Recently in Bahrain, several hundred political prisoners were released under the Alternative Penalties law, including one of the Founding Directors of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab. The GCHR welcomed his release which brought positive feedback from international human rights organizations and many well-wishers who support the release of political prisoners. However, the conditions and terms these political prisoners are released under are not acceptable by any human rights standard. In a statement released from inside prison by GCHR’s other Founding Director, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence in prison, he stated his opinion on this new law in 7 short points.
“First: If there was a real movement for justice and fairness, the discourse would revolve around reparations for the political detainees and ensuring that they receive compensation and would include accountability for those responsible for violating their rights. Their imprisonment, in essence, is null and void, and their right to liberty is fixed and authentic.
Second: “alternative penalties” are a continuation of the unjust penalties against political prisoners who were imprisoned without due cause.
Third: The purpose that prompted the authority to activate the “alternative penalties”, as it seems, is to alleviate financial burdens and international pressures.
Fourth: The release of any political prisoner under the Alternative Penalties law does not deserve gratitude nor favor from those released as their imprisonment, in and of itself null and void, as aforementioned.
Fifth: The “alternative penalties” do not appear to be an indication of improving conditions, because they contain continued confirmation of the conviction of opinion-holders, and determination to criminalize them.
Sixth: Conditional freedom in exchange for silence is rejected, and it is not just to have a process of exchange; in the sense that the prisoner be released in exchange for being forced to remain silent and prevented from practicing their right to freedom of expression. This is a rejected exchange
Seventh: The dignity of any person is not subject to bargaining, and it is not acceptable that the released be subjected by the authorities to pressure or extortion.”
Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of the GCHR, commented:
“Since their imprisonment, the GCHR and many other human rights organizations consistently and continuously called for the immediate and unconditional release of Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain. The GCHR welcomes the release of hundreds of prisoners of conscience under this new law, but also finds some of the conditions of this release to be unacceptable. Those released continue to be viewed as criminals, sentenced to another form of punishment, and do not receive reparations or compensation. To add insult to injury, those who perpetrated crimes of torture, abuse and harassment against political prisoners are free with full impunity.”
The GCHR has received reports that many of the released political prisoners are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and having a difficult time integrating back into society. It is incumbent, if there is to be real positive change in the country, for there to be truth and reconciliation processes, that include mechanisms of accountability.
Based on the above, the GCHR calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders and political prisoners in Bahrain. We also call for the lifting of all conditions and restrictions on those already released under the new “Alternative Punishments” law, and for the rights and freedoms to be guaranteed and protected. This includes their ability to access their most basic rights, including their right to free expression, movement and assembly.