Protests in Bahrain in run up to Arab Spring anniversary


BCHR: NGOs Commemorate the Five-Year Anniversary of Bahrain’s Peaceful Uprising

Posted: 12 Feb 2016 06:10 AM PST
Five years ago, hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets to call for democratic reform and an end to discriminatory government policies. The Government of Bahrain responded violently, deploying security forces who used excessive force to quell peaceful protests.  Their tactics have resulted in thousands of arrests, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of deaths since 2011. On the fifth anniversary of the protest movement that began that day, 14 February 2011, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), and Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO) call on the Government of Bahrain to respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and to refrain from using force to suppress non-violent demonstrations. We also urge the Bahraini government to immediately release all arbitrarily detained political prisoners and human rights defenders and for all in Bahrain to unequivocally reject violence.
In the five years since Bahraini authorities violently suppressed the 2011 demonstrations, the political situation has not improved. Following the original protests, the government established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a committee of jurists and legal scholars tasked with investigating crimes committed by the authorities and suggesting the reforms necessary to resolve the country’s political crisis. Almost half a decade later, however, no more than five of the BICI’s 26 recommendations have been fully implemented. As documented in Shattering the Façade, a report released by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD in 2015, the Government of Bahrain has not only failed to institute the most substantial reforms, it has actively obscured this fact with superficial policy changes and regular declarations of “unprecedented progress.”
“When the BICI first released its report, Bahrainis were hopeful. They saw it as a potential roadmap out of oppression, discrimination, and corruption,” Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, Vice President of the BCHR, remembers. “Now, the BICI is a constant reminder of what could have been – the justice and freedom that the government refuses to grant its people.” 
Rather than implement its commitment to reconciliation, the Government of Bahrain has retrenched, coming to rely more and more on the same repressive security measures condemned in the BICI report. In the last four months of 2015, Bahraini authorities arrested more than 400 people, 76 percent of which were arrested arbitrarily or unlawfully. At the same time, ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD have documented a pattern of enforced disappearance, due process violations, and severe torture within the Bahraini criminal justice system, finding evidence of the use of systematic torture between 2011 and 2015.
“Despite its claims to the contrary, the government has effectively abandoned truth and reconciliation for violence and intimidation,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Advocacy Director of BIRD. “The security forces may not be killing protesters in the streets – as they have in years past – but it’s only because they’ve honed their practices of arbitrary detention, disappearance and torture.”
The government’s recurrent failure to address the political crisis is embodied in the aftermath of the March 2015 riot at Jau Prison, a detention facility that holds hundreds of the country’s political prisoners.  After a minority of prisoners rioted over the facility’s overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, security forces subjected inmates to mass psychological and physical abuse. Less than a month ago, in the face of mounting evidence collective punishment, abuse, and due process violations at Jau, a Bahraini court sentenced 57 of these inmates to additional 15-year jail terms for offenses such as “resisting authorities” and “damaging public property.”
“The government has made clear its intentions to double down on the repressive measures it used to suppress democracy five years ago, not reform them,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “To avoid a relapse into the same unrest and instability, the Government of Bahrain must immediately change its reckless course.”
“In light of the ongoing violations, Bahrain’s continuing claims of reform are a gamble on the nation’s reputation,” stated Hugh Ali, Executive Director of JHRO. “We call for joint efforts in order to provide international guarantees to the people of Bahrain towards the exercise their legitimate rights as per the international conventions and treaties.”
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Posted: 12 Feb 2016 02:44 AM PST
Five years after a wave of protests demanding widespread reform rocked Bahrain, hopes for progress on human rights and accountability for past and present abuses have faded, said Amnesty International.
The mass protests which began on 14 February 2011 were met with violence by the security forces, who shot dead and injured protesters. Others died in custody after being tortured.
“Five years since the uprising, torture, arbitrary detention and a widespread crackdown against peaceful activists and government critics have continued. Today in Bahrain, anyone who dares to criticize the authorities – whether a human rights defender or political activist – risks punishment,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“Despite pledges from the authorities to prosecute security forces responsible for human rights violations in 2011, the Bahraini people are still waiting for justice. Institutions set up to protect human rights have not only failed to independently investigate or hold perpetrators to account, but now increasingly appear to be used to whitewash continuing abuses.”
