GENEVA (16 June 2017) - A group of United Nations human rights experts has urged the Government of Bahrain to halt its orchestrated crackdown on civil society.
“Over the past year, there has been a sharp deterioration of the human rights situation in the country,” the experts* said. “This has included unacceptable restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, aimed at muzzling any discordant voice and suppressing dissent.”
The repression took a new turn in June 2016 when the Ministry of Justice began legal moves to dissolve Bahrain’s main opposition party, the Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, and stripped the country’s highest Shia religious authority, Mr. Isa Qassim, of his citizenship. The crackdown has continued to intensify since then, with the last major opposition party, Wa’ad, dissolved at the end of May 2017.
A few days before, on 23 May, security forces began an operation in the city of Duraz, the centre of the peaceful demonstrations, using excessive and lethal force to disperse peaceful protestors who had gathered in a sit-in, resulting in the deaths of five persons and injuring dozens of others.
“For use of force by security forces in managing peaceful protests to be legal, it must be necessary and proportionate, and aim at protecting the right to life. The reported use of tear gas, shotguns equipped with birdshot and lethal antipersonnel weapons by security forces to disperse a peaceful demonstration was neither necessary or proportionate and therefore excessive, qualifying the five deaths as unlawful killings. It is tragic that while security forces are meant to protect life, their actions have shown otherwise,” the experts said.
“The authorities have resorted to drastic measures to curb dissenting opinions such as torture, arbitrary detention, unfounded convictions, the stripping of citizenship, the use of travel bans, intimidation, including death threats, and reprisals for cooperating with international organizations, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” they noted.
“We are particularly worried about these measures, coupled with the campaign of harassment aimed at human rights defenders, who are increasingly being charged with offences for which the death penalty may be imposed,” the experts said, highlighting in this regard the use of repressive legislation, in particular the Law of Associations, and anti-terrorism laws.
The experts are also particularly concerned at the resumption of executions after a de facto moratorium in place since 2010, the broader powers given to National Security Agency officers and a constitutional amendment allowing for military courts to try civilians.
They added: “Trying to quell protests and criticism by resorting to repression and violence is not only a violation of international human rights law, it also undoubtedly leads to an escalation of tension. We fear that this increasingly hostile environment is undermining any prospect of alleviation of social and political unrest in Bahrain.”
“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,” the experts concluded.
The human rights experts have sought clarifications from the Bahraini authorities on the issues in question.
(*) The experts: Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Annalisa Ciampi, Special Rapporteur freedom of peaceful assembly and association; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, current Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
Read the press release by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (2 June 2017): Zeid calls for investigation of protestor deaths in Bahrain
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