20 March 2018 – Today, a British Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julie Ward wrote to the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, to express her concerns over the judicial harassment suffered by the family of the UK-based prominent human rights defender, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei.His wife is expecting a verdict in absentia by a Bahraini court, tomorrow. Ms Ward also urged the EU to reconsider its relation with the Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior Ombudsman.
MEP Julie Ward stated: “The EU has long being committed to supporting human rights defenders, and I am pleased to see that the case of Sayed Ahmed’s relatives is “well-known” and closely monitored by the High Representative. However, I deplore EU’s failure to publicly call for their release”.
The “collective punishment” of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei’s family
Ms Ward registered her concerns over the “collective punishment” Sayed Ahmed’s family is suffering from, in retaliation to his human rights activities in London. This includes reprisals against his wife, brother-in-law, mother-in-law and maternal cousin.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei is the Director of Advocacy at the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and a prominent human rights defender. He fled to Britain in 2012 after he was tortured and served six months in prison for taking part in demonstrations against the government in 2011. In January 2015, as punishment for his ongoing human rights activism, he was among a group of 72 Bahrainis whose citizenship the authorities revoked, rendering him stateless. Since 2016 the authorities have pursued reprisals against his family members.
Sayed Ahmed’s wife, Duaa Alwadaei
Duaa Alwadaei is expecting a verdict in absentia on 21 March. It appears that she has been accused of assaulting a female police officer at Bahrain International Airport in October 2016. The charges relate to an incident occurred on 26 October 2016, when Duaa Alwadaei was detained together with her infant son at the Bahrain International Airport, harshly interrogated, mistreated and threatened with criminal charges, following Sayed Ahmed’s participation in a protest against King Hamad of Bahrain in London.
On 29 October 2016, The Observer reported that her husband, Sayed Ahmed, said “the Bahraini police questioned his wife on his appearance at the protest, his organisation, and her life in London. He says his wife’s interrogator threatened to charge her with assaulting a police officer, which carries a three-year sentence.”
In addition, Duaa Alwadaei told Human Rights Watch that a senior official had referred to her husband as “an animal”, and asked menacingly during an interrogation at Bahrain airport, “Where shall I go first, shall I go to his family or your family?”
Following an international outcry, Duaa was able to leave Bahrain on 1 November 2016. Upon her arrival at Heathrow Airport, the Bahraini Embassy in the UK issued statements on social media about the incident, and said that Duaa Alwadaei “failed to cooperate with airport security request for info and assaulted a female police officer while being interviewed.”
Sayed Ahmed’s family-in-law
In October 2017, following grossly unfair trials, Sayed Ahmed’s brother-in-law Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, mother-in-law Hajer Mansoor Hassan, and cousin Mahmood Marzooq Mansoor were sentenced to 3 years in prison for allegedly planting a fake bomb. They were severely tortured during interrogations and coerced into signing false confessions, as reported by Human Rights Watch.
Sayed Nizar’s sentence to 3 years in prison on another case based on identical charges was also upheld last February. He is expecting an appeal hearing on 22 March. This brings the overall years he is serving in prison to 6.
On 26 March 2018, he is expecting a verdict on a third case based on similar charges.
The EU’s relations with Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior Ombudsman
Julie Ward MEP, also registered her concerns over the EU’s engagement with the Bahrain’s Ombudsman, “a human rights oversight body that has repeatedly failed to uphold international standards of torture investigation, thereby raising doubts as to its independent nature”, the MEP noted.
The Ombudsman’s failure to investigate serious torture abuses perpetrated by the Bahraini Government, including those against Sayed Ahmed’s in-laws, has also been a subject of concern for the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), which described Bahrain’s oversight bodies as “not independent” and “not effective, given that complaints ultimately pass through the Ministry of the Interior”.
Despite all cases, in 2014 the Bahrain Ombudsman won the EU Chaillot prize for the Promotion of Human Rights in the GCC Region, attributed annually by the EU Delegation in Riyadh. In this regard, MEP Ward stated: “The case of Sayed Ahmed’s family is the latest episode of the Ombudsman failure, which must be addressed with EU utmost priority. EU cannot continue its blind engagement with institutions that fail to upheld international human rights standards”.
In response to the MEP’s letter, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) said: “While Bahraini authorities continue their relentless efforts to silence human rights activists, the EU and its Member States can no longer be fooled by human rights institutions which lack of independence and effectiveness. It must make clear that any engagement with the kingdom is contingent on genuine reforms, including restructuring the Ombudsman’s office”.
The international community has repeatedly registered their concerns over the unfair trials and the use of coerced confessions against Sayed Ahmed’s family.
In March 2017, Human Rights Watch described the detention of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei’s in-laws as an apparent “campaign of retribution in response to his human rights work”, following on from the detention of his wife the previous year. Amnesty International also stated that the detention of Mr Alwadaei’s in-laws is arbitrary and represents a clear “attempt to force him to halt his peaceful activities and muzzle him from afar”.
On 27 March 2017, six UN experts expressed “grave concern” to the Bahraini authorities about the arbitrary arrest, torture and ill-treatment of Sayed Alwadaei’s relatives and the lack of due process in the criminal proceedings against them. They further stressed that “these measures apparently aim to intimidate and impair the human rights activities of Mr. Sayed Ahmed Mustafa Mohamed al-Wadaei, and that they may have occurred, at least in part, in reprisal for Mr. Sayed Ahmed Mustafa Mohamed al-Wadaei’s cooperation with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations”.
On 23 October 2017, 40 Members of the European Parliament urged EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, to call on Bahrain authorities to release them immediately and to drop the charges against Sayed Alwadaei’s relatives.
On 17 November 2017, MEP Julie Ward further questioned the HR/VP on EU’s engagement on the case. In its answer, the EU stressed that it was closely monitoring the case and that it will continue to engage with the authorities, noting that “security concerns can never justify human rights violations nor hinder their respect”.
62 Members of the British Parliament are currently supporting a motion in relation to Sayed Alwadaei’s relatives. The British government has merely reiterated that it has raised the cases at a senior level with the Bahraini government, but have yet to disclose the outcome of these discussions.
The US Department of State also expressed concerns about the case, and in particular the allegations that the confessions were obtained under duress.