Posts Tagged ‘Bahrain’

Mary Lawlor calls on Bahrain to release Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on 60th birthday

April 6, 2021
A placard reads "Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, will and determination, hunger strike" during an anti-government protest on 5 September 2014 (AFP/File photo)

A placard reads “Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, will and determination, hunger strike” during an anti-government protest on 5 September 2014 (AFP/File photo)

Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, made the case for the release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, before his 60th birthday this week. in a video message posted to Twittery.

Khawaja, who previously served as president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been in prison for 10 years, serving a life sentence for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, among other charges. “He’s serving a life sentence in prison for peacefully defending the rights of others,” Lawlor said.  

He’s been given an unfair trial and details of his torture have been corroborated by an independent commission of inquiry.”  Lawlor said she had known Khawaja “for many years” and “witnessed his committed work for human rights in the Middle East”

The UN expert also noted that Khawaja’s case had been taken up by the European Union, the United Nations and other international organisations.

I urge the Bahraini government to finally release Abdulhadi in time for his 60th birthday on the 5th of April. His family have been fragmented and dislocated and have suffered greatly over the past ten years; it would be an honourable and compassionate act to allow them to reunite,” Lawlor concluded. 

Khawaja’s was one of the first high-profile arrests following the beginning of pro-democracy protests in 2011 that sparked a widespread government crackdown in Bahrain. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/09/12/bahrain-travails-of-a-family-of-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/un-expert-calls-bahrain-release-human-rights-defender-abdulhadi-alkhawaja

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/5023-bahraini-human-rights-defender-abdul-hadi-al-khawaja-turns-60-on-his-10th-anniversary-in-prison

Profile in Persecution: Hasan Radhi AlBaqali

March 3, 2021

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) posted on 18 the following profile on Hasan Radhi AlBaqali who was a 28-year-old security personnel at a private company when he was arrested by Omani authorities on 22 February 2016 at Muscat Airport Oman based on Bahrain’s allegations, via INTERPOL, that he was a fugitive from justice. During his detention, he was subjected to torture and to several human rights violations. Recently, his health condition has been deteriorating, and he has not been provided with adequate medical care. He is currently held in Jau Prison.

At the end of 2012, Hasan left Bahrain into exile. While being in exile between 2012 and 2016, he was convicted in absentia with: 1) Disturbing the peace, 2) rioting, 3) placement of objects resembling explosive devices, 4) arson, 5) possession and fabrication of combustible or explosive materials, 6) possession of arms, 7) travelling to Iran to receive military training, and 8) membership in a terrorist cell. Consequently, he was sentenced in absentia to nearly 100 years in prison. It is believed that Hasan’s conviction was due to his peaceful participation in the 2011 pro-democracy protests in Bahrain.

On 22 February 2016, airport security officers at Muscat Airport Oman arrested Hasan based on Bahrain’s allegations, via INTERPOL, that he was a fugitive from justice. Then, he was turned over to Bahraini security forces, who put him aboard one of their private planes, drugged him via several injections which knocked him unconscious, and flew him back to Bahrain. His personal belongings including phone, money, passport, and national ID card were taken from him en route and have not since been returned to him or his family. After arriving in Bahrain, Hasan was transferred to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) building in Adliya.

From the date of arrest till the next day, 23 February, Hasan was subject to enforced disappearance until 10 p.m. of 23 February when he was able to call his family, telling them that he was in the CID building. The family received this call after multiple attempts to reach him through the Omani Embassy and through several human rights organizations.

Hasan was interrogated for 15 days between the CID and Building 15 of Jau Prison, where he was tortured by National Security Agency (NSA) officers and CID officers in order to give a false confession. He was beaten on his head, neck, and stomach, subjected to electric shocks to his testicles, placed naked in a cold room and submerged in cold water, deprived from sleep, and threatened with his life and wife. As a result, he confessed to the charges attributed to him. During this period, Hasan’s lawyer was unable to attend the interrogations, and Hasan was unable to meet his parents. Instead, he was able to only call them four times during this entire period, where the duration of each call was less than one minute.

Hasan was prevented from attending his trial, and he was brought to court once but was forced to remain in the police vehicle outside under the pretext that there were not enough police officers present to guard him inside the courtroom. Consequently, he was convicted in November 2016 of attempting to kill a policeman, although he was outside Bahrain when this incident happened. Therefore, he was sentenced to an additional 7 years in prison. Hasan appealed his sentence, and on 2 February 2017, the Appeals Court reduced his sentence from seven years to five years. On 15 May 2018, in an unfair mass trial that involved 138 individuals, the Bahraini Fourth High Criminal Court convicted Hasan of: 1) training to the use of firearms and explosive devices for terrorist purposes, (2) possession of firearms without a license and using them for purposes contrary to safety and public order for terrorist aims, and (3) the charge of joining a terrorist group, Zulfiqar Brigades, whose purpose violates the provisions of the constitution. Consequently, he was sentenced to another 7 years in prison, in addition to the revocation of his nationality.

