The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its grave concern over the continued attacks on human rights defenders with arrest and intimidation, as well as attacks on freedom of assembly and expression.
A global solidarity campaign for Nabeel Rajab entitled Don't Forget Nabeel started on 21 March, and protests of solidarity took place in several countries including Egypt, the United States, the United Kingdom and France. However, the solidarity protest scheduled in Bahrain was declined by the Bahraini authorities without cause. In an act of civil disobedience, people peacefully gathered up in Saar village where it was scheduled, aiming to march to Nabeel Rajab's House in Bani Jamra Village.
As per the usual practice by the Ministry of Interior, the riot police surrounded the Saar village area armed with teargas canisters, sound bombs and rubber bullets to attack any gathering. Al-Muhafdha, the acting Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Head of Documentation, was standing peacefully along with the members of Rajab's family holding a banner calling for Rajab's release. They were not causing any kind of disruption to the road traffic as they were standing on the side of the road. Al-Muhafdha was arrested after a short discussion with the police. The police fired at the small group and hit Nabeel Rajab's wife Sumaya Rajab in the head and ankle with two rubber bullets.
Al-Muhafdha was taken to the Budiya police station where he was interrogated about participating in the protest and an order was made to hold him overnight and take him to the public prosecution on Sunday on charges of illegal gathering. He was released on bail, but the charges have not been dropped.
This is not the first time Al-Muhafdha gets arrested for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly, or for simply doing his job as a human rights defender. He has spent several weeks in detention, and he was prosecuted on other occasions, most recently for a tweet.
BCHR believes that Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha has been targeted mainly due to his human rights activities in reporting and documenting human rights violations. His arbitrary detention is intended to suspend these legitimate activities, at a time that other leading human rights defenders are also imprisoned, including the co-founder of BCHR and GCHR Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the President of BCHR and Director of GCHR Nabeel Rajab.
BCHR reiterates its call to the US, the UK, the UN and all other close allies and international institutions to put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to:
- Immediately drop all charges against human rights defender Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdhah. BCHR believes that these measures have been taken against him solely due to his legitimate and peaceful work in defense of human rights, and freedom of expression in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and activists including leading human rights defenders Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja;
- Immediately stop all actions that restrict freedom of opinion and expression, or prevent the transmission of information online;
- 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 of all restrictions including judicial harassment.