The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) strongly denounce the arbitrary arrest, detention, and politically motivated charges brought against human rights defender Mohamed Al Maskati in Bahrain.
Yesterday, 17 October 2012, Mohamed Al Maskati, a well-known human rights activist and president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), appeared before Bahrain’s public prosecution on charges of participating in illegal protests. A day prior, he had been summoned to Al Hoora police station, where he was kept overnight before being referred to the prosecutor’s office. Although he has since been released, the prosecution may raise his case again at any time, which we view as a clear form of intimidation against the activist.
We fear that the arrest of Mr. Maskati and the charges leveled against him for taking part in “illegal protests” and “gatherings” are an attempt to intimidate and punish him for his engagement with the UN Human Rights Council, and, as such, constitute a reprisal for cooperating with the United Nations.
The arrest of Mr. Maskati follows his participation in the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council held in Geneva one month ago in September, 2012, during which time the activist received a number of threats via Twitter and in local Bahraini newspapers for his participation at the UN, including warnings of legal measures against him upon his return to Bahrain. From the period between 10-18 September, Mr. Maskati also received dozens of anonymous phone calls threatening his life and the safety of his family in Bahrain.
On 13 September, Maskati delivered an oral intervention before the Geneva council, informing its members of the acts of reprisals to which he was subjected for his participation at the session. He stated, “I have received more than a dozen anonymous phone calls threatening my life and the safety of my family for my engagement here. Nonetheless, I have chosen to speak today because my case is not unique.”
Like other human rights defenders from Bahrain, Maskati continues to be subjected to a systematic slander campaign in local media outlets controlled by the government. Some of the statements published in a number of newspapers include calls for the arrest of the activists on libel charges.
“Despite several calls directed to Bahrain from high-level UN officials to refrain for what can only be described as state-sponsored and systematic targeting of rights activists for their cooperation with the UN rights mechanisms, the government of Bahrain appears to be increasing its crackdown on the activists. The current escalation of the crackdown stems from a clear lack of accountability for the majority of previously reported cases of reprisals, as mentioned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during a recent panel discussion on the same topic,” said Bjorn Pettersson, ISHR Director.
Last month, the UN Secretary General presented a report to the Human Rights Council citing a number of retributive measures taken against human rights defenders in Bahrain for participating with the UN human rights mechanisms in recent months. It cites the government-led intimidation and smear campaign that a number of human rights defenders were subjected to following their participation in Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on 21 May 2012, along with the cases of detained rights defenders Abdulhadi Al Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab.
“Instead of taking concrete steps to address human rights violations in the country, including the imprisonment of human rights defenders for their engagement with international mechanisms, the government of Bahrain continues to refuse to admit that such violations exist. Almost all human rights defenders in Bahrain have been imprisoned by the government over the last year, including Mr. Abdel Hadi Al Khawaja, who was sentenced to life in prison, and most recently Mr. Nabeel Rajab. ” Said Ziad Abdel Tawab, CIHRS Deputy Director. Both defenders were referenced in the Secretary General’s report as cases of reprisals.
On16 October 2012, the Manama Court of Appeal postponed the hearing of the case against Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights, to 8 November. During this session, the court refused to listen to the testimonies of witnesses brought forward by the defendant. Mr. Rajab is currently serving a three-year prison sentence on charges of illegal gathering and disrupting public order.
We reiterate our call to the government of Bahrain to ensure that all human rights defenders detained for practicing their legitimate work are immediately released, that the charges against them are dropped, and that they are allowed to carry out their work freely and without impediments or fear of reprisals.
We further view the current escalation of reprisals used against local activists to obstruct their cooperation with the existing international human rights mechanisms as a threat to the proper functioning of the entire UN human rights system. The UN should respond immediately to these acts of reprisals.
We call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently issue a press release condemning these acts and calling for all States to ensure that human rights defenders are able to cooperate safely with the UN human rights mechanisms. The Human Rights Council should also ensure that it raises these acts of reprisals with the State concerned in order to ensure accountability, non-recurrence, and full protection for the human rights defenders involved.