12 January – On 13 September 2017, MEP Bart Staes (Greens/EFA) issued a Parliamentary question addressed to HR/VP Federica Mogherini regarding the arbitrary detention and harassment of prominent Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh, as a reprisal against her human rights work. On 22 October 2017, she has been temporarily released from prison, but the charges against her have not been dropped.
Ebtisam al-Saegh, 48, is a Bahraini human rights defender who works with the Bahraini NGO Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR).
On 26 May 2017, Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam al-Saegh was summoned to the Muharraq Police Station for questioning in relation to her human rights activities. During the seven-hour long interrogation, she was subjected to severe beatings, sexual assault as well as physical and psychological torture at the hands of the National Security Agency officers. During the interrogation, Ms al-Saegh was asked about the work of activists inside and outside Bahrain, as well as about her participation at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2017, where she spoke out about human rights violations in Bahrain. She was also threatened with the safety of her family and children if she did not stop her human rights activism. When she was finally released she was immediately taken to the hospital. Upon her release, Ms al-Saegh continued her activism.
On 3 July, Ms al-Saegh was arrested by Bahrain security forces after tweeting about abuses against female detainees. She was sent to Isa Town detention centre for women where she was in solitary confinement for more than six weeks. She was subjected to a month of lengthy daily interrogations at an unknown location outside the detention facilities, with no access to her lawyer nor her family. The intense interrogations and the hunger strikes she started in reaction to her arbitrary detention led to a serious deterioration of her health. Mid-July, four UN Experts including Dubravka Simonivic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, condemned the “alleged arbitrary detention of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh amid reports she has been tortured and sexually abused and is now on hunger strike.” They called for an investigation into her torture.
On 19 July 2017, after two weeks of detention, Ebtisam al-Saegh was charged with terrorism-related offences, in particular “using her human rights work as a cover to communicate and cooperate with Alkarama Foundation to provide them with information and fake news about the situation in Bahrain to undermine its status abroad”.
On 22 October 2017, Ms al-Saegh was temporarily released from Isa Town Women’s Prison pending trial. However, the charges against her have not been dropped and as such, she remains at risk of detention.
In his question, MEP Bart Staes raised the following requests:
Would the VP/HR please inform me whether, and if so when, she will call upon the Bahraini authorities to immediately release the human rights activist Ebtisam al-Saegh?
Can the VP/HR also indicate whether she will unequivocally condemn the detention of Ebtisam al-Saegh, during which she has been tortured and subjected to sexual violence by the Bahraini authorities?
On 17 November 2017, HR/VP Mogherini provided the following answer:
The High Representative/Vice-President is well aware of the issue raised by the Honourable Member which is a matter of serious concern for the EU.
Over the past months the European Union (EU) has engaged formally and informally with the Bahraini authorities, in close coordination with EU Member States represented in Manama, to request additional information on various individual cases, including the one of Ms Ebtisam al-Saegh, while conveying EU concerns for the criminalisation of political dissent in Bahrain. The EU continues to follow closely the individual case mentioned by the Honourable Member both from Brussels and locally, via the EU Delegation in Riyadh.
The EU will continue to reiterate its principled positions on the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms as part of its regular dialogue with Bahrain on human rights.
ECDHR appreciates Mogherini’s answer and EU’s efforts on Ms al-Saegh’s case. However, ECDHR believes that EU should move beyond general expressions of concern and publicly condemn the fabricated charges brought against Ebtisam Al-Saegh. ECDHR further calls on the EU to press its Bahraini counterparts
While ECDHR welcomes the decision taken in October to release Ebtisam al-Saegh, it urges the Bahraini authorities to drop all the charges against her and undertake prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigations into the allegations of ill-treatment. Besides, ECDHR remains extremely concerned at the numerous civil and political society actors being subjected to acts of harassment and intimidation carried out by the Bahraini government without impunity. We therefore press Bahrain to put an end to its ongoing crackdown and to deliver on its domestic and international human rights commitments.