Below is a report submitted by SALAM DHR yesterday to the UN’s Human Rights Committee -who reviewed Bahrain’s commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) earlier this month. This report now is an assessment report (shadow report) to Bahrain’s response to the committee and their national report that was handed to the committee during the session.
It is worth mentioning that SALAM DHR had attended the session in Geneva on the 2-3-4 of July, and they had taken the floor to speak about their assessment of Bahrain’s compliance to the ICCPR as it had also responded orally to the questions posed by the committee experts from the floor. SALAM DHR had submitted a report to the committee before the session started.
So, below is the text of the assessment:
During its ICCPR sessions in July 2018, the government of Bahrain claimed that it has implemented legislative measures to guarantee rights of its citizens that are guaranteed in the Covenant. However, their claims are highly contradictory to the human rights practices in the lives of many Bahraini people. As Olivier de Frouville, the independent experts of the Committee noticed, there are a list of the government rhetoric, which contrast to the facts brought to attention by other sources.
- Freedom of expression
The government of Bahrain has criminalised and sabotaged freedom of expression through various unlawful measures and manipulation of relevant domestic laws. They have implemented unnecessary restraints and inappropriate regulations, and arbitrarily interpreted the law, which result in an infringement of Article 19 of the ICCPR. As a consequence, a worrying new set of methods repressing the human rights of its own people have come into practice. A number of political and religious leaders, journalists, human rights activists, and bloggers have been sentenced merely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression. For instance, Al-Marzouk from the major opposition party al-Wefaq was arrested after calls for peaceful protests in 2013, while Zaynab al-Khawaja was condemned to sentences as she tore up a photo of the king. The government of Bahrain, however, did not fully respond with regards to the issue of freedom of opinion and expression in its report. It only briefly mentioned that freedom of expression [is] “enshrined among the core provisions of the Constitution”, which contradicts its practice in daily lives of Bahraini citizens.
- Revocation of citizenship
The Bahraini government argued in its report that most of the cases in which Bahraini nationality has been withdrawn, lost or revoked have involved persons who had a second foreign nationality in addition to their Bahraini citizenship. However, among more than 700 Bahrainis stripped of citizenship have become stateless and forced to live in exile. This is one of the most serious human rights crises in Bahrain. Most cases of citizenship revocation were under terrorism law, which does not have clear definition of “terrorist acts”.
Over the last few years, Bahrain has intensified the use of stripping citizenship from those who dissent or speak out in protest as a form of punishment. The Bahraini authorities allegedly allow the Interior Minister to carry out revocation of citizenship through its Nationality Act 1963, Article 10(3), in particular, which allows for the deprivation of nationality of persons that are causing “damage to the security of the state”. The authorities have thus unlawfully used this Act to punish dissidents, activists, clerics, and scholars, the vast majority of whom have never committed a crime or prosecuted. In addition to decisions by the Ministry of Interior to revoke nationality, court judges have also increasingly handed down sentences that included the revocation of nationality, mostly in cases where defendants were convicted of terrorism-related offences. The number of victims from the government’s arbitrary citizenship revocation has been rapidly increasing: 90 in 2016, 156 in 2017, and 214 only during the first 5 months in 2018. As a consequence, until May 2018, the Bahraini authorities have made 720 Bahraini citizens stateless, many of whom have been forced to live in exile.
- Women empowerment
The Bahraini government claims there have been reforms towards empowerment of women, and their participation in the labour market and social activities have increased, particularly pointing out their occupation of the Parliament seats increased from 1 to 3. However, in real life, the freedom of women is highly constrained. Bahraini women under age of 45 can conduct their Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca only when accompanied by a man. Furthermore, the Bahraini legislation does not provide women the right to transfer nationality to their spouses or children, and there has not been any draft bill contemplating the modification of this legislation.
- Rights to a fair trial
The Bahraini authorities argue that Bahrain has an independent judiciary system; nevertheless, as Y. Ben Achour from the Committee pointed out, judges in Bahrain are under a contract for three years, appointed on the instruction of the King and approval of the government. The lack of the principle of the independence of the judiciary in Bahrain prohibits the system from stability in the profession and procedures.
In practice, the government of Bahrain has punished its citizens, arbitrarily interpret several articles and provisions as well as the criminal laws. For instance, Article 122 in the Criminal Code states: “He will be punished by death he who commits to antagonizing work with a foreign state against the state of Bahrain.” The use of this article has resulted in the sentencing of three Bahraini citizens from the Wefaq National Islamic Society, the Secretary-General, Sheikh Ali Salman, and two other members, after expressing peaceful political views regarding the Government of Bahrain. The Article itself is particularly vague in describing the parameters of the rule, endangering any active human rights defender or political dissident that airs his/her views.
- Freedom of association
The government of Bahrain argued that it is committed to developing legislation to improve the performance of police officers in keeping with human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is contrast to what Bahraini citizens of Duraz went through since 2016 for their peaceful sit-in to support the persecuted religious leader, Sheikh Isa Qassim.
It is very clear that the authorities do not guarantee any level of freedom of association, with the dissolution of opposition parties, including al-Wefaq and Waad in the past years. There was a brief and opaque court procedure, which concluded with a severe and highly inflammatory result to close the party, seize and sell off its assets, with no proper and fair appeal process to contest the decision – with the party’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman, undergoing an intensified sentence after appealing to reconsider the judgment against him.
- Death penalty
There has been a moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty, but this has been lifted through the execution of three people in 2017. Currently, it is reported that 21 Bahrainis are on death row as of 2018, but It is unable to get an official count of people on death row as the system is not transparent.
The government of Bahrain explains that death penalty has been imposed on crimes that would heavily harm society, but many of the death penalty cases are politically motivated, against some prominent politicians and activists. Many of these cases were based on confession extracted under torture and biased trials.
In addition, there is no clear plan to decrease the number of crimes that the authorities consider severe cases that lead to death penalty. a number of prisoners have been physically assaulted by staffs who had not given any proper training on the lawful use of force. The Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), Dry Dock Prison and Jau Central Prison, in particular, have been infamous for coercive interrogations and human rights abuses. A number of former detainees gave testimony that they were subject to physical assault, including electric shocks, suspension in painful positions, compulsory standing for prolonged periods, exposure to extreme low temperatures, sexual assaults and abuses, and other forms of torture.
The law enforcement officers have used force without proper legal basis, although the government insisted that the definition of torture in the Penal Code was amended to ensure compatibility with the ICCPR. a number of prisoners have been physically assaulted by staffs who had not given any proper training on the lawful use of force. The Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), Dry Dock Prison and Jau Central Prison, in particular, have been infamous for coercive interrogations and human rights abuses. A number of former detainees gave testimony that they were subject to physical assault, including electric shocks, suspension in painful positions, compulsory standing for prolonged periods, exposure to extreme low temperatures, sexual assaults and abuses, and other forms of torture.
- Travel ban
The Bahraini authorities claim that prohibiting travel is a measure that the public prosecution can resort to, and travel ban can be issued for the purpose of investigation. They add that this is based on the assessment and the discretion of the court and the public prosecution.
Since 22 August 2016, the government imposed travel ban on around 20 human rights defenders attending the 32th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. Although it was temporarily lifted after the session, since March 2017, the authorities have enhanced the surveillance and travel bans against human rights defenders, which resulted in the enforced absence of Bahraini activists from the UN HRC sessions. In April 2017, ahead of the UN UPR of Bahrain, 32 activists were summoned by the Public Prosecution, being charged with ‘illegal gathering’ and banned from travelling. This practice repeated in September, ahead of the UN HRC session. Most bans were lifted after each session, proving that the Bahraini authorities barred activists from travelling and attending the UN events, in fear of international attention to the human rights situation in Bahrain.
- Discrimination against Shia population
Although there have been numerous reports on the Bahraini government’s discrimination against Shia citizens, the government of Bahrain just simply neglected such concerns by saying it would not permit any talk about the right of a certain category of a population and rejected any sectarian discrimination or qualification such as Shia majority and Sunni minority. It is undeniable that most of the victims of arbitrary trial, travel ban, torture, and death penalty are associated with their Shia belief and persecuted for political reasons.
