• 127 Rights groups call for immediate release of Nabeel Rajab after UN group calls his detention arbitrary and discriminatory

    Paris-Geneva-Manama- For the second time since 2013, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has issued an Opinion regarding the legality of the detention of Mr. Nabeel Rajab under international human rights law. In its second opinion, the WGAD held that the detention was not only arbitrary but also discriminatory. The 127 signatory human rights groups welcome this landmark opinion, made public on 13 August 2018, recognising the role played by human rights defenders in society and the need to protect them. We call upon the Bahraini Government to immediately release Nabeel Rajab in accordance with this latest request.

    In its Opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2018/13), the WGAD considered that the detention of Mr. Nabeel Rajab contravenes Articles 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Articles 2, 9, 10, 14, 18, 19 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Bahrain in 2006. The WGAD requested the Government of Bahrain to “release Mr. Rajab immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.

    This constitutes a landmark opinion as it recognises that the detention of Mr. Nabeel Rajab – President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee – is arbitrary and in violation of international law, as it results from his exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well as freedom of thought and conscience, and furthermore constitutes “discrimination based on political or other opinion, as well as on his status as a human rights defender.” Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s detention has therefore been found arbitrary under both categories II and V as defined by the WGAD.

    Mr. Nabeel Rajab was arrested on 13 June 2016 and has been detained since then by the Bahraini authorities on several freedom of expression-related charges that inherently violate his basic human rights. On 15 January 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld his two-year prison sentence, convicting him of “spreading false news and rumors about the internal situation in the Kingdom, which undermines state prestige and status” – in reference to television interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016. Most recently on 5 June 2018, the Manama Appeals Court upheld his five years’ imprisonment sentence for “disseminating false rumors in time of war”; “offending a foreign country” – in this case Saudi Arabia; and for “insulting a statutory body”, in reference to comments made on Twitter in March 2015 regarding alleged torture in Jaw prison and criticising the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The Twitter case will next be heard by the Court of Cassation, the final opportunity for the authorities to acquit him.

    The WGAD underlined that “the penalisation of a media outlet, publishers or journalists solely for being critical of the government or the political social system espoused by the government can never be considered to be a necessary restriction of freedom of expression,” and emphasised that “no such trial of Mr. Rajab should have taken place or take place in the future.” It added that the WGAD “cannot help but notice that Mr. Rajab’s political views and convictions are clearly at the centre of the present case and that the authorities have displayed an attitude towards him that can only be characterised as discriminatory.”

    The WGAD added that several cases concerning Bahrain had already been brought before it in the past five years, in which WGAD “has found the Government to be in violation of its human rights obligations.” WGAD added that “under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law may constitute crimes against humanity.”

    Indeed, the list of those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and opinion in Bahrain is long and includes several prominent human rights defenders, notably Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace and Mr. Naji Fateel – whom the WGAD previously mentioned in communications to the Bahraini authorities.

    Our organisations recall that this is the second time the WGAD has issued an Opinion regarding Mr. Nabeel Rajab. In its Opinion A/HRC/WGAD/2013/12 adopted in December 2013, the WGAD already classified Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s detention as arbitrary as it resulted from his exercise of his universally recognised human rights and because his right to a fair trial had not been guaranteed (arbitrary detention under categories II and III as defined by the WGAD).The fact that over four years have passed since that opinion was issued, with no remedial action and while Bahrain has continued to open new prosecutions against him and others, punishing expression of critical views, demonstrates the government’s pattern of disdain for international human rights bodies.

    To conclude, our organisations urge the Bahrain authorities to follow up on the WGAD’s request to conduct a country visit to Bahrain and to respect the WGAD’s opinion, by immediately and unconditionally releasing Mr. Nabeel Rajab, and dropping all charges against him. In addition, we urge the authorities to release all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Bahrain and to guarantee in all circumstances their physical and psychological health.

    This statement is endorsed by the following organisations:

    1- ACAT Germany – Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture
    2- ACAT Luxembourg
    3- Access Now
    4- Acción Ecológica (Ecuador)
    5- Americans for Human Rights and Democracy in Bahrain – ADHRB
    6- Amman Center for Human Rights Studies – ACHRS (Jordania)
    7- Amnesty International
    8- Anti-Discrimination Center « Memorial » (Russia)
    9- Arabic Network for Human Rights Information – ANHRI (Egypt)
    10- Arab Penal Reform Organisation (Egypt)
    11- Armanshahr / OPEN Asia (Afghanistan)
    12- ARTICLE 19
    13- Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos - APRODEH (Peru)
    14- Association for Defense of Human Rights – ADHR
    15- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression – AFTE (Egypt)
    16- Association marocaine des droits humains - AMDH
    17- Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    18- Bahrain Forum for Human Rights
    19- Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy – BIRD
    20- Bahrain Interfaith
    21- Cairo Institute for Human Rights – CIHRS
    22- CARAM Asia (Malaysia)
    23- Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
    24- Center for Constitutional Rights (USA)
    25- Center for Prisoners’ Rights (Japan)
    26- Centre libanais pour les droits humains - CLDH
    27- Centro de Capacitación Social de Panama
    28- Centro de Derechos y Desarrollo – CEDAL (Peru)
    29- Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales – CELS (Argentina)
    30- Centro de Políticas Públicas y Derechos Humanos – Perú EQUIDAD
    31- Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos – CENIDH (Nicaragua)
    32- Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos – CALDH (Guatemala)
    33- Citizen Watch (Russia)
    34- CIVICUS : World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    35- Civil Society Institute – CSI (Armenia)
    36- Colectivo de Abogados « José Alvear Restrepo » (Colombia)
    37- Collectif des familles de disparu(e)s en Algérie - CFDA
    38- Comisión de Derechos Humanos de El Salvador – CDHES
    39- Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos – CEDHU (Ecuador)
    40- Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (Costa Rica)
    41- Comité de Acción Jurídica – CAJ (Argentina)
    42- Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos – CPDH (Colombia)
    43- Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia - CRLDHT
    44- Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative – CHRI (India)
    45- Corporación de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos del Pueblo – CODEPU (Chile)
    46- Dutch League for Human Rights - LvRM
    47- European Center for Democracy and Human Rights – ECDHR (Bahrain)
    48- FEMED – Fédération euro-méditerranéenne contre les disparitions forcées
    49- FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    50- Finnish League for Human Rights
    51- Foundation for Human Rights Initiative – FHRI (Uganda)
    52- Front Line Defenders
    53- Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos – INREDH (Ecuador)
    54- Groupe LOTUS (DRC)
    55- Gulf Center for Human Rights
    56- Human Rights Association – IHD (Turkey)
    57- Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners (Egypt)
    58- Human Rights Center – HRIDC (Georgia)
    59- Human Rights Center « Memorial » (Russia)
    60- Human Rights Center « Viasna » (Belarus)
    61- Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
    62- Human Rights Foundation of Turkey
    63- Human Rights in China
    64- Human Rights Mouvement « Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan »
    65- Human Rights Sentinel (Ireland)
    66- Human Rights Watch
    67- I’lam – Arab Center for Media Freedom, Development and Research
    68- IFEX
    69- IFoX Turkey – Initiative for Freedom of Expression
    70- Index on Censorship
    71- International Human Rights Organisation « Club des coeurs ardents » (Uzbekistan)
    72- International Legal Initiative – ILI (Kazakhstan)
    73- Internet Law Reform Dialogue – iLaw (Thaïland)
    74- Institut Alternatives et Initiatives Citoyennes pour la Gouvernance Démocratique – I-AICGD (RDC)
    75- Instituto Latinoamericano para una Sociedad y Derecho Alternativos – ILSA (Colombia)
    76- Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte (Allemagne)
    77- International Service for Human Rights – ISHR
    78- Iraqi Al-Amal Association
    79- Jousor Yemen Foundation for Development and Humanitarian Response 80- Justice for Iran
    81- Justiça Global (Brasil)
    82- Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
    83- Latvian Human Rights Committee
    84- Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
    85- League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran
    86- League for the Defense of Human Rights – LADO Romania
    87- Legal Clinic « Adilet » (Kyrgyzstan)
    88- Liga lidských práv (Czech Republic)
    89- Ligue burundaise des droits de l’Homme - ITEKA (Burundi)
    90- Ligue des droits de l’Homme (Belgique)
    91- Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme
    92- Ligue sénégalaise des droits humains – LSDH
    93- Ligue tchadienne des droits de l’Homme – LTDH
    94- Ligue tunisienne des droits de l’Homme – LTDH
    95- MADA – Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom
    96- Maharat Foundation (Lebanon)
    97- Maison des droits de l’Homme du Cameroun - MDHC
    98- Maldivian Democracy Network
    99- MARCH Lebanon
    100- Media Association for Peace – MAP (Lebanon)
    101- MENA Monitoring Group
    102- Metro Center for Defending Journalists’ Rights (Iraqi Kurdistan)
    103- Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers - International Association of People’s Lawyers
    104- Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos - MNDH (Brasil)
    105- Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights (Yemen)
    106- Norwegian PEN
    107- Odhikar (Bangladesh)
    108- Pakistan Press Foundation
    109- PEN America
    110- PEN Canada
    111- PEN International
    112- Promo-LEX (Moldova)
    113- Public Foundation – Human Rights Center « Kylym Shamy » (Kyrgyzstan)
    114- RAFTO Foundation for Human Rights
    115- Réseau Doustourna (Tunisia)
    116- SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
    117- Scholars at Risk
    118- Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights – SAF (Yemen)
    119- Suara Rakyat Malaysia - SUARAM
    120- Taïwan Association for Human Rights – TAHR
    121- Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights – FTDES
    122- Vietnam Committee for Human Rights
    123- Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
    124- World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers – WAN-IFRA
    125- World Organisation Against Torture - OMCT,  in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    126- Yemen Organisation for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms
    127- Zambia Council for Social Development – ZCSD

    For more information, please contact:

    • FIDH: Maryna Chebat,, +33 6 48 05 91 57, Twitter: @MS_Chebat
    • OMCT: Delphine Reculeau,, +41 228 09 49 39
    • GCHR: Khalid Ibrahim,, +961 70 15 95 52


  • 16 Rights Groups Raise Bahrain Human Rights Concerns with Formula One

    Rights watchdogs tell F1 leaders to use their leverage to compensate victims of abuse & ensure right to protest ahead of two Grand Prix races in Bahrain


  • 25 organisations' urgent appeal for the release of Nabeel Rajab

    25 human rights organizations have signed an urgent appeal letter to Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the EU Commission, to ask for a clear, public stance on Nabeel Rajab's case and the human rights abuses in Bahrain.

    Read the full letter here


  • Bahrain: Court decision to uphold reprisal charges against Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja another violation of his rights

    A recent decision by Bahrain’s Second Criminal Court to uphold two separate criminal charges against leading human rights defender Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja demonstrates the Bahraini authorities have no intention of relenting in their attacks against human rights defenders, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said today.  On 28 November 2022, the court convicted Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja of insulting a public servant in reference to a police officer in Jau Prison. He was fined 100 Bahraini Dinar (approximately US $ 266).  The case against him initially included a charge of “insulting a foreign head of state” which could lead to up to two years in prison and an additional fine if convicted.  Lawyers have not been able to determine if this charge is pending or has been dropped as they do not have complete access to legal files and case documents.  

