Ebtisam Al-Saegh – a fearless human rights defender in peril

The Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh was arrested on 3 July 2017. She is at risk of torture. Bahrain has announced that they investigate her for terrorism charges. This is her story.

1. Who is Ebtisam Al-Saegh?IMG_0935

Ebtisam Al-Saegh is a human rights activist who works for SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights. SALAM is an NGO whose aim is the promotion of democracy and human rights in the Middle East. They try to influence British, European and UN representatives to improve the situation in the Middle East.

Ebtisam Al-Saegh lives and works in Bahrain. She participated in several meetings of the UN Human Rights Council. Ebtisam documents human rights violations in Bahrain. She has a Twitter account and uses her account to raise awareness for the human rights situation in Bahrain.

2. Harassment of Ebtisam Al-Saegh in the past

Every human rights defender in Bahrain is familiar with interrogations, travel bans and harassment. This is also true for Ebtisam Al-Saegh.

a) Ebtisam Al-Saegh was among 13 women who were interrogated and detained in November 2014. The women were charged with “establishing and organising a public referendum, inciting hatred against the regime and disrupting elections”. The context was a referendum which was initiated on the topic whether Bahrain should introduce a new political system under the supervision of the United Nations. The women claimed that they were humilated, insulted and deprived of sleep, food and water.

b) In June 2016 Ebtisam Al-Saegh wanted to travel to Geneva from Bahrain International Airport to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council session and participate in side events about the human rights situation in Bahrain. Bahrain security forces prevented her (as well as Hussain Radhi and Ibrahim Al-Demistani) from travelling to this event.

c) On 23 November 2016 Ebtisam Al-Saegh was summoned by the Cyber-Crime Unit. She was questioned about Twitter posts and was accused of “inciting hatred against the Bahrain regime and threating the public safety and security”. She was banned from travelling for two months. Her interrogation has to be seen in the context of a general waive of judicial harassment against human rights defenders. According to Front Line Defenders at least 17 human rights activists were summoned and interrogated in November 2016. The interrogation are often used as a ground for imposing a travel ban to restrict their ability to advocate internationally for human rights in Bahrain.

d) Ebtisam Al-Saegh was questioned again on 22 January 2017 for about four hours. She was in particular asked about her statements against the death penalty and the execution of Abbas al-Samea, Ali Al-Singace and Sami Mushaima. There were threats against her children and she was warned that her citizenship could be revoked, if she continues to publish “fake news”.

e) In March 2017 Ebtisam Al-Saegh was able to participate in the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. While she was in Geneva her sister was summoned and questioned.  Upon Ebtisam’s return on 20 March 2017 she was detained for several hours at Bahrain International Airport. She was searched, her passport was confiscated and she was questioned for 5 hours. She was not allowed to contact her lawyer or her family who did not know her whereabouts. An interrogator accused her of delivering false statements about human rights in Bahrain in Geneva. She was warned “not to cross the red line“. She was also asked about her work generally, the attendance of conferences and her meeting with the High Commissioner of Human Rights. She was told that she could be taken away from her children and that also her children could face prosecution, if she continues her work.

f) On 21 April 2017 22 human rights defenders were summoned to appear before the General Prosecutor. They were interrogated on 24 and 25 April 2017. Each of them was only questioned for a few minutes. The allegations were that they had all  attended an illegal gathering in Diraz village. All denied the charges. Ebtisam Al-Saegh was among the human rights defenders who were questioned and she and others were informed about a travel ban against them.

g) Ebtisam Al-Saegh was summoned and interrogated by  National Security Agency (NSA) at Muharraq police station on 26 May 2017. She went to the police station at 4 pm. She was questioned about her human rights work in and outside of Bahrain and about her participation in the UN Human Rights Council two months earlier. She said that she was forced to stand during most of the interrogation, she was blindfolded, severely beaten and  sexually assaulted. Ebtisam also said that she was threatened with rape and that there were threats against her children and her husband if she does not stop her human rights activities. She described what happened in detail to Amnesty International. She was released and immediately taken to hospital, because she was under shock and unable to walk.

3. Current detention of Ebtisam Al-Saegh

a) Ebitsam Al-Saegh was arrested on 3 July 2017 at 11:45pm. About 25 masked officers in civilian clothes raided her house in Jid Ill (south of Manama). It is believed that these officers belonged to Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID). The officers did not present an arrest warrant. When they took Ebtisam Al-Saegh, they did not tell her the reason for her arrest. Amnesty International is convinced that she was arrested for her human rights work. She had retweeted tweets about the NSA’s ill-treatment of women the day before. These tweets claimed  that the King is responsible for their treatment.

On the next day (4 July) Ebtisam Al-Saegh had a chance to call her family. She told them that she was held in solitary confinement and that she was under great pressure to confess. According to Amnesty International Ebitsam suffers from irritabel bowel syndrome and other medical conditions. On 6 July the police raided her house again and seized all mobile phones. As explanation for their actions they told her family “your mother didn’t cooperate with us”.

Considering her previous experience, in particular her interrogation on the 25 May 2017, Ebitisam Al-Saegh is at high risk of torture including sexual assault.

b) Ebtisam Al-Saegh has been interrogated for 12 to 13 hours daily since her arrest. She went on hunger strike to protest her arrest, the lack of access to her family and the fact that her lawyer was not allowed to be present during her interrogations.

On 10 July in the evening her health deteriorated and she was taken to the Ministry of Interior hospital in al-Quala for treatment. Nabeel Rajab who was arrested more than a year ago and who is also ill, saw her in hospital. He told his son Adam Rajab about this encounter and his report is quite worrying:



On 11 July Ebtisam Al-Saegh called her family again from Isa Town detention centre where she is held between the interrogations in solitary confinement.

According to reports she was interrogated for 18 hours on 12 July. NSA took her from her cell at 9 am and did not return her to her cell until 3 am the following day. On 13 July she was taken for interrogation at 12 noon and was brought back at 3 am. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) reports that inmates could hear her screaming. crying and banging on her door at solitary confinement.

Her husband was able to visit her on 16 July and said she was in a wheelchair during the visit.

c) On the 14 July the Embassy of Bahrain, London, published the following statement about Ebtisam Al-Saegh:



The embassy basically denies that  there was any sexual harassment against her and also denies that charges have “bearing on her views” or “political opinions”, but alleges that she is held on charges relating to terrorism.

Amnesty International and other human rights organisations see this as a smear campaign and Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns for the Middle East at Amnesty International states the following:

“Ebtisam al-Saegh is a prisoner of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released. Her only ‘crime’, is her bravery in challenging the government’s appalling human rights record. By charging her with terrorism for her work on human rights, the Bahraini government is itself attempting to intimidate and silence civil society in Bahrain.”

Ebtisam Al-Saegh was charged on 18 July in the presence of a lawyer by the Terrorism Crimes Prosecution Office with “using human rights work as cover to communicate and cooperate with Al Karma Foundation to provide them with information and fake news about the situation in Bahrain to undermine its status abroad”. She will be detained for six months pending completion of the investigation.

After the recent change of the constitution of Bahrain in April 2017 it is likely that a potential trial against her will be in front of a military court.

d) The Spokesman for the US State Department was asked about Ebtisam Al-Saegh in the Press Briefing on the 13 July. The US State Department stated that they are concerned about her arrest, call for her release and also for independent investigations of the torture and mistreatment allegations.

Also the office of the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner published a statement about Ebtisam Al-Saegh on 18 July: “UN experts urge Bahrain to investigate reports of torture and ill-treatment of rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh“. They also call for her immediate release and urge the Bahraini government to investigate the torture allegations and to strictly abide by its obligations under international human rights.

4. Please take action for Ebtisam Al-Saegh #FreeEbtisam

Amnesty International has published two urgent action for Ebtisam Al-Saegh.  IMG_0703The first one was published on 6 July 2017 (Arrested Defender at Risk of Torture) and the second one on 14 July 2014 (Detained Defender Interrogated Continously).

Please take action for Ebtisam Al-Saegh. Write a letter to the King of Bahrain as well as to the Minister of Interior and send copies of your letters to the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs. Tweet about her and send your tweets also to the address of the Minister of Interior (@moi_Bahrain) and the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa (@Khaled_Bin_Ali). Use the hashtag #FreeEbtisam.

Please share her story and make sure that also others hear about her.

Amnesty International also launched an online petition for Ebtisam Al-Saegh and Nabeel Rajab. It is called “Stop the torture of human rights defenders in Bahrain“. Please sign and share this petition as well.

Let us stand with Ebtisam Al-Saegh a brave defender of human rights until she is released at last.


Arrested, sentenced, not released – human rights in the United Arab Emirates

March 2017 was a dismal month for human rights in the United Arab Emirates. Two months later the situation has not improved. I want to tell in this post the stories of three human rights defenders from the United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith and Osama al-Najjar and what happened to them in the previous months.

1. Arrested: Ahmed Mansoor

Ahmed Mansoor – (c) Martin Ennals Foundation

a) Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Committee as well as the Advisory Board of the organisation Gulf Centre for Human Rights.

b) Ahmed Mansoor had been targeted by the UAE authorities for several years. On 8 April 2011 he was arrested and questioned. A months before his arrest, on 9 March 2011, he was one of 133 activists who had signed a petition to demand the introduction of universal direct elections for the Federal National Council, a quasi-parliamentary body, and give them full legislative power. Ahmed Mansoor had strongly supported this petition and had given interviews to the media in favour of  this initiative. Human rights organisations assumed at the time that his activism for political reform was the reason of his arrest.

He was charged under article 176 of the UAE Penal Code which makes it an offence to “publicly insult the State President, its flag or national emblem”. Art. 8 of the UAE Penal Code widens its application to other top officials. Another charge against him was “conspiracy against the safety and security of the state” by his participation in the online political discussion forum Hewar which had been banned in UAE in early 2010. Ahmed Mansoor was tried together with four other defendants (including Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith) who were charged with similar offences. The trial opened at the Abu Dhabi’s Federal Supreme Court on 14 June 2011 and is widely referred to as UAE5 trial. Amnesty International and other human rights organisations held that the trial was unfair and did violate basic rights of the defendants.  The first four hearings in the trial were held behind closed doors, the defendants were denied any meaningful opportunity to see the charges and evidence against them and to prepare a defence. The defendants also did not have a right to appeal the judgement, because the offences were tried subject to State Security criminal proceedings in which the Federal Supreme Court was the first and last instance. On 27 November 2011 Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to three years in prison. The following day the President of the UAE pardoned Ahmed Mansoor and the four other defendants. However the charges were not dropped and Ahmed Mansoor was denied a passport and banned from travelling.

c) Since 2011 Ahmed Mansoor had been the target of numerous attacks via social media. He was targeted by spyware which enabled the government to track his movements and read his e-mails. He was generally under close physical and electronic surveillance. The authorities did not issue him with a “certificate of good conduct” which is necessary to obtain employment in the UAE. This meant that he could not work anymore as an engineer. Ahmed Mansoor started studying law in 2012. However, he was physically assaulted twice in university by government supporters and stopped his studies after the second assault.

d) On 6 October 2015 the Martin Ennals Foundation announced Ahmed Mansoor as the 2015 Laureate Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The award is given to human rights defenders who have shown strong commitment and face great personal risk. The aim of the award is to provide protection through international recognition. Ahmed Mansoor was not able to attend the ceremony in Geneva to accept the award in person, because of the travel ban against him.

e) The constant harrassment of Ahmed Mansoor was just a prelude to what happened in March 2017. Around midnight of 20 March 2017 security forces entered Ahmed Mansoor’s home where he lives with his wife and their four small boys. They searched the place for three hours, confiscated all phones and electronic devices and took him around 3:15 am to an undisclosed location. According to an official news agency, he was arrested on orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes and accused of using social media to publish false and misleading information that harm the national unity and damage the reputation of the country. He was also accused of “promoting sectarian and hate-incited agenda”. Ahmed Mansoor had used his Twitter account to speak out for Osama al-Najjar and Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith and had criticised human rights violations in the region, in particular in Egypt and through the war in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition.

His family did not hear from him for the next two weeks. On 3 April he was allowed a short supervised family visit. He was being held in solitary confinement and had no access to a lawyer.

On 28 March 2017 a group of United Nations human rights experts called for his release and described the arrest as “a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE“. Also the Subcommittee on Human Rights at the European Parliament urged the UAE government to release Ahmed Mansoor. A coalition of 20 human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Scholars at Risk, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and many others joined the call for his immediate and unconditional release. He is still in prison.

Please raise your voice for Ahmed Mansoor. He always stands up for others and we should now campaign for him in this time where he needs our support. Amnesty International launched two different online petitions for his release, the petition “Free activist detained for blogging in the UAE” and the petition “Free Ahmed Mansoor“. Sign the petitions, share them via e-mail and social media and raise awareness about his situation. You can also write a letter, fax or e-mail to the UAE authorities. Amnesty put together all relevant information.

2. Sentenced: Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith

Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith – (c) private

a) Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith is a well known economist, academic and human rights defenders. He is lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Sorbonne University, Paris. Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith had also been a target of harassment because of his advocacy for human rights and political reforms for a long time.

b) On 10 April 2011 he was arrested in Dubai. He had written online articles asking for political reform. As Ahmed Mansoor he had also signed the petition which asked for meaningful democratic reform of the Federal National Council. The authorities saw in his articles a threat for national security and an insult against government leaders and charged him under article 176  and article 8 of the UAE Penal Code, the same offence Ahmed Mansoor was charged with. Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was also tried in the UAE5 trial. I have already mentioned the human rights violations in this trial in the context of Ahmed Mansoor. On 27 November 2011 the Federal Supreme Court of Abu Dhabi sentenced Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith to two years imprisonment for insulting the UAE government. As Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was pardoned on the following day, but the charges against him have not been dropped and the harassment and intimidations continued.

c) On 18 August 2015 Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was arrested at 2 pm at his work place by State Security officers. He was brought to his home and the security officers searched his house between 4 pm and 8:30 pm and confiscated several items. Neither he nor his family were informed about the reasons for his arrest. For the next eight months Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was disappeared. His family did not know about his whereabouts and he did not have any contact with his lawyer. On 4 April 2016 he appeared the first time in public after his arrest in front of the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. The court session was also his first opportunity to speak briefly with his lawyer. Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith claimed that he had been held in solitary confinement and had been tortured by beating him and depriving him of sleep. The court did not order an independent investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment and the judge switched off the microphone so that he could not continue to state his allegations.

Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith faced a number of charges, including “committing a hostile act against a foreign state”, because he had criticised on Twitter the Government of Egypt in the context of the massacre which happened at the camp of protesters against General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at Rabaa al-Adwiya Mosque (Cairo) in August 2013. Further charges were “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the State and one of its institutions” based on his comments that the UAE5 trial had not been fair. There were also charges on the basis of statements he had made and contacts he had had – including contacts to persons who were tried in the so-called UA94 trial in 2013 and with Amnesty International’s General Secretary in December 2011.

Further hearings in the trial against Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith took place on the 2 May, 23 May, 20 June and 26 September 2016. In the hearing on 5 December 2016 he was informed that the case had been transferred to the recently established Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi. After two hearing at that court on 18 January and 22 February 2017, the court delivered a verdict on 29 March 2017. Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He can appeal the sentence within 30 days before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court.

On 30 March 2017 he was transferred to a Al-Razeen Prison – a maximum security prison in the middle of the Abu Dhabi desert. The prison is often used to hold activists, government critics, and human rights defenders. Before his transfer he wrote a letter and announced that he would start on 2 April an open ended hunger strike until his release. He said in his letter:

“Unfortunately, I was forced to take such decisions as I have no choice but to go on hunger strike to restore my stolen freedom .”

Amnesty International has issued an urgent action and asks for the release of Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith. There is also a call for his immediate and unconditional release by 10 human rights organisations including Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Scholars at Risk. Please take action for him, tweet about him and write letters and ask the UAE authorities to release him.

3. Not released: Osama al-Najjar

Osama al-Najjar – (c) private

a) Osama al-Najjar is a 28 years online activist. He is the son of Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi, a science teacher.

b) His father was arrested on 16 July 2012 and was one of the defendants in the infamous mass trial UAE94 against 94 individuals, including government critics and advocates of reform. The human rights lawyer Dr. Mohammed al-Roken about whom I wrote a blog post in December last year was another defendant in the UAE94 trial. You can read more about the trial and the human rights violations during it,  in my post about Dr. Al-Roken. Hussain al-Najjar was sentenced to 10 years in prison (followed by a three years probation period) on the charges of “plotting to overthrow the government”. In a separate trial in January 2014 he was sentenced to 14 further months in prison which he will serve after the 10 years sentence is completed.

c) Osama al-Najjar was arrested on 17 March 2014. He had been campaigning on social media for his father. Three weeks before his arrest, he had tweeted to the Ministry of Interior and expressed concern about his father’s torture and ill-treatment during the detention, the conditions in Al-Razaan prison and the unfair UAE94 trial.

After his arrest Osama was brought in a secret detention place. For four days he was continuously questioned from morning to evening. During the questioning, he was tortured and ill-treated. Osama was beaten and threatened with electric shocks if he would not cooperate. There were also threats that his mother and his younger siblings would be detained. He had no contact with his lawyer or with his family. After four days he was transferred to Al-Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi were his family could visit him. However, he still did not get an opportunity to speak with his lawyer.