A number of religious scholars, many of whom are Shia, have been arrested and detained simply for their expression of opinion. Many of them have been banned from organising religious activities. This has been demonstrated by the political decision, disguised under a judicial judgement against the religious authority, the Ulama Islamic Council. In 2016, the authority accused the prominent religious leader, Shaikh Isa Qassim, of money laundering, revolving around “Khums”, an annual payment made by Shia Muslims to assist the poor. By charging the highest cleric of religious practice with collecting ‘illegal’ donation, the regime is criminalising religious practice of Shia Muslims.
Furthermore, Bahrain has failed to implement the commitment to rebuild the destroyed Shia places of worship. Despite its pledge to complete reconstruction of some of Shia mosques by 2014, which were demolished by the authorities, the government have continuously delayed the plan, and by 2015, only 12 out of 38 mosques were reconstructed. Moreover, there were several other places of worship have been destroyed since its acceptance of the UPR recommendations. The government have further permanently confiscated lands where demolished mosques used to stand.
- Arbitrary detention and arrests
The government of Bahrain has continued arrest without presenting a warrant or informing them of any charges. Furthermore, most of former detainees gave testimony that they were not permitted to contact their families nor request proper legal assistance upon arrest. This is a serious violation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance that aims to prevent the occurrence of enforced disappearance, adopted by the United Nations in 2006.
For instance, Khalil al-Marzooq, a former member of Parliament for the largest opposition group al-Wefaq, was arrested after his call for peaceful protests in 2013. His lawyer was not able to meet him before the trial. Likewise, in June 2016, a prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was also arrested allegedly without a warrant at his home, and no reason was given. The list goes on. A number of activists, journalists, clerics, and politicians have arbitrarily detained and arrested by the Bahraini authorities, including Mariam Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, both of whom are prominent human rights defenders.
- Fight against terrorism and trials of civilians by military courts
The government of Bahrain does not explain or clarify its interpretation of the rather broad definition of “acts of terrorism”. The authorities have used the framework of “counter-terrorism” for their use for force and military court trials against civilians.
With regards to a fair trial, on the contrary to its commitment to enact laws that would prohibit civilians being tried in military courts, in March 2017, the government of Bahrain has empowered the military institution. By approving a constitutional amendment to Article 105(b), military trial for civilians has been legalised, which is a serious violation of international fair trial standards. By empowering security agencies, the Bahraini authorities are facilitating political persecution of the opposition and civilians, under the pretext of “fighting terrorism.
- Medical care of prisoners
The Bahraini government argue that it provides medical and psychological care for prisoners, with nurses working 24 hours, who are trained by specialists. Many are forced to wait for treatment or operation for more than months to no avail, which only deteriorate their conditions to a critical level. A number of detainees suffering from sclerosis, epilepsy and severe pain in various areas of the body such as the eye, head and teeth are subject to medical negligence and lack of health care.
For example, the victim of torture, Akbar Ali, who was recently released, was prevented from his right to treatment by the administration of Jau Central Prison, despite his deteriorating psychological condition that resulted from torture, which caused several attempts to commit suicide. Muhammad Faraj is sentenced to seven years in prison. He suffers from MS and needs periodic and regular treatment as a result of the chronic disease. The Jau prison administration refuses to offer him a medical treatment, which has led to multiple health complications. Elyas Faisal Al Mulla is also a victim of torture and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He is suffering from cancer but has been prevented from treatment for many periods that caused health complications. The prison administration continues to delay his treatment, ignoring the fact that the proper medical treatment is guaranteed by both local and international laws, as it is stipulated in the Constitution of Bahrain. Jaafar Oun was tortured in the head area, which caused complications, the most recent of which was a swelling of the head. He asked for treatment and to be diagnosed by a specialist doctor, but the prison administration of Jau has procrastinated his transfer to a specialized hospital outside the prison clinic. This may cause serious health complications.
The government of Bahrain emphasized through its report that there have been legislative reforms and establishment of new institutions. Nonetheless, since 2017, there is a serious increase in repression and deterioration of human rights situation with a silencing of dissident voices, as we observed through this paper.