    In the second case, heard by the same court, Mr. Al-Khawaja was convicted and fined 60 Bahraini Dinar (approximately US $ 160) for breaking a plastic chair.  This happened when Al-Khawaja was again denied his right to call his daughters in exile where he broke a plastic chair in protest, injuring his own hand. Al-Khawaja was not present during these recent trials in person. He was also not able to grant power of attorney to his lawyer whom he had instructed to represent him, despite a court order to the Ministry of Interior to do so. As a result, Al-Khawaja had no legal representation at either trial in a flagrant violation of his rights and the court proceeded with the convictions without dealing with the issue of the power of attorney first. 

    “By these new cases, the regime is punishing my father for demanding the most basic rights. Apparently, it was not enough torturing and imprisoning him for the past 11 years, the regime wants to put an end to the very limited ways he has for protesting the conditions he is in. My father tells me that ‘the people responsible for committing human rights abuses are at the heart of the system’. He gave me a list of known torturers’ names who not only never been held accountable but instead promoted,” says his daughter Zainab Al-Khawaja.


    Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja started advocating for human rights when he was sixteen years old. He is the co-founder of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).  Until early 2011, he worked as MENA Protection Coordinator for human rights group Frontline Defenders. He was also part of a fact-finding mission to Iraq in 2003 with Amnesty International and he is a member of the International Advisory Network for the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

    He was arrested on 9 April 2011 for his role in organizing peaceful protests defending the rights of Bahrainis and calling for political reform during the popular ‘Arab Spring’ movements which began in Bahrain in February 2011.  He was violently detained by security forces as detailed in areport by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) published in November 2011 at the request of the King of Bahrain.  He is serving a life prison sentence in Jau prison following unfair trials in courts that did not comply with Bahraini criminal law or international fair trial standards. 

    During his early detention, al-Khawaja suffered multiple fractures to his jaw and has undergone multiple surgeries but still suffers from chronic pain and requires additional intervention as he has not healed properly. His facial bone structure is permanently damaged. In January 2021,over 100 NGOs appealed to the Danish government to help free al-Khawaja so he could travel to Denmark for treatment. 

    TheCIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Bahrain asclosed.


  • BAHRAIN: ‘The government uses public relations to mask human rights violations’

    DreweryDykeCIVICUS speaks withDrewery Dyke of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (Salam DHR) about closed civic and democratic space in Bahrain as the state prepares to host the Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU Assembly takes place in the capital, Manama,from 11 to 15 March 2023.

    Salam DHR is a human rights civil society organisation (CSO) founded in 2012 to undertake research and advocacy for the advancement of democracy and human rights, mainly in relation to Bahrain, and also in the wider Gulf and Middle East and North Africa regions.

    We last spoke on the eve of the parliamentary election held in November 2022. How has civic space in Bahrain evolved since?

    The government of Bahrain held the November 2022 parliamentary election under the same, highly restrictive, 2018 Political Rights Law used in the 2018 elections. It banned scores of people from being able to vote or stand for election on spurious grounds such as affiliation to a banned political party or having a criminal record.

    Bahrain’s international partners, United Nations (UN) human rights bodies and civil society all decried the banning of political parties, as it flew in the face of international standards and simply deprived many people of having a voice. The court cases, too, dating from the 2011 unrest, were grossly unfair. In November 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee denounced both the Political Isolation Law and the Law on Associations

    And yet there seems to be a small opening for civil society and greater freedoms. The regional mood music appears to be changing, with the governments of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates normalising relations with Qatar, and the Bahraini government having set out a 2022-2026 National Human Rights Plan.

    Bahrain’s government appears to have signalled that it is minded to undertake some reform but civil society remains highly sceptical. Many of us are concerned that the government is once again using public relations initiatives to project an image of the country that masks longstanding, unresolved human rights violations for which there has been no accountability.

    Is change possible? Yes, to some degree, it appears so. But civil society needs to remain vigilant and sceptical. Action will speak louder than words. An amendment of existing laws on political and civil society organisations is now a must.

    How does Salam DHR manage to work in such a restrictive environment?

    Current legislation makes it impossible for our organisation to register and openly carry out any research or advocacy in Bahrain. That has been the case since 2013. And yet at least one woman human rights defender who is linked to Salam DHR and other human rights CSOs has remained active inside Bahrain. She walks a tightrope on a daily basis, taking action to support individuals, notably prisoners of conscience. Lawyers, political and civil society activists and others from all walks of life continue to contact us but we cannot discuss their identities to protect their safety. It is a challenge.

    In November 2022, however, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights obtained accreditation to the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which means it can now formally participate in UN meetings and events. This important step could help prise open the space for civil society just that little bit more. We will see.

    Why do you think the Bahraini government offered to host the IPU Assembly?

    The Bahraini government invited the IPU to hold its 146th Assembly in order to project an image of a democratic country and boost its international standing. The IPU’s catchphrase on its website is ‘For democracy. For everyone’. The government seeks to own this message in a situation where democracy does not exist.

    The theme of the 146th Assembly is ‘Promoting peaceful coexistence and inclusive societies: Fighting intolerance’. Yet by limiting freedoms of association and assembly and the right to peaceful religious expression, Bahrain’s government promotes exclusion and intolerance.

    Possibly to foster its mission, the IPU accepted the Bahraini government’s offer to hold its meeting in Manama. Is that problematic? In some ways, yes. But it is upon us to promote – peacefully – democratic change that advances adherence to international human rights standards. And parliamentarians from around the world attending the IPU Assembly could help chip away at deeply rooted discrimination and the fact that so many in civil society are deprived of having a voice or are afraid to use it.

    Links between Bahraini parliamentarians and civil society are uneven. Some have few if any links while others have better connections and communication with their electorate, including civil society. Some seek to hold government action to account, albeit timidly.

    The IPU Assembly may be an opportunity for Bahraini members of parliament to learn how their counterparts in other parts of the world engage with their electors and effectively represent their concerns. Parliamentarians are a building block of a free civil society. We need them to step up during the Assembly to make that a reality in Bahrain.

    How could this whitewashing attempt become an advocacy opportunity?

    The IPU Assembly will be a pivotal opportunity for advocacy. Visiting parliamentarians must make it so. They must reject baseless hype and propaganda depicting Bahrain as a land of freedom and democracy.

    In a recently published brief, Salam DHR is urging attending parliamentarians to join with other parliamentarians from across the globe to call on the government of Bahrain to rescind all provisions that restrict parliamentary life and freedom of expression and association of Bahraini members of parliament. We want them to call for the government to resolve two outstanding cases the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarianshas lodged with the government of Bahrain, and examine the cases of 15 former parliamentarians targeted with arbitrary arrest and detention, unfair trial and imprisonment and arbitrary stripping of citizenship. We’re also asking parliamentarians to urge the government to implement all recommendations arising from human rights treaty obligations and as many as possible of those made by UN Special Procedures and arising from Bahrain’s 2022 UN Universal Periodic Review.

    We urge visiting parliamentarians to inform themselves of other widely shared human rights concerns in relation to Bahrain, including the denial of political rights and women’s rights, the use of the death penalty and the tactic of revoking citizenship as punishment, and to meet with human rights activists and others in civil society while in Bahrain.

    How can the international community better support Bahraini civil society and activism for democracy?

    Civil society in and engaged with Bahrain needs the international community to listen and speak with us, to hear our experiences and work with us. There is a narrative and experience that differs from the public relations whitewashing by the government.

    We are saying that there are longstanding problems that need to be addressed, in terms of law, practice and accountability. But we are also saying that we believe that Bahrain’s international partners – from varying states, including European Union member states, the UK and USA, and the UN and its human rights bodies – and now parliamentarians can all work together, in unison, to erode the climate of repression that denies respect for human dignity, in order to empower Bahraini civil society and gradually build a more open and rights-respecting country.

    Civic space in Bahrain is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Salam DHR through itswebsite and follow @SALAM_DHR and@drewerydyke on Twitter.


  • BAHRAIN: ‘This election is make-believe: its only role is to provide a veneer of democracy’

    JawadFairoozCIVICUS speaks about the election being held today in Bahrain withJawad Fairooz, founder and director of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (Salam DHR).

    Salam DHR is a human rights civil society organisation (CSO) founded in 2012 to undertake research and advocacy for the advancement of democracy and human rights, mainly in relation to Bahrain, but also in the wider Gulf and Middle East and North Africa regions.

    Jawad Fairooz is a former Bahraini parliamentarian. In the 2010 election his political group, al-Wefaq, won 18 out of 40 seats, becoming the largest group in the Council of Representatives. They all resigned in repudiation of the repression of protests in 2011, and Jawad and another parliamentarian were arrested, tortured and ill-treated in detention. In November 2012, while he was visiting the UK, the government withdrew his citizenship, making him stateless. He became a campaigner against statelessness and for the rights of the stateless and founded Salam DHR in 2013.

    What is the significance of today’s election?

    Elections matter, or at least they should. In Bahrain, elections for municipal councils and the 40-seat parliament, the Council of Representatives, are held every four years, with possible runoffs where no candidate obtains a majority.

    Between 2002 and 2010, these elections were carried out in a context where civil society had become relatively more vibrant. They continued – even if only just – to carry the promise that parliament would take an increasingly larger and more responsible role in deepening democracy and freedoms and ensuring the continuing existence of civil society.

    Far more than now, they showed elections are a pivotal moment for social and political renewal – for those who will shape society to engage with civil society and to accommodate differing social and political views. Elections can create a sense of shared ownership, and in a context of tolerance and acceptance they can foster a vibrant and responsible civil society. They can help build a culture of human rights.

    But that is not the case with today’s election.

    This one reflects an ever-shrinking civic space. Parliamentarians’ institutional power has weakened, as they too operate under limited civic space. The government is inclined to seek less qualified parliamentarians whose conduct it will be able to control. To further weaken and subordinate parliament to the government’s will, the King recently issued a decree giving more power to parliament’s chair, a government loyalist, to determine the body’s workings. This will further extend government writ and further chill civic space.

    This election, like those of 2014 and 2018, is controlled or stage managed in a way that makes it clear that its only role is to provide a veneer of democracy. It’s make-believe.

    But let’s be clear: it is also an opportunity for us to get back to work on our own renewal, to locate openings and fissures and pry them open, and to chip away at walls enclosing us, in Bahrain, in the Gulf and across the region. An opportunity to look forward.

    Flaws notwithstanding, we need to engage with the new parliamentarians. Will the government let them engage with independent civil society? It looks unlikely, but we will try, both through bilateral parliamentary visits and in the context of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s General Assembly, which will be held in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in March 2023. We need to start organising now so that global parliamentarians can help carry our voices and those of international civil society to the heart of Manama.

