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One hundred organisations call to end assault on freedom of speech, and to free all detained human rights defenders and netizens

UPDATE: The president of IFEX member Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Nabeel Rajab, was released on bail on 28 May, but subsequently re-arrested, and sentenced to three years in prison on 16 August. Take action calling for his freedom here. Many other human rights defenders remain in prison, including BCHR's founder Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who ended his hunger strike after 110 days, but his life sentence was confirmed on appeal on 4 September 2012. His daughter, Zainab Al-Khawaja, was released on 29 May 2012, but re-arrested. Their cases are ongoing.

(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is a letter calling on the Bahrain Royal Family to release jailed human rights defenders and netizens, including the founder and president of IFEX member Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. The signing organisations further call on the UN Human Rights Council, the European Parliament, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and all concerned governments to exert their influence on the ruling family to stop violating human rights in Bahrain:

Shaikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa
King; Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
Office of the King, PO Box 555.
Rifa'a Palace
Manama, Bahrain

Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Crown Prince of Bahrain
Rifa'a Palace
Manama, Bahrain

Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa
Prime Minister
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
P.O. Box 547
Government Road
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain

18 May 2012

We, the undersigned global human rights organisations, call on the King, the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister of Bahrain to immediately release all human rights defenders, Twitter activists and bloggers, detained solely for exercising their right to peaceful free expression, whether online or during demonstrations last year. We further call on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the European Parliament and all concerned governments to exert their influence on the ruling family to stop violating human rights in Bahrain.

We call for the immediate release and medical treatment of prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder of both the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and former staff of Front Line Defenders. He began a hunger strike on 8 February 2012 in defense of civil and human rights for the people of Bahrain. Al-Khawaja holds dual Bahraini and Danish citizenship, therefore, we call on the authorities in Bahrain to allow him to travel to Denmark to get treatment for injuries he suffered from torture during detention, as well as the damage to his health caused by his lengthy hunger strike.

Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison for his role in leading demonstrations last year along with blogger, opposition leader and human rights defender Abduljalil Al-Singace. Blogger Ali Abdulemam of BahrainOnline was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in jail in the same case. Their case, being tried collectively as part of a group of 21 activists, bloggers and rights defenders, was ordered to be retried. The next hearing is on 22 May, the day after the United Nations carries out the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bahrain in Geneva.

The undersigned organisations are also extremely concerned following the arrest in Manama on 5 May of leading human rights defenders, Nabeel Rajab, President of BCHR and GCHR, on his arrival from Beirut after conducting a human rights workshop. Rajab's trial is due to begin on 16 May 2012 on charges of “insulting the statutory bodies” in what could be described as an attack on online freedom or the “Twitter Defamation case,” the first of its kind in Bahrain. Rajab is in court also on 22 May on separate charges of “participating in illegal assembly and calling others to join.” He was denied bail and is being held in pre-trial detention for the second week.

Rajab is a well-known human rights activist working with human rights organisations worldwide. Apart from being President of BCHR, a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), he is also a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch's Middle East Division, Deputy Secretary General for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Chair of CARAM Asia. We strongly believe that Nabeel Rajab is targeted due to his tireless efforts to highlight extensive human rights violations against the people of Bahrain through the use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets.

We are also very concerned about the ongoing targeting of human rights defender and Twitter activist, Zainab Al-Khawaja (@angryarabia). Zainab Al-Khawaja was continuously denied her right to visit her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in the prison hospital. Instead, she was arrested repeatedly and has been held in prison since 21 April 2012, on which date, she told her mother, she was "kicked so hard in her legs and pushed towards the wall and almost suffocated by the baton." She faces the charges of illegal gathering, obstructing traffic, assaulting an officer, and swearing at an officer.

Rather than implementing the recommendations of the November 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) specifically calling for the release of those detained in violation of their right to free expression, Bahraini authorities continue to violate international standards of human rights. Demonstrators continue to be arrested and killed, and there has been little justice for those who were tortured and died in detention last year, including journalists Zakariya Al Asheri and Karim Fakhrawi. Doctors and medics arrested and tortured last year for speaking out about the violence against protesters still face up to 15 years in prison. Furthermore, authorities continue to use teargas not only against protesters but even targeting homes directly, including that of Nabeel Rajab, in an unprecedented use of teargas.

We are very concerned that the series of attacks against the above-named human rights defenders, Twitter activists and bloggers represents an ongoing trend of targeting free speech and human rights defenders in Bahrain, where the legal system is used as a tool to silence them, particularly by denying bail while civil cases are ongoing.

We call on the government of Bahrain to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders, bloggers and Twitter activists as we believe that they have been detained solely as a result of their legitimate human rights work and for exercising their right to peaceful free expression;
2. Failing release on bail or otherwise, grant human rights defenders immediate and unfettered access to their lawyers and families;
3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Abulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abduljalil Al-Singace, Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and all other detained human rights defenders;
4. Hold accountable those responsible for the torture of human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and others detained for their right to peaceful expression, according to the recommendations of the BICI report;
5. Take steps to prevent further abuses in detention and hold those responsible for the ill-treatment of Zainab Al-Khawaja;
6. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free from all attacks on their person or restrictions including judicial harassment.

Signed,

IFEX members:

Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Centre for Independent Journalism
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Fundamedios - Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study
Globe International
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Independent Journalism Center
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Press Institute
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Media Watch
National Press Association
Norwegian PEN
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
PEN American Center
Reporters Without Borders
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Thai Journalists Association
West African Journalists Association
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

Other signatories:


Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)-Co-initiator
Al-Adala Centre for Human Rights, Saudi Arabia
Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), Sudan
Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)
Bahrain Forum for Human Rights
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Bahrain Rehabilitation & Anti Violence Organization (BRAVO)
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
Bedoon Rights, Kuwait
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Egypt
European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR)
Front Line Defenders
Future Center of Human Rights in Iraq
Human Rights First
Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Palestine
International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms (ICSRF)
International Media Support (IMS)
Iraqi Journalists Rights Defence Association (IJRDA)
Justice For Iran
Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria (Al-Rased)
MISA Angola
MISA Botswana
MISA Lesotho
MISA Malawi
MISA Mozambique
MISA Namibia
MISA South Africa
MISA Swaziland
MISA Tanzania
MISA Zambia
MISA Zimbabwe
Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)
Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Physicians for Human Rights
Royaa For Feminist Studies, Sudan
Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)
Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA)
Tunisian Centre for Freedom of the Press (CTPJ)
Yemen Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms
Journalists' Legal protection Centre in Iraq
Iraqi Association for Human Rights
Organization for Human Rights and Democracy in Iraq
Amman Forum for Human Rights
Jordanian Labor Forum
Elections Network in the Arab world
Association of Academic Freedoms in Arab Universities
Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria
Kurdish Organization for the Defense of Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria (DAD)
Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria
Human Rights Organization in Syria (MAF)
National Organization for Human Rights in Syria
Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria
Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights
Doha Centre for Media Freedom


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