16 November 2016 – In the past few days, the Bahraini authorities have summoned at least 26 activists and human rights defenders for interrogations over charges of illegal gathering, including members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). The undersigned NGOs are deeply concerned about this sudden wave of reprisals against opposition voices and human rights defenders.
Three members of BCHR were summoned for questioning in the past days. On 15 November 2016, the Head of International Relations and Women & Children’s Rights Advocacy at BCHR Nedal Al-Salman was interrogated on charges of illegal gathering. Additionally, Enas Oun, Head of the Documentation Unit at BCHR, was summoned on 13 November 2016 and accused by the Public Prosecution of organizing an assembly on 20 June 2016 in the Al-Dair area, around 11:45 pm. Ahmad Al-Saffar, human rights defender and a member of BCHR, was also interrogated on 13 November 2016 by the Bahraini Public Prosecution, which charged him with “illegal assembly.” All were subsequently released.
Moreover, the authorities have also targeted other human rights defenders and activists not affiliated with BCHR during the crackdown. Human rights defender and member of the Bahrain Society for Human Rights (BSHR) Zeinab Al-Khamis was interrogated by the Public Prosecution. On her Twitter account, Zeinab Al-Khamis explained that the Bahraini authorities issued her a subpoena after breaking into her house on 14 November.
On 13 November 2016, Radhi Al-Musawi and Zainab Mohammad were also summoned for interrogation. Radhi Al-Musawi, Secretary General of Bahrain’s National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), was also ordered to appear before the Bahraini Public Prosecution. Just three days before his summoning, on 10 November 2016, he was prevented by the authorities from leaving the country.
On 9 November 2016, human rights defender, writer, Director General of the National Centre for Studies, and former President of the Bahrain Transparency Society Abdulnabi Al-Ekry was summoned to appear for interrogation on 10 November by the Bahraini Public Prosecution. The authorities had previously imposed a travel ban upon him as he was preparing to travel to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, from Bahrain International Airport.
The government has subjected nearly all these activists to travel bans in addition to other forms of judicial harassment since June 2016. During this period, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested and interrogated dozens of human rights defenders, political figures, and religious leaders on a range of charges related solely to free expression and assembly. These harsh measures have been widely criticized by the international community, including the United Nations and the United States.
The increase in summons is part of the Bahraini authorities’ ongoing campaign to silence all opposition, and to prevent human rights defenders and activists from travelling abroad to raise awareness for human rights abuses on the international stage. In June and September, the Government of Bahrain used arbitrary travel bans to restrict Bahraini civil society from traveling to Geneva to participate in the 32nd and 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Furthermore, the authorities continue to detain leading human rights defender and president of BCHR Nabeel Rajab on charges related to tweets and retweets, violating his right to free expression. Rajab has been in custody since 13 June 2016 and is currently awaiting his trial on 15 December at the High Criminal Court after four consecutive postponements. The court has decided to hire an expert from the Cyber Crime Unit to verify that the Twitter handle in question is managed by him. If convicted, Rajab could face up to 15 years in prison.
The leading opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif was charged by the Bahraini public prosecutor on 14 November under article 165 of the Penal Code for “inciting hatred against the regime,” after speaking to the Associated Press (AP) on how the Prince Charles’ arrival in Bahrain could be used to “whitewash” human rights abuses in the Kingdom.
On 10 November 2016, Bahraini authorities summoned human Rights lawyer Mohammed Al-Tajer. They interrogated him over charges of inciting hatred against the regime, misusing social media and communication devices (Mobile phones). Despite the ban, Al-Tajer has continued his human rights work, reporting on violations and participating in events and meetings virtually.
We the undersigned NGOs call on the Government of Bahrain to:
- Cease arbitrarily summoning, interrogating, and charging human rights defenders and activists;
- Lift all travel bans imposed on human rights defenders and activists and allow them to freely travel out of Bahrain; and
- Release and drop all charges against Nabeel Rajab and all other prisoners of conscience.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights