On 3 May 2021, I sent a joint communication to the Government of Bahrain with three other exerts on the alleged arbitrary detention and sentencing of five human rights defenders on sentences carrying 10 years or more in connection to their defence of human rights.
In the communication we expressed concern at an apparent pattern of restrictions on space dissent and debate in Bahrain, where critical or dissenting opinions are characterised as terrorism. There appears to be a systematic stifling of dissent and targeting of those who exercise and promote the right to freedom of expression in the country. What’s more we conveyed our utmost concern the allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment faced by Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Mr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, and Mr. Naji Ali Fateel.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Three human rights defenders serving prison sentences of 10 years or more, up to life imprisonment
The case of Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja
Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a human rights defender and former Protection Coordinator of Front Line Defenders for the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR). Through his work as a human rights defender, Mr. Al-Khawaja has openly discussed human rights concerns in Bahrain with a number of international human rights organizations including the UN.
On its opinion No. 6/2012 (September 2012), the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Mr. Al-Khawaja’s arrest was due to his exercise of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The Working Group also concluded that throughout Mr. Al-Khawaja’s arrest, detention and trial, “the Government violated numerous international norms that relate to the right to fair trial.”
On 9 April 2011, Mr. Al-Khawaja was arrested by the Bahraini special security forces at his daughter’s home in Muqsha, Bahrain. He was provided with no arrest warrant and was subsequently placed in AlQurrain prison. During the first twenty days of his detention, Mr. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja was allegedly not permitted access to a lawyer.
On 8 May 2011, his trial began before the National Safety Court, a military jurisdiction in Bahrain. Mr. Alkhawaja was prosecuted with 20 other individuals, some of whom were tried in absentia and are also part of this letter. Furthermore, information received shows that little if no direct relationship existed between such individuals, who were tried en masse.
On 16 May 2011, the human rights defender was brought before the court for the third session of his trial. During such, he informed the court that he had been subjected to torture while in detention. He reportedly had four fractures to the side of his face, allegedly due to beatings from law enforcement officers at the time of his arrest in 2011, which required surgery in his jaw. He continues to have problems eating as a result of injuries sustained while in detention.
A week after, on 22 June 2011, Mr. Al- Khawaja was sentenced by the Lower National Safety Court to life imprisonment for seven misdemeanors and felonies, related to State Security and terrorism.
During the trial, Mr. Al-Khawaja was allegedly not permitted to present his own witnesses or to testify on his own behalf. The defence was not even allowed to conclude their argument before the sentencing date was announced.
The latest information received shows that the human rights defender’s health continues to deteriorate in prison, in particular his jaw, due to sequels from the fractures in his face by police officers at the time of his arrest and related surgery in 2011. He has reportedly been denied access to correspondence from his family, including boxes which personal belongings, which other inmates allegedly have access to. He is currently allowed to speak with his family via phone due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The case of Mr. Abduljalil Al-Singace
Mr. Abduljalil Al-Singace was the Director and spokesperson of the Human Rights Bureau of the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy. During his career as a human rights defender, Mr. Al-Singace has actively engaged with the UN Human Rights Council as well as other UN human rights mechanisms, and has openly spoken at the international level about alleged human rights violations in Bahrain.
On 13 August 2010, Mr. Al-Singace was reportedly arrested at Bahrain International Airport on his way back from the UK with his family, following his participation on 5 August 2010 in a seminar on the human rights situation in Bahrain held at the House of Lords. During such, he denounced the alleged deterioration of the human rights situation in the country and met with a number of international human rights organizations. According to reports, Mr. Al-Singace, who has a disability and requires the use of a wheelchair, was forcefully apprehended by the authorities upon his arrival to Bahrain.
On the same day, a peaceful demonstration in solidarity took place in front of Mr. Al-Singace’s house, and was violently repressed by security forces using tear-gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets. Several demonstrators were injured in the course of the operation. Mr. Al-Singace was shortly thereafter released without being charged.
