On 21 May 2021, Bahrain Center for Human Rights’ advocacy officer, Asma Darwish, participated in a joint event dedicated to Naji Fateel and the rights of other Bahraini prisoners of conscience. Speaking also at the event was Nina McKee of the Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Gisela Castro of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and Mohammed Al-Maskati of Front Line Defenders (FLD). Khalid Ibrahim of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) moderated the event.
During the event, Darwish highlighted that Bahraini human rights have not progressed well since she left the country in 2015. Prisoners of conscience continue to be subjected to torture, and civil space and media are highly restricted. In 2011, she was dismissed from her last year in university for retweeting and reposting content. Darwish pointed out that human rights defenders and civil society are not the government’s enemy but are simply trying to make society better for everyone involved. During this pandemic, many countries have taken the initiative to release political prisoners. Darwish urged the government of Bahrain to turn the page on its human rights record, release Naji Fateel, and initiate a dialogue with all parties of society. Darwish added that Fateel has been very active in the fight for human rights, and it is well past time for him to be released alongside other human rights defenders and political prisoners.
McKee explained that Fateel was arrested in 2007, 2012, and 2013. When Fateel was violently and arbitrarily arrested in 2013, he was held incommunicado, threatened, and subjected to torture to the point of hospitalization. A forced confession was used to convict and sentence him to a total of 25 years and 6 months in prison for his human rights activities. Today, Fateel has gone on many hunger strikes and continues to be tortured and abused. McKee called for the unconditional release of Fateel, explaining that Bahrain’s alternative sentencing laws would allow Fateel to be surveilled. McKee also called for the international community to condemn his imprisonment and impose sanctions on Bahrain’s use of torture against human rights defenders.
Castro pointed out that the international community is aware of the situation in Bahrain. Although this awareness is itself a success, it has not led to concrete change. Bahrain’s geopolitics means its human rights record is not a priority for the EU or states like the United Kingdom, which have other priorities in the Gulf. She thought Brexit would allow the EU to take more action, but instead, the EU lost many legislators who had put Bahrain on the agenda. Castro notes that the EU can sanction perpetrators of human rights violations, and even if the sanction does pass, it will convey the gravity of the situation and help document evidence. Castro also called for corporate accountability for businesses who are complacent in human rights violations.
Ibrahim concurred, adding that because of how restrictive it is in Bahrain, international advocacy is often the only answer. Ibrahim reminded us that Fateel and other activists are not just individuals—they have friends, families, and colleagues as well, such as Al-Maskati.
Al-Maskati shared that Fateel used to ask him not to speak about him out of fear he would be arrested too. Al-Maskati and Fateel have worked together since 2002, but Fateel has been imprisoned for far too long. All his daughters were wed while he was in prison, and although he could not attend the weddings, he was so happy when he shared the news with Al-Maskati. A family man, his kids were really young when he was arrested. One of them has special needs, and he asked Al-Maskati to ensure his kids were getting a good education. Al-Maskati recalled that when the government asked Fateel to testify against his colleagues, including Al-Maskati himself, in exchange for his release, he refused and was subsequently tortured. Al-Maskati also emphasized that even in prison, Fateel still finds ways to help others, such as the many times he has called Al-Maskati to help fellow prisoners who did not have a lawyer.
In concluding the event, Darwish noted that there is no certain way to advocate for human rights. Everyone that can should continue doing their best, and there is no room for reluctance or hesitation. Moreover, McKee and Castro both stressed the need to push US and EU member states to act on the situation in Bahrain.
View the entire webinar here