Women’s rights defender, writer and blogger Ghada Jamsheer remains in jail in Bahrain serving a combined ten-month sentence for exercising her right to free expression on Twitter. On 7 November 2016, Jamsheer appeared before Judge Mohamed Al-Khalifa of the High Criminal Court of Appeal to request that she be freed to serve out the remainder of her sentences outside of jail due to health concerns, however, the judge has not yet informed her of his decision.
The undersigned more than 20 rights groups from around the world call for the sentence to be overturned, as it violates her right to free expression, and for Jamsheer to be freed immediately so she can receive proper treatment for her debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.
Jamsheer, President of the Women’s Petition Committee (WPC), is being held in connection with multiple sentences imposed relating to her tweets exposing corruption within the management of King Hamad Hospital, which is run by members of the ruling family.
Jamsheer was detained on 15 August 2016 upon arrival from London where she was receiving medical treatment for her arthritis. She reports that she needs medication to ease the pain but fears that she will risk her health if she takes the medication in jail because it compromises her immunity. Jamsheer showed the Judge her medical reports, which have been translated into Arabic.
Following the hearing on 7 November, she was returned to Isa Town women’s prison, where conditions are cold and unsanitary. She was told she would receive a decision within a week. The hearing was well-attended by lawyers and other observers, including a representative of the United States Embassy.
On 22 June 2016, Jamsheer was sentenced on appeal to prison by the Second High Criminal Court for four cases of defamation related to her tweets. She was originally misinformed that she was facing one year, but was told after her arrest in August that she is serving a ten-month term. She has now spent three months in prison this year, in addition to three months served when she was first arrested under the same charges on 15 September 2014.
We, the undersigned organisations, call on the government of Bahrain to:
Immediately and unconditionally free Ghada Jamsheer;
Overturn the sentence against Ghada Jamsheer, which violates her right to free expression;
Immediately and unconditionally free all detained human rights defenders in Bahrain;
At the very minimum, ensure all prisoners, including Ghada Jamsheer and other human rights defenders, have access to proper medical treatment and ensure conditions in prison necessary to maintain health; and
End all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders and other activists, including travel bans, in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association for Women’s Rights in Development
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Brian Dooley, Human Rights First
Index on Censorship
International Service for Human Rights
Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada
Nazra for Feminist Studies
No Peace Without Justice
Reporters Without Borders
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition
Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition in the Middle East and North AfricaCoalition
World Organisation Against Torture, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
We are writing to you in light of your current tour of Gulf Cooperation Council countries regarding the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer in Bahrain for cases of peaceful expression.
Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), remains in prison following his arrest for a tweet in which he expressed his view about the role Bahrain security institutions play as “incubators of ISIS ideology”. Mr. Rajab had travelled to Bahrain from the United Kingdom following a European advocacy tour that included a panel at the House of Lords.
His detention has been criticised internationally. The United Nations has warned that it sends a “chilling message”. The Norwegian government has recently advised that the arrest of Mr. Rajab sends a negative message and has called for his immediate release. The European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights has voiced serious concerns over his arrest and detention and the United States State Department has called on Bahrain to drop the charges against him.
We urge the United Kingdom to add its voice to these universal calls. As a close ally to Bahrain, the UK has influence that could result in steps to release human rights defenders and political prisoners in Bahrain. You will recall that the UK signed a joint statement during the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which urged the government of Bahrain “to release all persons imprisoned solely for exercising human rights, including human rights defenders some of whom have been identified as arbitrarily detained according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention”. We ask you to follow up on this statement by calling for the immediate and unconditional release of both Mr. Rajab and Ms. Al-Khawaja who have been detained solely for exercising their human right to free expression.
Zainab Al-Khawaja is a prominent activist in Bahrain, who is facing serious charges of “publicly insulting the King” after ripping a photo of him during a court hearing. The case, which runs contrary to Bahrain’s international human rights obligations, was immediately transferred to the Higher Criminal Court in Bahrain meaning that she now faces up to seven years in prison for a peaceful act of expression. It is important to note that Ms. Al-Khawaja is eight months pregnant, and faces the possibility of going into labour in arbitrary detention.