Political activists, human rights defenders, teachers and doctors were amongst those arrested for leading or participating in the 2011 protests or speaking out about abuses. Many of them remain behind bars. Several are serving life sentences, in some cases after being convicted based on “confessions” they said were extracted through torture. In stark contrast, there has been no accountability for the overwhelming majority of violations. The few members of the security forces who were prosecuted for committing violations, including those who fatally shot protesters, were either acquitted for “self-defence” or given token sentences that did not reflect the gravity of the violations.
“The failure to effectively hold security officers who committed abuses in 2011 to account sends the message that torture and arbitrary and abusive force will go unpunished. The authorities must rein in the security forces and make absolutely clear that violations will not be tolerated and those responsible will be brought to justice.” said James Lynch.
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Posted: 12 Feb 2016 01:27 AM PST
Download the Full Report Here.
On January 6, 2016, Bahrain’s authorities charged Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, a human rights defender and cleric, with incitement of hatred towards the system of government and expressing views on an ongoing trial with the intent to change public opinion. The charges were based on a speech Sheikh Maytham delivered on December 27, 2015, at a public event held in solidarity with Al-Wefaq’s imprisoned Security General, Sheikh Ali Salman. This legal statement is concerned with the legitimacy of the charges laid by the authorities of Bahrain against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman. This review was prompted by the repeated use of such or similar charges against human rights defenders and political opponents, including Sheikh Maythan himself.
The statement analyses the charges in line with international human rights standards and jurisprudence related to freedom of expression. Under international law, freedom of expression may only be restricted it the restrictions satisfy a three-part test: a) legality, b) legitimate grounds and c) necessity and proportionality. Accordingly, this statement analyses whether the charges (incitement and contempt of court) against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman meet the three-part test. This statement also reviews the circumstances surrounding Sheikh Maytham Al Salman detention and charges.
On the basis of a thorough discussion of international, regional and national jurisprudence, this statement concludes that the charges of incitement to hatred against the system of government and of expressing views on an on-going trial fail both the legality and the necessity test. The statement also finds that Bahrain’s Government, by subjecting Sheikh Maytham Al Salman to repeated detention, interrogation and unsubstantiated charges, is creating in terrorem conditions, aimed at instilling fears and self-censorship, and amounting to harassment.
In conclusion, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression calls on the authorities of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman and put an end to its harassment of the human rights defender and inter-faith activist.
This Legal Statement received international support from freedom of expression scholars, lawyers, and activists. The Signatories list is live and new signatories are added as the come in.
Galina Arapova, Director, Senior Media Lawyer, Mass Media Defence Centre, RUSSIA
Catherine Anite, Head of Legal Department, Media Lawyer, UGANDA
Romel Regalado Bagares, esq., Executive Director, Center for International Law, PHILIPPINES 
Samir Behmeda, Lawyer and Member, Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, TUNISIA
Mishi Choudhary, Executive Director, Software Freedom Law Center, Lawyer, INDIA
Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University, U.S.A
R. Dipendra, Media Defence Lawyer, MALAYSIA
Charles Glasser*, Lawyer, Adjunct Professor of Media Ethics and Law, Arthur Carter Graduate School of Journalism, New York University, U.S.A
David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes, ARTICLE 19, UNITED KINGDOM
Dr. Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director, Free Expression Programs, PEN America, U.S.A.
Gregg P. Leslie, Legal Defense Director, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, U.S.A
Catalina Botero Marino, Lawyer, Professor at the Universidad Externado Law School, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2008-2015), COLOMBIA
Peter Noorlander, Chief Executive Officer, Media Legal Defense Initiative, UNITED KINGDOM 
Karuna Nundy, Advocate, Supreme Court of India, INDIA 
Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director, Bytes for All, PAKISTAN
Carey Shenkman, First Amendment and Human Rights Lawyer for Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, U.S.A.
David A. Schulz, Director, Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic, Law School, Yale University, U.S.A.
Damian Tambini, Associate Professor, London School of Economics, UNITED KINGDOM
Dr. Dirk Voorhoof, Professor of Media Law, Ghent University, BELGIUM
Richard N. Winfield, Lecturer in Law, Law School, Colombia University, U.S.A.
Signatories list was last updated on February 11, 2015 at 3:30 PM EST.

Link to the Statement Here.
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