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The Observatory – Bahrain: Harassment of various human rights defenders, including excessive use of force, ill-treatment and torture in custody

Throughout May 2017, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) supported by, has raised the voice to warn about several acts of harassment targeting various human rights defenders, including excessive use of force, ill-treatment and torture in custody and other acts of intimidation by Bahraini security forces.

Concurrently to the repression of peaceful protesters, a number of human rights defenders, journalists and online activists have been summoned for interrogation, reportedly ill-treated, threatened and forced to publicly announce their resignation from their human rights activities during interrogation by the Bahraini National Security Agency (NSA).

According to the information received, on May 23, 2017, Mr. Mohammed Kadhem Mohsen, Deputy President of a local chapter of the Environment Friends Society [1] in the village of Duraz, died from injuries to his head caused by birdshot during a police raid on the same day against a peaceful sit-in organised to protest the harassment of religious leader Sheikh Issa Qassem [2]. During the raid, 286 persons were arrested and at least four other peaceful protesters were killed, including Messrs. Mohammed Ali Ibrahim Ahmed, Ahmad Jamil Ahmed Mohammed Al-Asfour and Mohammed Ahmed Hassan Mohammed Hamdan [3]. Throughout May 2017, peaceful protesters have been violently cracked down by authorities in Duraz, which access is restricted to since this is the city where Sheikh Issa Qassem resides.On May 23, 2017, Mr. Adel Al-Marzoog, member of the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory of the Al-Wehdawi Society, a political group, was summoned by the NSA in Muharraq and kept in custody until the following day. Following his release on May 24, 2017, Mr. Al-Marzoog announced his resignation and said that he will stop all his human rights activities. It has been reported that he was ill-treated during his detention and forced to remain standing for 18 hours.

On May 24, 2017, the Third Grand Criminal Court reduced Dr. Taha Al-Derazi’s sentence from six to three months in detention under charges of “illegal gathering”. Dr. Al-Derazi was immediately taken into custody to begin serving his sentence. Charges against him stem from his arrest, interrogation and subsequent release on August 14, 2016, after taking part in a peaceful assembly on July 19, 2016 in the village of Duraz protesting the arbitrary revocation of Sheik Issa Qassem’s citizenship.

On May 25, 2017, the Second Lower Criminal Court handed down a 1,000 Bahraini dinars (approx. 2,365 Euros) fine against journalist Ms. Nazeeha Saeed, France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s correspondent in Bahrain, for “working without a license” [4]. The Court of Appeals will review her case on July 18, 2017. Ms. Saeed, whose application to renew her license has been rejected without any basis at the end of March 2016, was summoned for interrogation and charged with “unlawfully working for an international media” under Article 88 of Law 47/2002 on July 17, 2016.

Besides, on May 27, 2017, Mrs. Ebtisam Al-Saegh, Monitoring and Documentation Officer at the NGO Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, was summoned by the NSA to Muharraq police station. She was released seven hours later and was immediately taken to the hospital in a very concerning psychological state, following a “severe nervous breakdown”. Upon her release, Mrs. Al-Saegh reported having suffered acts of torture, including severe beatings on the head, sexual abuse and was insulted threatened to be raped if she continued her human rights work. NSA agents also threatened to target her family members. According to reliable reports, she was also forced to repeat the royal anthem and beaten and insulted when failed to do so properly. During her interrogation, she was asked about the work of activists inside and outside Bahrain, including in Geneva during sessions of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC).

Mrs. Ebtisam Al-Saegh, who together with 22 other human rights defenders in April 2017 was subjected to a travel ban and falsely accused of participating in “illegal gatherings” in the city of Duraz [5], is also the target of a defamation campaign conducted by the pro-government newspaper Al-Ayam, which accused her of fabricating reports on human rights violations in Bahrain. On May 15, 2017, Mrs. Al-Saegh’s car was burnt.

Summoned by the NSA in Muharraq on May 28, 2017, blogger Mr. Hassan Al-Sharqi, who had been tweeting about the Duraz protests, the rights of peaceful assemblers and calling authorities to allow families of killed protesters to see the bodies, declared on the same day that he would stop tweeting. Reports confirmed that during his interrogation he was insulted, beaten and ordered by a security officer to stop his online activities.

On the same day, the head of the monitoring and documentation team at the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), Mr. Abduljalil Yousif, was summoned to the headquarters of NSA in Muharraq. He was interrogated for four hours about his human rights activities with BHRS and about his private life. Upon his release, he reported that he had been subjected to insults and psychological torture and was threatened that if he does not stop his human rights activities, he would be exposed and his family will be targeted.

The Observatory condemns the killing of Mr. Mohammed Kadhem and urges Bahraini authorities to adopt effective measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in the country. The Observatory also calls for an immediate, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into Mr. Mohammed Kadhem’s death and for those responsible to be held accountable.
The Observatory is appalled by the above-mentioned reports of torture and ill-treatment and expresses its outmost concerns over these new acts of harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders in Bahrain, which only aim at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities, and urges authorities to fully investigate the allegations of mistreatment by the authorities.