Amnesty International has criticised the decision and called for her immediate release arguing”laws that prohibit insults or the disrespect of heads of state or other public figures are contrary to international human rights law and standards”.
Her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of the GCHR, is also facing prison on charges of assault brought against her after she arrived in Bahrain on 30 August to try to visit her father, jailed human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder of BCHR and GCHR. She was released after two weeks but is due in court on 5 November.
In addition to these cases, women’s rights defender Ghada Jamsheer was arrested and imprisoned on 15 September, on charges of defamation on Twitter. She remains in detention and will face court prosecution on charges related to her freedom of expression on 22 October.
The arrest and ongoing detention of both Mr. Rajab and Ms. Al-Khawaja threaten to destabilise further an already unstable country. It is imperative that human rights advocates are not targeted for exercising their human rights peacefully. The work of human rights defenders often requires criticising governments as noted by the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which call for this role to be “recognised and supported”.
We urge the British government to demand the immediate release of all detained human rights defenders and activists in Bahrain.
Thank you for your consideration.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), was arrested for a tweet in which he expressed his view about the role Bahrain security institutions play as “incubators of ISIS ideology”. Mr. Rajab had travelled to Bahrain from the United Kingdom following a European advocacy tour that included a panel at the UK House of Lords. In an open letter to UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, rights groups Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, English PEN, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Index on Censorship and Reprieve urged the United Kingdom to add its voice to these universal calls.
“As a close ally to Bahrain, the UK has influence that could result in steps to release human rights defenders and political prisoners in Bahrain,” the groups said in the letter. “As a close ally to Bahrain, the UK has influence that could result in steps to release human rights defenders and political prisoners in Bahrain”.
Last month, the UK signed a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council, which urged the government of Bahrain “to release all persons imprisoned solely for exercising human rights, including human rights defenders some of whom have been identified as arbitrarily detained.”
Political activist Maryam Alkhawaja has been released from prison but the charges against her still stand.
Alkhawaja was arrested at the end of last month when she travelled to Bahrain to visit her father, prominent human rights defender and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who has now been on hunger strike for almost four weeks.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, head of advocacy at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), told Index on Censorship he felt Maryam Alkhawaja’s release was a clear example of how international advocacy can be a success. However, he said they are still concerned about her: “We are kind of really getting mixed messages whether her release is just to ease the international pressure,” he added.
A guarantee of a residing address, and a travel ban were the conditions of Alkhawaja’s release. She is also due in court at the beginning of next month, to face charges of assaulting a police officer, which she denies.
Khalid Ibrahim, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) co-director, said: “We call on the government of Bahrain to immediately drop the charges and free her without conditions.”
This week BCHR and GCHR wrote an open letter to Abdulhadi Alkhawaja urging him to end his hunger strike as his life is at serious risk due to prolonged starvation. He also undertook a hunger strike in 2012 which lasted for 110 days.
Abdulhadi Alkhawaja responded from prison yesterday. Thanking his friends for their concern, he added: “But as the world can see we’re in a situation where our only choice to demand rights and freedoms is by risking our lives.”
Ibrahim added, “Abdulhadi should also be freed, along with other wrongfully detained human rights defenders who have been targeted as a result of their peaceful and legitimate activities in defence of human rights.”
Yesterday, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and Bird, along with co-sponsors from several NGOs, hosted an event at the 27th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, entitled Tracking Bahrain’s UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Inaction Through 2014.
The discussion was moderated by prominent human rights activist and president of the BCHR, Nabeel Rajab. Speakers at the event were Philippe Dam (Human Rights Watch), Said Haddadi (Amnesty International), James Suzano (ADHRB), Abdulnabi al Ekri (Bahrain Human Rights Organisation – BHRO) and Nidal al Salman (BCHR).
Alwadaei said the event received good coverage, and it was very beneficial for political prisoners in Bahrain. “It was a place where they would hear their voice, where they will basically believe that they are not on their own in this struggle, there is an international community monitoring so they are not isolated,” he told Index.
Also this week, women’s rights defender Ghada Jamsheer was arrested and detained on charges of defamation on Twitter. GCHR and BCHR say her online blog has been blocked in Bahrain since 2009, and they believe these recent charges to be a direct violation of her human rights.