Bahrain must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and without conditions, Amnesty International said today, ahead of appeals in the cases of a prominent human rights activist and a group of medical workers.
Tomorrow a court will consider the appeal of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab against his three-month prison sentence on libel charges related to a comment he made on Twitter. His appeal hearing was postponed on 18 July.
In another case a group of nine health professionals, whose convictions were upheld on appeal in June for their role in anti-government protests last year, have been summoned to appear before the Court of Cassation in the capital Manama on 30 July.
Amnesty has already adopted Nabeel Rajab as a prisoner of conscience and also said that if any of the nine health professionals (currently released on bail) were jailed they would be prisoners of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“The charade of justice has gone on too long in Bahrain, and all prisoners of conscience must be set free immediately and unconditionally before these appeals take place. All convictions against them should be quashed.”
The charges against Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, relate to a tweet he posted on 2 June about Bahraini Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa during his official visit to the area of al-Muharraq. On 6 June, he was arrested after several al-Muharraq residents complained about the tweet. He was charged with libel on 14 June and released on bail on 27 June. Following a court hearing on 9 July, he was re-arrested and jailed in Manama’s al-Jaw prison.
Salmaniya medical workers
Nine workers from Manama’s Salmaniya medical complex have been summoned to appear before the Court of Cassation on 30 July. On 14 June, Manama’s High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld convictions against them on charges which include “calling for the overthrow of the regime by force”, “illegal gathering” and “instigating hatred against another sect”. Though many of them were vocal in denouncing the excessive use of force against protesters to international media, Amnesty believes they did not use or advocate violence.
Their sentences ranged from one month to five years in prison; five of the defendants have already served their entire prison sentences and are still being held. Nine other medical workers on trial with them were previously acquitted. If the remaining four medical workers - Ali ‘Esa Mansoor al-‘Ekr, Ebrahim ‘Abdullah Ebrahim, Ghassan Ahmed ‘Ali Dhaif, and Sa’eed Mothaher Habib Al Samahiji - or any other in the group are jailed, Amnesty would consider them to be prisoners of conscience.
Amnesty is also concerned about a judge’s recent decision to conduct all future hearings of 13 prominent Bahraini opposition activists behind closed doors, where they would be filmed. In response to the move, the 13 men - who maintain their innocence and are also prisoners of conscience behind held for their peaceful political activities - have asked their lawyers not to represent them in court any longer. The court has since appointed them new lawyers.
The 13 are serving prison terms ranging from two years to life imprisonment on bogus charges related to their participation in pro-reform protests in early 2011. Several of the defendants have spoken out in previous court hearings to describe their alleged torture and other ill-treatment in detention, which included sexual assault and other acts of torture to coerce “confessions”.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui added:
“In the first place they should not be tried for exercising their rights - yet not only are they tried but the trial has been moved behind closed doors in an apparent attempt to conceal the truth.”