HRW says Manama continues to commit widespread rights abuses as it tries to “display an image of reform and tolerance.”
Bahrain must drop all charges against three men arrested amid continued violations of “rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association” in the Gulf country, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Tuesday’s appeal by the international rights group comes after three independent experts from the United Nations expressed concern over the “alleged arbitrary detention and subsequent arrests” of four people – including three minors – following protests in the 2021 city of A’ali against the normalization of Bahrain. of ties with Israel.
HRW said Jalal al-Qassab, Redha Rajab and Mohamed Rajab will face trial on Tuesday after being charged under a law that criminalizes “expressions ridiculing one of Bahrain’s ‘recognised religious texts'”.
All three defendants are members of the Al-Tajdeed Society, “a group that advocates for open discussion and questioning about religion and Islamic jurisprudence,” according to HRW, which accused the government of targeting the men because they ” were merely exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of expression”. believe”.
“No one should ever be put on trial for peacefully expressing their own views on religion,” Niku Jafarnia, researcher for HRW in Bahrain and Yemen, said in a statement.
She noted that the process will begin shortly before Bahrain hosts the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of national parliaments “dedicated to advancing democracy, equality, human rights, development and peace”.
HRW further charged “the trials are taking place against the background of the Bahraini government’s attempts to condone its human rights abuses and display an international image of reform and tolerance”.
Bahrain is accused of widespread crackdown after pro-democracy protests in 2011.
In 2021, ten years after the protests began, Amnesty International said the kingdom had failed to acknowledge the key recommendations of an independent commission set up by King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa after the unrest.
HRW said a “number of activists, bloggers and human rights defenders are still imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression” in the aftermath of the 2011 protests, including human rights lawyer Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and academic Abduljalil al-Singace.
In December, three UN rapporteurs sent a letter to the Government of Bahrain to express its concern over the arrests of human rights activist Yusuf Ahmed Hasan Kadhem, 17-year-old Ali Mustafa Majid Maki and two unidentified 16-year-olds following their participation in the normalization protests against Israel in October 2021.
The letter, which was made public earlier this month, said the four defendants had been charged in absentia in May 2022 with up to one year in prison. All four were questioned without the presence of a lawyer, it added.
It noted that the two younger individuals were released after their families paid a fine. Kadhem and Maki remain in custody.
“Without prejudice to the accuracy of the above allegations, we would like to express our concern at the alleged arbitrary arrest and sentencing (of the defendants) on charges that may be directly related to the exercise of their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and peaceful meeting,” the letter read.
“…We wish to express our concern about the alleged violations of (the defendants’) rights to due process and due process,” the rapporteurs added, seeking clarification from the Bahraini authorities.
On February 15, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had received a response from the government. That answer had not yet been made public.