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Release Bahraini human rights activists now, say international groups

UPDATE: On 23 August 2012, Nabeel Rajab was acquitted of the charges of libel in the Twitter case, but remains in prison for the other case, for which he was sentenced to three years in prison. He is being held in poor conditions. Please see a letter from his family to US President Barack Obama here. On 4 September, the appeals court upheld the verdict in the case of the 13 human rights defenders and activists, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abduljalil Al-Singace, sentenced to life in prison.

(IFEX) - 17 August 2012 – As international human rights groups, we call on member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council who participated in Bahrain's Universal Periodic Review in May 2012 to urge Bahrain to release human rights defenders and peaceful opposition activists, who have been subjected to constant harassment by security forces and the courts for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

We call first of all for the immediate release of leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, after a court sentenced him on 16 August to three years' imprisonment in relation to three cases brought against him for calling for and participating in peaceful gatherings that the government deems “illegal”. On the same day, an appeals court postponed again the appeals verdict in connection with a separate case in which Rajab was sentenced to three months in prison for “tweeting” that the prime minister should resign, for which he has been jailed since his re-arrest on 9 July 2012.

Rajab, who has almost 170,000 Twitter followers, is known across Bahrain and internationally for his human rights advocacy. He is President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and a member of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division. BCHR is a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) and this year won the Index on Censorship Free Expression Award and the Human Rights First 2012 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty. Rajab also won the 2011 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award.

We also call on member states of the UN HRC, as they did in May 2012 during the UPR, to continue to press Bahrain to follow through on the recommendations made in November 2011 by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), in particular the recommendation to release individuals jailed for peacefully expressing their views. The BICI was mandated by the King to iinvestigate reports of serious human rights violations that occurred after hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets in February 2011 to call for reforms. The BICI report recorded about 300 people arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and noted a culture of impunity in the torture and deaths of people in custody.

Rajab's case is only one of many cases before the courts as the government tries to silence its most vocal critics by keeping them in jail. Human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested on 2 August after she staged a one-woman protest calling for the release of her father, former BCHR President Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. It was her fifth arrest since April 2012. On 4 August, she was accused of tearing a photo of the king at the police station and remains in detention. Her hearing is scheduled for 28 August 2012.

Also this week, the High Criminal Court of Appeal delayed a verdict in the high profile case of 13 political and human rights leaders until 4 September. The 13 men, who include Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and blogger and activist Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, boycotted the verdict in the absence of a fair trial, during which allegations of confessions under torture were not investigated. They were originally sentenced by military court in June 2011 to between two years and life in prison on charges including “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.”

We are among over 100 NGOs who have previously signed a letter calling for the release of all Bahraini human rights defenders, who join Nabeel Rajab's family appeal to the international community, including members of the UN HRC, to press the Bahraini authorities to:

• Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace and all those jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as recommended by the BICI;
• Suspend and then revoke the use of penal code articles that violate the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly;
• Comply with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998, and international human rights treaties and documents ratified by Bahrain, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Signed,

IFEX Secretariat
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
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 - Malaysia
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Globe International Center
I'lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
International Press Institute
Maharat Foundation
Media Foundation for West Africa
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
PEN American Center
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Co-signatories:

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights First
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Bahrain Rehabilitation & Anti Violence Organization (BRAVO)
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Front Line Defenders
Interfaith International
International Media Support (IMS)
National Lawyers Guild
No Peace Without Justice
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)



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