Index urges UN Secretary-General to demand member states respect human rights following Ruhollah Zam execution

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Open letter to Mr António Guterres, United Nations Secretary–General

Thursday, 17th December 2020

Dear Mr Secretary-General,

In October you addressed the European Broadcast Union and stated:

“Press Freedom is a pillar of democracy. When journalists are targeted, all of society pays the price. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression to all.

I wish to assure you of my strong commitment to defend those rights and, at a time when journalists face growing harassment and attacks in so many parts of the world, to ensure that journalists have the safety and civic space to carry out your essential mission.”

It is this spirit that I write to you today. On Saturday 12 December, a member of the UN General Assembly and a signatory of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Islamic Republic of Iran, executed a journalist in cold blood, Ruhollah Zam. His apparent crime was “Corruption on Earth”, or rather being a leading dissident against the Government. As a journalist, as a human rights activist, as a global citizen Ruhollah Zam should have been protected by the state of his birth, not murdered by them.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented a further 14 cases of journalists being imprisoned this year in Iran. This is in addition to those who have been incarcerated for exercising their rights under Article 19 in previous years and remain imprisoned.  This is an outright attack on our collective right to free speech and free expression.

We call on the United Nations to live up to its promises and demand members operate within both the letter and the spirit of the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

Yours sincerely,

Ruth Smeeth

Chief Executive, Index on Censorship[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Groups call on Michelle Bachelet for heightened UN scrutiny of human rights violations in Bahrain


Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit: UN Women / Flickr

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit: UN Women / Flickr

H.E. Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
United Nations
52 Rue des Paquis
1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned organisations, write to you to express our concern regarding the worsening situation for civil society in Bahrain. We believe co-ordinated international action coupled with public scrutiny are imperative to address the government of Bahrain’s ongoing attacks on civil society and to hold the kingdom accountable to its commitments to international human rights laws and standards. To this end, we call upon your Office to continue to monitor the situation in Bahrain and to continue to raise concerns at the highest level, both publicly and privately, with the government, as was done by your predecessor, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. We believe heightened scrutiny of Bahrain’s human rights record and its ongoing human rights violations is particularly important now that the kingdom is a Member State of the Human Rights Council.

In the past two years, the Bahraini government increased its repression of the kingdom’s remaining civil society organisations, political opposition groups, and human rights defenders. In June 2016, Bahrain’s Administrative Court forcibly dissolved al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest political opposition society, a ruling that was upheld in February 2018. In May 2017, a court approved the forcible dissolution of the National Democratic Action Society, also known as Wa’ad. Only a month later, the government indefinitely suspended the kingdom’s last remaining independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, continuing its repression of free expression and press freedom.

While there were hopes that the government might ease repression in the run-up to elections for the lower house of parliament on 24 November 2018, these were dashed with a series of actions and policies that effectively precluded the elections from being free or fair, and that continued the broader assault on civil society. Only weeks ahead of ahead of the elections, the country’s highest appeals court sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq, to life in prison on spurious charges of espionage dating from 2011. The government also enacted new legislation banning all individuals who had ever belonged to a dissolved political society from seeking or holding elected office, as well as anyone who has ever served six months or more in prison. This affects a large portion of Bahrain’s population, as the kingdom currently has around 4,000 political prisoners.

Beyond rigging the election process at the expense of political opposition societies and free and fair participation, over this past year Bahrain has continued to target, harass, and imprison activists and human rights defenders for exercising their right to free expression. The government criminalised calls to boycott the elections, and, on 13 November 2018, arrested former Member of Parliament Ali Rasheed al-Asheeri for tweeting about boycotting the November elections. On 31 December 2018, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation – its court of last resort – upheld prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab’s five-year prison sentence on spurious charges of tweeting and re-tweeting criticism of torture in Jau Prison and the war in Yemen, drawing criticism from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. With this decision, Rajab has exhausted all legal remedies to reverse the charges and will remain in prison until 2023. He has already served a two-year prison sentence on charges related to television interviews in which he discussed the human rights situation in the kingdom.

While Bahrain has several institutions tasked with oversight responsibilities and enforcing accountability for human rights abuses, we have grave concerns over their effectiveness, their independence, and their commitment to fulfilling their mandates. Similar concerns have been raised about other Bahraini institutions – the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) and the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman – by the UN Human Rights Committee. In the Committee’s first evaluation of Bahrain under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in July 2018, it found the NIHR largely lacked sufficient independence from the government. The European Parliament has also criticised the NIHR, including in a June 2018 resolution where the body expressed “regret” for the honours it has bestowed upon the NIHR. In the resolution, the European Parliament cited the institution’s lack of independence to fulfil its duties. The Ministry of Interior (MoI) Ombudsman has received sharp criticism, including from the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT). The CAT cited the Ombudsman’s lack of independence, impartiality, and efficacy in addressing complaints submitted to the institution.

Bahrain’s national institutions not only fail to implement human rights reforms, they help perpetuate and whitewash abuses. Both the Ombudsman and NIHR have released reports that sanitise violations like police brutality, while neglecting to address or condemn violent police raids on peaceful protests.

The failure of Bahrain’s human rights institutions to address serious abuses both reflects and promotes a broader culture of impunity in the country, where the government can continue to suppress free expression and civil society.

