Posted: 10/21/2014 7:00 am EDT
A failed effort by a public relations company representing Bahrain and a UK law firm acting on behalf of Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the commander of Bahrain’s Royal Guard and head of its National Olympic Committee, to micromanage media coverage of this month’s lifting of the prince’s immunity by a British court reflects mounting unease in the island state and international sporting associations. The court decision opens the door to a British police investigation into whether or not Prince Nasser was involved in the torture of political detainees that could include three former players for the Bahraini national soccer team.
The five-day long effort by UK-based Bell-Yard Communications Ltd and London law firm Schillings was aimed at forcing this writer as well as The Huffington Post to adopt Bahrain’s narrow and partial interpretation of the court decision. That interpretation involved an inaccurate assertion that no investigation into whether or not Prince Nasser had been involved in torture of detainees could emerge from the court decision, that immunity had not been part of the grounds on which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had initially refused to investigate, and that soccer players had not[h]ing to do with the investigation.
The lawyers and PR representatives appeared particularly concerned about the assertion that the investigation could involve soccer players presumably because of the implications that could have for Prince Nasser’s Olympic status as well as that of a relative of his, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency, the prince’s number two at the Bahrain Olympic Committee and the island state’s Supreme Council for Youth and Sport.
The UK High Court lifted Prince Nasser‘s immunity in a case initiated by several Bahrainis who alleged that they were tortured in the aftermath of a popular uprising in Bahrain in 2011 that was brutally squashed by Saudi-backed security forces. The Bahrainis went to court after the CPS had refused to issue an arrest warrant for the prince on the grounds that his status in Bahrain granted him immunity in the UK. The prosecution said further that evidence submitted had been insufficient to justify an investigation. Because Prince Nasser was not a party to the proceedings, he had no opportunity to respond to the allegations in court.
The lawyers and PR representatives sought to have removed any reference in this writer’s article to a potential investigation or that immunity had played a role in the CPS’s thinking despite the fact that the prosecution in a statement to the court agreed to the lifting of Prince Nasser’s immunity in expectation that the Bahraini plaintiffs would submit further evidence. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said after the court hearing that the ruling opened the door to an investigation and that they would be providing additional evidence.
This writer corrected after publication a factual error in the original story. The story originally reported that an investigation had been opened rather than that the court ruling opened the door to an enquiry.
Nonetheless, in attempting to prevent fair and honest reporting, the lawyers and PR agents contradicted themselves. The attempt to force deletions that would have substantially altered the core of the story occurred despite the fact that Bell’s Melanie Riley had provided to this writer the statement of the prosecution to the court.
The prosecution said in the statement that “in the light of the Claimant’s intention to submit further evidence to the police (who are responsible for investigating the allegations), the Crown Prosecution Service has agreed to state to the police its view that immunity should not be a bar to any such investigation on the evidence currently available.”
Bahraini concern that the possible fallout of the court decision could affect not only Prince Nasser but also Sheikh Salman was evident in an email from Ms. Riley assertion that “there is no relevance to the AFC of yesterday’s proceedings.”
Sheikh Salman, according to information submitted to the prosecution, headed a committee established in 2011 by a decree by Prince Nasser to take measures against those guilty of insulting Bahrain and its leadership. Prince Nasser formed the committee after an earlier royal decree had declared a state of emergency. The royal decree allowed the Bahrain military to crackdown on the protests and establish military courts, according to the information provided to the prosecutor.
Sheikh Salman, a former soccer player who also serves as head of the Bahrain Football Association, is running next year in AFC presidential elections, which if he wins would give him an automatic seat on the executive committee of world soccer body FIFA.
The prosecutor was further furnished with a publicly available video clip in which Prince Nasser called for the punishment on television of those including athletes who participated in anti-government demonstrations. More than 150 athletes and sports officials, including the three national soccer players, were arrested or dismissed from their jobs at the time. Many have since been reinstated.
The failed Bahraini effort to micromanage reporting of Prince Nasser’s case, involving insinuations that this writer’s report was defamatory and demands that their unsolicited correspondence to a US publisher not be reported on, reflects greater sensitivity to image and reputation of Gulf states that also include the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, who stand accused of violations of human and labour rights. All three states have been put to varying degrees under the magnifying glass because of their hosting of major events, including the 2022 World Cup, the 2020 World Expo, Formula-1 races and ambitions to host similar events like the Olympic Games as well as their association with prominent educational and cultural institutions such as New York University and the Guggenheim Museum.
