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Press briefing notes on Iraq and Bahrain

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Date: 5 September 2014
Location:    Geneva
Subject:    1) Bahrain & 2) Iraq

1) Bahrain

Ongoing violations of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and the targeting of human rights activists in Bahrain remain of serious concern.

Most recently, on 30 August, prominent Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja was detained at Manama airport and then transferred to a women’s prison on charges of assaulting a police officer. Al-Khawaja is the daughter of the former president and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been in prison in Bahrain since 2011 and is currently on hunger strike, with his health reportedly deteriorating. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found the detention of Mr. Al-Khawaja and other political detainees to be arbitrary and called for their immediate release.

Ms. Al-Khawaja, who resides in Denmark, had travelled to Bahrain to visit her father in prison when she was denied entry to her own country and detained at Bahrain airport upon landing, apparently because her Bahraini passport had expired. She was, however, travelling on her Danish passport. Her Danish passport was allegedly confiscated and Ms. Al-Khawaja was taken to Isa Town women's prison on charges of assaulting a police officer, pending investigation by the Public Prosecution. She is reportedly due to appear in court tomorrow.

We are seriously concerned that Ms. Al-Khawaja’s arrest is linked to her legitimate work to promote human rights in Bahrain through the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, of which she is co-director.

Separately, on 31 August, the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bahrain upheld a 10-year sentence against photojournalist Ahmad Humaidan, who has been in detention since December 2012 when he was covering protests. He was convicted of taking part in an attack on a police station. Human rights defender Naji Fateel, co-founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, also had a 15-year sentence against him upheld in the Court of Appeal in May this year on charges of establishing a group for the purpose of disabling the Constitution.
We also note with deep regret that 13 political activists, including Mr. Al-Khawaja, and two doctors detained in 2011 for peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, remain in prison, serving out long sentences. Hundreds of young people are still in detention or serving lengthy sentences for their participation in demonstrations.

We urge the Government to take immediate steps to release Ms. Al-Khawaja and all human rights defenders and individuals detained for the peaceful exercise of their rights, and to ensure that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their important work in an effective manner without fear of harassment or prosecution.

The Office has been in touch with the authorities to raise our concerns on this case.

2) Iraq

We have received reports of the ongoing systematic targeting of non-Sunni ethnic and religious groups, through killings, abductions, destruction of property and places of religious and cultural significance by ISIL, as well as increasing reports of ISIL killing Sunni individuals who refuse to pledge allegiance to them.

Some of the reports include the following:

·    Eyewitnesses have confirmed that on 24 or 25 August, ISIL executed by gunfire 14 elderly Yezidi men in Sheikh Mand Shrine, Jidala village, western Sinjar. The elderly could not flee when ISIL took over the village on 24 August. ISIL later destroyed the shrine.

·    There have been reports that on 26 August, five men were executed in Mosul city after verdicts delivered by ISILs self-appointed courts. We are working to verify these reports.

·    Seven Christians were abducted from among a group of 33 who were attempting to flee Hamdaniya district in Mosul on 22 August. We have learned that among them was a three-year-old girl whose mother was told she had to leave her or else they would shoot her and the rest of the family.

·    On 25 August, 12 members of the ISF and Sahwa were allegedly executed by firing squad by ISIL in Hawija area in Kirkuk. On 31 August, 19 Sunnis were allegedly executed in Saadiya, in Diyala Governorate by ISIL for not pledging allegiance to it.

There are also reports of vengeance killings targeting the Arab Sunni community in Tuz Khurmatu in Salah al-Din Governorate.

We reiterate that such grave human rights violations, including the systematic targeting of men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation, likely amount to a crime against humanity.

For more information or media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 /rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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