In November 2016, following the issuance of the seven-year sentence against him, Hasan was subjected to a second and more severe round of torture. He was beaten on his head, stomach, and waist, and he was repeatedly electroshocked on his testicles. This torture led to a severe deterioration in Hasan’s health. He suffered from loss of focus due to frequent head injuries, severe injury to his testicles as he began to urinate blood, and chronic abdominal pain.

At that point, the Office of the Public Prosecutor (PPO) ordered that he be examined at Salmaniya hospital. The decision may have been motivated by the fact that Hasan’s sister filed complaints with both the Office of the Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit. An examination at the hospital on 19 November 2016 found that he had suffered “testicular trauma,” with edematic swelling of the left testicle and epididymis to more than one third larger than the normal size. He was removed from the hospital and returned to prison before he could complete a proper course of treatment, and the family has not been given full access to his hospital records. The PPO insists that the medical records should stay under their custody and that if the family wants any medical information they should seek it through the prosecutor’s office. Throughout this second round of interrogations, Hasan was also denied access to an attorney, was not allowed to receive visits from his family, and his phone calls to family were limited to a single minute.

Recently, Hasan’s health has been deteriorating since the injuries sustained from torture were not treated properly. He was seeing blood in his urine and feces as well as feeling severe pain in his stomach, kidneys, and bladder. In light of this, in the beginning of January, he was taken to an appointment in the Military Hospital and did the PCR test ahead of a surgery for varicose in his testicles which was scheduled for the third week of January 2021. However, instead of being returned to Building 14 and placed in isolation, he was taken to solitary confinement in the isolation building, Building 15 of Jau Prison. He was not informed of the steps to be followed ahead of the surgery, leaving him with no knowledge about his situation. Additionally, he was not given any medication to ease the pain he was feeling. Finally, within the closed cell, he could not know day from night and as such could not pray. These conditions took a psychological toll on Hasan since the pain, coupled with the isolation and lack of knowledge about his fate, brought him to the point of hysteria. Furthermore, he had been prohibited from contacting his family since his transfer, therefore making him forcibly disappeared. He was only able to call them on 16 January after going on a hunger strike in order to pressure authorities to grant him the right to call. In that call, he explained to them what occurred over the last two weeks and requested that they contact governmental bodies in order to alleviate his suffering. Although the family did contact the Ombudsman Office, because they are not routinely informed about his medical situation, they could not provide all the relevant information.

Hasan’s arrest, confiscation of his belongings, torture, unfair mass trial, denial of medical treatment, and enforced disappearance violate both the Bahraini Constitution as well as international obligations to which Bahrain is party, namely, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Since Hasan was arrested for political reasons and given that his conviction depended on forced false confessions, we can conclude that he is arbitrarily detained by Bahraini authorities.

Accordingly, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on Bahraini authorities to uphold their human rights obligations by investigating all allegations of torture, enforced disappearance, and denial of proper medical treatment to ensure accountability. ADHRB also demands that Hasan be provided with the required medical treatment for all the injuries and health problems resulting from torture within safe and healthy conditions. ADHRB reiterates its demand for Bahraini authorities to release Hasan immediately, along with all political prisoners that were tried based on confessions taken under torture.

Joint Letter to EU ahead of meeting with Bahraini Delegation on 10 February 2021

February 8, 2021

On 7 the ADHRB published a joint letter by 20 major NGOs to the EU about the EU-Bahrain Cooperation Agreement, which they say must Depend on Human Rights Improvements.

TO: Joseph Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission and Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights

Your Excellencies,

In light of the meeting between Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the European External Action Service currently scheduled to take place in Brussels on 10 february 2021, we are writing to raise concerns about the deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, following a year in which Human Rights Watch reports that the Bahraini government has “escalated repression” against critics. As the informal EU-Bahrain Human Rights Dialogue originally scheduled for November 2020 has been indefinitely postponed, it is vital that human rights concerns are placed at the center of your conversations with Bahraini officials during this upcoming meeting.

Bahrains Crackdown on Political Opposition and Civil Society

Bahrain’s February 2011 Arab Spring uprising was an event which many hoped would herald a new era of democracy in the country. However, since the government’s violent suppression of the protests, promised reforms have failed to materialise. The leaders of the protest movement, some of them now elderly, continue to languish in prison.

