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U.S. State Dept. decries sentencing of Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain

U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland addressed questions regarding the sentencing of Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain today during a press briefing.  She asserted that the State Department had urged the government not to proceed with the trial of Nabeel Rajab, and that they would prefer the sentence related to illegal gathering to be “vacated.”

“This is an inappropriate case to begin with,” stated Ms. Nuland. She also stated that she believed the Embassy had been in contact with Bahraini authorities today.

“….we’ve long made clear that it’s critical for all governments, including Bahrain, to respect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, so we are deeply troubled by the sentencing today of Nabeel Rajab to three years in prison on charges of illegally gathering. We believe that all people have a fundamental freedom to participate in civil acts of peaceful disobedience, and we call on the Government of Bahrain to take steps to build confidence across Bahraini society and to begin a really meaningful dialogue with the political opposition and civil society, because actions like this sentencing today only serve to further divide Bahraini society.”

Another sentence is pending, regarding the activist’s Twitter messages.


New Country Report on Human Rights Practices released – Bahrain section

Today, the U.S. State Department issued its annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”, the latest edition being for the year 2011.  The report is mandated by Congress and has been produced for more than 30 years.  It is designed to inform legislators about conditions in more than 200 countries as the lawmakers make decisions about distribution of foreign aid and military aid.

The section regarding human rights in Bahrain in 2011 is 37 pages in length (2011 Country Report on Human Rights Practices – Bahrain (PDF)) and chronicles the worst abuses of 2011, particularly those that took place between February and June, and identifies many areas of concern to activists worldwide, including the Bahrain Coordinating Committee.  The report draws heavily from accounts in the BICI report, which is typical of other country reports — the reports are compiled from many sources, as well as from accounts by human rights officers in U.S. embassies.

The most egregious human rights problems reported in 2011 included the inability of citizens to peacefully change their government; the dismissal and expulsion of workers and students for engaging in political activities; the arbitrary arrest and detention of thousands, including medical personnel, human rights activists, and political figures, sometimes leading to their torture and/or death in detention; and lack of due process.

Other significant human rights concerns included arbitrary deprivation of life; detention of prisoners of conscience; reported violations of privacy and restrictions on civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices. In some instances the government imposed and enforced travel bans on political activists. Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect persisted, especially against the Shia population. The government demolished multiple Shia religious sites and structures during the year. There were reports of domestic violence against women and children. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of foreign workers continued to be significant problems.



At UPR, U.S. expresses concern over lack of progress on human rights in Bahrain; calls for reforms

On the occasion of the 13th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Bahrain, sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council and held in Geneva, Switzerland this week, the United States expressed concern over what it called the “failure of state institutions to effectively investigate and prosecute alleged human rights abuses and to ensure accountability of officials at all levels of responsibility implicated in abuse, torture or death of civilians.”

The State Department intervention report, issued on Monday, May 21, also mentioned concerns about specific political prisoners, including the imprisoned human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 90 days, and the twenty Bahraini medical professionals who treated injured protesters and who are still facing prosecution.

The report also condemned the excessive use of force by the Bahraini police and their increased use of tear gas and bird shot ammunition.

The United States made the following recommendations to the government of Bahrain:

  1. Review convictions, commute sentences, or drop charges for all persons who engaged in non-violent political expression.
  2. Create a more diverse, inclusive police force, reflective of society, and establish an independent police commission to advise on best practices and respect for human rights.
  3. Prosecute officials at all levels of responsibility who are implicated in abuse, torture or death of civilians during the period of unrest.

U.S. State Dept. Statement on Sentencing of 20 Medical Professionals in Bahrain

Bahrain has arrested and detained 20 medical professionals who treated protesters for injuries. It has been reported that these people have been tortured while detained, and that they were subjected to unfair court proceedings.

Read the Bahraini-Medics-press-statement, including names and prison sentences.

Read the Human Rights Watch account and direct observation of security force torture and beatings of doctors, nurses, and patients (excerpt below, bold text is my emphasis)

Human Rights Watch witnessed one incident on March 27 in which security forces forcibly removed a 22-year-old patient from a clinic he had checked into for serious injuries after security forces shot him with a pellet gun. The patient was obviously in great pain, and doctors told Human Rights Watch he needed immediate surgery to remove more than 100 pellets that had penetrated his pelvic area and damaged internal organs. They informed both the patient and his family that they would need to request blood for a transfusion from Salmaniya, and warned that they could not request the blood without divulging the patient’s name, national identity number, and the nature of his injuries.

Approximately an hour-and-a-half later, Human Rights Watch observed about 10 security agents and riot police carrying weapons enter the clinic. One officer told Human Rights Watch that they had come from a local police station to take the patient with them. They forced him out of bed and to his feet. After trying to force him to walk, which the intense pain apparently prevented him from doing, they placed the wounded man in a wheelchair, then put him into an unmarked white sports utility vehicle and drove off with a four-jeep police escort. Human Rights Watch has been unable to obtain information about his subsequent well-being or whereabouts.

On September, 29, 2011, Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC made the following remarks to the press. Last week, Bahrain proceeded with the trials of these medical professionals. Evidently, the September 29, 2011 statement was not strong enough an incentive. It is time for the U.S. to make another statement, and more strongly declare our opposition to the trials, and advocate for the immediate release of these persons.

Here is the September 29, 2011 statement:

We are deeply disturbed by the sentencing today of 20 medical professionals by the National Safety Court in Bahrain. We understand that the cases can be appealed and transferred to a civilian appellate court. We continue to urge the Bahraini Government to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings, including a fair trial, access to attorneys, and verdicts based on credible evidence conducted in full accordance with Bahraini law and Bahrain’s international legal obligations.

We are also concerned about trials of civilians, including medical personnel, in military courts and the fairness of those proceedings. We have repeatedly shared our position regarding Bahrain’s judicial proceedings with the highest levels of the Bahraini Government.

We call on the Government of Bahrain and all citizens to create a climate conducive for reconciliation, meaningful dialogue, and reform that, as President Obama said on September 21, will bring peaceful change that is responsive to the aspirations of all Bahrainis.

Take Action

Write to U.S. State Department officials and demand an accounting of their activities on behalf of the medical professionals in Bahrain. Call for a stronger response, including a statement declaring the country’s support for these medical professionals.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (use salutation: Dear Madam Secretary:)
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson
Office of the Spokesperson
Bureau of Public Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520