The various states have used different strategies to counter allegations of violations of human and labour rights. While Qatar has by and large engaged with its critics, Bahrain and the UAE have sought to prevent negative reporting by barring critical journalists and academics from entering their country.
Qatar, despite its engagement with human rights groups and trade unions, has not been immune to such tactics. Saleem Ali, a former visiting fellow at the Qatar-funded Brookings Doha Center, told The New York Times that he was advised during his job interview that he could not take positions critical of the Qatari government. At the same time, Qatar has sought to win hearts and minds in the United States with the establishment of Al Jazeera America, part of its global television network, and the expansion in the US of its belN sports television franchise.
Qatar’s strategy backfired when Britain’s Channel Four disclosed that the Gulf state had hired Portland Communications founded by Tony Allen, a former adviser to Tony Blair when he was prime minister, to create a soccer blog that wrongly claimed to be “truly independent” and represent “a random bunch of football fans, determined to spark debate,” but in fact served to attack its detractors.
For its part, the UAE has spent lavishly on public relations engaging, according to The Intercept, a US firm to demonize Qatar because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. The UAE is also suspected of supporting a network of Norway and France-based human rights groups that sought to project the Emirates as a champion of human rights despite crackdowns that have involved political trials denounced by international human rights groups and derided Qatar’s record.
Disclosing the UAE’s efforts to shape reporting in the US media, The Intercept noted that “the point here is not that Qatar is innocent of supporting extremists… The point is that this coordinated media attack on Qatar – using highly paid former U.S. officials and their media allies – is simply a weapon used by the Emirates, Israel, the Saudis and others to advance their agendas.”
Paris-Geneva, October 17, 2014 – Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, will face a new trial on October 19. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), along with numerous institutions and NGOs have called for his release and the end of his judicial harassment. In addition, the Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to facilitate the access of international human rights experts to the country for trial observation and release.
On October 19, 2014, the Third Lower Criminal Court will open the trial against Mr. Nabeel Rajab on charge of “insulting a public institution” via Twitter. The alleged offence concern tweets he published on Twitter, which the CID deemed insulting to the Ministry of Interior, pursuant to Article 216 of the Bahraini Penal Code, punishable by up to three years of imprisonment. Mr. Rajab has been detained since the date of his summons for interrogation on October 1.
Mr. Rajab had just returned to Bahrain following an international advocacy tour at the United Nations and European Union, and there are strong reasons to believe that he has been targeted in particular due to his advocacy for human rights violations committed in his country in violation of international human rights standards.
Mr. Rajab had recently been released from prison after completing a two year sentence. In another case, he had already been tried on similar charges in relation to tweets deemed to be insulting to the Ministry of Interior, before being acquitted.
In 2013, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UN WGAD) had found that Mr. Rajab’s detention was arbitrary, following a previous conviction related to his freedom of opinion, expression and assembly. The UN WGAD had concluded that the “domestic laws of Bahrain (…) seem to deny persons the basic right to freedom of opinion, expression”.
Such ongoing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention is one more evidence of the continued criminalisation of human rights defenders’ activities. This particular case has drawn the attention of many institutions, NGOs and third countries. The Observatory intended to send a trial observation mission for the October 19 hearing, but could not get a response in time from the authorities to guarantee its trial observer an unhindered access to the country. Thus, the Observatory calls on the authorities to facilitate the access to the country for international trial observers by guaranteeing the automatic issue of visas.
For more information, please contact:
FIDH: Arthur Manet/Audrey Couprie: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
OMCT: Miguel Martin: +41 22 809 49 24
Civil Society Organizations Send Nabeel Rajab Letter to Secretary Kerry: here.
Rights groups call on UK to press Bahrain to release human rights defenders: here.
This afternoon I paid a visit to the Embassy of Bahrain in London’s swanky Belgrave Square to demand the freedom of the jailed leader of the country’s teacher union, jailed in 2011 for calling on his members to take strike action. I met the Ambassador together with two of Mahdi Abu Dheeb‘s UK equivalents, NUT General Secretary Christine Blower and NASUWT Deputy General Secretary Patrick Roach. We were there with Amnesty International UK’s leader Kate Allen, who was handing in the results of a massive exercise in popular protest about Mahdi’s continued imprisonment: here.