On 25 March 2011, at approximately 11:00 a.m., forces purportedly belonging to the Ministry of the Interior forcibly entered Mr. Al-Singace’s home without a warrant and arrested him. It is alleged that Mr. Al-Singace was forcibly disappeared for about two months. Reportedly, Mr. Al-Singace was immediately subjected to torture, including being hung, beaten, insulted, electrocuted until he fainted with focus on his genitals and forced to crawl on the ground and bark.
Mr. Al-Singace was first charged with participation in an illegal gathering and beating of a police officer. However, because the two charges placed Mr. Al- Singace in different locations at the same time, the prosecution dropped the accusation related to illegal gathering and kept that of beating of a police officer. According to the information received, Mr. Al-Singace was sentenced with the beating of a police officer to seven years in prison, however, he was subsequently released from prison on 23 February 2011, in the wake of civil unrest in Bahrain. Charges against him were not dropped at that time.
On 22 June 2011, Mr. Abduljalil Al-Singace was sentenced to life imprisonment on seven national security and terrorism related charges.
Although he was eventually given access to lawyers, he was initially held for a long period of time in incommunicado detention. It was further alleged that his confessions may have been extracted under duress.
In early May 2016, a new administrator took up his functions in the prison cell block where Mr. Abduljalil Al-Singace is currently being held. New guards went into his cell and demanded him to hand over a Shia religious book. They told the defender that he must remove certain passages from the book as the new administrator considered these passages to be heretical. He allegedly refused to tear those pages as it would compromise the integrity of the religious text, but allegedly compromised not to read those sections. Subsequently, the guards confiscated all the religious and academic books in the human rights defender´s cell. Furthermore, they confined him to his cell without allowing him to walk around or outside for a week.
Mr. Al-Singace suffers the effects of polio and sickle-cell anemia. His symptoms include chronic pain, numbness of the extremities, shortness of breath, and constant dizziness.
According to the latest information received, Mr. Al-Singace health continues to deteriorate in prison. He is currently allowed to speak with his family via phone due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The case of Mr. Naji Ali Fateel
Mr. Naji Ali Fateel is a prominent blogger and board member of Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). He has participated in marches in which he discussed the importance of documenting human rights violations and encouraged people to form monitoring committees to document them.
On 2 May 2013, Mr. Naji Fateel was arrested at his home in the village of Bani Jamra. He was reportedly taken to the Criminal Investigation building, where he was handcuffed and blindfolded. Sources inform that while in the Criminal Investigation building, Mr. Fateel was tortured in multiple ways. According to reports, he was the subject of electrocution to the back, left leg and genitalia; simulated drowning; beatings to the head, back and left leg, which reportedly was operated previously in relation to a work injury; suspension from the ceiling by hanging him from his hands without his feet touching the floor; sexual harassment and threats of rape; being refused permission to sleep, sit or lay down; and being made to stand up for prolonged periods of time. Reportedly, Mr. Fateel was taken to the Public Prosecutor’s Office where he then refused to be interrogated without a lawyer present. Sources inform that he was consequently taken back to the Criminal Investigation building and subjected to a more severe beating, allegedly for having requested legal representation.
In May 2013, the Public Prosecutor charged Mr. Fateel with alleged “establishment of a group in order to disable the provisions of the Constitution” and ordered his imprisonment for a period of sixty days pending investigation under the terrorism law. These charges were reportedly dropped subsequently, and on 22 May 2013, Mr. Fateel was sentenced to six months in prison for “attendance at illegal gatherings”.
On 11 July 2013, Mr. Fateel was summoned to appear before the Fourth Criminal Court, and was charged under article 6 of the Anti-Terrorism law: “forming illegal organizations”. On 29 September 2013, Mr. Fateel was reportedly sentenced to 15 years in prison under article 6 of the Anti-Terrorism law, on the charges which had previously been dropped. In the interim, allegations that Mr. Fateel was tortured during interrogation in the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) continued. On 29 May 2014, the Appeals Court of Bahrain upheld a 15-year sentence against human rights defender Mr. Naji Fateel in relation to such charges.
