‘The government of Bahrain cannot carry on imprisoning people simply because it can’t take criticism’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui
Jailed prisoners of conscience - including doctors and teachers - in Bahrain have spoken out about their plight in a new briefing released by Amnesty International today (14 February) on the day that marks the two-year point since popular protests in Bahrain began in 2011. Read the full briefing (PDF)
Last month, Amnesty conducted a research trip in Bahrain where it met seven prisoners of conscience detained in Jaw prison. All of them reported they had been jailed on false charges or under laws that repress basic rights. In a series of follow-up meetings with government officials, Amnesty urged the authorities to release all of the country’s prisoners of conscience, to lift restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and to bring those who committed human rights abuses against protesters to justice.
In 2011 scores of people in Bahrain were arrested and sentenced before unfair military courts (National Safety Courts) on freedom of expression-related charges after they participated in peaceful protests. Many were subsequently released, though among those still in jail are 13 opposition activists, including Ebrahim Sharif, Hassan Mshaima’ and ‘Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja; a group of medical professionals, including ‘Ali ‘Esa Mansoor al-‘Ekri and Ghassan Ahmed ‘Ali Dhaif; and the head of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb.
Meanwhile, the authorities in Bahrain claim nobody is currently being detained for peacefully expressing their views in the country. Yet, between 5 and 12 November last year, ‘Abdullah ‘Alwi al-Hashemi, ‘Ali Mohammad ‘Ali and ‘Ali Abdul Nabi al-Hayeki were sentenced to between four and six months in prison for insulting the King of Bahrain in messages posted on their Twitter accounts. Scores of other people have also been arrested in recent months after participating in marches and rallies.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
'The government of Bahrain cannot carry on imprisoning people simply because it can’t take criticism.
'It’s time that people detained simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression be released and for the harassment of other activists to desist.
'No convincing evidence had been submitted to justify these convictions. It appears that all of those involved were targeted for their anti-government views and for having participated in peaceful protests.
'Many of the allegations put forward by the prisoners of conscience have still not been investigated by the authorities. The question remains whether the government will ensure justice is served and uphold the rights of the people.'
Mahdi’ Issa Mahdi Abu Deeb, a teachers’ trade union leader who has been in jail since his arrest in 2011 told Amnesty: 'As for the charges against me and Jalila [Jalila al-Salman, a fellow teachers’ union leader and mother of three], no one thinks they are right: we did not call for the fall of the regime - we are people in the education system.'
Nabeel Rajab, a prominent activist serving a three-year prison sentence at Jaw prison, told Amnesty delegates: 'A few days ago I was told that it would not be tolerated if I spoke in English. The punishment for disobeying would be solitary confinement. I was also threatened for … talking about human rights …'.
Another prisoner, ‘Ali ‘Esa Mansoor al-‘Ekri, a medical professional serving a five-year sentence, told Amnesty: '[We medics] call our case ‘the lost justice’. We were on hunger strike, demanding fairness. It was all about medical ethics and neutrality.'
Many of the prisoners of conscience were allegedly tortured in the first weeks of arrests. Some complained about the medical treatment they are receiving.
Read the full briefing - Freedom has a price /em> (PDF)