Since 2017, authorities have outlawed all independent media and dissolved all political opposition parties. Among the most prominent prisoners currently incarcerated are high-profile political opposition leaders, activists, bloggers and human rights defenders sentenced to life imprisonment for their roles in the 2011 pro-democracy protests. These include Hassan Mushaima, Abduljalil AlSingace, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja,[see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4d45e316-c636-4d02-852d-7bfc2b08b78d] Sheikh Mohammed Habib AlMuqdad and Abdulwahab Husain. In 2018, the leader of Bahrain’s largest opposition bloc, Sheikh Ali Salman, was sentenced to life in prison following trials on speech charges and spurious accusations of espionage.

Over the last four years, political activists have borne the full brunt of political repression in Bahrain, facing arbitrary arrest and lengthy prison terms, and in some cases torture, for opposing the government. Hundreds have been arbitrarily stripped of citizenship, while activists and journalists who continue their work from exile risk reprisals against family members who remain in the country.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least six journalists are currently imprisoned for their work in Bahrain, while the country has fallen to a lamentable 169/180 on the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Bahrain scored a paltry 1/40 for political rights in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020 report.

In addition, Bahrain’s government has increasingly turned to repressive cyber crime legislation to further restrict civic space, with prominent defence lawyers, opposition leaders and human rights defenders prosecuted over their social media activity since 2018. As Amnesty International has reported, Bahrain’s authorities have used the COVID-19  pandemic as a pretext “to further crush freedom of expression.”

Medical Negligence and Mistreatment in Jau Prison

Bahrain’s prisons remain overcrowded and unsanitary, and human rights groups have called on the government to release those imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression in light of the threat posed by COVID-19. Prisoners are frequently subjected to humiliating treatment and denied adequate medical care, in violation of Bahrain’s international human rights obligations. These include Hassan Mushaima and Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, who suffer from a range of chronic medical conditions, as well as human rights activists Ali AlHajee and Naji Fateel.

Other prominent prisoners include two European-Bahraini dual citizens, the Danish-Bahraini Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and the Swedish-Bahraini Sheikh Mohammed Habib AlMuqdad, both of whom are considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, having been prosecuted and sentenced to life imprisonment for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment including denial of medical care.

In April 2011, security forces violently arrested Al-Khawaja and broke his jaw, leading to surgery for four broken bones in his face. Security officers tortured Al-Khawaja directly after his major jaw surgery, while blindfolded and restrained to a military hospital bed, which forced the doctor to ask the security officers to stop as it would undo the surgical work. Almost ten years later he still suffers from chronic pain and requires additional surgery to remove the metal plates and screws that were used to reattach his jaw. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/27/over-100-ngos-write-to-prime-minister-of-denmark-to-pressure-bahrain-to-release-abdul-hadi-al-khawaja/]

AlMuqdad, who was tortured by methods including severe beating and electrocution, suffers from multiple health problems, including a hernia likely caused by his torture, but is being denied proper health care. As of January 2021, in addition to the need for urgent surgery to repair the hernia, AlMuqdad is in need of heart surgery to unblock his coronary arteries and examination by a urologist to diagnose a prostate problem. The prison administration continues to delay the surgeries and specialist appointments, blaming the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Death Penalty and Arbitrary Killings

In 2017, Bahrain abandoned a de facto moratorium on the death penalty and has since conducted six executions, five of which were condemned as arbitrary by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard, in 2017 and 2019 respectively. According to recent research by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Reprieve, 26 death row inmates currently face imminent execution in the country, nearly half of whom were convicted on the basis of confessions allegedly extracted under torture in cases related to political unrest.

These include Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa, whose death sentences were upheld in July 2020 despite credible evidence that both men were convicted on the basis of confessions obtained under torture. Independent experts at the International Committee for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims concluded that investigations by Bahrain’s human rights oversight bodies into the torture of the two men “fail[ed] to meet the minimum professional standards and the minimum international legal standards”, while the Bar Human Rights Council of England and Wales warned that “upholding the convictions would be wholly inconsistent with Bahrain’s international obligations”. Both men are at risk of imminent execution. Three UN human rights experts warned on 12 February 2020 that carrying out these death sentences would constitute an arbitrary killing.

Our Requests

Bahraini authorities have engaged in widespread violations of human rights enshrined in both Bahrain’s national legal system as well as in multiple international human rights treaties to which Bahrain is a state party.

