(CIHRS/IFEX) - April 12, 2011 - The 19 undersigned human rights organizations severely condemn the authorities' crackdown on prominent human rights defenders Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain. We are gravely concerned for the safety and well-being of both human rights defenders who are being targeted for their human rights work.
On April 9, 2011, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, former protection coordinator at Front Line Defenders and former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested by masked police officers from his daughter's house in Al Manama. Police had been seeking to arrest AlKhawaja for several hours, during which time they searched his house and the house of his cousin, Habib Alhalwachi, whom they also arrested and subsequently released.
The 19 undersigned human rights organizations severely condemn the authorities' crackdown on prominent human rights defenders Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain. We are gravely concerned for the safety and well-being of both human rights defenders who are being targeted for their human rights work.
On April 9, 2011, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, former protection coordinator at Front Line Defenders and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested by masked police officers at his daughter's house in Manama. Police had been seeking to arrest AlKhawaja for several hours, during which they searched his house and the house of his cousin, Habib Alhalwachi, whom they also arrested and subsequently released.
According to testimonies provided by his eldest daughter, AlKhawaja was attacked, brutally beaten until he lost consciousness, and then arrested and taken to an unidentified location along with two of his sons-in-law, Wafi Almajid and Hussein Ahmed. AlKhawaja's third son-in-law, Mohamed Almaskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, was left behind after being subjected to severe beatings along with AlKhawaja's eldest daughter, who attempted to intervene to protect her father.
The whereabouts of AlKhawaja and his two sons-in-law remain unknown; there is grave concern for his well-being as he is at great risk of being subjected to additional torture and ill-treatment while being detained incommunicado. Furthermore, he was prevented from taking his medication with him, which adds to the concerns for his wellbeing.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs has posted on his account on Twitter that AlKhawaja was arrested and will be legally charged, adding that "he (AlKhawaja) is not a reformer . . . he called for the overthrow of the legitimate regime." The undersigned organizations note that such expressions are usually used by authorities as a form of intimidation against activists in Bahrain, as trumped-up charges under the emergency law and other exceptional laws are frequently brought against them for their work.
The undersigned organizations are also concerned for the safety and well-being of Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who is believed to be at high risk of arrest. On April 10, the Ministry of Interior stated on its website that Rajab was to be referred to the Military Public Prosecutor for publishing fabricated images of Ali Issa Saqr, who died on April 9 while in detention. Rajab had refuted the officially stated cause of death, suggesting that Saqr had died as a result of torture in prison.
One month ago, Rajab was briefly detained and subjected to severe beatings before being released a few hours later without being given a reason for his arrest and detention.
The harassment that AlKhawaja and Rajab face are part of an ongoing crackdown on dissenting voices and human rights defenders that has escalated since the beginning of the wide pro-democracy popular protests in March. Human rights organizations estimate that over 600 individuals (amongst whom are human rights defenders and political opponents of the regime) remain in Bahraini prisons at high risk of torture and ill-treatment. It is a particularly alarming situation given that torture is a virtually systematic practice that has been used against activists increasingly since last year.
The undersigned organizations call on the government of Bahrain to immediately stop the crackdown on human rights defenders and political opponents in Bahrain. We further hold the authorities accountable for any harm that may be inflicted on them and demand that AlKhawaja be released immediately and the harassment against Rajab halted.
In this context, we firmly believe that Bahrain's membership in the UN Human Rights Council ought to be suspended. Failure to act in face of the gross and systematic human rights violations committed by the government of Bahrain is believed to highly undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the Council as a whole.
Furthermore, the undersigned organizations stress that the continuation of the despotic campaign against human rights defenders and political groups that are calling for profound democratic reforms reflect complicity and lack of political will from international actors, particularly the US and EU. These actors continue to prefer securing their strategic interests in the Gulf region by choosing to sustain the political stability of repressive regimes, turn a blind eye to the people's aspirations for democracy, and remain silent on massive and systematic human rights violations in this region of the world.
1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
2. Arab Organization for Human Rights - Syria
3. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egypt
4. Bahrain Center for Human Rights
5. Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
6. Center for Trade Unions and Worker's Services, Egypt
7. Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedom and Human Rights, Syria
8. Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
9. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
10. Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Egypt
11. Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia
12. Human Rights Organization in Syria - MAF
13. Iraqi Human Rights Association in Denmark
14. Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria al-Rased
15. Kurdish organization for the defense of human rights and public freedoms in Syria - DAD
16. National Organization for Human Rights in Syria
17. New Woman Research Center, Egypt
18. The Egyptian Imitative for Personal Rights
19. Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Bahrain Center for Human Rights