This video says says about itself:
Live execution by beheading in Saudi Arabia. WARNING GRAPHIC!!!!
Execution of Indonesian woman Ruyati Binti Sapubi by a single stroke of the sword taking the head clean off (June 18 2011).
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
Saudi court hands death sentence to Shia cleric
Wednesday 15th Ovtober 2014
Mr Nimr was accused of “sedition” because of his vocal support for Bahrain’s 2011 Shia uprising, which was violently suppressed by the Saudi armed forces.
He did not deny the political charges but insisted he had never carried weapons or called for violent resistance to Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Sunni monarchy.
But unmoved prosecutors called for “execution followed by crucifixion.”
Defence lawyers were unable to cross-examine prosecution witnesses as they were not told when the hearing involving them took place.
Two of Mr Nimr’s brothers were arrested after the trial — Mohammed al-Nimr, who announced the verdict on Twitter, and Jaafar al-Nimr, who was detained after going to police to ask what had happened to Mohammed.
Saudi activist Jaafar al-Shayeb said the verdict might spark unrest in parts of eastern Saudi Arabia populated by Shias.
This video says about itself:
12 December 2011
Interview with Bahrain human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, daughter of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who was the former Front Line Defenders Protection Coordinator for the Middle East & North Africa. Zainab, known on twitter as AngryArabiya, talks about family, human rights, Abdulhadi and the difficulties of struggling for human rights in Bahrain.
From the Gulf Center for Human Rights:
Update: Bahrain: Zainab Al-Khawaja arrested
According to witnesses present at the trial, Zainab asked to speak, and stated to the court that “I am the daughter of a proud and free man. My mother brought me into this world free, and I will give birth to a free baby boy even if it is inside our prisons. It is my right, and my responsibility as a free person, to protest against oppression and oppressors.” Zainab Al-Khawaja then tore a photograph of the King of Bahrain in the court, and placed it in front of the judge. The court was immediately dismissed, and everyone was made to leave the court room while Zainab Al-Khawaja was placed under arrest.
Zainab Al-Khawaja was taken to Alhoora police station, and was allowed to telephone her family. She is currently almost nine months pregnant, and could give birth at any time.
The charges against Zainab Al-Khawaja are entirely related to freedom of expression, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Gulf Center for Human Rights reiterate their calls for the immediate dismissal of these cases and all other politically motivated charges against her.
See also here.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) calls for the immediate release of human rights defender and activist Zainab Al-Khawaja who was arrested and detained for “publicly insulting the [Bahrain's] King” after tearing up a picture of him during a court hearing. The arrest of Mrs. Al-Khawaja comes after a series of arrests targeting prominent human rights defenders in Bahrain for peacefully expressing their opinions. She was already facing charges of destroying government property after tearing up a picture of the King in 2012. She also faces freedom of expression charges including insulting a policewoman, illegal gathering and inciting hatred against the regime. The crime of “insulting the King” in Bahrain can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years alongside a 10000BD fine. It was formally implemented in the Bahrain Penal Code last year running contrary to international human rights law and standards: here.
Foreign Secretary: Use UK influence on Bahrain to free Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer: here.
An Irish Medical Council delegation has visited the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) campus in Bahrain, following criticism from human rights groups about alleged abuses in the country’s medical facilities. The inspection took place on Monday and Tuesday, but concerns have been expressed that the visiting team would be given a sanitised view of facilities. Ceartas, the Irish Lawyers for Human Rights organisation, has called for the campus to be denied accreditation because of allegations of torture and discrimination against medics by state forces: here.
This 13 May 2013 video is called UK spyware used against Bahraini activists – Ala’a Shehabi.
From daily The Guardian in Britain:
UK police asked to investigate alleged Bahraini hacking of exiles’ computers
Rights group Privacy International files complaint that officials illegally monitored devices of pro-democracy trio in UK
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
Monday 13 October 2014 11.16 BST
The police National Cyber Crime Unit has been asked to investigate claims that computers and mobile phones used by exiled Bahraini pro-democracy activists living in the UK are under illegal surveillance.
A complaint about Bahraini officials’ alleged monitoring of the devices was compiled by the civil liberties group Privacy International (PI) and submitted to the Metropolitan police on Monday.