The trial against Osama al-Najjar began on 23 September 2014. In this hearing he also had the first time the chance to speak with his lawyer. A second hearing took place on 14 October 2014. On 25 November 2014 the State Security Court at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 Emirate Dirhams (about GBP 106,000) on the charges of “instigating hatred against the state”, “designing and running a website on social networks with the aim of publishing inaccurate, satirical and defamatory ideas and information that are harmful to the structure for State institutions”, “belonging to the al-Islah organisation” and “contacting foreign organisation and presenting inaccurate information”. Osama’s electronic devices were confiscated and his Twitter account and website were closed. No appeal was possible against this judgement.

d) After spending three years in prison, Osama al-Najjar was due for release two months ago, on 17 March 2017. The authorities did not release him. There is no indication for how long his detention will be extended. Apparently the prosecutor said that his release poses a threat to society and had applied for the continuous detention on the basis of anti-terror laws, even so he was not found guilty of a “terrorist offence”.  He is kept incommunicado in a “counselling centre”. International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) explains in a recent article how the UAE authorities generally misuse the “counselling centre” to extend the imprisonment on human rights defenders. Osama al-Najjar is not the only one whose detention is extended in this arbitrary way.  Amnesty International and other human rights organisations ask for his immediate release and state there is no basis for his ongoing arbitrary detention.

Please take action for Osama al-Najjar and join the urgent action of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Join the campaign on Twitter and write letters to the UAE authorities to ask for his release.

Kodály: Missa Brevis – a mass “in tempore belli”

IMG_0146The next concert of Highgate Choral Society on Saturday, 6 May 2017 has a mixed programme. The first part of the concert features English and Italian music. We will sing music by Finzi, Mascagni, Puccini, Rossini, Vaughan Williams and Verdi. After the interval we will perform Kodály’s Missa brevis in a version for chorus and organ to mark the 50th anniversary of Kodály’s death. The concert will take place at St. Michael’s Church, South Grove, Highgate N6 6BJ and starts at 7 pm.

1. Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967) was born in Kecskemét, a city in the centre of Hungary. In 1900 he went to university in Budapest and studied Hungarian and German language and literature. In the same year he took the entry exam at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest and studied composition. Kodály met Béla Bartók at the Royal Academy of Music. Both became lifelong friends. After they finished university they travelled through Hungary and Romania with phonograph cylinders to collect folk music and folk songs in remote villages. Folk music and folk songs were of great influence for Kodály and his music. He was also very interested in musical education and developed his own method of teaching music to children. In this method, singing had a special role and also choral music was for Kodaly one of the most potent mediums, because he saw it rooted in the Hungarian musical and social tradition.

2. Zoltán Kodály wrote his Missa Brevis in dark times. Hungary joined the Triparte Pact between Germany, Japan and Italy in 1940 and fought as member of the Axis powers in Yugoslavia and Russia. In August 1943 Hungary decided to contact the US and their allies to start negotiations of a secret peace treaty. When Germany discovered this “betrayal” of Hungary, they made plans to occupy it. From March 1944 onwards Hungary was occupied by German troops and ruled by a government which was aided by a National Socialist military governor. In October 1944 the Red Army started its offensive against Budapest. The Russians were able to take Pest in December 1944, but besieged Buda for seven weeks until the city’s unconditional surrender on 13 February 1945. Kodály stayed in Hungary during the Second World War. The situation in the city was dire. Many civilians died during the siege, either from bombing and military action or from starvation and diseases. The houses were not safe anymore and many took refuge in cellars and air shelters. Zoltán Kodály and his wife first lived in a cellar of a Benedictine convent school, later they moved to the basement of Royal Opera House in Budapest.

Kodály started working on his Missa Brevis when he was in hiding in the cellar of the convent. In 1942 he had written an organ mass which was first performed in St. Stephen’s Basilica. While he was in the cellar of the convent he started reworking his mass into a choral work with organ. For Kodály the words of the mass were always of particular poetic significance and I think it is not surprising that he turned to them in such terrible times. The Missa Brevis was performed the first time early in 1945 in the cloakroom of the opera house which was used as improvised concert room, because the main opera house had been damaged by bombs. Kodály gave the mass the subtitle “in tempore belli” (“in times of war”). He made later another version of the Missa Brevis for chorus and orchestra. The first British performance of the Missa Brevis was a broadcast by the Belfast Co-operative Choir in October 1945. A further performance took place during the Three Choir Festival in Worcester in 1948 (conducted by the composer) and was repeated two years later at the Gloucester Festival.

3. The Missa Brevis is a setting of the Latin text of the mass with its five traditional parts (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus / Benedictus and Agnus Dei). In addition Kodály started with a short Introitus for organ solo and ended the mass with an Ite, missa est which was in original version again for organ solo. He later also prepared a version for chorus and organ. We will use in the concert the original version.

The Kyrie consists traditionally of three parts (Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison). It is the plea to God for mercy. The first Kyrie eleison in Kodály’s setting is austere and kept in the dark colours of the alto section and the bass section which sing a short melodic phrase in canon. The Christe eleison is brighter and is dominated by the higher voices. The soprano section is split in three parts which sing haughtingly beautiful chords juxtaposed with the three lower voices. In the second part of the Christe eleison the altos join the sopranos. For the second Kyrie eleison Kodály uses the same melodic phrase as for the first Kyrie for the altos and basses. This time they are joined by the sopranos and tenors who sing three long cries on eleison (“have mercy”).

The Gloria is a celebratory part of mass which praises, lauds and glorifies God. In the Missa Brevis the Gloria consists of three parts. The first part is filled with military fanfares. It is a fast section (Allegro) with many runs and raising lines for all voice parts. The second part is much slower (Adagio). It is again dominated by the lower voice parts. The altos start to sing “qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis” (that taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy”). The basses then join the altos with the same melodic line. Toward the end of this part, the tenors repeat “have mercy” several times. For the final part of the Gloria Kodály returns to the fast tempo of the first section and the military fanfares. The Gloria culminates in a glorious Amen which is once repeated.

The Credo sets the creed (Nicene Creed) to music, the summary of the Christian belief. The setting in the Missa Brevis is more episodic. It starts with the altos and basses in unison in a quiet march. The second part is slower and very quiet when the choir sings “et incarnatus est”. The music depicts  the mystery of the incarnation. The cruxificus starts with the three upper voices singing forte (loud) with great anguish. As this part progresses the music gets quieter and quieter and dies away. The “et sepultus est” (“and was buried”) is as quiet as possible, almost inaudible. For the joy of the resurrection Kodály chose a fast tempo and ascending choral lines which mirror the text. The choir starts soft and finishes this section in a fortissimo (very loud). The next section “et in spiritum sanctum” starts with the basses, soon the other voice parts join and sing in unison “qui cum patre et filio”. Also this part of the mass ends with a confident Amen.

The Sanctus consists traditionally of four parts: Sanctus, Osanna, Benedictus and a repetition of the Osanna. The Sanctus / Benedictus is sung in the mass after the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer. It is the praise of God by the saints and angels. Kodály set the Sanctus (including Osanna) and the Benedictus (including Osanna) in two separate movements. Both parts are quite restraint. He decided not to repeat the same setting of the Osanna after the Benedictus, but to write a variant on it.

The Agnus Dei consists, as the Kyrie, traditionally of three sections. The text “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” is repeated three times. The first two times the sentence finishes with the plea “have mercy on us”. The third time it ends with “give us peace” (Dona nobis pacem). The Agnus Dei in the Missa Brevis recalls themes from the Gloria and the Kyrie. In particular by taking up motives of the Kyrie the music comes full circle and gives the piece unity. The movement builds towards a climax with the anguished “Dona nobis pacem” (grant us peace). Kodály uses for this last cry for peace the motives from his Christe eleison setting. The sopranos are again split in three parts soon the altos join. A few bars later also the tenors and basses join this plea for peace. Given the circumstances of the composition of the mass, it is not surprising that these words receive the longest treatment of any words of the Missa Brevis. The Agnus Dei is almost as long as the Credo which has far more words to set and the word “pacem” (peace) at the end is repeated over and over again.

Support EBOHR’s campaign to #Free_Parweez Jawad

The European Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR) launched last year in March an open end campaign for the release of Mohammed Hassan Jawad (“Parweez Jawad”), Hussain Jawad’s father. Parweez Jawad was arrested on 22 March 2011 and has now spend six years in prison. He is 69 years old and in bad health. You can read more about Parweez Jawad in my previous blog post “Do you know Bahrain’s eldest prisoner of conscience?

Please join the campaign and help Hussain Jawad and EBOHR to free his father Parweez Jawad.

  1. Please take a piece of paper and write on it “Free Parweez Jawad”, preferably in your own language.
  2. Take a photo of yourself in which you hold the sign.
  3. Please tweet the photo to @EBOHumanRights and to @HussainMJawad or send it via e-mail to hussain.jawad@ebohr.org.
  4. Please also tweet it to Ministry of Interior in Bahrain (@moi_bahrain) and Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al-Khalifa (@Khaled_Bin_Ali) and ask for Parweez Jawad’s release.