Furthermore, a prevailing culture of impunity has allowed suspected perpetrators of serious human rights violations to avoid accountability. In light of the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, we therefore ask that during the meeting the EEAS:

  • Urges the unconditional and immediate release of all those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, including Hassan Mushaima, Abduljalil AlSingace, Abdulwahab Husain and Sheikh Ali Salman;
  • Urges for the unconditional and immediate release of Danish-Bahraini Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and Swedish-Bahraini Sheikh AlMuqdad;
  • Calls for an independent review of the cases involving those facing the death penalty, including the cases of Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa; as well as for the ultimate revocation of their death sentences;
  • Urges Bahraini authorities to reinstate a moratorium on the death penalty;
  • Pressures Bahrain to end the use of torture and other -ill-treatment and to tackle the culture of impunity by holding suspected perpetrators accountable and ensuring effective mechanisms for victims to receive justice and restitution;
  • Urges Bahrain to rescind its arbitrary bans on opposition parties, civil society groups and independent media and encourage the development of civic space in Bahrain;
  • Urges the Bahraini Government to ensure its respect to, and protection of, the right to freedom of expression, and to take necessary steps to ensure freedom of the press; and
  • Persuades Bahrain’s government to take concrete and measurable steps towards justice reform and respect for human rights.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/bahrain/

Sincerely,

  1. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK
  4. ARTICLE 19
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  6. CIVICUS
  7. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  8. Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
  9. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  10. Freedom House
  11. Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
  12. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  13. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  14. Index on Censorship
  15. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  16. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  17. PEN International
  18. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  19. Reprieve
  20. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Over 100 NGOs write to Prime Minister of Denmark to pressure Bahrain to release Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja.

January 27, 2021
Over 100 NGOs urge Bahraini king to release rights defender Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja

The Danish government should renew and strengthen efforts to secure the immediate and unconditional release of prominent human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 108 international and Bahraini rights groups said on 24 January 2021 in a joint letter to Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark. As reported by the AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA).

The human rights defender, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 59, is serving a life sentence in Bahrain’s Jaw prison for his peaceful political and human rights activities, in violation of his right to freedom of expression. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/abdulhadi-al-khawaja/]

There is no doubt that the conviction and sentencing of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was unfair and oppressive and tried to silence his prominent voice demanding the rights of Bahrainis,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Al-Khawaja should not have had to spend a single minute behind bars, yet he has been unjustly detained for almost a decade.

He had worked as the Middle East and North Africa protection coordinator for Front Line Defenders from 2008 until early 2011. See: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-abdulhadi-al-khawaja

https://en.abna24.com/news//over-100-ngos-urge-bahraini-king-to-release-rights-defender-abdul-hadi-al-khawaja_1108546.html

Training the next generation of international women human rights defenders

November 17, 2020

Dana Walters, in Harvard Law Today of 16 November 2020 describes how Salma Waheedi partners with gender justice coalitions to advance legal equality in Muslim communities. I repeat the article in full as it contains lots of interesting details:

Since joining Harvard Law School, Salma Waheedi, a clinical instructor and lecturer on law in the International Human Rights Clinic, has devoted a major part of her teaching and clinical legal practice to training students to become effective international women’s rights advocates. A native of Bahrain and a U.S.-trained attorney with a background in constitutional and Islamic Law, Waheedi has led advocacy and social justice-oriented legal projects in partnership with women’s rights activists in Muslim communities. To change the lived experiences of women most acutely, Waheedi and her partners have focused on family law reform.

Salma Waheedi joined Harvard Law School in 2016 as a joint fellow in Islamic Legal Studies and the International Human Rights Clinic. Today, she is a clinical instructor and lecturer in law in the International Human Rights Clinic and associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

Despite its huge impact on women’s lives, it’s an area that receives relatively little attention in human rights circles,” Waheedi said. “We are talking about a system of laws that govern all aspects of women’s private lives, including marriage, divorce, child custody, matrimonial property, inheritance, as well as freedom of movement and work and protection from violence.”

..Waheedi’s practice focuses on lending legal support to women’s rights advocates working with their local communities, as well as international coalitions working to foster cross-regional collaborations. One key example is Musawah, a global movement advocating for justice and equality in the Muslim family. Musawah takes strong positions against child marriage, forced marriage, and polygamy and calls for equality in spousal rights, custody rights, access to divorce, and inheritance rights. It advocates for these changes through a holistic framework that integrates progressive Islamic legal interpretations, human rights principles, local constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, and the lived experiences of Muslim women.

“Many current legal provisions are no longer tenable given the lived realities of Muslim women today,” Waheedi said. “Muslim feminist scholarship aims to create a paradigm shift by emphasizing the need to return to the core principles of the Quran, such as justice, equality, and dignity for all, as a basis for an alternative rights-based reading of Islamic legal sources that responds to the contemporary needs of the Muslim family.”

To help conceptualize current reforms and outdated laws, Musawah and Waheedi’s student teams have put together a comprehensive Muslim family law mapping project. The project is a resource for researchers and academics to look comparatively across 31 countries with Muslim majorities or minorities. Importantly, the initiative also outlines positive developments for women’s rights in the Muslim world, celebrating successes, as well as marking lessons for how to continue to advocate for change.