Reportedly, on 10 March 2015, Bahraini security forces attacked prisoners at Jaw Prison using rubber bullets, tear gas, and shotgun pellets. The incident allegedly started when the family of a detainee protested after having been denied permission to visit the person. According to a witness, Naji Fateel was held in the same building where the clashes occurred, but was not involved in the events. However, shortly after the incident, an officer ordered that several individuals be taken to Building 10, including Mr. Fateel. He was then charged with an extra 10 years for “assault” and “damage to prison property”, and is therefore serving 25 years in combined sentences in Jau Prison.
On 2 September 2019, the human rights defender was transferred to solitary confinement and was prohibited from receiving phone calls and visits from his family and lawyers. On 9 August 2020, he began a 10-day hunger strike to protest conditions in Bahraini prisons, including lack of medical attention and the denial of their rights to practice their religion. He stopped the hunger strike when he was promised by prison officers to have medical attention. There is reportedly no information about his access to medical care and treatment.
Human Rights Defenders in exile with outstanding charges
The case of Mr. Abbas Al-Omran:
Mr. Abbas Al-Omran is a human rights defender and member of the Bahrain Centre of Human Rights.
On 22 June 2011, Mr. Abbas Al-Omran was allegedly found guilty for being part of a “terrorist cell” on the charges aforementioned, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. He was tried in absentia.
On 7 November 2012, the Ministry of the Interior published a list of names of 31 individuals whose Bahraini citizenship was reportedly revoked by the Ministry, on the grounds that the listed persons were allegedly “damaging the security of the State”. Sources report that 19 of the 31 persons do not hold another nationality and are now stateless. Among these names was Mr. Abbas Al-Omran. Mr. Al-Omran moved to the United Kingdom, where he currently resides after having been granted asylum.
The case of Mr. Ali Abdulemam:
Mr. Ali Abdulemam is a Bahraini human rights defender, blogger and founder of Bahrain Online, one of the first independent news website in Bahrain. He is also member of the research and advocacy group Bahrain Watch, a research and advocacy organisation devoted to human rights in Bahrain.
On 4 September 2010 at approximately 9 p.m., Mr. Abdulemam was arrested following a summon, which was delivered via a telephone call, for questioning by the National Security Apparatus (NSA). Since his arrest, Mr. Abdulemam has been denied access to legal representation, and doubts exist as to whether or not he has been presented before the Public Prosecutor within the time limits proscribed by law. He was denied access to family members until 29 September 2010. Subsequently, Mr. Abdulemam’s arrest was reportedly declared by the Ministry of Interior to form part of an investigation into an alleged “terrorist network accused of planning and executing a campaign of violence, intimidation and subversion in Bahrain”, according to article 27 of the 2006 “Law to Protect Society from Acts of Terrorism”. Such law establishes that a suspect may be detained for a maximum of 15 days before either being brought before the Public Prosecutor for questioning within three days and order his remand or release. Government officials have claimed that Mr. Abdulemam was presented before the Public Prosecutor soon after his arrest.
On 22 September 2010 it was announced by officials that, as of 27 September 2010, all detained human rights defenders would be allowed to receive visits from their families. His brother visited the Office of the Public Prosecutor in order to apply for permission to visit Mr. Abdulemam in detention. He was, however, subsequently informed by an official at said Office that Mr. Abdulemam had not been brought before the Public Prosecutor and that there was neither any record of, nor personal number assigned to him, at the Office.
Since 5 September 2010 – the day following Mr. Abdulemam’s arrest – the BahrainOnline.org website has been unavailable both within Bahrain and abroad. He was released from detention on 23 February 2011, the day that he went missing.
On 11 June 2011, the human rights defender was sentenced in absentia for “spreading false information” and being part of a terrorist network”. Mr. Abdulemam subsequently moved to the United Kingdom, where he currently resides after having been granted asylum.
On 31 January 2015, the Bahrain Ministry of the Interior issued a decree revoking the citizenship of 72 individuals for “illegal acts”. The list of names provided by the Ministry includes Mr. Ali Abdulemam.