EBOHR has already received a good number of photos by individuals, but also by Amnesty International groups. If you are in an Amnesty International group, you could suggest them to join the campaign.

As inspiration here are some examples of the photos EBOHR received so far:

EBOHR would love to have 1000 photos. Therefore please send your photo and join the campaign to #Free_Parweez Jawad.

Do you know Bahrain’s eldest prisoner of conscience?

I wrote previously a number of articles about Bahrain and in particular about the human rights activist Hussain Jawad, Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR). If you do not know him, then read my “Story in Tweets” which tells the story of his arrest in February 2015 until his (conditional) release in May 2015  using the tweets of his wife Asma Darwish. Hussain’s father Mohammed Hassan Jawad (“Parweez Jawad”) is also a human rights activist. He was arrested six years ago on 22 March 2011 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Parweez Jawad is Bahrain’s eldest prisoner of conscience. This post will tell his story.  

1. Background

img_3508Mohammed Hassan Jawad, who is usually called “Parweez” Jawad, was born on 1 January 1948 in Manama, Bahrain. He was one of six children. He had two brothers and three sisters (after the death of one brothers and two sisters there are still two of his siblings alive). When he was 12 years old his father died. In the testimony he gave in court in June 2012, he said that the loss of his father at an early age was something which shaped his personality and meant he had a “deep feeling of injustice, and sympathy with the oppressed at an early age“.

In the early seventies Parweez Jawad met his future wife Batool Baqal in Manama. Shortly afterwards in 1973 they got married. Parweez Jawad and Batool Baqal have six children who are now between 39 years old and 6 years old. Their two daughters are Ramla (39 years) and Susan (38 years) and their four sons are Ali (34 years), Hussain (29 years), Hamid (27 years) and Hadi (6 years).

Parweez Jawad used to work at the oil pipeline between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. However for the last 30 years he was banned from this work, because of his human rights activism.

2. Human Rights Activism

Parweez Jawad has a long history of protests against the government and was always outspoken for human rights. He was particularly interested in human rights of prisoners and campaigned as independent activist against arbitrary arrests. Even when he was in prison himself, he taught other prisoners about ethics and human rights and documented the detainees cases.

He was himself arrested many times in the late 1980s and the 1990s. The reasons for these arrests were protesting, demanding the release of political prisoners and also insulting the king. “Insulting the king” is still an offense human rights activists are often charged with. Every criticism of the king or the government can lead to such charges. Until 2014 the sentence for insulting the king could be between 10 days and 3 years. In February 2014 the king of Bahrain approved a law which increased the sentence to up to 7 years and a fine of up to 10,000 Bahrain Dinars (ca. GBP 21,700).

I spoke with Hussain about his father and he told me that most arrests of his father in the 1990s were without charges. These were arrests for security reasons and his father was released after a few days or maybe sometimes a few weeks. However, in 1994 this was different. Hussain was 9 years old and he told me that he still remembers well that his father was disappeared for 9 months. Parweez Jawad could not make any calls, his family was not allowed to see him and he was tortured. Parweez Jawad spoke about this arrest in his testimony in court in 2012. He explained that he was arrested at 2.30 am by police officers who suddenly broke into his house, took valuables like a camera and took him out of the house in handcuffs. He describes in his statement that he was insulted, humiliated and tortured by physical and psychological means.  He was ultimately brought to Jaw Central Prison where he was held for almost a year without charges or trial.

He could not get a job anymore, because his name was blacklisted and every application for work for the government or a private employer was rejected. In 2002 / 2003 he started therefore a workshop in which he made iron furniture. In 2011 security forces destroyed all machines.

3. Bahrain Uprising 2011

In December 2010 Parweez Jawad took part in a demonstration for the release of political prisoners. The night after the protest, armed forces broke into his house and arrested him without an arrest warrant. He was detained for 33 days and was released in January 2011.

A short time after his release the Arab Spring began in Bahrain. After protests in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the Middle East, ten thousands of Bahrainis took the streets on 14 February 2011. They protested for meaningful reforms, in particular constitutional and political reforms as well as for human rights. Also Parweez Jawad joined the protests on this day in Sitra where a large demonstration took place.

Bahrain’s government responded to the demonstrations with tear gas, shotguns and rubber img_1205bullets. The police fired into unarmed crowds which caused panic and let to injuries. On the evening of 14 February 2011 one protester Ali Mushaima died from police shot guns. There were more protests over the following days and more fatalities.  On 17 February 2011 1000 police officers were dispatched to clear the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, Bahrain’s capital. There were 1500 people staying over night in tents. The police used again excessive force to clear the place, including shotguns, tear gas and flash grenades. Four protesters were killed by the police and 300 man, women and children were injured. The government claimed that the protesters had attacked the police; however independent inquiries did not find any proof for these allegations. The 17 February 2011 is remembered as “Bahrain’s Bloody Thursday”.

The demonstrations and protests continued. Many protesters called for an end of the monarchy in Bahrain and the establishment of a republic. According to Amnesty International the demonstration and marches were peaceful. Many people went on strike. The situation got tenser on 12 and 13 March 2011 when anti-government protesters and government supporters crashed. On 15 March 2011 Saudi Arabia sent troops with at least 1200 soldiers to Bahrain and the King of Bahrain declared a three-months state of emergency which gave the police wide powers to arrest and detain protesters. The Pearl Monument who had been a symbol for the protesters was destroyed on 16 March 2011. Hundreds of people were arrested and detained.

Parweez Jawad participated in a number of marches in February and March 2011. On 22 March 2011 he went to the place of the Pearl Roundabout to get his car back which was parked there. He explained in his witness statement what happened next:

“… I went there to take back my car, my car at that moment was not working and I had to fix it,  but before I get it back, I was stopped at one the army check points, and after they asked me about my name, and then asked for my ID card, and once they say it, then they asked me to get out of the car. // and once I got out of the car, so they started beating severely …”

After his arrest Parweez Jawad was first brought to Naim Police Station. He was beaten and insulted and had to stand for a long time. After a few days he was brought to the “Castle”. This is a place of detention run by the National Security Agency in the basement of a building in Al Qualaa. He was questioned about the marches and demonstrations and was pushed to name other participants. Parweez Jawad explains that he was tortured by the security forces. He was beaten with sticks, whipped and kicked, hung by his feet and hung from his hands. There was sexual harassment and torture with electric shocks. After 15 days in the “Castle” he was transferred to Dry Dock Prison where many political prisoners are detained and later he was brought to Al Qurain prison. The torture continued in these prisons. There is a very detailed account of his time in the “Castle” and the subsequent prisons and what he had to endure in an article in the Bahrain Mirror: “This is how the son of the king tortured us; Parweez narrated the story from inside the prison“.

4. Trial and Judgment

The trial against Parweez Jawad and twenty other Bahraini opposition activists started on 8 May 2011 at the National Safety Lower Court. It is a military court and the case was brought by a military prosecutor. Apart from Parweez Jawad the following 13 defendants appeared in front of the court: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdulwahab Hussain, Dr. Abduljalil Al Singace, Hassan Mashaima, Ibrahim Sharif, Mohammed Habib Al Muqdad, Sheikh Mirza Al Mahrooz, Mr. Abdulhadi Al Makhdour, Salah Al-Khawaja, Sheikh Saeed Al NooriMohammed Ali Ismael, Sheikh Abduljalil Al Muqdad and Al-Hur Yousef al Somaikh. Seven further defendants were tried in absence. Some of them were in hiding, presumably in Bahrain, while others lived abroad.

The defendants were accused of a number of charges connected with national security crimes under Bahrain’s 1976 Penal Code and the 2006 Counterterrorism Law. The charges included among others “organising and managing a terrorist group for the overthrow and the change of the country’s constitution and the royal rule,” “seeking and correspond[ing] with a terrorist organisation abroad working for a foreign country to conduct heinous acts” against Bahrain, “broadcasting false news and rumours” that threatened public security, inciting sectarianism, and other similar charges.  The defendants denied all charges.

Further hearings took place on 12 May and 16 May 2011. On 22 June 2011 Bahrain’s National Safety Court sentenced Parweez Jawad to 15 years in prison. Seven defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment (Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdulwahab Hussain, Dr. Abduljalil Al Singace, Hassan Mashaima, Mohammed Habib Al Muqdad, Sheikh Abduljalil Al Muqdad and Sheikh Saeed Al Noori), apart from Parweez Jawad three other people were sentenced to 15 years in prison (Sheikh Mirza Al Mahrooz, Mr. Abdulhadi Al Makhdour and Mohammed Ali Ismael). Ibrahim Sharif and Salah Al-Khawaja were sentenced to five years each and Al-Hur Yousef al Somaikh was sentenced to two years of imprisonment.

img_1001Parweez Jawad said that he could not prepare for the hearings. He did not have access to a lawyer before the trial. He also mentioned that he could not hear some of the questions because of an impairment of hearing which got worse because of the torture. He was furthermore forced to sign a report without being able to read it.

