Bahrain Must Immediately Release All Bahraini Prisoners of Conscience

Press Release
May 29, 2012

Bahrain Must Immediately Release All Bahraini Prisoners of Conscience

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) -- Amnesty International today renewed its demand that Bahrain immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience following the release of prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

Also on Monday, jailed human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja ended a 110-day hunger strike. Al-Khawaja and 12 other opposition leaders remain behind bars on charges related to their roles in peaceful pro-reform protests in 2011. Amnesty International considers all of them to be prisoners of conscience.

The Bahraini authorities have banned Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, from travelling abroad. He is due to return to court in June on charges related to his activism, which Amnesty International says should be dropped.

"The ongoing detention and trials of these prisoners of conscience shows that behind Bahrain's thin veneer of reform, little has changed in practice and the human rights crisis is far from over," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program director. "The Bahraini authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all remaining prisoners of conscience, drop the charges against those awaiting trial for peaceful protest and lift the travel ban on Nabeel Rajab."

On Monday, a lower criminal court in the Bahrain capital, Manama, ordered Rajab's release on bail of 300 Bahraini dinars (around $800).

He is due to return to court on June 17 for two separate cases in which he has been charged with inciting people to join him on illegal marches, taking part in an "illegal gathering" and "disturbing public order." His lawyers only recently received notice of the charges.

In a third case, Rajab has been charged with "insulting a national institution" on Twitter, for which he is due to appear in court again on June 24.

"I am targeted for exercising my right to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as for being a human rights defender," Rajab told Amnesty International after his release. "This is not new and this is the price one has to pay for defending human rights. I have full appreciation for all the people who stood up for me. Every letter has made a difference and without the support of activists I would not have been released."

Amnesty International called on the Bahraini authorities to investigate Rajab’s beating by riot police while participating in a protest in February.

Al-Khawaja and 12 other opposition activists – many of whom were allegedly subjected to torture including sexual assault in detention – were back in court today to appeal their imprisonment on charges including "setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution."

The men maintain their innocence, and many of them claim their confessions were extracted under torture. They are appealing to have their prison sentences – which range from two years to life imprisonment – overturned. Several have refused to attend future court hearings in their case on the grounds that the sentences were politically motivated.

To date, several of the defendants have spoken out in court to describe their torture in detention. The remaining defendants are expected to testify at a June 5 hearing.

Al-Hur Yousef al-Somaikh, who had been detained along with the 13 prisoners of conscience, was released on April 30 after his two-year sentence was reduced to six months. He is no longer facing trial.

The appeal hearing of Bahrain Teachers' Association members Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila Salman, sentenced to 10 and three years in prison by a military court in September 2011, is due to resume before a civilian court on Wednesday.

Abu Dheeb – who previously told a court he had been tortured in detention – is currently serving his sentence in Jaw prison, while Salman has been released on bail.

Amnesty International continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Abu Dheeb and the other 13 prisoners of conscience, and urges the Bahraini authorities to carry out an independent investigation into allegations that they were tortured in detention.

Trials also resumed today for Al-Khawaja's daughter Zainab Al-Khawaja and another woman, Ma'suma Sayyid Sharaf, who have been charged in different court cases for their participation in several peaceful protests in and near Manama since December 2011.

Both women were released on bail and are due to appear before a court again on several cases during the month of June on charges including taking part in "illegal gatherings" and allegedly assaulting policewomen.

On May 24, a lower criminal court sentenced Zainab Al-Khawaja to 30 days in prison on related charges, but she had already served longer than that in detention.

Both women deny the charges against them and on May 20 they launched a five-day hunger strike in protest at their detention, resulting in Zainab Al-Khawaja being hospitalized three days later.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.