In Fall 2018, Samantha Lint ’20 (middle) traveled to Geneva with Waheedi to work with women’s rights advocates to present a report on Mauritius to UN committees. Lint is seated between advocates Narghis Bundhun (left) and Anushka Virahsawmy (right).

Over the years, Waheedi’s student teams have also collaborated with international coalitions, local organizations, and grassroots activists to develop legal reform proposals and strategic advocacy reports to address gender discrimination in countries including Jordan, Nigeria, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Kenya, Mauritius. Salomé Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18, who worked with Waheedi in 2017-2018, said working on such advocacy reports required “creative thinking,” asking students to learn and rely on comparative law, alternative interpretations of Islamic law, and human rights standards. After working on the reports, students often worked closely with activists to develop engagement strategies with their local legislatures or at the international level with United Nations mechanisms.

In fall 2018, International Human Rights Clinic alumna Samantha Lint ’20 worked with Waheedi, Musawah, and Mauritian family law expert, Narghis Bundhun, to document gaps in legal protection for married Muslim women. After working on the report, Lint traveled with Waheedi to present the findings to the U.N. Committee on the Convention on the Eliminations of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Lint, who had come to law school after working in women’s empowerment and global reproductive health, learned a tremendous amount about how to “support NGO advocacy in a U.N. treaty review process.” Importantly, she noted, working on the project demonstrated how change is possible within a large and bureaucratic organization like the U.N.

“After presenting our report to the CEDAW Committee, several members focused on the issues we raised when questioning the government of Mauritius. The government seemed a bit taken aback, and the committee really emphasized the problems with the lack of clear codified rights for Muslim religious marriages,” Lint said. “I saw that civil society advocates are a huge resource to the Committee, and are key in elevating issues that may otherwise go overlooked.”

Moreover, after presenting the report to the U.N., Lint and her team learned that the “the review process served as a catalyst for on-the-ground discussions and change [in Mauritius].”

Waheedi emphasized that she teaches her students that, as international lawyers, their role is to amplify the voices of local communities and grassroots activists.

She added, “local activists know the situation on the ground best. They are very clear about their priorities and needs. But many of these activists don’t always have the capacity or the resources to manage a full advocacy campaign at the international level. That’s where we come in,” she said. “In those cases, we have been able to work with the advocates to distill issues of concern, articulate proposals for legal reform, formulate advocacy strategies, and help them figure out where to put pressure on certain priority points to make change happen. But at the end, their voices are the ones that must be heard.”

Tarek Zeidan, executive director of the LGBT rights organization, Helem, was a cross-registered Harvard Kennedy School student in the International Human Rights Clinic. Zeidan worked with Waheedi on a project advocating for legal equality and protection of women from violence in Kuwait and Oman, gathering testimonies from local women and learning how to weave such first-hand evidence into documentation for advocacy purposes.

Working on the project gave Zeidan professional insight into how to structure human rights documentation and link it to “existing international legislatures to make the strongest case for equality-oriented legal reforms.”

Zeidan still draws on the lessons he learned with Waheedi as he now leads Helem in Lebanon: “I based a lot of our engagement plans with international organizations like the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or the United Nations Development Programme on what I learned about appealing to international organizations in the clinic.”

“One of my main objectives is to train lawyers and advocates who would listen mindfully, set aside their assumptions and preconceptions, and work in collaboration with local activists and communities to develop solutions that correspond to their needs and priorities. Strengthening students’ cross-cultural sensitivity and the competency to translate between contexts are key learning goals in all these projects,” Waheedi said.

In 2018, Waheedi was named associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World, a research program at Harvard Law School, which has enabled her to foster stronger engagement with scholars and policy experts and to bring contemporary debates on gender, feminism, and legal advocacy in Muslim contexts to HLS.

In late November, Waheedi will participate in Musawah’s global convening on Muslim family law reform, which will bring together activists, scholars, and policy makers from over thirty different countries to strengthen networks of mutual learning and support. Advocates will hold consultations over the course of five days to identify key barriers and challenges to reform in national contexts, share good practices, and work to develop key messaging to build public support for advancing equality and justice and to challenge Islamist and Islamophobic narratives.

The meeting will also celebrate and build upon the recently launched Musawah initiative, the Global Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws. In early October, Waheedi curated a webinar for the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World to highlight the campaign and the voices of Muslim women activists campaigning for egalitarian reform. The webinar, titled, “Muslim Women Creating New Futures,” featured Zainah Anwar, executive eirector of Musawah; Marwa Sharafelden, Musawah’s MENA region senior expert; and Hala Al-Karib, regional director of the strategic initiative for women in the Horn of Africa, and was moderated by International Human Rights Clinic alum Upegui.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has made “the work more relevant and urgent,” says Waheedi. As the UN has observed, the virus has been associated with a “a shadow pandemic,” a rise in violence against women and girls, and has exacerbated inequalities faced by women in the realm of marriage and the family. Musawah’s campaign and Waheedi’s advocacy for women’s rights operate within this context.

