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5 December 2016

Open Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May regarding her upcoming meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council

Dear Prime Minister,

As you prepare for your meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on 6 December, Front Line Defenders urges you to take this opportunity to pressure for the release of all detained human rights defenders (HRDs) and the cessation of judicial harassment against them across the Gulf region.

Instead of working with HRDs to combat extremism and build tolerant societies, authorities in the GCC countries have jailed dozens of HRDs, in some cases for life, simply for exercising their right and duty to promote and protect human rights.

Front Line Defenders has repeatedly expressed its concern over the systematic attacks on HRDs in the member states of the GCC.

Governments in the region have attempted to eradicate all dissenting voices through a crackdown on HRDs and civil society organisations, particularly in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Human rights defenders have also been targeted in Oman and Kuwait over the past year.

For example, in Bahrain, several human rights defenders are being detained by Bahraini authorities solely for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work, including the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Mr Nabeel Rajab and Ms Ghada Jamsheer who is the Head of the Women's Petition Committee that campaigns for gender equality and family law reform in Bahrain. Both HRDs have been jailed for legitimately practising their right to freedom of expression and are being kept in prison despite their deteriorating health conditions.

In another case on 9 April 2011, prominent human rights defender Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was arrested and beaten unconscious by Bahrain police forces in Al-Manama. He was held in incommunicado detention and severely tortured. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is a former Protection Co-ordinator for Front Line Defenders and former President of the BCHR, was later sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 2015, the HRD issued an open letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and reported that abuse, torture, and degrading treatment continue in Bahrain's prisons.

In Kuwait, prominent human rights defender and member of the Bedoun community Mr Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli has received several prison sentences by Kuwaiti courts solely for carrying out his peaceful and legitimate work for the human rights of stateless people. Following his last sentence, Abdulhakim Al-Fadhi was placed in Anbar 4 maximum security prison facility.

In Oman, Mr Ibrahim Al-Mamaari, Editor-in-Chief of local Omani Azamn newspaper is currently facing charges along with two colleagues that include “disturbing public order,” “undermining the prestige of the state” and criminal defamation after publishing reports that were critical of the government. Ibrahim Al-Mamaari and his colleague Mr Yousef Al-Haj were held in solitary confinement for 60 days  before their release on bail pending trial.

In Saudi Arabia, on 6 July 2014, the first instance Specialised Criminal Court in Jeddah sentenced award-winning human rights defender Mr Waleed Abu Al-Khair to inter alia 15 years in prison. Waleed Abu Al-Khair is a lawyer and head of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

In another case, human rights defender Mr Raif Badawi received 50 lashes publicly for blogging about violations by the National Religious and Morality Police. Raif Badawi is a human rights blogger and co-founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website who was sentenced by the Saudi  for his legitimate and peaceful work to inter alia 1000 lashes and a 10 year imprisonment sentence.

In the UAE, the Federal Supreme Court of Abu Dhabi sentenced 56 people on 2 July 2013, including human rights defender Dr Mohamed Al-Roken, to 10 years in prison for inter alia “conspiring to overthrow the state.” There are concerns that the HRD is being ill-treated. Dr Mohamed Al-Roken is a lawyer who provides legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses.

Also in the UAE, human rights defender Dr Nasser bin Ghaith remains in prison facing charges stemming from his peaceful criticism of Egyptian and Emirati authorities. Mr Ahmed Mansoor is another HRD facing judicial harassment by the UAE government. Ahmed Mansoor is one of the few voices within the UAE who provide credible independent assessment of human rights developments in the country. He has been jailed several times for his legitimate human rights work. Since 2011, the UAE has banned Ahmed from travelling after calling for democratic reform.

Front Line Defenders calls upon you to urge member states of the GCC to prioritise the protection of human rights defenders and in doing so to:

  • Review and quash the conviction of, and release all human rights defenders who have been sentenced on grounds of their human rights work and who remain in detention;
  • Review legislation governing associations to ensure the free and independent establishment and operation of civil society organisations, including their right to receive domestic and foreign funding;
  • Take urgent measures to put an end to the arrest and detention as well as judicial harassment of human rights defenders, and lift the travel bans issued against them;
  • Publicly recognise the positive and legitimate role played by human rights defenders in the member states of the GCC;
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment, and ensure full respect for the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.