    We also need to plant the seeds for civil society activism around COP28, which will take place a year from now in neighbouring United Arab Emirates, where civic space is non-existent. We just can’t stop now, however bleak the situation of Bahrain or the Gulf may seem. This cycle of unfair elections is done, but our task to continue to look for avenues of engagement and activism continues apace. We are looking forward.

    Have further restrictions been imposed on civic space in the run-up to the election?

    Not really, as most of the damage was already done.

    In December 2014, the authorities imprisoned Ali Salman, the leader of al-Wefaq, the largest political association. He was arrested for protesting against the parliamentary elections, which al-Wefaq boycotted because promised reforms had not been implemented. In 2015 he was sentenced to four years in prison on charges such as inciting hatred, disturbing the peace and insulting public institutions, but he was acquitted of the most serious charge, of inciting political change, which could carry a life sentence.

    He appealed, but so did the prosecutor, who demanded a stricter sentence, and in 2016 his prison sentence was increased to nine years. Further charges were subsequently added and in 2017 he was accused and tried for the crime of ‘spying for Qatar’. For having tried to mediate in Bahrain’s conflict with Qatar, the authorities handed him a life sentence.

    In July 2016, a court in Bahrain dissolved and banned Al-Wefaq after accusing it of fostering violence and ‘terrorism’. In May 2017, the main non-sectarian political association, Wa’d, was shut down as well, also under accusations of advocating violence, supporting terrorism and inciting crimes.

    In advance of the 2018 parliamentary election, the government amended the NGO law, extending restrictions on who could establish or be on a CSO board, irrespective of the organisation’s nature – this applies even to organisations working on sports, working with the community or providing charitable services. It also forbade all those linked to banned political parties from engaging with CSOs.

    In addition, anyone sentenced to more than six months’ imprisonment, even if subsequently pardoned by the King, convicted in error or provided with a ‘no objection certificate’, is now deprived for life of voting rights and the right to stand for election. Likewise, all those who for whatever reason did not take part in the previous election have been banned from taking part in the next.

    Having crushed civic space for years, in the run-up to the 2022 election the authorities only needed to ensure that calm persisted. To that effect, in September the Ministry of Municipalities Affairs issued vaguely worded regulations that appeared to link electioneering and religion. Among other things, these regulations banned the holding of meetings in public religious centres and other public places such as educational facilities. They appeared aimed at the majority Shi’a community for whom such centres have often become the only places where they – we – are allowed to gather.

    What are the conditions for civil society like in Bahrain?

    In Bahrain, the very existence of a civil society – let alone an independent one – depends on the political will and whim of the government: the Ministry of Labour and Social Development controls the licensing of all CSOs.

    The newly amended NGO Law redefined who could establish and run a CSO and prohibited members of banned political bodies from setting up a CSO. These new rules were applied in January 2022 to forbid two peaceful women activists, Zainab al-Durazi and Safia al-Hasan, taking up the board positions to which they had been freely elected in a women-focused CSO. The two women had been linked to the banned group Wa’d.

    Do some of the activities of CSOs whose directors are demonstrably loyal to the state help and support society’s needs? Of course they do. We need them and we commend such organisations. But they are not independent.

    Those perceived as not personally loyal to the government and its leaders do not get licences to operate any CSO and are not allowed to be on supervisory boards, in any sector, in total contravention to international law and practice, and completely against the wishes of Bahraini people. A thorough vetting process ensures this remains the case.

    All CSOs must obtain permission to engage in any way with non-Bahraini bodies such as foreign or international human rights groups or to meet with foreign Bahrain-based diplomats. If they get permission and the meeting takes place, the government requires the participation of a Foreign Ministry representative and the preparation of notes for the meeting, subject to approval. If this is not done, the representative of the CSO risks criminal charges or the closure of the organisation.

    The absence of an independent civil society means that any consultation that does take place is performative – just for show. The authorities don’t typically take the limited civil society that is loyal to the government into account, so independent voices are simply not even in the picture.

    If the government only consults those of whom they approve, and even then, only barely, how will that shape government policy? How can it capture the concerns and wishes of the wider population? How is this sustainable? Well, it isn’t. It is unwise and risks creating conditions similar to those that resulted in a national crisis in 2011.

    What would it take to build democratic institutions in Bahrain?

    Recent history has shown that democratic institutions are difficult to build and easy to lose. In Bahrain and the Gulf, the human rights movement does not call for removal of X so that they be replaced by Y. Instead, we build case studies from each country to show the inequities of laws and practices, and we campaign on that. The reform of specific practices, in certain areas – the administration of justice, the freedom of assembly – is achievable if the authorities in Bahrain and across the Gulf actually engage with human rights groups and United Nations human rights bodies.

    We need the Bahraini authorities to provide some genuine representation of the people by the people. We are ready to have a real, genuine dialogue with the authorities, but there needs to be a level playing field. If, despite the restrictions placed on them, the parliamentarians elected in this election step up, then we will have a chance to make a difference going forward. But just as we dare to dream and act, they need to do so too.

    What kind of support does Bahraini civil society need from the international community?

    We need more engagement. We need states and friends in international civil society to step up and explain the character and vision of the democratic society that the majority of Bahrainis seek; to explain that it does not represent a threat but rather an unlocking of potential.

    We need international civil society counterparts to engage in international fora, not only to reflect and project our voice but also to emphasise the role and inherent legitimacy of Bahraini civil society to the Bahraini authorities.

    We need our international partners to put pressure on the government’s human rights oversight bodies – the Ombudsman’s office, the Special Investigative Unit and the National Institution for Human Rights – to provide real rather than cosmetic redress, accountability and reform. Some of these oversight bodies have helped migrant workers facing abuse, but even then, their scope has been limited as they have failed to address underlying unjust laws or practices.

    We need help and expertise to collate evidence to mount realistic claims for accountability in jurisdictions that have provisions for sanctioning, such as the Global Magnitsky Act that the US government uses to sanction foreign government officials deemed to be human rights offenders,

    We need international civil society to press the government of Bahrain to explain why it has failed to adhere to the international conventions to which it has acceded, or why it has not acceded to additional standards such as optional protocols, or been clearer about imposing a moratorium on the death penalty.

    Civic space in Bahrain is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Salam for Democracy and Human Rights through their website and follow @SALAM_DHR and@JawadFairooz on Twitter.


  • Bahrain: End Degrading Treatment of Activists

    Bahraini authorities’ treatment of wrongfully imprisoned detainees violates international standards on prisoner treatment and in some cases may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, a coalition of ten rights groups said today. The authorities should ensure that all detainees are treated with humanity and in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, including access to the adequate medical care they require and contact with their relatives.

    Family members of 12 opposition activists or human rights defenders held in Building 7 of Jaw Prison have told rights groups that under new regulations the authorities shackle the men, many of them elderly and in poor health, whenever they leave their cells, including for medical visits. The men are serving long prison terms in connection with their prominent and peaceful roles in the pro-democracy uprising in February 2011.

    “These new regulations degrade and humiliate prisoners who clearly pose no escape risk,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities can take reasonable measures to prevent escapes, but shackling infirm patients, many of them torture victims, clearly goes beyond any need for security.”

    The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the groups said.

    On April 12, 2017, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a human rights defender held in Building 7, began a hunger strike to protest the new regulations at Jaw Prison, which the prisoners believe are a disproportionate response to the escape of 10 prisoners from another part of Jaw Prison on January 1.

    In addition to the shackling, which has led the detainees to refuse to attend medical appointments in protest at what they perceive as degrading treatment, the authorities have cut visiting hours and the time for phone calls with their relatives.

    Since the escape, which resulted in the death of a police officer, family members of the opposition and human rights activists and several other prisoners have told the rights groups that the authorities’ treatment of their relatives has worsened significantly.

    Since March 1, authorities have shackled prisoners in Building 7 whenever they leave their cells. This practice is contrary to Rule 47 of the Mandela Rules, which states that restraint instruments should only be used as a precaution against escape or to prevent prisoners from injuring themselves or others. Family members of prisoners in other buildings have also told rights groups that their relatives are shackled whenever they leave their cells and that since the escape, their cells are locked most of the day, meaning that those without toilet in their cell have only limited access to toilets.

    International human rights mechanisms have said that the use of restraints on elderly or infirm prisoners who do not pose an escape risk can constitute ill-treatment. The prison authorities appear willing to abide by some of the Nelson Mandela Rules by transferring patients requiring specialized treatment to specialized institutions or civil hospitals. But the disproportionate use of physical restraints is degrading and is preventing detainees from getting the health care they require.

    Family members of Al-Khawaja, 56, told rights groups that he had an appointment with an eye specialist at the Bahrain Defense Forces military hospital on March 12 because of headaches and vision problems. But the prison administration insisted that he had to wear the prison uniform, have his legs and ankles shackled, and submit to full body strip search.

    The family said he refused because of the humiliation involved. Al-Khawaja wrote to the prison authorities in March requesting a new medical appointment and to be allowed to go without a strip search and shackles, but has received no response. On April 12, he began a hunger strike. His family expressed concern about the impact of his hunger strike on his already deteriorating health and said that on April 15 he refused medical attention to address a low blood sugar level in protest at the regulations.

    On April 20, Al-Khawaja began to take necessary liquids to avoid losing consciousness and being transferred to hospital, where he feared he would be force-fed, as in past hunger strikes. He suffers from exhaustion, general weakness, and dizziness. He has lost weight and his blood sugar remains low.

    A family member of Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace, 55, who requires crutches or a wheelchair as the result of polio and sickle-cell anemia, told rights groups that he refused to attend medical appointments, including a March 12 appointment with a hematologist and an appointment in early March to deal with a shoulder infection, because of the prison authorities’ insistence on shackling him with chains during the transfer.

    Family members say that Mohamed Hassan Jawad, 69, and Hasan Mshaima, 69, have also refused essential medical appointments in protest over the authorities’ insistence that they be shackled and wear the prison uniform. Mshaima has heart problems and is a former cancer patient who requires regular checks-ups. His family said that he needs Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans every six months and that the last one was over eight months ago.

    “These leading Bahraini political and human rights activists have suffered deteriorating health during their prolonged arbitrary detention since 2011,” said Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. “Shackling these prisoners of conscience is not a legitimate prison security measure but is intended to degrade and humiliate them. The international community must not forget these long-term prisoners of conscience and should work to end their unjust and punitive detention.”

    Since March 1, the prison administration has reduced all prosioners’ family visits from one hour to 30 minutes, once every two or three weeks, and that prisoners are now separated from their families by a glass barrier during visits. Since June 2016, phone calls to their families, which they are allowed to make up to three times per week, have been cut from 40 minutes to 30 minutes combined for all calls. On March 20, prison authorities stopped providing the detainees with toilet paper or tissues.

    On March 1, the detainees in Building 7 and others in Jaw Prison began boycotting family visits in protest.

    “These opposition activists are prisoners of conscience who should not have spent even a single day in prison,” said Lynn Maalouf, research director at Amnesty International’s Regional Office in Beirut. “The authorities must immediately put an end to the collective and arbitrary punishment of the entire Jaw prison population as a result of the escape of a group of prisoners; they must release all prisoners of conscience without delay and ensure all prisoners are treated humanely and receive the adequate medical treatment they require.”

