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Bahrain: UN alarm at prolonged detention of human rights defenders

A Bahraini girl holds up a placard bearing a portrait of jailed human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Manama, Bahrain on 5 September 2014 [MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images]
A Bahraini girl holds up a placard bearing a portrait of jailed human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Manama, Bahrain on 5 September 2014 [MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images]

A UN expert has called on Bahrain to release three human rights defenders immediately. The three have been held in long term detention solely because of their legitimate promotion and protection of human rights in the country, a report published on Tuesday has revealed.

Human rights activists Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abduljalil Al-Singace were sentenced to life imprisonment on terrorism related charges in 2011. Al-Khawaja's detention was declared arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The report also pointed out that Naji Fateel was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2013 for "forming illegal organisations". All three worked to promote and protect human rights in Bahrain.

According to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, Al-Khawaja has suffered facial fractures, while Fateel and Al-Singace have been in solitary confinement and denied basic medical care and their right to practice their religion. She added that Al-Singace had been forced to make confessions and had his religious books taken away.

"The fact that their health continues to deteriorate in prison is very concerning," she said. "I urge the state to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into the allegations of torture while in prison."

Other human rights defenders such as Abbas Al-Omran and Ali Abdulemam were tried in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in prison for "forming an illegal organisation and spreading false information". In 2012 and 2015, the authorities in Bahrain revoked their citizenship. They have been granted asylum and currently live outside the Gulf kingdom.

"The criminalisation of human rights defenders in retaliation for their legitimate and peaceful efforts to advocate for the rights of others in Bahrain is concerning not only for the detrimental impact on the lives of those individuals and their families," said Lawlor, "but also for the chilling effect it creates on civic space in the country."

READ: Jailed Bahrain activist Husain Barakat dies of COVID-19

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