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Arbitary arrest and detention of Bahraini rights defender Naji Fateel

Human rights activists Zaynab al-Khawaja (L), Yousif al-Mahafdhah (C) and Naji Fateel march towards al-Eker village before being detained by police, south of Manama on 21 October 2012
Human rights activists Zaynab al-Khawaja (L), Yousif al-Mahafdhah (C) and Naji Fateel march towards al-Eker village before being detained by police, south of Manama on 21 October 2012

REUTERS/Hamad Mohammed

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) call for urgent action by the international community to stop the ongoing attacks against human rights activists in Bahrain, to immediately release human rights defenders, Naji Fateel who was arrested at dawn on 2 May 2013, and to stop the judicial harassment of Zainab Al-Khawaja who is currently serving a three-month prison sentence and expecting more prison verdicts this month.

Naji Fateel

Human rights defender, Naji Fateel, board member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), has been arrested without warrant by security men in civilian clothes at his home in the village of Bani-Jamra at dawn on 2 May 2013. His lawyer, Mohammed Al-Mahdi requested information from the Public Prosecutor's office about his client, however the office declared that they have no information about him and are not aware of any charges against him. As of then, there has been no information as to his whereabouts.

Fateel was arrested last year on 14 February 2012 while he was participating in a peaceful march heading to the Pearl Roundabout area, the now restricted center of the 2011 protests for rights and democracy. Before that, he was detained between December 2007 and April 2009, and has been reportedly tortured. He has also been subjected to death threats since March 2011 due to his work in the defense of human rights.

Fateel suffers from damage to his spine and his current incommunicado detention raises concerns for his well-being.

GCHR and BCHR believe that the arbitrary arrest of rights defender Naji Fateel has taken place solely because of his activity and work in the defense of human rights.

Zainab Al-Khawaja

The authorities have taken human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja to court for charges in more than 10 cases, at least four of them are still active and the verdict is expected in relation to two cases on 9 and 15 May, 2013. Al-Khawaja has been in prison since 27 February 2013 when she was sentenced for “participating in an unauthorized demonstration and entering a restricted zone”. BCHR and GCHR fear that Zainab will be sentenced to further periods of imprisonment.

Zainab Al-Khawaja, a renowned Bahraini activist, has had an active role in the human rights and pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. She has helped since February 2011 in telling the world of the protesters' demands and exposing the Bahraini authorities' crimes. She has been arrested several times, detained for months and has at least 10 active cases in court against her for charges related to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

On May 9 and 15, Al-Khawaja expects to receive verdicts in two cases which go back to the events of 2011:

1- Abu Saiba case: On 16 December 2011, Al-Khawaja staged a sit-in at the Abu Saiba roundabout with several women. The riot police used teargas canisters on the women to disperse them. Zainab refused to leave and continued her sit-in peacefully. The police shot a teargas canister directly at Zainab. She was then handcuffed, slapped across the face, and dragged by the handcuffs along the pavement while she had her head scarf removed.

She was then taken to the police station where she suffered further ill-treatment and was beaten on the head, arms and legs. She was interrogated until after 2 am and charged with (1) illegal gathering, (2) assaulting a female officer and (3) inciting hatred against the regime. The public prosecution refused lawyers' requests to see Zainab's arrest video and didn't specify the assault Zainab was subjected to. She and another activist Maysooma AlSayed were detained for seven days in relation to this case. The verdict in the case is expected for both activists on 15 May 2013. There is no information that any of the police officers who were recorded on tape violently slapping and dragging Zainab were held accountable for their abuses.

2- Al Aali case: Zainab staged a one-person protest in Al Aali on 26 November 2011 to stop the police from moving to attack mourners grieving a man who was allegedly killed by the police. She was charged with illegal gathering and rioting receiving a sentence of three months' imprisonment and a payment of BD 300 in bail money to suspend the sentence. The next hearing session is on 9 May 2013; it is believed to be the final verdict session. It is feared that a sentence of three months in prison will be imposed which will add three months to her current sentence.

Al-Khawaja has been subjected to harassment and ill-treatment by the prison administration since her arrest. Just before she was scheduled to meet with her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a prisoner of conscience since 2011, both Zainab and her father were forced to wear a prison uniform, which is normally only required for prisoners facing criminal charges. Zainab refused to wear the uniform in protest and as a punishment she was denied her rights of visitation.

She began a hunger strike on 17 March 2013. In the period of her hunger strike, her health deteriorated severely. She was at risk of organ failure, cardiac arrest or coma at any time. Also, her blood sugar dropped to two on several occasions. Al-Khawaja ended her strike but the authorities' punishment continues. She is still being denied her the right to recieve visits, to receive items from her family and to exercise because of her identification as an activist.

GCHR and BCHR believe that the charges and prison sentences imposed on Zainab Al-Khawaja are politically motivated, and that she is targeted merely for practicing her human rights work and her legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and assembly. It is feared that Zainab Al-Khawaja will face further prison sentences, ill-treatment and denial of her rights as a punishment for her work.

Both organizations call on the U.S. administration and other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the goverment of the UK, the EU and leading human rights organizations to:

1- Call for the immediate release of Naji Fateel and Zainab Al-Khawaja as well as all other detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.

2- Increase the pressure on the government of Bahrain to stop the on-going human rights violations and the escalating attacks against human rights defenders.

3- To put pressure on the government of Bahrain to guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

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