Despite these abuses and despite concerns from UN bodies, Bahrain has not been the subject of collective action in the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) since a joint statement in September 2015 at HRC 30. Since then, the government has taken increased steps to limit fundamental freedoms, including restricting the rights to free expression, free assembly, free association, and free press, dissolving political opposition societies and jailing human rights defenders, religious leaders, and political figures. However, even as Bahrain has embarked on this campaign to suppress opposition and dissent, state action on Bahrain in the HRC has been limited to individual condemnations by various governments under Agenda Items 2 and 4.

Despite this lack of joint action, the Office of the High Commissioner has been consistently vocal about Bahrain’s rights abuses, and we are very appreciative of the Office’s attention over the past several years. Your predecessor raised concerns about Bahrain in his opening statements at the HRC, including at the 36th Council session, where he highlighted restrictions on civil society and the kingdom’s lack of engagement with international human rights mechanisms, and at 38th Council session, in which he reiterated past concerns and sharply criticised Bahrain for its continued refusal to co-operate with the Office of the High Commissioner and the mandates of the Special Procedures.

We believe that this UN scrutiny is now even more necessary as Bahrain assumes a seat on the Council as a Member State.

We strongly urge you to continue to monitor the situation, to publicly express your concerns to Bahraini officials, and to call on the Bahraini government to meet its international obligations, including those concerning protecting and promoting civil society. Without an independent, viable civil society in the country there can be no serious domestic pressure on the government to relax restrictions and ease repression.

We call on you to highlight Bahrain’s restrictions on civil society, targeting of human rights defenders, dissolution of political opposition, and unrelenting attacks on free expression in your opening statement at the 40th Human Rights Council session, the first session of which Bahrain is a member of the Council.


Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building (CEMESP)
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Freedom Forum
Independent Journalism Center (IJC)
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
Maharat Foundation
Mediacentar Sarajevo
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Norwegian PEN
Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
PEN America
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
South East Europe Media Organisation
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Cairo Institute to Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
Odhikar (Bangladesh)
Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
Sudanese Development Initiative (Sudan)
JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique
West African Human Rights Defenders Network
Latin American Network for Democracy (REDLAD)
Ligue Burundaise des Droits de l’homme ITEKA
Organisation Tchadienne Anti-Corruption (OTAC)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1549278314945-d1d5bcda-455e-2″ taxonomies=”716″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab hospitalised and denied bail


Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab (Photo: The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy)

On Tuesday the detention of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was extended once again when Bahraini courts denied his request for bail and postponed the first of his two trials until 30 May.

Rajab, whose second trial was scheduled for today, was unable to appear in court due to deteriorating health, resulting in him being taken to a hospital.

After being arrested on 13 June 2016 on charges of spreading “rumours and false news” and tweeting about the war in Yemen, Rajab’s two trials have been postponed over ten times in total. He has now spent nearly a year straight in detention, most of which has been in solitary confinement, contributing to a string of serious medical issues including bleeding ulcers.

The treatment of Rajab, who could face up to 18 years in prison if he is convicted in both cases, has been criticised by human rights activists over the last year. On 12 May 2017, the United Nations Torture Committee released a statement strongly criticising Bahrain’s history of torture as well as urging them to “put an end to the solitary confinement of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and ensure that he is provided with adequate medical assistance and redress”.

It continued: “The Committee is deeply concerned by reports that numerous persons who were deprived of their liberty have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment. It is particularly concerned about the situation of Messrs. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Naji Fateel, Nabeel Rajab, Abduljalil Al-Singace, Hussain Jawad, Abdulwahab Hussain, in particular with regard to their access to medical care.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1495019195784-ddbc73bc-d6fb-3″ taxonomies=”716″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

What does the International Bill of Human Rights mean for freedom of expression?


The International Bill of Human Rights, consisting of the five core human rights treaties of the United Nations that function to advance the fundamental freedoms and to protect the basic human rights of all people, was entered into force in 1967 by the UN General Assembly.

The documents contained in the International Bill of Human Rights are: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the Second Optional Procotol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty

The full declaration sets out the basic rights all people should enjoy and expect from their governments and other governments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights deal directly with freedom of expression.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;

c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.

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summer magazine 2016

Index on Censorship’s summer magazine 2016

We’ll send you our weekly emails and periodic updates on our events. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.

You’ll also get access to an exclusive collection of articles from our landmark 250th issue of Index on Censorship magazine exploring journalists under fire and under pressure. Your downloadable PDF will include reports from Lindsey Hilsum, Laura Silvia Battaglia and Hazza Al-Adnan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”More information about freedom of expression”][vc_column_text]Why is free speech important? Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It reinforces all other human rights, allowing society to develop and progress. The ability to express our opinion and speak freely is essential to bring about change in society.

Why is access to freedom of expression important? All over the world today, both in developing and developed states, liberal democracies and less free societies, there are groups who struggle to gain full access to freedom of expression for a wide range of reasons including poverty, discrimination and cultural pressures. While attention is often, rightly, focused on the damaging impact discrimination or poverty can have on people’s lives, the impact such problems have on free expression is less rarely addres[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ order=”ASC” grid_id=”vc_gid:1494247299440-5e8d8e06-86b1-1″ taxonomies=”9210″][/vc_column][/vc_row]