Bahrain: Human rights defenders at risk

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture, called on Bahraini authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and the safety of demonstrators, including that of human rights defenders, following the repression by security forces yesterday of a peaceful demonstration to call for the release of political prisoners.

In the evening of January 6, 2012, Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR, focal point of Social Watch) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, was beaten severely by the security forces in Manama while he was participating in a peaceful demonstration to call for the release of political prisoners and human rights activists.

According to testimonies, policemen attacked the demonstrators and a group of police officers gathered suddenly around Rajab and started beating him. He was kicked, punched and beaten all over his body and especially on the face and back, while lying on the ground.

Rajab was then taken to Salmaniyya hospital. Several security officers surrounded Rajab’s room until he left the hospital. According to a doctor of Salmaniyya hospital, Nabeel Rajab is suffering from concussion, back pain and bruises to his back and face. At the hospital, Rajab was interrogated by security officers about the attack. His lawyer was prevented from seeing him. Rajab left the hospital in the night of the same day, after receiving treatment. 

During the same attack, Sayed Yousif Al-Mahafdha, a member of BCHR, was also injured with a stun grenade in his leg and arm. In addition, demonstrators who had gathered in solidarity outside Rajab’s house were attacked with tear gas.

The Observatory strongly condemns the above-mentioned acts of violence against Messrs. Nabeel Rajab and Sayed Yousif Al-Mahafdha, which appear to have specifically targeted them, sanctioning Messrs. Rajab and Al-Mahafdha for their human rights activities and preventing them from carrying out such activities. The Observatory recalls that Rajab and other human rights defenders are facing an increasingly hostile environment that includes acts of harassment and intimidation.

The Observatory calls upon the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Nabeel Rajab and Yousif Al-Mahafdha and all human rights defenders in Bahrain and to order an immediate, effective, thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned events. Ultimately, the Observatory considers that ensuring that human rights defenders can operate without fear of harassment and attacks and ensuring accountability for any such attacks will be vital in preventing any further escalation of the situation.

Furthermore, the Observatory recalls that several human rights defenders remain in arbitrary detention or subjected to judicial harassment and calls for the release of all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained and the end of judicial harassment, in line with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments ratified by Bahrain.