U.N. urges Bahrain to stop stifling activists

GENEVA: United Nations human rights experts called on Bahrain Thursday to end the repression of activists, restrictions on freedom of expression and discrimination against women. Bahrain has cracked down on perceived threats since Arab Spring protests in 2011.

Protesters have clashed frequently with security forces, who have been targeted in many bomb attacks.

Bahrain’s delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abdulla bin Faisal al-Doseri, told the panel his country had adopted policies aimed at combating hate speech, strengthening unity, and creating an environment for civil society or trade unions to participate. Women empowerment was a priority.

The experts voiced concern at an increased use of violence by police during peaceful demonstrations in recent years, “including reports indicating six fatal incidents during demonstrations and 10 other extrajudicial killings in 2017.”

The kingdom has used its anti-terrorism act extensively “outside the scope of terrorism, including against human rights defenders and political activists,” they said, calling for the law to be narrowed to allow free speech and peaceful protests.

Authorities “should also ensure that the rights to a fair trial and access to justice are respected in all criminal proceedings for terrorism,” the panel said. It cited cases including that of Nabeel Rajab, a leading figure in pro-democracy protests, who was sentenced to five years in prison in February. He was already serving a two-year sentence.

Voicing concern at reports of arbitrary arrests by security forces, including incommunicado detention, it cited the cases of Khalil al-Marzouq, a former member of Parliament for the opposition group Al-Wefaq, and Maryam al-Khawaja, a prominent activist. Bahrain should make efforts to reduce polygamy and repeal all discriminatory provisions against women in its legislation, it said. This included ensuring that women have equal rights in transmitting their nationality to their children and economic rights.

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