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Bahrain: UN event assesses violations of the right to freedom of expression and assembly

23 June 2017



On 21 June 2017, a panel discussion held on the sidelines of the 35th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, examined the criminalisation of peaceful expression in Bahrain. “Freedom of expression and assembly in Bahrain are currently under attack,” said the panelists. The side event was co-organised by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Index for Censorship, PEN International, Women Human Rights Defenders – International Coalition, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The panel featured Sherif Mansour, MENA Program Coordinator at CPJ, Julie Gromellon, BCHR Senior Advocacy Officer, and Prof. Damian McCormack, an orthopedic specialist and activist from Ireland. The panel was moderated by Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of GCHR.

During the panel discussion, Julie Gromellon said activists and civil society groups who criticise the government have come under increasing pressure. She focused on Nabeel Rajab’s case and detailed the most recent harassment and intimidation against him as the latest examples in a long line of censorship. She described how the Bahraini government is using and abusing security laws to criminalise peaceful expression.

Sherif Mansour shared an overview of the serious challenges faced by journalists in Bahrain. He said the media have not been immune from the crackdown and that Bahraini journalists were facing multiple restrictions. The government has denied licences to local journalists and access to the country for international journalists. At the regional level, Bahrain became a key leader making use of the press as a tool to settle political disputes. He also stressed that even ordinary citizens and bloggers have been charged for statements made on social media.

Porf. Damian McCormack documented allegations of human rights violations committed by the security forces against peaceful protesters over the past three years. He said, “It reveals a disturbing pattern of arbitrary arrest, torture and excessive use of force, including the use of live ammunition resulting in scores of deaths and injuries.” It also reveals a widespread state of impunity in which those responsible for these violations are not held to account.

After a round of questions and answers by the audience which included diplomats, representatives of civil society organisations and other stakeholders, Khalid Ibrahim concluded the panel by calling on the UN and the international community to put efforts in order to end all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders and other activists in Bahrain, including travel bans, to which they have been subjected in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.