“It is important to recognize that there are no quick wins in this line of work, yet my students and I are always motivated and inspired by the dedication and perseverance of our partners in the most challenging of circumstances. We are energized by positive changes that are achieved through the relentless work of grassroots activists and organizers—from family law reforms in Jordan and Morocco to passing a law against domestic violence in Kuwait this year to banning triple talaq in India in a 2017 Constitutional Court victory. Change is not only possible; it is inevitable.”

UK criticised for selling spyware and wiretaps to 17 repressive regimes including Saudi Arabia and China

July 13, 2020

Jon Stone in the Independent of 13 july 2020 wrote about the UK Government being urged to explain £75m exports to countries rated ‘not free’. The British government is providing more than a dozen repressive regimes around the world with wiretaps, spyware and other telecommunications interception equipment they could use to spy on dissidents, public records show. Despite rules saying the UK should not export security goods to countries that might use them for internal repression, ministers have signed off more than £75m in such exports over the past five years to states rated “not free” by the NGO Freedom House.

The 17 countries include China, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as the United Arab Emirates, which was the biggest recipient of licences totalling £11.5m alone since 2015….One such beneficiary of the UK’s exports is Hong Kong, which had a £2m shipment approved last year despite ongoing repression of pro-democracy protests. The Philippines, where police extrajudicial killings are rampant, has also provided steady business for British firms hawking surveillance systems.,,

A government spokesperson said blandly : “The government takes its export responsibilities seriously and assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.” But Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s programme director for military, security and police affairs, said the UK did not seem to be undertaking proper risk assessments when selling such equipment and said the government’s controls were becoming “notorious” for their “faulty decision-making”

With numerous human rights defenders arrested and jailed in countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey in the past five years, there’s a greater need than ever for the UK to be absolutely scrupulous in assessing the risk of UK telecoms technology being used unlawfully against human rights activists, journalists, and peaceful opposition figures.

“It’s just not clear that the UK is undertaking proper risk assessments when selling this equipment, and it’s not clear whether UK officials are making any effort to track how the equipment is used in one, two or three years’ time.

This week international trade secretary Liz Truss announced the UK would be resuming arms exports to Saudi Arabia, after a court had previously ordered that they were suspended. The government said it had reviewed claims that Saudi forces in Yemen had breached international humanitarian law and said any possible breaches were “isolated incidents” because they had happened in different places and different ways.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said the sale of the spying equipment raised “serious questions and concerns”.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/14/beyond-whatsapp-and-nso-how-human-rights-defenders-are-targeted-by-cyberattacks/

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-spyware-wiretaps-saudi-arabia-china-bahrain-uae-human-rights-a9613206.html

Breaking: Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain finally released

June 10, 2020

Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab gestures as he leaves a police station in Manama, Bahrain, on May 28, 2012. Rajab, who had been sentenced to five years in prison for tweets alleging abuse at Bahrain’s prisons, has been released amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic HASAN JAMALI/AP

JON GAMBRELL for Associated Press reproted on 9 June, 2020 that Bahrain has freed prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, allowing him to serve out the remainder of his internationally criticized prison sentence from home. See recent post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/24/martin-ennals-award-laureates-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-their-imprisoned-fellow-award-winners/

Nabeel Rajab, 55, wore a garland of white roses after his release, smiling while posing with his family for the first time since being detained in June 2016. Bahrain has been releasing inmates amid the pandemic, but largely had avoided freeing political prisoners. In September, a court denied Rajab’s request to serve out the rest of his sentence at home.

Rajab received a five-year prison sentence over tweets alleging torture at one of the country’s prisons and criticism of the Saudi-led war in Yemen. He separately received a two-year prison sentence over television interviews he gave that included criticism of Bahrain, a small island nation off Saudi Arabia that’s home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Fo rmore posts on Rajab, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nabeel-rajab/

Bahrain’s prisons remain crowded with peaceful human rights defenders and opposition leaders, whose lives are threatened by the government’s inadequate response to COVID-19,” said Husain Abdulla, the executive director of the group Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.

https://www.startribune.com/bahrain-activist-nabeel-rajab-released-from-prison/571128782/?refresh=true

https://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/prominent-bahraini-rights-activist-released-from-prison-1.633018

Martin Ennals Award laureates rally to demand freedom for their imprisoned fellow award-winners

April 24, 2020

On 21 April 2020, – for the first time – a group of 14 former winners of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders rallied around their follow laureates lingering in jail.  They signed a joint letter to the Permanent Representatives to the UN of Bahrain, China, Iran and the United Arab Emirates:

Your Excellencies:

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, we the undersigned, winners of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, are calling for the release of all imprisoned human rights defenders around the world, who are at tremendous risk due to the virus. We add our voices to the calls of international leaders, of hundreds of civil society organizations and thousands of mobilized citizens, to grant clemency towards vulnerable prisoners during this health crisis, including our fellow award-winners who are imprisoned for their defense of human rights in four countries:

…..

Today we are deeply concerned about the continued imprisonment of defenders across the world, despite their exposure to and high risk of contracting COVID-19. Numerous health authorities and human rights organisations have denounced the risks of COVID-19 for prisoners held in crowded conditions. …[ See e.g. also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/23/civicus-and-600-ngos-dont-violate-human-rights-while-responding-to-covid-19/; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/14/un-guidelines-for-use-of-emergency-powers-in-time-of-covid-19-pandemic/%5D

Despite the tragedy of lives lost and significant economic damage, we believe this crisis will also present opportunities for a better world. Now is the time to remedy the unjust detention of these individuals. By releasing our brothers and sisters – Ilham, Ahmed, Nabeel, Abdullah, and Nasrin – the leaders of your nations would demonstrate their capacity for mercy and responsibility. We therefore call on your government to free our fellow Martin Ennals Award winners immediately, as well as all human rights defenders in detainment, so that their physical integrity is ensured, and they can receive appropriate medical and psychological support.

 Signed:

Huda al-Sarari
Yemen, Laureate 2020

Norma Librada Ledezma
Mexico, Finalist 2020

Sizani Ngubane
South Africa, Finalist 2020

Abdul Aziz Mohamat
Sudan, Laureate 2019

Eren Keskin
Turkey, Finalist 2019

Marino Córdoba
Colombia, Finalist 2019

Mohamed Zaree
Egypt, Laureate 2017

Karla Avelar
El Salvador, Finalist 2017

Asmaou Diallo
Guinea, Finalist 2015

Adilur Rahman Khan
Bangladesh, Finalist 2014

Mona Seif
Egypt, Finalist 2013

Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Finalist 2012

Arnold Tsunga
Zimbabwe, Laureate 2006

Clement Nwankwo
Nigeria, Laureate 1996

—-

https://www.martinennalsaward.org/the-mea-winners-are-calling-for-the-release-of-imprisoned-hrd-including-their-fellow-award-winner/

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Gulf Center for Human Rights 

April 9, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, here the position of Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) posted on 8 April 2020 in Global Voices:

COVID19 cases in the MENA region have led governments to institute containment and other measures to slow the spread the highly contagious coronavirus. These measures have especially targeted some of the most vulnerable groups such as human rights defenders in prison, migrant workers and independent media. The Gulf Center for Human Rights have tracked how some of these measures have seriously impacted the overall human rights situation in the region.

Below is GHCR’s brief human rights review of COVID-19’s impact on the MENA region:

1. Detained human rights defenders

The reality is that most human rights defenders are still in prison in the MENA region at a time when governments including those of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt released some prisoners as part of preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus. With the spread of COVID-19, the lives of jailed human rights defenders are at imminent risk in countries such as Iran, Egypt, Kuwait, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and other countries that have crowded prisons lacking minimum health standards. Among those currently imprisoned are Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Nabeel Rajab, founding directors of the GCHR, serving a life sentence and five years in jail, respectively. In the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Mansoor has been held in solitary confinement for three years, serving a 10-year jail sentence for his human rights activism, including peacefully expressing his views on social media. In Saudi Arabia, women’s rights activist Lugain al-Hathloul also remains in prison.

2. Access to information and shutting down newspapers

Most governments in the MENA region are not releasing the actual numbers of cases of those infected with the virus and also making it very difficult for journalists to have access to reliable information about the spread, treatment, and the victims of COVID-19. Also, journalists who are providing factual information about the crisis to citizens are at risk.

….In Oman, on March 22, 2020, the Supreme Committee for Dealing with COVID-19 ordered all newspapers, magazines, and other publications to cease printing and circulating, according to the Times of Oman, which published the committee’s order. The order also prohibited the sale and circulation of newspapers, magazines and publications imported into the country. In Morocco, that same day, the minister of culture, youth and sports, Hassan Abyaba, announced in a statement the suspension of the publication and distribution of print newspapers until further notice. Also, in Jordan, on March 17, 2020, the Jordanian Council of Ministers suspended the publication of all newspapers for two weeks, according to an official statement by the Jordanian Communications Minister Amjad Adaileh. Newspapers continued to be suspended due to the quarantine and the government’s demand for citizens to stay in their homes.

3. Draft law threatened freedom of expression in Tunisia

4. Temporary imprisonment for spreading rumours in UAE

On April 1, 2020, the Gulf News, a daily English-language newspaper based in Dubai, published an article that says that “people who circulate rumours may be jailed for one year if they spread false information.” It is now possible that COVID-19 could be used as a pretext to imprison some of the bloggers and Internet activists who are targeted by the State Security Apparatus (SSA).

5. Location-tracking applications

Some Gulf states such as Bahrain are using location-tracking technologies which would enable the full detection of the movement of citizens. There are concerns that the use of these applications in countries widely known for gross and documented violations of human rights will allow them to place greater restrictions on personal freedoms.

6. Xenophobia against migrant workers in the Gulf

…..Reports that GCHR received from various Gulf countries confirmed that migrant workers are not given equal access to medical care and they are facing some difficult time at the moment, as many of them already live and work in poor conditions. Authorities across MENA could help stop the spread of COVID-19 by freeing all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience because they do not pose a risk to the public — but rather are at great risk themselves. While detained, authorities must uphold the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners to provide basic healthcare and sanitation for all. It is also important to allow visits from UN experts and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

https://advox.globalvoices.org/2020/04/08/impact-of-covid-19-containment-measures-on-human-rights-and-civil-liberties-in-the-middle-east/

New Amnesty report: Governments failing women human rights defenders

December 1, 2019
Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women's Day 2019
Women in Lahore, Pakistan, march to mark International Women’s Day 2019 © Ema Anis for Amnesty International

Governments around the world are failing to protect women human rights defenders from increasing attacks, Amnesty International said on 29 November 2019, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. In a new report –Challenging power, fighting discrimination” – based on interviews with 23 activists across 21 countries, Amnesty highlights how women human rights defenders continue to be assaulted, threatened, intimidated, criminalised and even killed for their campaigning.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Women human rights defenders are attacked because of who they are and what they do. The risks are even greater for those facing intersecting forms of discrimination: if you are a woman and from a racial minority, indigenous, poor, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or a sex worker, you have to fight so much harder to have your voice heard by those in power…All over the world, women human rights defenders are speaking out against injustice, abuse and discrimination, often because they have experienced it first-hand…..They are central to human progress: they fight for human rights and against patriarchy and racism, while pushing for ground-breaking reforms on so many fronts. Governments must live up to their commitment to ensure these activists can operate freely and safely.

In recent years, campaigners working on the rights of women, LGBTI people and other marginalised groups have come under growing pressure from politicians, religious leaders and violent groups. Women campaigning on these issues tend to be the first to be targeted in increasingly frequent backlashes against a more inclusive, fairer world.

Sexual violence

The report highlights several cases in which violence, including sexual violence as a form of torture, was used against women human rights defenders to silence them. In Bahrain, Ebtisam El-Saegh, an activist with the human rights organisation SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, was sexually assaulted, badly beaten, kicked in the stomach and kept standing for most of the seven hours she was being interrogated while in detention in 2017. El-Saegh told Amnesty: “I was threatened that they would harm my family and that they would bring my husband and torture and electrocute him. The men told me ‘no one can protect you’.”

In Egypt, Malak al-Kashef, a 19-year-old transgender woman human rights defender was arrested in March this year following her involvement in peaceful protests in Cairo. She faced trumped-up charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’ and ‘misusing social media to commit a crime punishable by law.’ While in detention, she was subjected to a forced anal examination and other forms of sexual assault. Even though she was undergoing gender affirming treatment, Malak was placed in an all-male detention facility which put her at increased risk of sexual violence. She was eventually released in July this year.

Smear campaigns

Women activists are often subjected to smear campaigns which vilify their “deviant behaviour” and are designed to fuel hostility against them. After rescuing migrants from the central Mediterranean Sea in June 2019, Carola Rackete, the Italian captain of the rescue boat Sea-Watch 3, was repeatedly insulted by the Italian Minister of Interior who called her a pirate and a criminal. His slurs were followed by vicious verbal attacks by others who incited sexual violence against her while also targeting her gender and appearance.

In Mauritania, Mekfoula Brahim, a woman human rights defender who has campaigned for an end to female genital mutilation, was branded an apostate in 2016 Facebook posts after defending a blogger sentenced to death for criticising those who use religion to discriminate against minorities. The slur exposed her to the risk of being prosecuted and sentenced to death.

Click to access ACT3011392019ENGLISH.PDF

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/governments-failing-protect-women-activists-increasing-attacks-new-report

http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/5/353494