Human rights organisations share these concerns for the trial in general. They criticised the trial against civilians in front of a military court. They also said that the charges were vague and politically motivated. The trial was not fair, because lawyers were only granted very limited access to the files. Family members were not informed about trial dates (or informed very late) and were not allowed to visit the defendants. For some of the hearings international human rights organisations like Frontline Defenders and Human Rights First were denied entry to the court. Human rights organisations were alarmed by the allegations of torture and demanded independent investigation of these serious allegations against police and security forces.

The appeal against the verdict was heard on 6 September 2011 by the National Safety Court of Appeal, again a military court. The verdict of the court of appeal was handed down on 28 September 2011. The appeal court upheld all convictions and sentences imposed in the first instance.

On 30 April 2012 the Court of Cassation in Manama ordered that the 14 opposition activists shall appear in front of a civilian court. The court reduced the sentence of Al-Hur Yousef al Somaikh to six months and he was released. The sentences against the 13 other activists remained unchanged.

The High Criminal Court of Appeal (another civilian court) started appeal proceedings on 22 May 2012 and went through several hearings until the last hearing on 24 July 2012. The final verdict was issued on 4 September 2012. The court acquitted three of the defendants of some of the charges, but upheld the overall sentences for all 13 defendents, including the sentence against Parweez Jawad.

Amnesty International said that there is no evidence that any of the defendants had committed a crime and used or advocated violence. Amnesty International considers all 13 activists as prisoners of conscience who are in prison for their right to freedom of expression and association.

5. Current Situation

Parweez Jawad is still in prison six years after his arrest in 2011. He is in Jaw Central Prison. Jaw Central Prison is one of Bahrain’s main prisons. It is directly at the sea in the east of Bahrain near Al Dur. Hussain told me that all 13 activists (“Bahrain 13”) are in a separate section of Jaw Central Prison. After the release of Ibrahim Sharif and Salah Al-Khawaja last year eleven prisoners are left. They have no contact with other prisoners, but can talk to each other.

Parweez Jawad is not in good health. During the past years he was brought to hospital several times. In August 2012 he was admitted to hospital because he lost consciousness and vomited blood. Because of his critical condition he was unable to speak. In 2014 he was told that he had been diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure. He also complained that he was still suffering pain after the torture in 2011. The prison authorities did not provide him with proper medical care. He was again taken to hospital in September 2015, but returned to prison after a few days without receiving specialised treatment.

I asked Hussain how is father is now. He said that he is still not in good health, but also does not want to be transferred to a hospital because they are not doing anything anyway.

Usually Parweez’s family is able to visit him every other week. For holidays like Eid there are regularly special visiting rights. Hussain told me that he speaks with his father on the phone about once a week and his family speaks several times a week with Parweez. However, the prison authorities are always listing in to these calls. The calls are frequently interrupted, depending on the topics about which Parweez Jawad and his family are speaking. The right to receive visits or calls is also occasionally withdrawn. The same applies for the access to books, including the Koran, newspapers or television. Just a few days ago Maryam Al-Khawaja, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s daughter, tweeted about new regulation to harass the Bahrain 13 prisoners: There is a cancellation of spousal visits, family hours are reduced to 30 minutes, furthermore newspapers are forbidden and shia channels were removed from television, the cell doors remained locked for most of the day, Bahrain 13 prisoner are chained whenever they are moved anywhere, all hospital visits are cancelled and a number of other restrictions were imposed.

6. Further Information

I based my blog post on a number of articles about Parweez Jawad, but also about the situation in Bahrain general. I can recommend the following articles:

There are also two general Amnesty International Reports about Bahrain which are interesting. There are both from 2012 and cover the protests and the human rights violations by police and security forces. Both reports also mention Parweez Jawad briefly:

I got also much information in a conversation with Parweez Jawad’s son Hussain Jawad on 8 January 2017. I am very grateful to Hussain for his patience in answering all my questions.

7. Please get involved and support Parweez Jawad

Hussain has been campaigning for his father all the years since his father’s arrest in 2011. Please support him.

Share Parweez Jawad’s story on social media and outside of social media. Please use on social media the hashtags #Free_Parweez and #ParweezJawad. Please read also the following post about a campaign of EBOHR and join the campaign.

Elgar: The Music Makers – a musical autobiography?

img_3552The next concert of Highgate Choral Society will take place on Saturday, 11 March 2017 at 7 pm at All Hallow’s Church, Savernake Road, Gospel Oak NW3 2JP. As our concert last March also this concert features English music.

The concert begins with an orchestral work by Frederick Delius: The Walk to the Paradise Garden. For Sea Drift by Delius the chorus and Marcus Farnsworth as baritone soloist join the New London Orchestra. After the interval Edward Elgar’s The Music Makers follow.

This blog post is about Elgar’s The Music Makers.

Edward Elgar ‘s The Music Makers, Op. 69 is a work for contralto soloist or mezzo soprano soloist, chorus and orchestra. It consists of a single movement and lasts about 40 minutes.

1. Elgar set in The Music Makers the poem Ode by Arthur O’Shaughnessy (1844-1881) to music. O’Shaughnessy was a British poet of Irish descent. He worked in the zoological department of the British Museum specialising in reptiles, but his true passion was poetry. The Pre-Raphaelite painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown belonged to his circle of friends. He published three collections of poetry. Ode was published in The Athenaeum of 30 August 1873 and is included in his third collection of poetry Music and Moonlight (1874).

Elgar presumably got the idea to set the Ode to music in 1903. He announced his interest in this poem in an interview in March 1904. The timing of this announcement is particularly interesting. Elgar saw himself always as an outsider. His father was merely a tradesman and Elgar was Roman Catholic. He did not study music, but was self taught. Very often he was uncertain about his abilities and his status in society and suffered from depression. However when he gave the interview things could not be more favourable for him. On 3 February 1904 he was invited to dine with King Edward VII and conducted his famous Pomp and Circumstances March after dinner. On 14 March 1904 his work was celebrated with a three day festival at Covent Garden and two days later the Prime Minister asked him whether he would accept a knighthood in the June Birthday Honours. Maybe the reassurance by these honours and recognition was the reason for him to speak about this project.

O’Shaughnessy Ode deals with the role of the artist in society. The first verse focuses on the isolation of the creative artist. It sees him as “dreamer”  who wanders along the sea shores and sits at the streams. But the verse ends with a very different image of the artist. It says  “Yet we are the movers and shakers / Of the world for ever, it seems”. For the poem the artist is really the one who changes the world and brings progress for society. For the poem artists are the shapers of human destiny and the dreams and visions of the artists become reality in the following generation. This thematic statement of the poem resonated strongly with Elgar. The poem has an optimistic and positive vision of the artist, but Elgar saw this vision as a responsibility and duty of the artist and maybe also sometimes a burden. He saw himself as a Music Maker, but also included

“… all artists who feel the tremendous responsibility of their mission to ‘renew the world as of yore.'”

2. In the following years Elgar was occupied with other projects. He composed in 1906 his oratorio The Kingdom; then his first Symphony (1908) , his Violin Concerto (1910)  and his second Symphony (1911) followed. In 1912 he experienced health problems. He complained about a noise in his ear. This was connected with a loss of balance and problems with his middle ear. He was therefore compelled to rest in April 1912, but took up his work on The Music Makers in May 1912. He finished the score on 18 July 1912. This was just in time to get everything ready for the premiere of the work on 1 October 1912 at the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival where in previous years his The Dream of Gerontius (1900), The Apostles (1903) and The Kingdom (1906) were premiered. The performance was only a moderate success and many were very critical about the work.

3. Elgar used in The Music Makers many quotations of his previous works. He quoted from both Symphonies, The Apostles, The Dream of Gerontius, his Violin Concerto, the Sea Pictures and most importantly from the Enigma Variations. The quotations were also one of the main criticisms against this work. Some saw this as self indulgent and considered it to be a lack of originality. They thought that this was his response to the pressure of time. Looking at Elgar’s own explanations for the use of quotations this criticism does not seem to do him justice.

The work starts with a short orchestral prelude which presents two themes. Some have suggested that the first theme symbolises the artist’s “sadness and spiritual unrest” and the second theme is associated with the artist’s “mission”. The chorus enters quietly almost unaccompanied and chordal for the first six lines of the poem (“We are the music makers / And we are the dreamers of dreams / Wandering by lone sea-breakers / And sitting by desolate streams / World-losers and world-forsakers / On whom the pale moon gleams”). The text and the musical motive which he called the “artist theme” will be repeated throughout the work as a kind of refrain. Elgar follows the text very closely and his quotes are often are direct reaction to the text. He uses a quotation from The Dream of Gerontius for “dreamer of dreams” and generally when the text speaks about “dreams”and a quote from his Sea Pictures for “lone sea-breakers”.  Other quotes are more subtle. Elgar explained in a letter (14 August 1912) to Ernest Newman the reasons why he used quotations from his Enigma Variations.

“I have used the opening bars of the theme (Enigma) of the Variations because it expressed when written (in 1898) my sense of loneliness of the artists as described in the first six lines of the Ode, and to me, it still embodies that sense”.

Elgar does not only quote from his own work, but also includes a quote from Rule Britannia and one from the Marseillaise for the lines “out of a fabulous story / We fashion an empire’s glory”. He clarifies that he does not think that these tunes stand for “peculiarly fabulous stories”, but they are for him

“examples of tremendous influences which ‘music makers’ have achieved – destinies they have swayed and judgements they have foreseen.”

The soloist enters the piece when it is almost half over. She sings the fifth verse of the poem which had a particular significance for Elgar. For the lines “But on one man’s souls it hath broken /  A light that doth not depart / And his look, or a word  he hath spoken / Wrought flame in another man’s heart” he used a quotation of several bars from the Nimrod variation which he had written for his friend A. J. Jaeger. Elgar explained:

“Here I have quoted the Nimrod Variations as a tribute to the memory of my friend, A. J. Jaeger: by this I do not mean to convey that his was the only soul on which light had broken or that his was the only word, or look that wrought ‘flame in another man’s heart’; but I do convey that amongst all the inept writing and wrangling about music his voice was clear, ennobling, sober and sane, and for his help and inspiration I make this acknowledgment.”

For the last line of the poem “And a singer sings no more” Elgar quotes again a passage from The Dream of Gerontius, the music to “Novissima hora est”, the moment when Gerontius dies. The work ends as it had started with a repetition of the artists theme which is again sung by the chorus as a sequence of chords very quietly dying away.

4. Another criticism against Elgar’s work was that his music has undercut the hope of the poem and almost reversed its meaning. It is indeed noteworthy that the poem speaks very much of the vision of art and its importance for the future, however Elgar does the opposite in his works. He looks back and uses music of his past. I think it shows how difficult this vision and the responsibility he felt was for him.

I want to end with two quotes which show his torn relationship with The Music Makers.

After he finished the vocal score on 19 July 1912 he wandered over Hampstead Heath. It was a particularly cold day and one day later he wrote to Alice Stuart Wortley, a close friend, about his feelings:

“It was bitterly cold – I wrapped myself in a thick overcoat & sat for two minutes, tears streaming out of my cold eyes and loathed the world, – came back to the house – empty & cold – how I hated having written anything: so I wandered out again & shivered & longed to destroy the work of my hands – all wasted. ‘World losers & world forsaker for ever & ever’ – How true it is.”

In another letter about six weeks later he acknowledged that The Music Makers were one of his most personal works, maybe even a kind of musical autobiography.

“I have written out my soul in the concert, Sym II & the Ode & you know it … in these three works I have shewn myself.”

A love story in Iran – #SaveArash

On 30 December 2016, the hashtag #SaveArash was at one point in time worldwide trend no. 1. I want to tell in my blog post the story behind this hashtag. It is the story of Arash Sadeghi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a story about their harassment and persecution by Iran but also about their love for each other. There are also some recent worrying developments which mean that this hashtag is sadly still relevant.


1. Arash Sadeghi is an Iranian student activist. He was born on 29 September 1986. He studied at Tehran’s Allame Tabatabai University for a master degree in philosophy. However he was not able to finish his degree, because he was banned by Iran from studying because of his human rights activism.

2. Arash Sadeghi’s harassment and persecution by Iran started in 2009 after the disputed Iranian presidential elections. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was the first time elected in 2005, run against Mir-Hossein Mousavi, an independent candidate (and two other challengers). When Iran’s news agency announced that Ahmadinejad had won with a clear majority of more than 60% of the votes, many Iranians protested against the result, because of substantial irregularities of the election. They feared that the election was rigged. Arash Sadeghi had been a member of Mousavi’s election campaign and joined the protests.

On 9 July 2009, Arash Sadeghi was arrested the first time. He was held for 53 days in Section 2A of Tehran’s Evin Prison which is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards. On 31 August 2009, he was released against bail without charges. A few months later, on 27 December 2009 (Day of Ashura) there were Iran-wide protests against the election. Arash Sadeghi participated in these protests and was arrested again. He was released after 15 days against a bail of USD 96,000.

On 4 April 2010, he was sentenced by branch 26 of the Revolutionary Courts to 74 lashes and six years in prison. The charges against him were (i) propaganda against the regime and (ii) gathering and colluding against state security. Arash was imprisoned several times in 2010. He was tortured. His shoulder was dislocated twice and his teeth broken. He gave an interview in November 2010 with Rooz Online News Agency in which he gave more of the gruesome details of the torture he had to endure. You can find a summary in the Amnesty Urgent Action for him from July 2013 (page 2).

3. In November 2010 security officials broke into his home in the middle of the night and wanted to arrest Arash Sadeghi. He was not at home, because he spent the night at his grandfather’s house. His mother and his sister were the only ones who were at home. As the officials forced entry, his mother suffered a heart attack and died within a few days. Initially his family blamed him for the death of his mother. In December 2010 Arash Sadeghi turned himself in to the prison. He was again tortured. They wanted him to say that his mother’s death was unrelated to the night raid. He did not give in, but rather launched an official complaint about the night raid after his release. After one year in prison he was released. He was informed that his sentence was reduced to one year in prison and four years suspended sentence depending on good behaviour.

4. On 15 January 2012, Arash Sadeghi was arrested again. He was immediately transferred into solitary confinement in Ward 209 Evin prison, the ward which is controlled by the Ministry of Intelligence. Arash Sadeghi did not have access to a lawyer and was only allowed very limited visits by his grandfather. Arash was twice on hunger strike. In 2012 he went on hunger strike in support of another prisoner, Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki, about whom I wrote a number of blog posts last year. He went another time on hunger strike in June 2013 to protest against his ill-treatment in prison. His father was harassed and intimidated. He was warned against speaking to the media about his son. His grandfather was arrested and detained for one week for giving interviews about his grandson and for the announcement that Arash was on hunger strike.

Arash Sadeghi was released in October 2013. He had been detained for 22 months without charges or a judgement against him. Following his release he and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee got married.

5. On 6 September 2014, Arash Sadeghi, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee and two friends (Navid Kamran and Behnam Mousivand) were arrested at their work place by men in civil clothes which likely belonged to the Revolutionary Guards. They searched the place and confiscated personal belongings like computers, memory cards and personal papers and documents. Arash and Golrokh were both interrogated throughout their detention. At one time Arash could hear Golrokh crying who was interrogated near his cell. The authorities put pressure on him. They told him that his wife had been accused of burning the Quran and was facing execution. Also Golrokh describes that she was interrogated and threatened and could hear her husband being beaten and kicked in the next cell. Golrokh was released on bail on 27 September 2014, but Arash was detained for several months. He was kept in solitary confinement and was not allowed to speak with his lawyers. He had only very limited contact with his family during this time – mainly very brief telephone calls and hardly any family visits. Arash Sadeghi was released on bail on 15 March 2015.

The trial against Arash Sadeghi, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee and their two friends was held between May and July 2015. Arash Sadeghi was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran to 15 years in prison on charges including “spreading propaganda against the system”, “gathering and colluding against national security” and “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic”. 15 years is the maximum statutory punishment for the charges of which he was convicted. His Facebook posts, interviews and correspondence with journalists and human rights organisations were used as evidence against him. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was sentenced to six years in prison for “insulting the sanctities of Islam” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. The charges against her were based on her Facebook posts about political prisoners and an unpublished story the authorities found in her house. The novel is about a woman who watches a film about a woman who is stoned to death for adultery. The protagonist of the novel is so angered by it that she burns a copy of the Quran. Navid Kamran and Behnam Mousivand were both sentenced to 18 months in prison for “spreading propaganda against the system”. The trial was unfair. Their lawyers had no access to the case files. Golrokh was not able to defend herself in court, because she was in hospital on the day of her hearing and the court refused to adjourn the hearing.

In February 2016 the court of appeal confirmed the convictions against Arash Sadeghi and Ebrahimi Iraee. Arash faces 19 years in prison, because the suspended sentence of four years from his conviction in 2010 was added to the 15 years to which he was sentenced this time. Arash Sadeghi was arrested on 7 June 2016 to serve his sentence of 19 years in prison. He attended on that day a court hearing against another human rights activists (Shahid Moghadas) and was arrested in court to be sent to Evin prison.

6. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was arrested on 24 October 2016. Security officials broke through the front door of her house, arrested her and brought her to Evin prison to start serving her sentence. Golrokh did not receive a written summons, but only a telephone call by someone who introduced himself as an enforcement officer from the court and who told her that she must report to the prison. She refused to do so, because a formal summons is legally required.

img_3407In protest of her arrest and the start of her imprisonment Arash Sadeghi started a hunger strike on the same day. He demanded her release and a judicial review of her case. Against the prison regulation he was denied visiting rights and he and his wife Golrokh were not allowed to see each other for weeks. The prison authorities initially told him that he would continue to be denied to see her while he is on hunger strike. On 14 November Arash and Golrokh were allowed to meet in prison. Prison had hoped that Arash would stop his hunger strike. He did not do so, but continued. Arash Sadeghi’s health declined. The website International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) reported on 8 December 2016 that his condition was “critical and worrying” after 45 days of hunger strike. They mention that he was suffering from stomach and intestinal problems, his blood pressure had dropped severely and he was spitting blood. He was “constantly in and out of prison clinic during the past week”. He continued his hunger strike throughout December 2016. The reports about his declining health got even more worrying and family and friends feared for his life. Many people used social media to show their support for Arash Sadeghi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee. On 30 December 2016, Arash Sadeghi’s 68th day of hunger strike, a tweet storm in his support took place and the hashtag #SaveArash was worldwide the highest trending topic on Twitter which probably meant that more than half a million people were joining the tweet storm. ICHRI highlights that this is even more remarkable, because Twitter is censored in Iran and can only be accessed via proxies. The international media reported widely about his case. Iran’s immediate reactions to the tweet storm were mixed. Some hardliners claimed that the trending hashtag was generated by robots and not by real people supporting Arash Sadeghi, but a few Iranian MPs criticised the trial in closed courts and asked for the review of Golrokh’s case. On 2 January 2017 hundreds of people marched to Evin prison and demanded the release of Arash Sadeghi and his wife. On the 72nd day of hunger strike the authorities finally yielded to his demands. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was released from prison against bail and the Iranian prosecutor promised to review her case. Arash Sadeghi stopped his hunger strike, but remained in prison.

7. Arash Sadeghi’s health status was critical, but it took several days until he was transferred to hospital. He did not get proper medical care and was soon transferred back to prison. Golrokh’s release was only temporary and the authorities ordered her back to prison after a few days. She resisted the order to return to prison, because the prosecutor had initially promised that the furlough would be extended until the review of her case was completed. On 23 January 2017 the Revolutionary Guards arrested Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee again while she was on the way to visit her husband. The Revolutionary Guards also block a review of her conviction by the courts. Arash Sadeghi had said that he would start his hunger strike again, if Golrokh is brought back to prison. Social media reported that he started a new hunger strike on the day of her arrest. Today is his 14th day of this hunger strike. Given that he has not recovered from his last hunger strike, his life is at risk.

8.  The story of Arash Sadeghi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee temporary release show that pressure from the public and media attention work. Therefore please keep sharing his story and raise awareness for both of them in social media and out of social media. Use the hashtags #SaveArash #FreeArash and #FreeGolrokh and help to make as much noise as possible.

Please also support other Iranian prisoners. Over the last months there were a number of prisoners who went on hunger strike to protest about their unfair treatment, like Ali Shariati, Saeed Shirzad, Mohammed Ali Taheri, Morteza Moradpour and many more. There was an interesting article in the New York Times about hunger strikes in Iran, one in Iranwire about Arash Sadeghi and other prisoners on hunger strike and also the press release by the German Commissioner for Human Rights Bärbel Kofler is worth reading.

Let’s hope that the Iranian authorities yield again to pressure from inside Iran, but also through the international community and that Arash Sadeghi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee are both released. #SaveArash #FreeGolrokh

9. Addendum (8 February 2016): United for Iran reported yesterday that Arash Sadeghi ended his latest hunger strike after receiving pledged from the prosecutor. Please continue to support him and ask for his release.

Support for Raif Badawi from around the world

In 2015 I started a project for Raif Badawi. I collected over time 100 translations of a phrase of support for him from people all over the world. I wrote about this project already in June 2015 on the website in support of Raif Badawi and also mentioned the project in my earlier post Twitter is great.  To mark the anniversary of his flogging on 9 January 2015 and his 33rd birthday on 13 January, I want to share my post in an amended form also from my blog.

1. What is the background?

In February 2015 @VeraSScott a human rights activists came up with the following phrase of support for Raif Badawi: “We will hold Raif Badawi in our hearts and minds until his family can hold him in their arms”. This phrase proved to be very popular and soon many people were using it on Twitter.

I liked the phrase and thought it would be great, if we have this wonderful phrase of support for Raif not only in English, but in many different languages. Raif Badawi became during the weeks and months after he was flogged the first time an international symbol for the struggle of so many people for human rights and freedom of speech. This international interest in his case and his fate should manifest itself in support for him in languages from all over the world.

Initially I was not sure how many translations I wanted to collect, but then I decided that it really should be translations into 50 languages. Saudi Arabia decided to flog Raif Badawi in January 2015 50 times and they planned to give him 50 lashes each week, we should show him our support in 50 languages – one for each lash he had to endure.

When I published this article initially I had collected 56 languages. After that I continued to collect translations of this phrase. Now I have 100 pictures with translations of this phrase of support.

2. Which languages are represented?

If you look at the list of languages below, you will see an amazing variety of languages.

There are European, African and Asian languages. The seven UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) are represented. You will find translations in the 12 languages which are spoken by most people in the world as their native language (Hindi, Bangla, Portuguese, Italian, German, Japanese in addition to the UN languages). But you can also find languages as Scottish Gaelic and Romansh which are only spoken by a few ten thousand people or languages as Luxembourgish and Maltese which are spoken by some hundred thousand people.

The languages represent different cultures and connected with the different cultures also different religions. However, the support for Raif Badawi and for human rights goes beyond culture and religion.

3. Who translated the phrase?

I got all the translations via Twitter and again the broad range of different people who were willing to help was astonishing. People from Iceland in the North to Australia in the South and from Canada in the West to Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea in the East helped with the translations. I had people from each continent of the earth who helped with this project.

Also the background of the people and their involvement in campaigns for Raif Badawi covered a broad range of different types of involvment. I asked many Amnesty International divisions for translations and a lot of them helped me. I asked the people who tweet a lot for Raif. But I was more surprised that also such people were happy to help who had only signed one petition for him or even people who did not seem to have any prior involvement in campaigns for Raif Badawi. Some of them not only translated the phrase for me, but also used the picture afterwards themselves and asked their followers to take action.

I think this is a moving sign for the global support and global outcry Raif Badawi’s case has attracted.

4. What follows next?

Please continue to use the pictures and the phrase in different languages. Add them to your tweets, share them on Facebook and on Instagram and continue to support Raif Badawi and his family.

You will find below a list of all the languages and also all the pictures. They are roughly in geographical order, starting with Europe. I collected a lot of Indian languages. For the ease of reference, you will find languages spoken on the Indian subcontinent in a separate group. The next group includes all remaining Asian languages and the last group comprises of all African languages.

I think 100 languages is a good number and I decided that I will not actively continue to collect further languages. However, if you speak a language which is not yet represented and think it should be represented, then please tweet me at @CiLuna27 and send me your translation. I am happy to put it in a picture as well.

5. The Languages

a) European Languages

  • English
  • Irish
  • Scottish Gaelic
  • Welsh
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Catalan
  • Basque
  • Galician
  • French
  • Dutch
  • German
  • Luxembourgish
  • Rumantsch
  • Italian
  • Maltese
  • Greek
  • Albanian
  • Macedonian
  • Bulgarian
  • Romanian
  • Hungarian
  • Serbian
  • Croatian
  • Bosnian
  • Slovene
  • Slovak
  • Czech
  • Polish
  • Icelandic
  • Norwegian
  • Danish
  • Swedish
  • Finnish
  • Estonian
  • Latvian
  • Lithuanian
  • Belarusian
  • Ukrainian
  • Russian

b) Languages of the Indian Subcontinent

  • Hindi
  • Awadhi
  • Bangla
  • Bhojpuri
  • Chittagonian
  • Gujarati
  • Kannada
  • Malayalam
  • Marathi
  • Marwari
  • Nepali
  • Pahari
  • Punjabi (Gurmukhi)
  • Punjabi (Shahmukhi)
  • Saraiki
  • Arabic Sindhi
  • Devanagari Sindhi
  • Sinhala
  • Tamil
  • Telugu
  • Urdu

c) Other Asian Languages

  • Arabic
  • Hebrew
  • Turkish
  • Kurdish
  • Armenian
  • Georgian
  • Azeri
  • Persian
  • Kazakh
  • Uzbek
  • Pashto
  • Dari
  • Mongolian
  • Chinese
  • Tibetan
  • Vietnamese
  • Thai
  • Indonesian
  • Malaysian
  • Tagalog
  • Visayan
  • Korean
  • Japanese

d) African Languages

  • Afrikaans
  • Chibemba
  • Dholuo
  • Ekegusii
  • Hausa
  • Igbo
  • Kirundi
  • Luhya
  • Ndebele
  • Oromo
  • Shona
  • Somali
  • Swahili
  • Wolof
  • Xhosa
  • Yoruba



2016 in review: Iran, Shawkan and Poetry

At the beginning of 2016 I wrote an article in which I looked back at the previous year. I thought it would be nice to start 2017 in a similar way. In the following post I will share my thoughts about 2016 and give you an idea about my plans for my blog in 2017. 

