25 June 2018 - Today, Bahrain’s Fourth Criminal Court handed down three-year sentence to female political activist, Najah Ahmed Yousif, on politically motivated charges. Judge Ali Aldhahrani found Najah guilty for her alleged social media activity, part of which criticises the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Public Prosecution issued a statement that details the charges without naming Najah specifically. Charges include engaging in social media activity to encourage the overthrow of the political system.
Last month, Judge Ali Aldhahrani revoked 115 Bahraini nationals of their citizenship in a single hearing, rendering the majority of them stateless. This clearly represents a breach of international law.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) strongly condemns the verdict as a blatant violation of Najah’s freedom of expression and urges the Bahraini Government to quash the conviction and release her immediately. Bahraini authorities must also investigate her allegations of torture and hold those responsible to account.
Najah has been held in detention since April 2017. She was arrested and interrogated by officers of the National Security Agency (NSA) before being transferred to Isa Town Prison. Najah told BIRD that she was sexually assaulted, physically ill-treated and psychologically abused during her interrogation, which lasted four days. As a result of all the abuses suffered, Najah was coerced into signing pre-prepared confession.
Speaking about her ordeal, Najah told BIRD: “If I wrote down the violations I was subjected to, it would be a book. They insulted my honour and dignity, they physically assaulted me, removed my headscarf, tried to tear off my clothes, and touched my sexual organs. They threatened me with rape, and threatened to kill or put my sons in prison. All this in the presence of plainclothes officers.”
Commenting, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, said: “Today’s ruling uncovers the draconian undertone of the Kingdom’s supposed democratic reform. The case of Najah illustrates how activists risk suffering sexual assault by Bahraini security forces, simply for daring to exercise their right to freedom of expression. Najah’s conviction must be overturned and she must be released immediately.”
Najah’s Sexual Assault and Physical Abuse at the Hand of the National Security Agency
A week after the Bahrain Grand Prix (14-16 April 2017), Najah was violently interrogated about her political views by officers from the NSA at Muharraq Police Station from 23 April 2017. She was interrogated for approximately eight hours a day for four days. During the interrogations, Najah was beaten and sexually assaulted. She was also threatened with rape, and the killing and imprisonment of her sons. On 27 April, Najah was told to sign a pre-prepared confession without reading it. Najah repeatedly refused to do so.
In response to her refusals, Najah was violently beaten, kicked and sexually abused. A man was also brought into the police station to frighten her with rape. Najah revealed to BIRD in March 2018 that her decision to confess was due to her mental exhaustion and her belief that the purpose of the interrogation was to condemn her.
Najah was then transferred to the Public Prosecution Office and interviewed in the absence of a lawyer. The Prosecutor dismissed Najah’s attempts to expose her ordeal. No mention of her torture has been reported in the Public Prosecution documents.
Najah has remained in detention in Isa Town Prison ever since. Her treatment is in violation of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain ratified in 2006, including articles relating to arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9), torture (Article 7) and the right to a fair trial (Article 14).
Formula One: Violation of its Commitment to Human Rights
Formula One (F1) violated their commitment to human rights by failing to address Najah’s serious allegations despite certain grounds of her conviction being based on her alleged criticism of the Bahrain Grand Prix 2017.
On 15 March 2018, BIRD wrote to F1 to raise concerns over Najah’s abuses and their relation to criticism against Formula One Grand Prix. BIRD had obtained and shared with F1 the relevant sections of the legal dossier presented by the Public Prosecution, which detailed Najah’s charges for alleged social media activity criticising F1. The Bahraini authorities have cited evidence from a Facebook page which contains posts “promoting and encouraging people to overthrow the political and social systems”.
F1’s response to BIRD on 4 April 2018 ignored the provided evidence and falsely stated that Najah’s pre-trial detention related “to alleged activities dating back to 2010”. The only mention of 2010 in the dossier, however, is in relation to the creation of Najah’s personal Facebook account.
Furthermore, the F1 Group stated that “the appropriate way for Ms. Yousif to pursue any grievance” is by complaining to Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, which “will investigate the matter independently”. However, the Ombudsman’s lack of independence and transparency has been widely recognised, including by the UN Committee Against Torture.
UK- Trained Head of Bahraini Police
Bahraini Police is a beneficiary of training provided by the UK Foreign Office. In August 2015, Brigadier Fawaz Hassan Al Hassan, the current head of the Muharraq Police Station, received direct training provided by the UK Foreign Office in Belfast. Najah was sexually abused and physically assaulted on these premises. Vice extensively reported on the incident.
In response, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has often stated that “The UK has a continuing dialogue with the Government of Bahrain in which we raise individual cases. Our Embassy in Bahrain has monitored this specific case”.