The remote interference is said to have started after Dr Saeed Shehabi, Jaafar al-Hasabi and Mohammed Moosa Abd-Ali Ali inadvertently downloaded malicious software or had their machines infected by the programs. The intrusive technology is able to copy and transmit documents, remotely turn on cameras and microphones to record, as well as send emails from other people’s accounts, according to PI.
The complaint is partially based on evidence published in August by Bahrain Watch and WikiLeaks, which, it is said, details exchanges between Bahraini officials and Finfisher staff who were providing technical support.
The three men allegedly targeted are human rights activists who oppose the current regime in Bahrain and have been granted asylum in the UK.
Moosa Abd-Ali Ali and Hasabi had both been detained and tortured in Bahrain. Shehabi has been sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia and had his Bahraini citizenship revoked.
“We often had the feeling that they were spying on us but we had no physical evidence of intrusion,” said Shehabi, 60, who is a journalist. “I have lived here since 1971. I thought I was under British protection.”
His only direct evidence of computer interference was when his Twitter account inexplicably began following more and more people; on another occasion, he said, his daughter’s travel plans were disclosed to Bahraini government officials. Three years ago his home in the UK was the target of an arson attack.
Hasabi, 43, an IT specialist, said he had received numerous emails which he did not open because they appeared suspicious. He was alarmed to see his computer’s details appear in the WikiLeaks list online.
Moosa Abd-Ali Ali, 33, a TV camera operator, said: “Many times I received notices from my friends that I had sent them emails when I had not. Once I opened up my Facebook page and found that someone was writing it. Later I found it had been deleted. On other occasions I received notices from Gmail saying someone had tried to hack into my account.
“When I first came to the UK I felt safe but I don’t any more. They have hacked my computer.”
PI said: “It is clear from the Gamma documents published online that among those targeted by the Bahraini government with FinFisher technology were Mohammed, Jaafar and Saeed, along with prominent Bahraini opposition politicians, democracy activists and human rights lawyers.
“FinFisher was developed and produced by the British company Gamma International. Promotional material for FinFisher shows that it allows its user full access to a target’s infected device and everything contained within it, even enabling them to turn on functions such as cameras and microphones.
The National Cyber Crime Unit is part of the National Crime Agency. Earlier this year PI made a similar complaint to police about alleged surveillance of the computer of an Ethiopian activist living in the UK.
Commenting on the alleged surveillance of the Ethiopian, a Metropolitan police spokesperson said: “On 28 February 2014, we received an allegation that a man in Islington had had his computer accessed without authorisation. This matter is currently under investigation by Islington CID.”
PI alleges that surveillance carried out by Bahraini authorities amounts to unlawful interception of communications under section 1 of the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) 2000.
FinFisher and its previous owner Gamma have previously claimed they only sold their products to responsible governments. The German-based firm did not respond to requests for a comment, nor did the embassy of Bahrain.
Bahraini government, with help from FinFisher, tracks activists living in the UK: here.
FinFisher spyware used to snoop on Bahraini activists, police told. Gamma International on the end of UK criminal complaint: here.
Privacy International files criminal complaint on behalf of Bahraini activists targeted by spyware FinFisher: here.
This video says about itself:
Bahrain: Rights Activist Speaks Out Before Arrest
3 September 2014
Maryam al-Khawaja, speaking in May 2014 in London, expresses her fears that she will be arrested on her return to Bahrain, and her intent to continue to engage non-violent activism and civil resistance.
From Al-Manar daily in Lebanon:
Bahrain Official News Agency Mourns ISIL Dead Gunmen
Despite the involvement of Bahraini warplanes in strikes against the positions and goals of the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’ (ISIL) takfiri organization and other terrorist groups, policies adopted by Bahraini authorities confirm they sponsor terrorist groups, according to accusations repeated by activists.
Considering the fact that the majority of those recruited in terrorist organizations are elements who came from Bahraini security and military institutions, the-kingdom-run news agency (BNA) mourned the Bahraini gunmen Abdulaziz Al-Jowder, 19 years, dubbed as Abu Hajar, one of ISIL members who was killed recently in Iraq.
BNA published official announcement of condolence entitled “Abdul Aziz Nizar Ali Mohammad Al-Jowdar … passed away.”
