law, as well as its promises to stop the practice of torture in detention.

Most recently, Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and Secretary General of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), was threatened in Jaw prison after he told his wife Sumaya on May 14, 2013 that he had witnessed young political prisoners being tortured by prison guards and called for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit. After two days with no news, Rajab called his wife and colleague to say, "I witnessed by my own eyes a big crime and the government doesn't want me to talk about it," and then the phone was cut off.

Rajab's wife was able to visit him on May 20 where he told her that he and two other prisoners "heard voices of punching and beating coming out from the prison administration building." Nabeel said he "rushed to the exposed area of the building and saw seven to eight young (15 to 18 years old) prisoners who were handcuffed facing the wall, and several foreign non-Bahraini police men were beating them, hitting them with the wall and hitting their heads together. The kids were bleeding heavily." Rajab believes these prisoners have not been allowed to see their families, and he and the other two witnesses have been threatened to remain silent. Rajab, who is in jail for two years on charges of calling for and peacefully participating in gatherings arbitrarily designated as illegal, has previously been ill-treated in prison and denied medical attention.

We are deeply concerned by repeated reports of torture in detention in Bahrain. Human rights defender Naji Fateel, a Board member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), was allegedly tortured in the notorious Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) after his arrest on May 2. He was charged on May 9 with alleged "establishment of a group in order to disable

the provisions of the Constitution" and ordered to be imprisoned for 60 days, then sentenced on May 22 to six months in prison on charges of participating in "illegal gatherings." He has allegedly been subjected to electrical shocks to his genitals, foot, and back, as well as simulated drowning, severe beatings, threats to publish photographs of his wife, hanging by his hands from the ceiling, threats to rape him, standing for long hours, and sleep deprivation.

Also on May 9, the Appeal Court upheld the three-month prison sentence of activist Zainab Al-Khawaja on charges of participating in an “illegal gathering" in November 2011. Al-Khawaja’s new sentence will be added to the one she is currently serving of over three months for "insulting an officer" in a military hospital in Issa Town Prison for women. She is denied family visits for refusing to wear the prison uniform, like her father, human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was jailed for life for his role in protests in the peaceful demonstrations of early 2011.

Zainab Al-Khawaja and activist Ma'suma Sayyid Sharaf were then sentenced on May 22 on charges of "illegal gathering", "inciting hatred against the regime" and a further charge related to the alleged assault of police officers during their arrest in December 2011. Three months were added to Al-Khawaja's prison term, and Sharaf was sentenced to six months in prison. Yet there has been no investigation into the ill-treatment suffered by the two women during their arrests and detention.

We are also concerned about the well-being and safety of Rayhana Al-Mosawi and Nafeesa Al-Asfoor, detained since they were arrested on April 20 while protesting the ongoing detention of detained human rights defenders including Zainab Al-Khawaja and photojournalist Ahmed Humaidan during the Formula 1 race in Manama. The two women have been denied family visits, and reportedly tortured to extract confessions, one of them with electric shocks. Humaidan also was reportedly tortured in prison after his arrest in December 2012 on charges of "demonstrating illegally."

These latest reports come shortly after Bahraini authorities indefinitely postponed your visit in late April. In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) reported that five people detained in connection with protests earlier in 2011 had died as a result of torture in custody and recommended action be taken to prevent
torture in detention. Bahraini authorities promised to hold accountable those responsible for torture following recommendations made under the UN's Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain, yet very little has been done to properly investigate the allegations of torture of prisoners by government employees and nothing has been done to effectively prevent torture and other prohibited treatment from continuing.

We therefore call on you to request the Bahraini authorities to:

1. Guarantee the safety of Nabeel Rajab and the other witnesses to torture in Jaw prison, as well as the safety of the young victims of torture, and allow detained human rights defenders and activists to have phone calls and visits with their families and lawyers;

2. Release imprisoned human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Zainab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and Naji Fateel, as well as photojournalist Ahmed Humaidan, and protestors Rayhana Al-Mosawi and Nafeesa Al-Asfoor, and drop all charges against them, as well as Ma'suma Sayyid Sharaf, as we believe they have been targeted in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

3. Immediately put an end to the practice of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners in Bahrain and bring those responsible to justice, while fixing a new date for the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and a date for the visit of the ICRC;

4. Guarantee that human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals.

Yours sincerely,
Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Alkarama Foundation
AMAN NETWORK for Rehabilitation and defending Human Rights
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Arab Working Group for Media Monitoring
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Avocats Sans Frontières Network
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO)
Bahrain Human Rights Society
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation (BRAVO)
Bahrain Transparency Society
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists
Democracy Observer Organization in Iraq
Development for People and Nature Association (DPNA), Lebanon
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
Emirates Centre for Human Rights (ECHR)
European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR) 
Freedom Foundation Yemen
Freedom House
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia
Index on Censorship
International Centre for Supporting Rights and Freedoms (ICSRF)
International Media Support (IMS)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association
Iraqi Network for Social Media ( INSM )
Iraqi Streets bloggers
Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
Lalya Center for Human Rights
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel (I'LAM)
Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI)
Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
National Foundation for Efficiencies Iraq
National Lawyers Guild, USA
Norwegian PEN
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International Writers in Prison Committee
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom
Vigilance for Democracy and Civic State, Tunisia
Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms

Cc: International Committee of the Red Cross
Her Excellency Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to Washington, D.C.
Mr. Tom MacDonald, Ambassador of Canada to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain and Oman
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs