Human rights violations

Bahrain excludes human rights defenders from National Day prisoner release

The Gulf Center for Human Rights criticized the Bahraini regime’s exception of prominent human rights defenders released on Bahrain’s National Day.

On Sunday, Bahrain’s king marked the country’s National Day by issuing a decree pardoning 269 prisoners. 

In a separate statement, the government announced that a further 530 inmates would also be granted alternative sentences. 

The traditional demonstration of clemency on National Day also featured inmates held on political charges in a rare move. 

However, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said that several prominent political figures would remain in prison.

The Institute called for the immediate and unconditional release of all detained human rights defenders and activists whose rights to freedom of expression and assembly were violated. 

While the government did not disclose the names of inmates to be released, several political prisoners have already returned home. There were jubilant scenes as Medina Ali was released yesterday, greeted by family members and human rights activist Ebtisam Al Saegh. Three sisters from Diraz convicted in political cases, Iman, Amal and Fatima Ali, were also freed.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights worked with more than a dozen partners working in the field of human rights in a public campaign for the release of prisoners of conscience and related advocacy.

A decade later campaign highlights the 10th anniversary of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, which dissolved on November 23, 2021, with a united call for #FreeBahrainiPrisoners.

The campaign focuses on torture, imprisonment and other ill-treatment of prominent human rights defenders, journalists, activists and children, and the failure of the Bahrain government to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

“During the last phone call that my father had with me, he said that what they are asking for is justice, dignity and freedom, not improving conditions inside the cages of oppression in which they are trapped,” said Zainab Al-Khawaja, coordinator for the protection of journalists at the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

Zainab had been exiled from Bahrain with her sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja, and they could only see their father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja through video communications.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who also co-founded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and previously worked for Front Line Defenders, has been imprisoned for over ten years. Like other activists, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the popular movement that the country witnessed in 2011. He needs treatment because of the torture and ill-treatment he received in prison.

The Executive Director of the Gulf Center, Khalid Ibrahim, called on the government of Bahrain to “put an end to the abuse of human rights defenders, who have been treated worse than criminals, and whose voices have been silenced simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

He added, “The time for Bahrain to respect its international obligations and restore the freedom of my colleague and friend Abdul Hadi to him, along with a group of defenders who should never have been held behind bars, has passed.”

Other human rights defenders serving a life sentence include Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, an academic and blogger, who was tried in the same case as Al-Khawaja, known as Bahrain Thirteen.

Dr Al-Singace has been on hunger strike and has only been receiving fluids since July 8, 2021, in protest against the confiscation of a book on Bahraini dialects and culture that he spent four years writing, which the authorities refuse to hand over to his family.

His health has declined dramatically, and he has become very weak since he refused to receive fluids by intravenous injection after the authorities banned his regular video calls with his family.

During a press conference organized today by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy in front of the Bahraini Embassy in London, UK, in solidarity with Dr Al-Singace and other prisoners of conscience, Gulf Center Advisory Board member Melanie Gingell sent a message saying: “Human rights defenders should not be forced to strike for Food to make their voices heard. The UK government should look up human rights violations in Bahrain more vigorously.”

Bahraini activist and refugee Ali Mushaima has been on hunger strike since November 25, 2021, and is camping in front of the Bahraini embassy to call for the release of his imprisoned father, Hassan Mushaima and Dr Al-Singace in Bahrain, who was tortured and imprisoned in 2011 because of their peaceful role in leading calls for democracy.

Two days ago, he ended his hunger strike. The press conference requested support from members of the British Parliament before the start of the parliamentary recess, calling on Bahrain and the UK government to take action in this regard.

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