It said that Abdulaziz Nizar Ali Mohammad Al-Jowder, 19 years, has passed away. Men condolences to be received in the Jassim Al Zayani lounge starting from this afternoon, and that of women are to be received in his father’s house.
Later, BNA omitted the news from its website, after knowing that Jowdar has communicated with his family denying his death.
11-10-2014 – 14:35
Bahrain rights activist charged over insulting tweets: here.
The source, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity, claimed that the penetration of IS ideology into Bahrain’s security organisations has been made easier by an ongoing government policy to recruit Sunni police officers from Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Pakistan, many of whom the source said shared the same belief system as IS: here.
This video says about itself:
9 October 2014
Hundreds of political prisoners are currently on hunger strike in Egypt and Bahrain.
Up until a few weeks ago, both our guests in the episode of GV Face, Maryam and Alaa were on hunger strike and in jail because of their activism.
We will be talking to them about their activism, the struggles they face in Bahrain and Egypt and the hopes that keeps them resilient about their country’s future.
In Egypt, some hunger strikers have been in jail since anti-regime protests broke out on January 25, 2011. In Bahrain, which has been witnessing anti-regime protests since February 14, 2011, more than 600 political prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest torture in jail.
Hunger strikes are frequently used as a method of non-violent resistance during which activists fast as an act of political protest to raise awareness about pressing issues they support — or their own plight. During the fast, hunger strikers refuse to take solid food and rely on liquids only, putting their own lives at risk.
Among them is political activist Mohamed Soltan, a 26-year-old Egyptian-American, who has been on hunger strike in an Egyptian prison for more than 250 days in an effort to fight for his freedom. He was arrested on August 25, 2013, and is facing trial for a number of terror charges in connection to his involvement in demonstrations at Rabaa Square on August 14, 2013, where more than 800 Egyptian protestors opposed to the ousting of Egypt’s first democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi were killed in one single day. Soltan was shot in the arm and arrested a few days later from his home.
Another political activist who started a wave of hunger strikes across Egyptian prisons and outside the walls of detention centres is Alaa Abd El Fattah, who was released on bail on September 15, 2014, after being sentenced for 15 years in prison. He was convicted of attacking a police officer and violating a 2013 protest law that prohibits unauthorised demonstrations.
In late August, Abd El Fattah began a hunger strike, days before the death of his father, prominent human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif El Islam.
After an appeal by his lawyers, Abd El Fattah was issued a retrial in August 2014. On Sept 15, 2014, the presiding judge recused himself from the case after an incident a week earlier, in which the prosecution presented a video depicting Manal Hassan, Abd El Fattah’s wife, dancing. Taken from Hassan’s laptop, which confiscated by police when Abd El Fattah was arrested and taken from his family’s home in November of 2013, the video bears no discernible relationship with his political activities. In another twist during the trial, the judge ordered that the aforementioned video be presented to the prosecutor general and placed under investigation for violating Abd El Fattah’s privacy.
Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime. In 2006, he was arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest. In 2011, he spent two months in prison, missing the birth of his first child. In 2013, he was arrested and detained for 115 days without trial. And he now faces 15 years in prison. He is now out on bail, awaiting a re-trial.
In Bahrain, which has been witnessing anti-regime protests since February 14, 2011, more than 600 political prisoners went on hunger strike to protest against being tortured in prison.
Among them is human rights defender Abdul Hadi Al Khawajah, who has been jailed since April 9, 2011, and sentenced to life imprisonment for calling for the overthrow the regime. On February 8, 2012, Al Khawajah started an open-ended hunger strike “until freedom or death” protesting the continuing detentions. His protest lasted for 110 days, until his health deteriorated and he was force-fed by the authorities. In August this year, Al Khawajah entered his second hunger strike, which lasted a month. On the 27th day of his hunger strike, his daughter, human rights activist Maryam Al Khawajah, who like hundreds of other Bahrainis is forced to live outside her country, returned to Bahrain to see her father. She was arrested at the airport, and detained, accused of hitting a member of the police force. Maryam denies the charges. In detention, she started a hunger strike. Both she and her father have since stopped their strike. Her father remains in prison, while she has once again left the country after her release and the lift of a travel ban imposed upon her after her arrest.
In this edition of GV Face, we will speak to both Maryam and Alaa about their experiences, as they both continue to champion for the rights of the men and women in their countries.
See also here.