The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the Bahraini authorities’ continued crackdown on peaceful protesters exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. The safety and well-being of Bahraini protesters are currently threatened as the government has further intensified its efforts of repressing all forms of peaceful dissent.
Following the revocation of citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qasim, Bahrain’s Shia spiritual leader,on 20 June 2016, people have taken to the streets to protest against the Ministry of Interior (MOI)’s decision to render Isa Qasim stateless, in numbers not seen since 2011.
BCHR’s team on the ground has documented several protests where the police have taken forceful measures to end the protests including the use of tear gas and shotgun pellets. From 20 to 22 June 2016, a total of 46 peaceful protests took place in Bahrain, of which ten were attacked by the riot police.
For example, on 20 June 2016, police forces fired upon protesters with shotguns in the cities of Juffair and Aali causing injuries to protesters. On 21 June 2016, peaceful protesters took to the streets of Al-Dair, Adhari and Bilad Al-Qadeem, where they were met by Bahraini police forces.
Additionally, from 21 June 2016, police forces were deployed around Duraz where a mass open-ended sit-in started in front of the house of Sheikh Qasim to protest against his citizenship revocation. The security forces have been reportedly controlling and limiting access to the area where even the residents of the area and workers had faced difficulty to access it. Security forces have blocked several entrances to the area and placed checkpoints to check the identities of those entering the area. The MOI had threatened people earlier “against calls inciting security disturbances,” saying, “Legal actions will be taken against violators.”
Furthermore, on 23 Jun 2016 at 8 AM, six clerics were summoned for interrogation at Budaiya police station, and were subsequently referred to the public prosecution for interrogation. According to the MOI statement, they face charges of “illegal gathering at Duraz, and incitement to violate the law.” The statement was later withdrawn from its website and local news sites. Local newspapers have reportedly been given an order by the authorities not to report on the arrest of the clerics. The currently prosecuted and detained clerics are: Sheikh Mahmood Al-Aali (holding a leadership position in the now dissolved Council of Islamic Scholars), Sheikh Hamza Al-Dairi (former MP), Sheikh Fadhel Al-Zaki (holding a leadership position in the now dissolved Council of Islamic Scholars), Sheikh Muneer Al-Matooq, Sheikh Ali Rahmah and Sheikh Ebrahim Al-Safa. As well as two popular religious singers: Mahdi Sahwan and Jafar Al-Qashami.
With the current increase in violations of human rights cases documented in Bahrain, BCHR is expressing its utmost concern for the future of Bahraini civil society and calls upon the Bahraini government to end all use of excessive force and to respect the right to freedom of expression and assembly. BCHR is also concerned about possible escalation against peaceful protesters staging a sit-in in Duraz.
In the past two weeks, the Bahraini authorities have escalated measures to crackdown on human rights and pro-democracy activism, such as closing down Bahrain’s largest political society and opposition party to the state, Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, after doubling the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq, to a current total of nine years’ imprisonment. On 14 June 2016, the Ministry of Social Development dissolved the two remaining bastions of the Shia Muslim community, the Al-Risala Islamic Society and the Islamic Enlightenment Society. This is in addition to summoning nine Shia Clerics for interrogation on 15 June 2016.
Additionally, Nabeel Rajab, the President of BCHR and prominent human rights defender, was arrested and detained on 13 June 2016 for “spreading false news and rumours about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain.” And travel bans were further imposed on twelve human rights activists travelling to Geneva for the 32nd Session of UNHRC, as well as others attempting to leave the country.
Bahrain signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2006, and as a signatory party, Bahrain must respect and uphold freedom of expression and assembly, which are explicitly stated in article 19 and 21. Article 19 emphasizes an individual’s right to voice one’s opinion and article 21 states that “the right to peaceful assembly shall be recognized.” Both have been breached by the authorities on numerous occasions.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:
- End the systematic use of unjustified mass force on peaceful protesters exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly;
- Repeal all restrictions imposed on civil society; and
- Abide by international legislation upholding the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly without any restrictions or arbitrary legal procedures.