    Rule 36 of the Nelson Mandela Rules states that discipline and order shall be maintained with no more restriction than is necessary to ensure safe custody, the secure operation of the prison, and a well-ordered community life. Thus, while authorities can take steps to minimize the risk of further escapes, the measures they introduce must be proportionate, should not impinge on prisoners’ dignity, and should not unnecessarily aggravate the suffering inherent in the deprivation of liberty.

    Any deliberate infliction of inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners should be investigated and those responsible held accountable.

    Eleven of the 12 detainees in Building 7 were sentenced in trials that did not meet international standards on fair trials and convicted of crimes that included alleged involvement with a group whose purpose was to replace Bahrain’s monarchy with a republican form of government. The evidence produced against them at their trial consisted only of public statements advocating reforms to curtail the power of the ruling Al Khalifa family and “confessions” that were coerced while they were in incommunicado detention. The twelfth detainee, Sheikh Ali Salman, whose nine-year prison sentence was reduced to four years on April 3, was convicted in relation to peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, following a grossly unfair trial.

    The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s report of November 2011 said that authorities subjected the group to a “discernible pattern of mistreatment,” including torture, after their arrests in some cases. Authorities have not provided physical or psychological rehabilitation for detainees who were tortured.

    • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    • Amnesty International
    • Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
    • Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    • English PEN
    • European Centre For Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
    • Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    • Human Rights First
    • Human Rights Watch


  • Bahrain: On 7th anniversary of beginning of popular movement, NGOs call for end to systematic targeting of human rights defenders and journalists


    On the 7th anniversary of the peaceful popular movement of the Bahraini people which started on 14 February 2011, the undersigned NGOs call on the international community to help free human rights defenders in Bahrain, some of whom are jailed for life, and to stop the persecution of journalists simply for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.


  • Bahrain: Open letter to Danish Prime Minister to take immediate action to free Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja


    It's been 10 years since human rights defender, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been arrested for his human rights activities. CIVICUS together with several human rights organisations have written to Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederisken asking him to help call for his release.

    Dear Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen,

    We the undersigned organisations from around the world are appealing for your assistance to free prominent human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja from prison in Bahrain, where he is serving a life sentence for his peaceful political and human rights activities. As he completes the tenth year of his imprisonment, we appeal to you directly to urge the Danish government to renew efforts to ensure his release so he can be reunited with his family and receive needed medical treatment in Denmark.


  • Bahrain’s botched whitewashing attempt

    By Inés M. Pousadela, CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.

    The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an organisation whose motto is ‘For democracy. For everyone’, just held its global assembly in a country with a mock parliament and not the slightest semblance of democracy.

    For Bahrain’s authoritarian leaders, the hosting of the IPU assembly was yet another reputation-laundering opportunity: a week before, they’d hosted Formula One’s opening race.

    The day after the race, Ebrahim Al-Mannai, a lawyer and human rights activist, tweeted that the Bahraini parliament should be reformed if it was to be showcased at the assembly. His reward was to be immediately arrested for tweets and posts deemed an ‘abuse of social media platforms’.

    That same week, the Bahraini authorities revoked the entry visas for two Human Rights Watch staff to attend the assembly.

    Rather than opening up to host the event, Bahrain further shut down.

    Read on Inter Press Service 


  • Bahraini human rights defender Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja turns 60 on his 10th anniversary in prison


    • On April 5 Bahraini human rights defender Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja turns 60
    • 2021 marks 10 years since Bahraini pro-democracy protests
    • Abdul-Hadi’s family concerned about his fragile health in prison during pandemic

    On 5 April 2021 prominent Bahraini human rights defender Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja turns 60. A few days after his birthday, 9 April, marks ten years since he was first arrested for organising protests calling for political reforms in 2011. On his birthday, 10 human rights organisations from across the globe call for the unconditional and immediate release of Abdul- Hadi.

    This year marks the 10th anniversary of pro-democracy protests which began in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in February 2011. The demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the authorities resulting in the deaths of nearly 100 people and the arrest of thousands. Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja was part of the “Bahrain 13”, a group of well-known opposition leaders arrested in March and April 2011 after calling for civil and political rights during the February uprising. A Bahraini military court sentenced them to life imprisonment in what is widely regarded as a series of unfair trials. 

    "In Bahrain, Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja is turning 60. After 10 years of unjustified incarceration, mistreatment, and abuse, it will hardly be a happy occasion. But it is a moment to raise our voices, yet again, to call for an end to this inhumanity, to this injustice, and to demand his immediate release.” Annie Game, Executive Director, IFEX.

    While in prison, Abdul-Hadi has been systematically tortured, physically and sexually abused and subjected to lengthy solitary confinement. Security personnel have also made sexual threats against his wife and daughter. A recent report by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) shows those responsible for torturing and injuring the Bahraini human rights defender and other activists have never been held to account. 

    Abdul Hadi al Khawaja Bahrain

    “Bahrain continues to act in complete impunity, holding Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja in detention for his peaceful work. While authorities continue to paint themselves as progressive through sports-washing and standing for council at the UNHRC, the true marker of their commitment to human rights is the immediate and unconditional release of all detained defenders, including al-Khawaja.” David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

    Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja has repeatedly gone on hunger strikes to protest his detention and his health has significantly deteriorated during the last ten years. Abdul- Hadi’s family are increasingly concerned about his well-being while in prison, where the cramped and unsanitary conditions put him at risk of contracting COVID-19:

    “My colleague Abdul-Hadi is one of the few MENA defenders who sacrificed everything they possessed for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work. His achievements must be celebrated. Prison is not the place for him - he needs a free space in which he will be able to offer his rich experience in building our societies on the basis of social justice and respect for the civil and human rights of citizens.” Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director, GCHR.

    "Throughout the past decade we have missed him greatly, and have feared for his life. But today it has become worse, we have not seen him for more than a year as all visits have been cancelled, and fear his imprisonment could be a death sentence at a time when the pandemic is spreading inside Jau prison. Is a brutal arrest, severe torture and a 10 years imprisonment not enough punishment for a person whose only crime is peacefully calling for democracy and human rights? Is it not time for him to come home?" al-Khawaja family.

    Abdul-Hadi is former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Co-Founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and in 2005 was named activist of the year by the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists. He should never have been arrested for organising peaceful protests and for campaigning for freedom and democracy. 

    To mark the 60th birthday of Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, CIVICUS and other human rights organisations calls on the Bahraini authorities to drop Abdul- Hadi Al-Khawaja’s life sentence and to unconditionally release him and other human right defenders. Reflecting on the need for urgent intervention, Nedal Al-Salman from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said, “now is the time to join forces and work in collective action. We cannot afford to fail in our calls to have al-Khawaja released, especially as 10 years have passed.”

    Abdul-Hadi will also be added as one of the ‘faces’ of CIVICUS’s #StandAsMyWitness campaign, which calls for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders across the globe.


    Interviews available:

    • Maryam al-Khawaja, daughter of Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja
    • Brian Dooley, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
    • Bahrain Center for Human Rights; Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
    • Lars Aslan Rasmussen, Human Rights Activist & Member of The Social Democratic Party

    To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:  


    CIVICUS is a global alliance of more than 10,000 civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society across the world.



  • CIVICUS at the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The opening week of the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will be dominated by the high level segment which will include approximately 99 high level speakers including top political leaders from UN member states as well as UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, and the President of the General Assembly amongst others.
    To note is the oral update given by the High Commissioner for human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on the 7th March which will address a number of pressing issues on the Councils agenda as well as bringing to light issues that are not being properly addressed by the Council and merit further attention.
    On the agenda this session of Interest to CIVICUS will be reports on the safety of journalists, the report on effectiveness and reform of the Human Rights Council, the report on Human Rights Defenders and People on the move by Michel Forst, SR for Human Rights Defenders. Also of note, the right to privacy and a number of country specific situations. CIVICUS will be following many discussions where civic space is touched upon and will continue to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society.

    Thursday, 1 March 14:00 - 15:00 (Room XXVII) | Human Rights & Citizenship in the Gulf Region | Organised by: SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS, International Federation for Human Rights, and
    Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme

    Across the Gulf Region, the relationship of citizenship and human rights has become a central issue. This event will examine how the authorities have increasingly sought to strip human rights defenders of their citizenship as a reprisal for their perceived political views and legitimate human rights work. See full invitation.


    • Tor Hodenfield, CIVICUS
    • Tara O'Grady, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Mohamed Sultan, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    • Abdelbagi Jibril, Darfur Relief & Documentation Centre
    • Moderator: Asma Darwish, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights

    Friday, 2 March 11:30 - 13:00 (Room XXIV) | Ethiopia: The role of the international community in ending impunity and ensuring accountability for violations of fundamental rights | Organised by: Defend Defenders,Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, and CIVICUS

    The event will provide an opportunity to examine the state of civic space in Ethiopia and the setbacks in has suffered over the last decade. Civic space has become increasingly controlled and restricted as human rights defenders have faced threats, arrests, and detention while attempting to exercise their rights to assembly, association, and expression. This even will ook at these threats and trends. See full invitation.


    • Yared Hailiemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Tsedale Lemma, Editor-In-Chief, Addis Standard Magazine
    • Bayisa Wak-Woya, Director, Global Refugee & Migration Council 
    • Moderator: Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders

    Friday, 2 March 15:00-16:30 (Room XI) | Counterterrorism, Emergency Powers, and the Protection of Civic Space | Organised by: Article 19, ECNL, CIVICUS, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy, and International Federation for Human Rights

    The use of exceptional national security and emergency powers to combat terrorism has become increasingly common. The event will look at how counterterrorism measures and emergency powers have increasingly resulted in the restrictions of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly, association and expression. See full invitation.


    • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
    • Kerem Altiparmek, Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science
    • Yared Hailemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Lisa Oldring, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    • Sonia Tanic, Representative to the UN, International Federation for Human Rights
    • Moderator: Nicholas Miller, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law


  • CIVICUS at the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The opening week of the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council will commence with the high level segment which will include approximately 99 high level speakers including top political leaders from UN member states as well as UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, and the President of the General Assembly amongst others.
    To note is the oral update given by the High Commissioner for human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on the 7th March which will address a number of pressing issues on the Councils agenda as well as bringing to light issues that are not being properly addressed by the Council and merit further attention.
    Of interest to CIVICUS will be reports on the safety of journalists, the report on effectiveness and reform of the Human Rights Council, the report on Human Rights Defenders and People on the move by Michel Forst, SR for Human Rights Defenders. Also of note, the right to privacy and a number of country specific situations. CIVICUS will be following many discussions where civic space is touched upon and will continue to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society.

    Thursday, 1 March 14:00 - 15:00 (Room XXVII) | Human Rights & Citizenship in the Gulf Region | Organised by: SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS, International Federation for Human Rights, and Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme

    Across the Gulf Region, the relationship of citizenship and human rights has become a central issue. This event will examine how the authorities have increasingly sought to strip human rights defenders of their citizenship as a reprisal for their perceived political views and legitimate human rights work. See full invitation.


    • Tor Hodenfield, CIVICUS
    • Tara O'Grady, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights
    • Mohamed Sultan, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    • Abdelbagi Jibril, Darfur Relief & Documentation Centre
    • Moderator: Asma Darwish, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights

    Friday, 2 March 11:30 - 13:00 (Room XXIV) | Ethiopia: The role of the international community in ending impunity and ensuring accountability for violations of fundamental rights | Organised by: Defend Defenders,Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, and CIVICUS

    The event will provide an opportunity to examine the state of civic space in Ethiopia and the setbacks in has suffered over the last decade. Civic space has become increasingly controlled and restricted as human rights defenders have faced threats, arrests, and detention while attempting to exercise their rights to assembly, association, and expression. This even will ook at these threats and trends. See full invitation.


    • Yared Hailiemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Tsedale Lemma, Editor-In-Chief, Addis Standard Magazine
    • Bayisa Wak-Woya, Director, Global Refugee & Migration Council 
    • Moderator: Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders

    Friday, 2 March 15:00-16:30 (Room XI) | Counterterrorism, Emergency Powers, and the Protection of Civic Space | Organised by: Article 19, ECNL, CIVICUS, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy, and International Federation for Human Rights

    The use of exceptional national security and emergency powers to combat terrorism has become increasingly common. The event will look at how counterterrorism measures and emergency powers have increasingly resulted in the restrictions of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly, association and expression. See full invitation.


    • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
    • Kerem Altiparmek, Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science
    • Yared Hailemariam, Director, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    • Lisa Oldring, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    • Sonia Tanic, Representative to the UN, International Federation for Human Rights
    • Moderator: Nicholas Miller, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

    Thursday, 15 March 15:00-16:00 (Room XXII) | The Link Between the Deterioration of Human Rights in Egypt and the Massive Violations in the Gulf States | Gulf Center for Human Rights | International Federation for Human Rights | OMCT | International Service for Human Rights | CPJ | ALQST | CIVICUS | CPJ

    A look at the middle east governments' coordinated efforts to target human rights defenders and journalists across the region. See full invitation.


    • Yahya Al-Assiri, Director of ALQST for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
    • Justin Shilad, Committee to Protect Journalists
    • Nardine Al-Nemr, Academic & Activists from Egypt
    • Sara Brandt, Advocacy & Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS


  • CIVICUS condemns crackdown on Civil Society in Bahrain

    Johannesburg. 10 December 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is deeply concerned about the deteriorating operating environment for civil society in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The past few months have been marred by growing intolerance towards dissenters, which began in the run up to the October elections and continues in the post election phase.

    Authorities in Bahrain are waging a relentless campaign against activists whose views are not in line with the official position. Currently, 24 prominent human rights defenders are facing trial under Bahrain's anti-terrorism laws. They have been charged with collaborating with foreign organisations and circulating false information. They have also been accused of forming terrorist networks, destruction of public and private property and defaming the authorities.

    The arrested activists have complained about torture and abuse meted out to them by the National Security Agency. They have so far appeared in court on four occasions and the next hearing has been scheduled for 23 December. During their first appearance in court on 27 October, detainees informed the court that while in detention they were beaten, electrocuted, verbally and physically assaulted and denied adequate sleep. Those detained were not allowed access to legal representation during interrogation and some family members did not know where they were being detained for two weeks after their arrest. It has also been reported that prior to, during and after the elections about 350 other activists have been arrested.

    "In a worrying trend, it has become commonplace in Bahrain to arrest activists for writing articles and delivering speeches which are critical of the government's discriminatory policies and official corruption,"  said Netsanet Belay, CIVICUS' Director of Policy and Research. "Persecution and torture of public-spirited individuals offering legitimate criticism against official policies and the clampdown on their organisations amounts to a repudiation of Bahrain's accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture."

    The Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), a CIVICUS partner for the Civil Society Index and one of the few remaining independent groups striving for the protection of civil and political freedoms in the country, has been targeted in the recent crackdown. On 6 September, the Ministry of Social Development issued an order to dissolve the Board of the BHRS and went ahead to appoint an administrator 'an employee from the Ministry' to lead the BHRS. The BHRS has had to go to court in response to these arbitrary actions and its fate currently depends on the court's response. The first hearing of the case scheduled for 26 October has been postponed to 4 January 2011.

    According to Abdullah Aldorazi of BHRS, "The unfair order issued by the Ministry of Social Development to dissolve the Board of the BHRS is a security strategy aimed at preventing the documentation of atrocities carried out by the authorities during the crackdown and preventing families of the detainees from using the society as a safe haven."

    CIVICUS urges the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to live up to their commitments under international law and guarantee civil society the space to freely express, associate and assemble.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) Project of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world.

    For more information please contact CIVICUS:

    Jessica Hume ( , +27 82 768 0250), Communications Manager


    David Kode ( , +27 73 775 8649), Policy Officer
    Office Tel: +27 11 833 5959

    CIVICUS House, 24 Gwigwi Mrwebi Street, Newtown 2001, Johannesburg, South Africa
    PO Box 933, Southdale 2135, Johannesburg, South Africa
    tel: +27-11-833-5959 | fax: +27-11-833-7997 | email:


  • Closure of civic space constitutes an existential threat to independent civil society in Bahrain

    Michael Payne

    Sam Jones

    CIVICUS speaks to
    Michael Payne (left), Director of Advocacy, and Sam Jones (right), a researcher at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). ADHRB is an international civil society organisation of Americans and Bahrainis seeking to expand the kingdom’s rapidly closing civil society space through dialogue and reform.

    1. What are the main tactics used to restrict civic space in Bahrain? What have been the most serious recent violations of civil society rights in the country?

    In recent weeks and months, Bahrain’s human rights situation has dramatically deteriorated, with civil society space now all but completely restricted. Since January 2017, the Government of Bahrain has taken several unprecedented repressive measures, including allowing military courts to try civilians; re-empowering the National Security Agency, the country’s intelligence body, with domestic arrest authority; ending a de facto moratorium on the death penalty by executing three torture victims; launching two lethal raids on peaceful demonstrations in the town of Diraz, killing at least six protesters; dissolving the last major political opposition group, Wa’ad (also known as the National Democracy Action Society); closing the only independent media outlet, Al-Wasat; torturing and intimidating activists and their families, including human rights defender Ebtisam al-Saegh; and sentencing Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), to two years in prison on charges related solely to free expression.

    In many respects, the current level of repression is worse even than in 2011, when the government declared a state of emergency and violently crushed the country’s pro-democracy protest movement. Many of the current restrictions on civil society space have been legislated or implemented under ‘normal’ circumstances – rather than under a state of emergency as in 2011 – leading some activists to describe the present situation as one of “de facto martial law.” Specifically, the expansion of the military courts’ jurisdiction and the restoration of the NSA’s arrest authority may, together, constitute the foundation of a parallel legal system for individuals deemed to jeopardise national security, whereby ‘enemies of the state’ like civil society activists can be more rapidly and quietly disappeared, tortured, imprisoned, or even executed by the authorities. This is a very serious threat to the re-emergence of a functioning, independent civil society in Bahrain, as well as to any prospect of sustainable political reconciliation and stability for the kingdom.

    2. Why is the state restricting Bahraini civil society so severely? What are its motivations and what is at stake?

    Given the opacity of a state like Bahrain – with all key positions of power occupied by members of the same Al Khalifa royal family – it is not entirely clear what is primarily motivating its current assault on civil society. Notably, at the height of the unrest in 2011, so-called ‘reformists’ in the monarchy – generally understood to be led by the king’s son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad – purportedly urged restraint and sought to secure a sustainable political resolution through dialogue with the opposition. Simultaneously, ‘hardliners’ like Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman and the Khawalid – a branch of the royal family distinct from that of the king and which is infamous for anti-Shia prejudice – pushed to securitise the unrest and crush it with force, at least implicitly working to undermine the dialogue approach. If there is a single motivation running through both camps, it is primarily the survival of the monarchy in either a constitutional or absolute form, respectively.

    Throughout 2011, the king appeared to vacillate between both approaches, following the historical precedent of interchanging nominal reforms or attempted co-optation of civil society activism with brute force. These paradoxical approaches culminated in the violent destruction of the Pearl Roundabout protest encampment, on one hand, and the establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), on the other.

    Yet, despite the government’s acceptance of the BICI’s 26 recommendations to open civil society space and redress human rights violations, its disingenuous efforts to implement these reforms suggest that the hard-line approach has ultimately come to dominate the monarchy’s strategy. For this camp, and increasingly the monarchy as a whole, the goal appears to be simple maintenance of power, animated by a royal/familial or even sectarian chauvinism aimed at marginalising the non-royal/Shia majority. Though the monarchy is not monolithic, this securitised, anti-Shia strategy dovetails with the entire system’s more pragmatic interest in ensuring another broad-based, cross-sectarian civil society movement does not re-emerge to credibly demand basic freedoms and an end to royal kleptocracy or corruption. Notably, the hard-line leadership also effectively controls the security establishment, and it has used institutions like the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Agency, and the Ministry of Justice to frame the opposition – and even independent civil society at large – as a sectarian security problem to be dealt with through selective law enforcement or sheer violence.

    As the government largely coalesced around this core strategy over the last several years, it became a bit easier to see the motivation behind the severity of the current restrictions on civil society. Bahrain’s history of vibrant, independent civil society movements and institutions is unique to the Gulf region, and any government strategy to fully eliminate or dominate this landscape therefore requires significant force. The government’s embrace of a wholly hard-line position on independent civil society necessarily entails the steady escalation in violence and repression that we have been witnessing recently.

    Lastly, perhaps the most proximate motivator is the upcoming elections for the lower house of Bahrain’s parliament, the National Assembly’s Council of Representatives, expected in late 2018. The National Assembly, as a whole, is legislatively hamstrung and the upper house remains royally appointed, so it is largely unable or unwilling to act as an effective check on the executive. However, the government likely sees the elections as a symbolic opportunity to persuade the world it has made democratic progress while simultaneously engineering a pliant lower house with a false claim to international legitimacy. To be sure the monarchy’s core supporters – sometimes referred to as “tribal independents,”or members of families with traditional patronage ties to the Al Khalifa that remain unaligned with any organised political group – secure a large proportion of the vote, the government has been actively clearing the stage of any licensed opposition in advance of the election. Formal political parties remain illegal in Bahrain, but the authorities have dissolved all major opposition societies, which act as de factoparties, since the events of 2011: Amal in 2012, Al-Wefaq in 2016; and Wa’ad in 2017. Leading members of all three of these groups – as well as smaller opposition organisations like Al-Wahdawi – are either currently imprisoned, facing charges, or have been subjected to some other form of judicial harassment or intimidation. Moreover, the government has continued to engage in targeted gerrymandering to undermine the constituencies of not just these opposition groups but also societies traditionally allied with the monarchy, such as the Al-Minbar Muslim Brotherhood affiliate and the Al-Asala Salafi organisation. All these trends suggest that the government may intend to seize the opportunity presented by the 2018 elections to dispense with organised political groupings and establish new, reliable patronage networks of non-aligned ‘independents’ loyal to the royal family. If the government can succeed at restricting independent media coverage of the elections, as well as any effective local monitoring, it may think that it will be able to present self-serving political consolidation as evidence of genuine democratisation – at the expense of the actual opposition.

