In a joint effort between the Bahrain Center of Human Rights (BCHR), European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR), SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders Berlin office, a panel discussion was held at the House of Human Rights and Democracy in Berlin to shed light on the ongoing and deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain as the people mark the fifth anniversary of 2011’s popular uprising.
Panelists were former member of Parliament Jawad Fairooz from SALAM, Vice President of BCHR Said Yousif Almahafdha, Faten Bushehri, Head of Information and Media Relations at EBOHR, and Christian Mihr, Director of Reporters Without Borders in Berlin.
The event kicked off with a brief background on the eruption of the uprising and the Bahraini government’s crackdown on protesters. A short clip in was played to the audience in the German language.
Mr. Fairooz highlighted the reasons Bahrain should be considered a country of concern through seven themes that were identified in an intensive research study conducted by SALAM.
Themes included absence of democracy, increase in frequency and degree of violations, rejection of mechanisms prescribed by international human rights laws, absence of an independent judiciary and several others. In each theme, Mr. Fairooz highlighted evidence connected to these conclusions in order to emphasize the intensity of these practices.
Mr. Mihr focused his speech on journalists, who were targeted by the authorities in Bahrain. He mentioned the latest cases of photographers sitting behind bars for doing their jobs. He also addressed the issue of government surveillance through technological software provided by foreign companies, including German companies. He urged the German society and government to investigate and speak up against these companies. In light of Bahraini royal Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa running for FIFA presidency, Mr. Mihr also reminded the audience that sports are a big part of politics. Alkhalifa was involved in identifying athletes who took part in the uprising, subjecting them to detention, torture and prosecution. Mr. Mihr said that although the German Sports Association did not vote for the Bahraini royal, it has a responsibility to speak louder on the matter.
BCHR’s Vice President Almahafdha focused on violations against children in Bahrain, stating that the youngest victim was a 45 day old Yahya Yousif Ahmed who died on March 5th 2012. Almahafdha announced that BCHR has been able to document 237 cases of arbitrary arrests of children under the age of 18 in 2015 alone. He emphasized that the government does not give children special treatment, and until this day BCHR receives information of arbitrary arrests and torture of minors.
Ms. Bushehri spoke about the systematic torture still being practiced in Bahrain since 2011, despite the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to stop torture and hold those responsible for torture accountable. She stressed the ongoing practice of culture of impunity where torturers are not being held accountable. Among those responsible for directly torturing political prisoners are the King’s sons Naser bin Hamad and Khalid bin Hamad Alkhalifa, who enjoy a complete impunity. Mrs Bushehri presented strong cases of torture through the five year struggle, including the cases of the thirteen political leaders, Human Rights defender Naji Fateel, founder of Al Wasat Newspaper AbdulKarim Fakhrawi, and EBOHR Chairman Hussain Jawad.
The panel concluded by offering joint recommendations for the Bahraini government as well as the international community to follow in order to move towards reconciliation and reforms. Some of the main recommendations were as follows:
For the Bahraini government to:
Release all political prisoners and stop the torture
Allow access of UN Special Rapporteurs to Bahrain immediately
Repeal all laws and withdraw all decisions that have resulted in revoking Bahraini citizenships
Abolish capital punishment and reconsider alternative and reasonable sentencing
Draft new laws that criminalize the practice of torture and hold those responsible accountable
Establish an independent judiciary to carry out fair trials
For the German community and government to:
Speak louder on the violations in Bahrain, especially against German software companies that sell surveillance technology to the Bahraini government
Consider sports to be part of politics and take a stronger stand against Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa who is running for FIFA presidency
For the UN to:
Put together a fact-finding mission to Bahrain to probe the developments of the human rights situation for the past 5 years
Designate Bahrain as a country of concern when it comes to human rights violations