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Press briefing note on Bahrain and Iraq

Spokespersons for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Ravina Shamdasani on Bahrain, Cécile Pouilly on Iraq
Location:      Geneva
Date: 21 June 2016
Subject:  (1) Bahrain & (2) Iraq

(1) Bahrain

In a further intensification of their crackdown on dissent, Bahraini authorities have in recent weeks detained a prominent human rights defender and subjected several others to travel bans; deprived individuals of their nationality; and dissolved three organisations, including the country’s largest opposition group.

Yesterday, Sheikh Issa Qassem, the highest Shia authority in Bahrain, was stripped of his citizenship. He was the latest of at least 250 people who have had their nationalities revoked since July 2014, when an amendment to the citizenship law gave powers to the Interior Ministry to revoke the citizenship of an individual who “aids or is involved in the services of a hostile state” or “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.” Since last night, a mass protest has been taking place outside the house of Sheikh Issa Qassem in the northwest port village of Diraz. We urge the Government to ensure that the freedom of peaceful assembly is fully respected and the protests are handled in line with Bahrain’s obligations under international human rights law. We also call on the protestors to exercise their rights peacefully and to avoid any act of violence.           

Last week, five Shia clerics were interrogated, and Friday prayers by Shia mosques were suspended until further notice, as mosque leaders said they felt “unsafe”. This followed the sentencing of Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of al-Wefaq to nine years’ imprisonment on 30 May and the suspension last Tuesday al-Wefaq for “chronic disregard for the Kingdom’s constitution and contest of its legitimacy” and “calls for foreign interference”, as well as “promotion of violence and support to terrorist organisations” among other charges. Two other non-profit associations were also suspended on claims of illegal fundraising and money-laundering.

Also, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was arrested on 13 June for “spreading false news and rumours about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain”, and there appears to be a media campaign against human rights defenders in the country. Prior to his latest arrest, Rajab had been subject to a travel ban since at least January 2015. Travel bans have also been issued against other rights defenders, including five who were reportedly planning on attending the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Other civil society activists have expressed fears that they will be next to face reprisals for their advocacy of human rights.

We are very concerned at this intensified crackdown on the freedoms of expression and association and the right to a nationality. We urge the Bahraini authorities to seek to de-escalate the situation – instead of taking such damaging steps in quick succession with a serious risk of escalating the situation.

It is unfortunate that instead of pressing forward with the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was appointed by the King in 2011, the Government has instead sought to undermine the enjoyment of civil and political rights in the country. We urge the Government to ensure that civil society activists do not face undue pressure, intimidation or reprisals for their work or for their cooperation with UN human rights bodies. We call on the Government to take immediate confidence-building measures, including the release of all those who have been detained for the exercise of their human rights.

(2)  Iraq

We are deeply concerned about continuing allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses against civilians fleeing Falloujah by armed groups operating in support of Iraqi security forces. We've received shocking footage showing the body of a man being dragged at speed by a military truck while a man wearing a military uniform hits his disfigured and bloodied head. Another video shows people being struck with a rifle and kicked in the head by men wearing military uniforms while they exit a truck. Although we are not in a position to authenticate these videos, they depict violations which have been reported to us by several sources and which we’ve previously condemned.

On 12 June, a committee set up by the Anbar Governor to investigate violations perpetrated against civilians during the military operations in Anbar stated that 49 people had been killed and that at least 600 men disappeared after being taken into custody by armed groups operating in support of Iraqi security forces. It also found that the people taken into custody by these groups were ill-treated and/or tortured. These violations allegedly occurred on 2-4 June near a cemetery, in the Saqlawiya area, northwest of Fallujah, and in the al-Mazra'ah area, east of Fallujah.

We welcome these initial findings and hope that the committee’s investigations will be pursued rigorously and extended to cover all such alleged violations. Following the announcement by the Iraqi Defence Minister that four army members have been arrested, we call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that there is no impunity for the very grave violations and abuses that have been reported.

While we acknowledge the measures taken by the Government of Iraq, including the establishment of another committee by the Iraqi Prime Minister on 6 June, we wish to emphasise the urgent need for Iraqi leaders – across political and sectarian divides - to articulate and publicly commit to a shared, concrete, deliverable road map towards building a truly inclusive, prosperous and peaceful society.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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