The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) express their serious concern over the ongoing campaign of judicial harassment against human rights defenders in Bahrain, that includes the very recent trial of defender Mohamed Al-Maskati on freedom of assembly related charges.
On 19 June 2013, human rights defender and president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) Mohamed Al-Maskati appeared before the Lower Criminal Court on charges of “participation in illegal protests”. The charges related to his participation in a peaceful protest entitled “Self-determination” which was held in Manama on 12 October 2012, and called for human rights and freedom in Bahrain. The hearing session was postponed to 9 July 2013. Al-Maskati could, if convicted, face three to six months' imprisonment.
Earlier last year, on 16 October 2012, Al-Maskati was summoned for interrogation at Al-Hoora police station. He was then arrested and kept in custody until the next day when he was brought before the Public Prosecution office on charges of “rioting and participating in an illegal gathering.” On 17 October, he was released after interrogation, but the charges remained pending ever since.
The arrest took place a few weeks after Al-Maskati delivered an oral intervention in September 2012, at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, during a panel discussion focusing on intimidation and reprisals. At the panel, he informed the HRC about the massive intimidation campaign being carried out against him.
After tweeting about his attendance at the 21st session of the UN HRC in Geneva, Al-Maskati received continuous threats via anonymous phone calls. He was threatened with death if “he damaged Bahrain's reputation in Geneva”, and he was also a target of a smear campaign run by a pro-government newspaper following his return from Geneva.
GCHR and BCHR believe that Al-Maskati has been targeted solely for his co-operation with the UN system and in particular his role in documenting and reporting the continued human rights violations, which were exposed during the last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bahrain's record in September 2012 at the HRC in Geneva.
Attacks and intimidation aimed at Bahraini human rights defenders for engaging with the UN have increased in recent years.
Authorities continue to systematically target defenders who collaborate with the international mechanisms by using the judiciary, which lacks both independence and the most basic international standards.
GCHR and BCHR urge the UN, the U.S. administration and other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the government of the United Kingdom, the European Union as well as leading human rights organizations to put real pressure on the government of Bahrain in order to:
- Immediately stop the judicial harassment of human rights defenders and drop all charges against them and stop the exploitation of the judiciary for political purposes;
- Immediately stop the daily human rights violations as well as escalating attacks on human rights defenders;
- 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.
GCHR and BCHR respectfully remind the government of Bahrain that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals.
We would particularly draw your attention to Article 5 (b) which states that: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups;” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration."