The United Kingdom parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee is to launch an inquiry into human rights abuses in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, following a b riefing organised by Index on Censorship with Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).
In his final remarks at Bahrain's UPR adoption, H.E. Mr. Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, denied that anyone was kept in jail for exercising their free expression. He claimed all charges related to free expression had been dropped, and admitted "there may be some controversies" over certain cases.
Yet in her oral intervention at the UN, BCHR's Maryam Al-Khawaja noted, "The situation of targeting human rights defenders and the use of reprisals has dramatically escalated. Human rights defenders are constantly arrested, mistreated and the government continues to use the judiciary system as a tool to lock them up. Most, if not all of their charges are based on freedom of
expression." Watch the video online here.
Among those detained are her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a founder of BCHR, who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in peaceful protests last year, and BCHR's President Nabeel Rajab, sentenced in August to three years in prison for calling for "illegal gatherings." During its intervention at the UN, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also noted that blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace had been sentenced to life and blogger Ali Abdulemam had been sentenced to 15 years in absentia - in violation of their right to free expression.
Among Bahraini human rights defenders lobbying in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) who have been threatened or harassed was Mohammed Al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, who received death
threats over the past week. Pro-government newspaper Al-Watan published photos of the civil society activists who were in Geneva, and the threats continue.
However, the UN is taking the question of reprisals seriously, including at a panel session on the topic on 13 September. Maryam Al-Khawaja and Al-Maskati met with the UN HRC President Laura Dupuy Lasserre this week to discuss concerns
about reprisals against Bahraini civil society. The President herself came under attack after she spoke out in the council against threats to Bahrain human rights defenders during Bahrain's UPR in May.
According to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), during a 17 September event about human rights defenders in the Gulf region, "Several individuals who possessed badges from the Bahrain government mission began to harass and attempted to intimidate the speakers on the panel before the event began. The organizers of the event then asked these representatives of the
Bahrain Mission to kindly remove their video camera from the room." Likewise, some of the same people turned up at an event organized by Civicus, CIHRS and other groups on 18 September, Bearing Witness: Bahrain and the UPR Process, to try to intimidate the participants.
CIHRS, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) jointly called "on the government of Bahrain to abide by its commitments to provide security and protection for human rights defenders who
co-operate with the UN."
A Bahraini appeals court has upheld the convictions of nine medics who treated demonstrators in last year's uprising. Human Rights First notes the verdicts are indicative of the human rights backslide happening in the Kingdom.
"Today was another moment of truth for the Bahrain regime, one it again failed miserably," said Human Rights First's Brian Dooley, who was in one of the appeal court hearings with the medics in March 2012. "These medics are going to prison for treating the injured and for telling the world about the regime's crackdown. This isn't the kind of progress that the Kingdom keeps promising the world is under way."
Today's appeal verdicts follow the original sentences given by the military court to the 20 medics in September 2011. The medics were arrested, detained and tortured into giving false confessions last year and were released from custody while their appeal was under way. In June 2012 some of the 20 were acquitted while nine had their convictions confirmed and were sentenced to jail terms of between one month and five years. It was an appeal against these convictions and jail terms that was rejected today.