Who will fight for free expression and human rights in Bahrain when those speaking out are put behind bars?
In the wake of the 14 February anniversary of the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, ask the King of Bahrain to free all human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers languishing in jail, some for life, simply for peacefully exercising their right to free expression and assembly.
IFEX member, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), the most vocal independent human rights organisation in Bahrain, has been particularly targeted, with past and present BCHR representatives serving prison sentences, or on trial, including:
- Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder of BCHR, is serving a life sentence for his role in peaceful demonstrations in February and March 2011.
- Nabeel Rajab, current President of BCHR, is serving a two-year prison sentence for calling for peaceful gatherings on Twitter, and participating in demonstrations between January and March 2012.
- Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha, BCHR's Acting Vice President, is facing a prison sentence of up to one year for “spreading false information on Twitter,” after tweeting about human rights violations during a protest late last year.
King Shaikh Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa
Office of His Majesty the King
P.O. Box 555 Rifa'a Palace, al-Manama, Bahrain
14 February 2013
As the 14 February anniversary of pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain nears, we the undersigned organisations and individuals respectfully ask you to unconditionally release all those jailed – some of them for life – simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly.
We are particularly concerned about the targeting of human rights defenders, including past and current representatives of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), the most vocal independent human rights organisation in Bahrain, as follows:
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder of BCHR, is among 13 men whose verdicts were upheld on 7 January 2013. He is serving out a life sentence for his role in calling for and participating in peaceful demonstrations in February and March 2011. Al-Khawaja and his family have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year.
Nabeel Rajab, current President of BCHR, was sentenced to three years in prison in August 2012 for calling for via Twitter, and participating in, peaceful gatherings on three occasions. On 11 December 2012, his sentence was upheld but reduced to two years. International rights groups gave testimony to Rajab's peaceful advocacy, calling him "the Gandhi of Bahrain."
Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha, BCHR's Acting Vice President, is facing a prison sentence of up to one year for "spreading false information on Twitter," after tweeting about human rights violations during a protest in Manama on 17 December 2012.
Four BCHR researchers documenting human rights violations during peaceful demonstrations in Manama on 25 January 2013 were among over 40 people arrested and ordered held in detention for 45 days.
Numerous other human rights defenders, bloggers and journalists have also been targeted for practicing their right to freedom of expression and assembly. For example:
Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, a prominent human rights defender and blogger, is also among the 13 men serving a life sentence for his role in calling for and participating in peaceful demonstrations two years ago.
Zainab Al-Khawaja (aka @angryarabiya), a Twitter activist and human rights defender, has been in and out of jail over the past year, and currently faces charges in 13 cases related to her human rights work and to staging protests to free her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
Mohammed Al-Maskati, President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, was arrested in October 2012 while monitoring rights violations and faces charges related to "illegal gathering" which could lead to his re-arrest and imprisonment up to one year.
Ahmed Humaidan, an award-winning Bahraini photojournalist, has been detained since 29 December 2012 for documenting human rights violations. While in custody, he was tortured and forced to confess to a crime that he claims he did not commit, in connection with demonstrations.
We join members of the United Nations and European Parliament in calling on Bahrain to uphold its international obligations and show respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms by releasing all those unjustly jailed for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly.