IFEX is alarmed at the life sentences handed down last week to human rights and political activists and bloggers, including founder of IFEX member BCHR.
(IFEX) – The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) is deeply alarmed at the recent life sentences given to eight Bahraini human rights and political activists and bloggers, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a founder and former head of IFEX member group the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and renowned blogger and activist Abduljalil Al-Singace. The two men were given life sentences on 22 June by a military court, which found them guilty of plotting a coup against the government during two months of unrest earlier this year. Another 13 protesters were sentenced to between two and 15 years in jail. They include blogger Ali Abdul Imam of popular news portal Bahrain Online, who was sentenced to 15 years, among seven people charged in absentia.
Other journalists are in jail or in hiding or facing charges, simply for reporting the news. A brave young woman, poet Ayat Al Cormozy, was sentenced to one year in prison on 12 April for reading poems at a demonstration. (Read her poems posted by PEN International in a take action at: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/news/bahrain-poet-sentenced .) Numerous websites have been blocked and independent newspapers have been penalised, notably through charges facing Mansoor Al-Jamri, chief editor of “Al Wasat”, and editors Walid Nuwayhid and Akil Mirza, all accused of “publishing fabricated news and made up stories . . . that may harm public safety and national interests.” Two journalists have died in prison, likely as a result of torture.
IFEX once again expresses support to our member and partners in Bahrain, particularly those who have been sentenced to life in prison for expressing themselves during protests in favour of democracy in Bahrain. All were sentenced during special military court proceedings, which do not comply with international standards of law. IFEX members have recorded numerous incidents of torture in Bahraini prisons. Al-Khawaja was taken to the Bahrain Defense Force hospital as a result of beatings he received after his sentence was pronounced. (The appeal is scheduled for 29 June.)
“We support the call by Maryam Al-Khawaja (who works for IFEX member BCHR) to ask the Bahraini authorities to immediately overturn the charges and release all those detained for peacefully expressing themselves, including her father who brought BCHR into the IFEX network,” says Annie Game, IFEX Executive Director. “We also ask that they ensure detainees are given proper medical attention, and access to family members and lawyers, and they put an end to torture and beatings.”
BCHR plays an important role in Bahrain reporting on violations that may otherwise go unreported due to widespread censorship. We are extremely concerned that the investigation against BCHR President Nabeel Rajab, for posting photos on Twitter of alleged torture that resulted in the death of a prisoner, may be used as a means to silence him. Rajab is one of the few rights defenders who has not been imprisoned or gone into hiding. BCHR representatives were absent from the IFEX General Meeting and Strategy Conference in Beirut in early June – Rajab was banned from travelling and Maryam Al-Khawaja did not attend after receiving death threats. Thirty IFEX members joined to protest the travel ban in an open letter.