    3. What roles are being played by outside government in the repression of Bahraini civil society?

    Bahrain is a very small country with growing economic problems, chief among them the virtual depletion of oil. Both strategically and financially, it is extremely dependent on external allies like Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the former colonial power, the United Kingdom. The governments of all three have had a significant impact on the evolution of repression since 2011.

    Saudi Arabia has played the most visible role, leading a contingent of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s Peninsula Shield Force into Bahrain to support the kingdom’s final push to clear the 2011 Pearl Roundabout protests. While it is unclear if these troops have directly committed any human rights violations – the BICI found that they predominantly guarded infrastructure, freeing up additional Bahraini security forces to attack the demonstrations, but some form of the Peninsula Shield Force remains stationed in Bahrain and has faced sporadic allegations of abuse – the deployment either forced or confirmed the government’s turn towards a securitised, hard-line approach to the unrest. It is speculated that the Saudi leadership, which has rarely abided any semblance of independent civil and political society, long disapproved of Bahraini government concessions or reforms, urging it to forcefully quell all dissent. Similarly, the Saudi government, competing with Iran over regional dominance, has historically propagated or at least tolerated anti-Shia hate speech and a narrative of sectarian conflict that casts Arab Shia people as a disloyal fifth column. In recent years it has dealt violently with uprisings in its own predominantly Shia Eastern Province and has reportedly funded Bahrain’s largely pro-government Al-Asala Salafi political society (foreign funding is illegal in Bahrain, but the offence is typically alleged selectively against independent civil society or opposition groups). Altogether, Saudi influence has fallen squarely behind the hard-line approach in Bahrain, entrenching a toxic sectarian narrative and driving a securitised response to dissent.

    The US, meanwhile, has taken a complex and often contradictory position on Bahrain in recent years, with the consequent impact dependent on the administration or even branch of government in question. Bahraini-American relations are most strongly centred on the defence partnership, which is oriented around the US naval facility in Manama – one of the most important US military bases in the region and home to the US Fifth Fleet. In 2011 and its aftermath, the US largely sought to moderate the Bahraini government’s response, urging reform and restricting security assistance over human rights concerns. Privately, it appears the US failed to bring all possible pressure to bear – such as threatening to move the Fifth Fleet, something which truly rattles the Bahraini government – allowing the GCC to do what it would with Bahrain in exchange for its support for the NATO intervention in Libya. In the ensuing years, under the Obama administration, the US mostly played a rhetorically positive role, while lifting some restrictions on arms holds. The Trump administration, however, has walked remaining Obama-era restrictions back even further, approving old and new arms transfers devoid of human rights conditions. President Trump’s decision to make Saudi Arabia the destination of his first trip abroad and to meet with Bahrain’s King Hamad – promising a relationship without “strain” – cannot be separated from the kingdom’s move, just days later, to violently raid a peaceful sit-in, killing five protesters and injuring hundreds. It is not a coincidence that Bahrain’s bloodiest day since before 2011 occurred only months into the Trump administration; in fact, the current acting secretary-general of Bahrain’s fatally flawed National Institute for Human Rights – which endorsed the executions that ended Bahrain’s de facto moratorium on the death penalty – summed up the general sentiment among government officials when he tweeted hopefully after the US election: “With @realDonaldTrump as president, the curse of the Arab Spring is officially over.”

    While the US influence has been mixed, the UK has more consistently and quietly played a very negative role. Having initially created many of Bahrain’s security institutions, the British government has continued to advise the authorities in their purported attempts to conduct human rights training programmes and establish human rights oversight mechanisms. These initiatives have been decided failures, if they were ever undertaken in good faith at all. While core abuses like torture, enforced disappearance, excessive force, and arbitrary detention have continued apace and, in some cases, increased, the UK has continued to help institutions like the Ministry of Interior Police Ombudsman obscure or even cover up government malfeasance. Though ostensibly created with good intentions, these oversight mechanisms are stymied by flawed mandates and a lack of political will to hold officials accountable. So many years on, rather than restrict support or forcefully rebuke the Bahraini government, the UK still backs these institutions – ultimately allowing the Bahraini authorities to pretend they are implementing reforms while the security forces continue with their primary function: violently suppressing dissent.

    Lastly, though the BICI found no evidence of Iranian involvement in the country’s pro-democracy movement, Iranian posturing and its geopolitical competition with the Saudi-led GCC have had a negative impact on Bahraini civil society in a broader sense. The Government of Bahrain has strategically calibrated sectarian rhetoric and policy initiatives to frame independent civil society as solely Shia and Iranian-backed - a narrative that plays well in the GCC and in the US and the UK - and opportunistic Iranian statements often lend rhetorical credence to the otherwise baseless claims of Bahraini authorities.

    4. What roles do private sector interests play in these processes?

    Private sector interests have unfortunately played a negative role in many cases as well. In 2011, the domestic private sector had a directly negative influence on civil society engagement by cooperating with the government and dismissing thousands of employees on suspicion of participating in protests. The International Trade Union Confederation described the campaign as “an economic massacre following the deplorable human massacre.” Though most of these individuals were ultimately reinstated, ADHRB has received credible reports from local labour activists that many remain dismissed from their positions, and that others have been deprived full compensation and benefits as afforded to them under the government’s agreements with the International Labour Organization. Notably, due to the extreme sectarian hiring bias exhibited in the Bahraini public sector, members of Bahrain’s Shia majority community predominantly find employment in the private sector, and many employees – Shia or otherwise – remain wary of expressing controversial political views for fear of reprisal.

    Another form of private sector involvement in Bahrain’s current human rights crisis comes during major international events like the Bahrain Formula One (F1) Grand Prix. For years, the government would increase its violent suppression of protests and gatherings near the Bahrain International Circuit in the weeks leading up to, and throughout, the annual Bahrain Grand Prix race. In response to this, ADHRB filed a complaint with F1 through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) complaint mechanism. This complaint ultimately led to arbitration, and the ultimate adoption of a human rights due diligence policy by F1.

    Further evidence of detrimental roles of international business interests is found in the security sector. While arms manufacturers are not typically sympathetic when individuals are killed using the weapons they produce, Bahrain has caused controversy in the arms industry regarding their lethal misuse of non-lethal crowd control weapons. For example, Bahraini security forces have on many occasions fired long-range teargas canisters at individual protestors at close range, thus using these gas canisters as projectiles themselves. Ministry of Interior forces also often fire birdshot shotgun blasts at protesters at close range, as happened in the lethal Diraz raid in May 2017 where five protesters were killed. Industry experts have commented that the extent of Bahrain’s violation of end use agreements and abuse of teargas and other crowd control weapons was “unprecedented.” As a result, a number of countries including the US and South Korea have ceased all teargas and light arms sales to Bahrain.

    5. How has Bahraini civil society responded to these restrictions?

    It has been extremely difficult for Bahraini civil society to respond. The current restrictions effectively constitute an existential threat to independent civil society. Since 2011, we have consistently expressed grave concern that civil and political society space is closing – since 2016 that space has virtually closed. As reflected by the CIVICUS Monitor rating for Bahrain, nearly every independent civil society activist or organisation in the country has faced some form of attack, from judicial harassment to outright forced dissolution. Labour unions, trade associations, religious organisations, political societies and human rights groups have all come under assault. Many activists and organisations are simply unable to keep up the same pace of work, occupied instead with legal battles or avoiding reprisal. Others have left the country seeking asylum, hoping to continue their work from abroad.

    Equally troubling is the consequent risk of increased violence following such complete closure of peaceful avenues for mobilisation and dissent. Fortunately, as noted by the US State Department, last year actually saw a decline in terror attacks in Bahrain; however, it is a constant concern that the government tactic of falsely equating all peaceful activism with terrorism is a self-fulfilling prophecy that will ultimately generate heightened violence and instability.

    Q: What would it take to build democratic institutions in Bahrain, and what roles could civil society play in it?

    As has been observed of Iraq, the Ba’athist regime and American invasion together devastated what had once been a robust civil society, leaving those that survived the war and occupation with a vastly diminished civil society infrastructure to draw on in rebuilding the country. This left a void that all manner of negative actors could exploit for their own ends, distorting and forestalling the development of strong democratic institutions.

    Bahrain is not yet at a stage that compares to post-war Iraq, but it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which such total repression or violence similarly undermines the country’s traditionally vigorous and extensive civil society networks. Fortunately, Bahrain’s mainstream civil society and opposition movements have remained steadfastly committed to nonviolent activism and international engagement, and if they can endure the government’s intensifying restrictions they will play the key role in building sustainable democratic institutions.

    For this to happen, however, will require a near total reversal of the government’s current approach, and a re-empowerment of whatever ‘reformist’ strands still exist within the monarchy. The government would need to be willing to offer at least some genuine democratic reforms upfront to demonstrate that any ensuing dialogue or reconciliation process was being undertaken in good faith, rather than a stunt. Unlike countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain does have the basic parliamentary infrastructure to build on as well, so a critical, viable first concession the government could make would be to reform the National Assembly to make it a fully representative, bicameral parliament. Allowing this parliament to then select a new Prime Minister to replace Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has held the post for more than 40 years, would represent a major step toward ensuring accountability and oversight for the cabinet, in addition to symbolically indicating a new era for the country.

    6. What support does Bahraini civil society need from international civil society and the intergovernmental system?

    Bahraini civil society has long sought the support of the international community, including international institutions and mechanisms, and from international civil society organisations.

    We have worked extensively with a range of Bahraini civil society actors to empower their engagement in forums like the UN Human Rights Council, and helped to facilitate bringing their on-the-ground documentation of human rights abuses to the attention of the UN Special Procedures. Since this programme began in 2013, we have worked with our partners to document and report on hundreds of human rights violations in Bahrain. This has helped to create a growing body of documentation and reporting issued by UN human rights experts, and endorsed by the UN system.

    Further advocacy campaigns with coalitions of Bahraini civil society groups, UN, European Union and other international actors have resulted in a number of victories and success stories over the years. In response to diverse international pressure, the Bahraini government has, at times, released various political prisoners or human rights defenders like Nabeel Rajab, Maryam al-Khawaja, Zeinab al-Khawaja and Ebrahim Sharif. Several years ago, Bahraini civil society, with the support and protection of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), was able to carry out a series of technical missions in Bahrain, which included conferences, training seminars and consultative visits. While this level of cooperation and access has declined in recent years, Bahrain’s civil society remains very committed to international cooperation and support.

    Bahrain has also enjoyed a significant amount of attention in international political forums such as the UN Human Rights Council and the European Parliament. Since 2011, there have been a series of five successive, multilateral, and cross-regional joint statements issued in the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Bahrain. With as many as 48 governments raising collective concern over on-going abuses in the kingdom, these statements have served as a valuable tool for maintaining important scrutiny on Bahrain’s human rights record, and provide validation and protection for the work of domestic human rights actors. In the European Union too, Bahrain has received repeated scrutiny from members of the European Parliament through repeated human rights resolutions that have addressed cases of human rights defenders, political prisoners and executions, among other systematic abuses.

    Given today’s increasingly closed domestic civil society space, Bahraini human rights defenders and activists rely more and more on external protected spaces for furthering their human rights work. Access remains a key problem, both for international actors to enter Bahrain to carry out human rights work, and for Bahraini civil society to travel freely outside Bahrain without fear of arbitrary travel bans, or violent reprisals upon return. However, civil society still works to organise conferences, events and training programmes within their region and further abroad, and has relied increasingly on exiled Bahraini communities to further their work from outside the country.

    ADHRB, and our Bahraini and international partners, will continue to work to support Bahrain’s human rights defenders and civil society activists in furthering their struggle for human rights, accountability, transparency and redress in Bahrain and in international forums.


  • Countries that require the attention of the UN Human Rights Council

    39th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Oral Statement  

    Members of the CIVICUS Alliance in Zimbabwe have expressed grave concern for the authorities’ heavy-handed response to protests in Harare one day after presidential elections were held. Military personnel deployed in response to the protests shot live bullets at protesters, killing at least 6 and injuring many others. We call on the government of Zimbabwe to conduct a prompt, credible and impartial investigation in the excessive and lethal use of force during the course of these demonstrations.

    In Bahrain, SALAM for Democracy & Human Rights, a member of the CIVICUS Alliance, has documented cases of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders. All major opposition parties have now been dissolved and stripped of their assets. We are equally concerned that security personnel continue to wilfully arrest, physically assault and even kill demonstrators for exercising their legitimate right to public dissent. We urge the Council going to hold the government of Bahrain fully accountable for any violations of its international obligations.

    Finally, Mr. President, in Bangladesh, over the past year, authorities have used a rage of repressive laws to target and harass journalists and human rights defenders, restrict freedom of assembly and carry out enforced disappearances of opposition supporters ahead of national elections scheduled for late 2018. We call on the government of Bangladesh to drop all unwarranted charges and end the persecution of individuals and groups for exercising their fundamental rights.


  • Detention and disappearance of activists is widespread

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    -Statement on report of Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

    CIVICUS thanks the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for their report. We are concerned that it shows Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia - Human Rights Council member states from the Middle East – as well as Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and the UAE, all using arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance to silence civil society and shut down dissent with impunity. 

    Bahrain arbitrarily detained Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab on 9 April 2011 and 13 June 2016 respectively. They are among dozens of human rights defenders whom the authorities have arbitrarily detained, including Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, both subject to mistreatment by officials. The authorities denied them medical treatment and interfered with their family visits. We are particularly alarmed by the Working Group’s reports of reprisals against those who have been subject of an urgent appeal or opinion in Bahrain. This falls far short of the standards that every state, but particularly members of the Human Rights Council, should uphold.

    We condemn Egypt's arbitrary arrest of lawyer Ibrahim Metwally in 2017 en route to attend an HRC session, to present cases of enforced disappearance, and his ill-treatment. His and the cases of 12 others arbitrarily arrested in June 2019 reflect Egypt's closure of civic space.

    In Iraq, we condemn the detention of journalists, protesters and civil society activists. During protests in Basra, at least seven Iraqi journalists were assaulted or detained including Reuters photographer Essam al-Sudani.

    Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on women’s and other human rights defenders forms its systematic use of arbitrary detention in which thousands have been detained.

    Those detained in 2018 included Aziza al-Yousef; Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and other women’s rights advocates who also campaigned to end the driving ban, as well as writers, academics and family members of WHRDs. “Charges” were only brought against them in March 2019. They remain in prison, alongside members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA); Mohammed al-Qahtani, and Abdullah al-Hamid; blogger Raif Badawi and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.

    Iran systematically arbitrarily detains trade unionists, HRDs, minority rights activists and lawyers like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi.

    Kuwait’s arbitrary arrest in July, of stateless rights activists including Abdulhakim al-Fadhli exemplifies the intersectionality of rights and how guaranteeing civil space bolsters other rights. 

    The UAE’s March 2017 arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of HRD Ahmed Mansoor continues to tarnish the UAE, showing that its “year of tolerance” does not include human rights.

    Mr. President, the report of the Working Group shows that the use of arbitrary detention – often without charge, recourse to access independent legal representation, and in poor conditions of detention – remains an active method to quell dissent across the Middle East. 

    CIVICUS joins civil society in calling for full cooperation with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and we call on states who have instrumentalized arbitrary detention to immediately release those detained and provide justice and remedy to victims and their families. 

    We ask the Working Group: what more can be done to ensure implementation of its appeals and opinions in states where arbitrary detention remains so widespread?


  • Is there hope for a human rights-respecting culture in Bahrain?

    Guest article by Nedal Al-Salman and Kristina Stockwood


  • Joint Letter to Bahrain King: Free 400-day hunger striker Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace

    King of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa

    Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa

    Your Majesties,

    We, the undersigned, are writing to you concerning Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, an academic, activist and blogger imprisoned in Bahrain whose health is declining rapidly. We respectfully urge you to secure Al-Singace’s immediate and unconditional release, and in the meantime, ensure he receives proper medical care, is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and that his academic work is transferred to his family.

    Abduljalil Al-Singace, 60, is serving a life sentence for his role in peaceful protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain in 2011. He has been imprisoned for almost 12 years solely for exercising his human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

    Al-Singace has been on hunger strike since 8 July 2021 and has now exceeded 400 days without solid food. We are deeply concerned by the current state of his health as his blood sugar has reached an extremely low level. We are especially concerned that in flagrant disregard of his physicians’ orders, the delivery of multiple essential prescribed medicines has either been delayed or denied, including pills necessary for his nervous system and bodily functions, and eye drops.

    Al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome and multiple other health problems, including severe intermittent headaches, a prostate problem, arthritis in his shoulder joint, tremors, numbness, and diminished eyesight. In January 2022, his neurologist requested a CT scan, but the authorities have reportedly refused the request to have the procedure performed at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, run by the Health Ministry. Instead, the authorities insist that the test be conducted at the King Hamad Military Hospital. But he does not believe that he would receive adequate and timely healthcare at King Hamad Military Hospital, given that he has yet to be informed of the result of an MRI scan of his shoulder taken there in October 2021. This delay amounts to a deliberate failure to provide healthcare in line with Bahrain’s obligations under international law. Given his fragility and pre-existing health problems, this denial of healthcare puts his life at risk and may lead to irreversible damage. Therefore, we call on the government to immediately provide him with adequate healthcare.

    Al-Singace’s hunger strike is in response to the prison authorities’ confiscation of his book on Bahraini dialects of Arabic that he spent four years researching and writing by hand. 

    On 18 July 2021, the authorities transferred him from Jau prison to the Kanoo Medical Centre, where he continues to be held. The same month, the Bahrain Ministry of Interior Ombudsman declared that his book could not be turned over to his family until a “legal decision” about its contents was made. In November 2021, a legal decision clarified the apolitical nature of the book, but government authorities have yet to return the book to his family. In March 2022, an Ombudsman representative visited Al-Singace, made baseless allegations about the book's content and asked him to edit and resubmit the book for the authorities to review.

    In July 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee repeated its call to the government of Bahrain to release Al-Singace along with other unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Naji Fateel. Today, on 13 August, Al-Singace marks 12 years since his initial arrest in 2010. He was subsequently unjustly re-imprisoned after a brief hiatus of 21 days in early 2011 and was re-arrested on 17 March 2011 during the uprising. Today also marks the 401st day of Al-Singace’s hunger strike.

    We call upon you to release Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace immediately and unconditionally. We also urge you to ensure he receives his medication without delay and has access to adequate healthcare, in compliance with medical ethics, including the principles of confidentiality, autonomy, and informed consent, and is protected from torture and other ill-treatment. We also call on you to ensure that his work is immediately handed over to his family.


    1. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    2. Amnesty International
    3. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) 
    4. ​​Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 
    5. CIVICUS
    6. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
    7. Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
    8. English PEN
    9. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
    10. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    11. Human Rights Watch
    12. Freedom House
    13. PEN International 
    14. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
    15. Scholars at Risk


    Upon his return from London with his family, Dr. Al-Singace was arrested at the Bahrain International Airport on 13 August 2010. A detailed account of his torture allegations can be found in a report by Human Rights Watch published on 1 September 2010, which states:

    “Al-Singace, who had spent the previous 15 days in incommunicado detention, told al-Buainain of having been handcuffed and blindfolded the entire time. Al-Singace said that his captors beat him on his fingers with a hard instrument, slapped him around, and pulled and twisted his nipples and ears with tongs.”

    When the Arab spring erupted in Bahrain, government authorities released Al-Singace on 24 February 2011. However, he was soon rearrested 21 days later, on 17 March 2011. Since then, Al-Singace has remained in arbitrary detention.

    In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented in a report that the police subjected Dr. Al-Singace to nightly beatings for two months while they held him in solitary confinement. The commission said that the  authorities targeted his disability by confiscating his crutches, making him “stand on one leg for prolonged periods” and by pushing his crutch “into his genitals.” The commission also found that the  authorities “threatened him with rape and made sexually explicit comments about his wife and his daughter.”


  • Joint Letter: Human rights violations in Bahrain

    We, the undersigned Bahraini, regional and international human rights organizations, remain alarmed at the ongoing human rights crisis in the Kingdom of Bahrain. We are also concerned about the diminished response from states at the Human Rights Council since the situation began to dramatically deteriorate over one year ago. We welcome your country’s commitment to address situations of concern based on the objective criteria laid out in the joint statement delivered by Ireland at the 32nd session of the HRC. This commitment was reiterated in a subsequent joint statement on the improvement of membership standards, signed by 48 states at the 35th session this year. However, we have yet to see this commitment translate into a principled response to the deteriorating situation in Bahrain. As this letter outlines in detail, Bahrain demonstrably meets the criteria that should compel states and the Council to act to address this situation. We therefore call on your delegation to uphold your pledge and renew both individual and collective initiatives at the Council to address the Bahraini Government’s intensifying human rights violations.

    The Government of Bahrain has continued to suppress all forms of opposition, criticism, or dissent in 2017. The Government began the year by ending a de factomoratorium on the death penalty when it executed three victims of torture after trials marred by serious due process violations. In January, the Government restored domestic law enforcement powers to Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA), an institution implicated in systematic and widespread torture in 2011. In April, the King approved a constitutional amendment allowing civilians to be tried in military courts, further eroding the limited reforms made in line with the recommendations of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report. Bahrain’s leading Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, was convicted of money laundering in May on politically motivated charges, and the Government used lethal force to clear a months-long peaceful sit-in around his home, killing five individuals in the process, injuring hundreds more, and arresting 286 individuals. In May, courts disbanded the Kingdom’s last major opposition political society, Wa’ad, and in June the Government indefinitely suspended operations at the country’s only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat. Meanwhile, the Government continued its relentless suppression of civil society, committing reprisals against activists and their families and convicting Bahrain’s leading human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, for commenting on continuing human rights abuses during television interviews and on social media, violating his right to freedom of expression.

    We recall here the guiding considerations outlined in the June 2016 joint statement, and reaffirmed in the June 2017 joint statement, and their application to the situation in Bahrain:

    Whether  there  has  been  a  call  for  action  by  the  UN  Secretary  General,  the  High Commissioner for Human Rights or a relevant UN organ, body or agency:

    • On  13 September 2016, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein stated: “In Bahrain,I am  concerned  by  harassment  and  arrests  of  human  rights  defenders  and  political activists, and legislation which enables revocation of citizenship without due process. I urge greater attention to this situation.[emphasis added] The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.
    • Likewise, during his  Annual Report and Oral Update to the 34th  Session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner said of Bahrain, “I am deeply concerned over the increasing levels of human rights violations in the Kingdom. I call on the Government of Bahrain to undertake concrete confidence building measures, including allowing my Office and Special Procedures mandate holders to swiftly conduct visits.
    • And, on  2 June 2017, the High Commissioner said, “Human rights defenders working in Bahrain reportedly continue to face restrictions, intimidation, interrogations, detentions and travel bans… I urge Bahrain to choose a different path – one of engagement and dialogue, as well as accountability for violence, regardless of the perpetrator. My Office stands ready to offer technical assistance and advice on the promotion and protection of human rights in Bahrain.

    Whether  a  group  of  Special  Procedures  have  recommended  that  the  Council  consider action:

    • On  16 June 2017, the Special Procedures on extrajudicial executions, peaceful assembly and association, human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and the working group on arbitrary detention,  issued a statement saying: “We call on the Government of Bahrain  to  immediately  cease  its  campaign  of  persecution  against  human  rights defenders, journalists and anyone else with divergent opinions, and take all measures to guarantee  a  safe  and  enabling  environment  for  all  Bahrainis,  independent  of  their political opinions, beliefs or confession.”
    • On   18  July  2017,  the  Special  Procedures  further  stated:  “We  reiterate  our  serious concerns regarding the wider context of a general crackdown and mounting pressure exerted  on  civil  society  and  dissidents  in  Bahrain,  the  ongoing  prosecution  and punishment of human rights defenders, and especially intimidation and reprisals against people who have cooperated with UN human rights mechanisms.
    • Since 2016, Bahrain has been the subject of at least ten communications from Special Procedures concerning credible allegations of human rights violations including extrajudicial killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and systematic persecution of religious groups. In many cases, these violations were in response to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

    Whether the state concerned has a national human rights institution with A-status[and whether that institution has drawn the attention of the international community to an emerging situation and called for action]:

    • According to the most recent  review in May 2016, Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights has not been granted A-status. The Sub-Committee on Accreditations expressed reservations regarding the institution’s independence and its effective application of its mandate.
    • The UN Committee Against Torture’s May 2017  concluding observations on Bahrain’s latest periodic report stated concerns regarding the NIHR  and six other bodies. The Committee said the following: “that they are not independent, that their mandates are unclear and overlap, and that they are not effective given that complaints ultimately pass through the Ministry of the Interior. It is also concerned that their activities have had little or no effect, and that the authorities provided negligible information regarding the outcome of their activities.

    Whether the State concerned has been willing to recognize that it faces particular human rights challenges and has laid down a set of credible actions, including a timetable and benchmarks to measure progress, to respond to the situation:

    • In 2011, the Bahraini Government accepted 26 recommendations issued by the BICI, a panel of jurists and international human rights experts. The Government claimed it had fully implemented all 26 recommendations in May 2016, citing the chairman of the BICI, Cherif Bassiouni, as  evidence of its progress. However, on 10 May 2016, Bassiouni stated he was  wrongfully quoted and asserted that the Government had only implemented ten of the 26 recommendations and had failed to address “priority” reforms such as those pertaining to accountability and prisoners of conscience. All independent assessments – including those conducted by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, the Project on Middle East Democracy, and the United States Government – have similarly found that Bahrain’s authorities have failed to make substantive progress on the majority of reforms.
    • In 2017, the Bahraini government actively contravened BICI recommendations that had previously seen partial or full levels of implementation, including recommendations to restrict the NSA’s arrest authority and to prevent military courts from trying civilians. During Bahrain’s Second Cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2012, member and observer states presented 176 recommendations to the Bahraini Government to recognize and address ongoing, widespread human rights violations in the Kingdom. Bahraini authorities partially or fully accepted 158 of those recommendations, promising to bring the national situation in line with international human rights obligations. However, by Bahrain’s Third Cycle UPR in May 2017, the Government had failed to fulfill these recommendations and had regressed in many key sectors identified for reform, as noted by OHCHR, States, and NGO stakeholders.
    • Rather  than  acknowledge  the  scope  of  the  Kingdom’s  human  rights  challenges,  as highlighted  by  the  recommendations  issued  during  both  UPR  cycles,  the  Assistant Foreign Minister, Abdulla bin Faisal bin Jabur Al Doseri,  described the result as “praise” for “Bahrain’s human rights achievements.” In a meeting with Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights in July 2017, the King dismissed the country’s human rights challenges outright, stating that the Kingdom “takes pride in its outstanding human rights record” and that “human rights represent a core part of Bahrain’s culture.”

    Whether the State concerned is engaging in a meaningful, constructive way with the Human Rights Council on the situation:

    • The Bahraini Government has consistently declined to substantively engage the Council and, as indicated in the following statements, has actively targeted Bahraini civil society actors  for  their  participation  in  Human  Rights  Council  sessions  or  for  otherwise interacting with the UN. As noted, although it nominally participates in the UPR process, the Government has consistently failed to implement accepted recommendations and has submitted  misleading national reports on its progress. Moreover, in June 2016, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid Al Khalifa,  explicitly maligned the High Commissioner for urging the Kingdom to undertake human rights reform: “We will not allow the undermining of our security and stability and will not waste our time listening to the words of the High Commissioner who is powerless."
    • The Bahraini Government has used wide-ranging travel bans against civil society and political figures to obstruct their access to UN bodies and mechanisms. These travel bans have been in effect since throughout the 32nd, 33rd, 34th  and 35th  Sessions of the Human Rights Council, and during Bahrain’s 3rd Cycle Universal Periodic Review.
    • Government ordered travel bans and reports of targeted reprisals against civil society for their engagement at the Human Rights Council have prompted statements of concern from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As noted in a statement by the OHCHR spokesperson on  14 July 2017:The continuing restrictions on civil society and political activists and the targeting of human rights defenders and organisations in Bahrain are deeply worrying. We urge the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with Bahrain’s obligations under international human rights law, in particular to guarantee the freedoms of expression, opinion and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.”
    • On  18 July 2017, following reports that Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam al- Saegh was arrested and tortured by members of the National Security Administration as a reprisal for her human rights work at the Human Rights Council, a group of United Nations experts “expressed deep concern at the alleged arbitrary detention of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh amid reports she has been tortured and sexually abused and is now on hunger strike.”

    6.   Whether the State concerned is effectively cooperating with Human Rights Council Special Procedures, including by enabling country visits:

    • Bahrain has failed to follow through on repeated calls from the Council to welcome Special Procedures to visit the country and, as noted above, has dismissed the OHCHR as “powerless.”  In  2015,  Bahrain’s  Chief  of  Public  Security,  Major  General  Tariq  al- Hassan, suggested that the Government has denied the Special Procedures access to Bahrain because they are biased against the Kingdom: Hassan specifically  accused then Special  Rapporteur  on torture  Juan  Mendez  of  “prejudice”  and  spreading “uninvestigated” claims of Bahraini Government abuse.
    • Bahrain  has  not allowed  any of  the  Special  Procedures to  visit  since  2006, despite repeated requests by various mandate holders. In recent years, Bahrain has ignored or rejected country visit requests from the following: the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on arbitrary detention, the Working Group on enforced disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and the Working Group on discrimination against women.

    Whether the State concerned is engaging with OHCHR, including in the field of technical assistance and effective engagement with the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies:

    • Bahrain has failed to successfully conclude multiple rounds of negotiations with the OHCHR to carry out a technical mission to Bahrain, or to establish an OHCHR office in the country.
    • Most recently, in June 2017, renewed efforts to carry out an OHCHR technical mission to Bahrain again stalled and remain indefinitely “postponed,” similar to the indefinite postponement  and   effective  cancellation  of  the  2013  country  visit  by  the  Special Rapporteur on torture.

    Whether a relevant regional mechanism or institution has identified a situation as requiring the attention of the international community; or whether the State concerned is cooperating with relevant regional organizations:

    • No competent, independent regional mechanism or institution exists in the region from which Bahrain can seek relevant assistance to positively affect the human rights situation in the country.

    Whether  the  State  is  facilitating  or  obstructing  access  and  work  on  the  part  of humanitarian actors, human rights defenders, and the media:

    • Bahraini  authorities  have  consistently  and  increasingly  obstructed  the  work  of  civil society actors in the kingdom, including human rights defenders and the media.
    • As noted above in point 5, the Government of Bahrain has imposed wide-spread travel bans on civil society and political activists to obstruct their access to the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.
    • On  10 July 2017, Nabeel Rajab, president and co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was sentenced to two years in prison solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression by conducting interviews with television media outlets. He faces up to fifteen more years in prison if convicted on additional charges related to tweets.
    • Human rights defender Ebtisam al-Saegh has been repeatedly arrested and subjected to torture and sexual assault in relation to her work, as  noted by Special Procedure mandates on 18 July 2017. She currently faces politically motivated “terrorism” charges related to her human rights work.
    • During the 34th  Session of the Human Rights Council in March 2017, three family members of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy were arrested in Bahrain as a reprisal against his human rights activities. Authorities subjected them to torture and ill-treatment to coerce false confessions on charges of “fake bomb making.” They remain in detention and face trial on these fabricated charges.
    • On 4 June 2017, Bahrain  indefinitely suspended the only independent newspaper in the country, Al-Wasat, ultimately forcing their office to close and all staff to be laid off.

    It is clear that the Government of Bahrain has failed to uphold its international obligations to safeguard human rights and has repeatedly acted to violate and curtail the fundamental rights of people in the country. Bahrain’s current human rights situation manifestly fulfills the criteria set out in the June 2016 joint statement committing state signatories to engage – strong action is imperative to prevent further instability.

    We therefore call on your Government to individually and collectively with others respond to the human rights crisis in Bahrain. Such efforts should include, but are not limited to, national statements and joint statements under Items 4 or 2 of the Council’s agenda, and ultimately a resolution by the Human Rights Council.


    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
    ARTICLE 19
    Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    European Center for Democracy and Human Rights
    Human Rights Watch
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Service for Human Rights
    Reporters Without Borders (RSF)


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