1. As last year I want to start this blog post with saying thank you to everyone who read and shared my blog posts. I also want to thank in particular those who participated in the campaigns. I saw that many of you clicked on the links to Amnesty International petitions and urgent actions and also actions by other human rights organisations. Thank you for joining the tweet storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki in January 2016 and for joining the “Sky for Shawkan”-campaign from September 2016 onwards.

2. 2016 was my first full year of blogging. I wrote 16 blog posts during the year. The articles are in six different categories:

  • 11 posts about human rights in countries in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). Eight posts are about prisoners and activists in Iran, four about Saudi Arabia, two about Egypt and one each about a prisoner in Qatar and in the United Arab Emirates.
  • two posts about poetry (they are both in two categories “human rights” and “poetry”)
  • two posts about Twitter (again both posts are in two categories “human rights” and “Twitter”)
  • three posts about classical music
  • one post about art and
  • one post in the General category.

a) The most popular post in 2016 was Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan” with 457 views. I would like to thank in particular the Australian comedian Wil Anderson who shared my post on Twitter and Facebook which resulted in a large number of visitors to this post, in particular from Australia. Also thanks to Melody Sundberg who shared this post on her website “Untold Stories of the Silenced” in English and in a translation into Swedish. Shawkan is sadly still in prison. Further hearings took place on 8 October, 1 November, 19 November, 10 December and 27 December 2016. The next hearing will be on 17 January 2017. Please continue to share his story and ask for his release.

b) The second most popular post was Tweet Storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki with 298 views. The tweet storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki took place on 18 January 2016, because after a furlough of about 6 months, he was ordered back to prison. Many visited my blog on the day of the tweet storm and it was great that so many of you participated in it. On 19 January 2016 Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki returned to prison. After 105 nights in prison and 38 days of hunger strike, he was again given furlough on 4 May 2016. Hossein is currently free, but can be called back to prison at any time.

c) I also want to mention the articles which were my third and fourth most popular ones: Sky for Shawkan with 171 views and Forbidden Poetry: Ashraf Fayadh, Fatemeh Ekhtesari, Mohammed al-Ajami with 166 views.

“Sky for Shawkan” is a Twitter campaign for Shawkan. He mentioned in a letter that he misses the sky in prison and therefore we decided to take photos of the sky and tweeted them with the hashtag #SkyforShakwan to raise awareness for him. My blog post shares a selection of 60 photos which were tweeted by people from all over the world within the first week of the campaign. I am delighted that so many of you participated in it and still tweet photos for him. Please keep doing so. I hope Shawkan will soon be free and I wish he would be able to see the photos from all over the world.

“Forbidden Poetry” was the first of two posts about poets who are punished for their poetry. It tells the stories of Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Fatemeh Ekhtesari (Iran) and Mohammed al-Ajami (Qatar). The second post shares one poem of each of the three poets. I would like to thank the editor of “The Wolfian” for publishing this article in Issue 8 of this magazine.

3. I was amazed last year about the number of visitors to my blog and the variety of countries they came from and I am amazed again this year.

During 2016 2,333 people visited my blog and it got 4,522 views. The visitors were from 79 different countries. Most views came from the following three countries: (1) United States (1,063 views), (2) United Kingdom (785 views) and (3) Germany (579 views). I hope for many visitors in 2017.

4. Enough about 2016, I want to share some of my ideas for 2017:

a) Raif Badawi is sadly still in prison and I will certainly again write about him in 2017. I wrote some time ago an article about my Raif Badawi translation project which I mentioned in my post Twitter is great in 2015. I have in the meantime even more languages and I want to republish this article in an amended form in the next days to mark the anniversary of the day on which Raif Badawi was lashed (9 January 2015) and his birthday (13 January 1984). I hope that he will be released soon, but I am afraid that can only happen if he receives a Royal Pardon.

b) I tweeted during 2016 a lot about Bahrain, but I did not write an article about it. Therefore I definitely plan to write articles about Bahrain in 2017. I still want to write about Hussain Jawad’s father Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also known as Parweez. Furthermore I am very impressed by Nabeel Rajab. Nabeel Rajab is currently in prison in Bahrain. He was arrested on 13 June 2016 on several fabricated charges. The trial is still ongoing. In the last hearing on 28 December 2016 the court ordered his release and adjourned the hearing to 23 January 2017. However, the public prosecution refused to release him and decide to keep him in prison on other charges. He is the only activist I mentioned in my first post about whom I have not yet written a blog post.

c) Another topic about which I would like to write this year is art and human rights. During the past year I came across a number of artists who use their art to highlight the fate of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders. The prime example of an artist-cum-human rights activist is of course Ai Weiwei, but there are also lesser known artists who paint or make drawings to highlight specific human rights cases. I want to write about some of these artists and want to see what motivates them to use their art in their human rights activism.

d) There will be again blog posts about classical music. I will certainly write about the programmes of our concerts with Highgate Choral Society, but maybe also about other concerts or opera performances I visit.

e) Finally I would like to continue writing about art and exhibitions and also about poetry. We will see what the next year brings.

I hope you like my ideas. There will certainly be many more as the year progresses. If you like them, then please keep an eye on my blog or follow my blog. If you decide to follow my blog, you only need an e-mail address and you will get an e-mail each time I publish a new article.

Let me close this post with my best wishes for 2017 and the hope that 2017 will be a good year for justice, peace and human rights all around the world.

Human Rights Lawyer in Jail – Dr. Mohammed al-Roken, Waleed Abulkhair and Abdolfattah Soltani

On 10 December is Human Rights Day. The date was chosen to honour the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. Human Rights Day was established in 1950. The United Nations and many human rights organisations mark this day with conferences, meetings, cultural events and exhibitions dealing with human rights issues. Also Amnesty International “Write for Rights” campaign is in December around Human Rights Day.

On the occasion of Human Rights Day, I want to highlight the fate of three men whose profession and passion are the defence of human rights. All three are human rights lawyers and all three are currently in prison for their work: Dr. Mohammed al-Roken (UAE), Waleed Abulkhair (Saudi Arabia) and Abdolfattah Soltani (Iran).

1. Dr. Mohammed al-Roken

img_3231Date of birth: 26 November 1962

Country: Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Profession: Academic, former professor of constitutional law, former president of UAE Jurists Association, member of many further legal associations and human rights lawyer. Dr. Al-Roken holds an PhD in Constitutional Law from the University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.

Arrest: 17 July 2012, only hours after his son and his son-in law were arrested.

Trial: The trial against Dr. Al-Roken began in March 2013. It was a mass trial against 94 people, therefore it is also know as UAE94. The group of defendants included human rights lawyers, academics, judges, teachers and students. Many belonged to the Reform and Social Guidance Association (Al-Islah) which had called for more democracy in UAE.

There were altogether 14 hearings which took place on various dates between 4 March and 2 July 2013. 86 defendants pleaded non guilty and 8 were tried in absentia.

The trial and the pretrial detention were unfair and affected by several human rights violations, including

  • Rights on arrest: Most detainees were not informed about the reason for their arrest and did not have prompt access to a lawyer.
  • Right to liberty: All defendants were held in solidary confinement at secret places and were denied contact with their family and their lawyers. The family of the defendants were not informed and sometimes did not know their whereabouts for months.
  • Prohibition against torture: Many defendants said that they were tortured to get them to confess “their crimes” and some said that signatures on confessions were forged
  • Right to fair trial: The hearings were not held in public. Several defendants did not have access to defence lawyers. There were only seven defence lawyers in the case and they did not get the evidence in time to prepare appropriately. Dr. Al-Roken handed in a paper on 26 March in which he requested the defendants to be allowed to access the case papers. This application was declined. The defendants did not have the right to call and examine witnesses.
  • Right to appeal: All defendants were denied the right to appeal the judgement.

Charges: Founding and administrating an institution aimed at overthrowing the government pursuant to Art. 180 Federal Penal Code (UAE)

Sentence: The highest court of the United Arab Emirates sentenced Dr. Al-Roken on 2 July 2013 to a 10 year prison sentence. 55 other defendants were also sentenced to 10 years in prison, 5 others were sentenced to 7 years in prison and the 8 who were tried in absentia were sentenced to 15 years in prison. 25 accused were acquitted.

Background: Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken has acted as a human rights lawyer for individuals but also for organisations like Amnesty International for around two decades. For years he was targeted for his human rights activities. Since 2006 he was arrested and detained several times, his passport was confiscated and he was placed on travel ban. In March 2011 113 UAE citizens signed a petition which asked the government for more democracy in line with the constitutional provisions. The signatories included Dr. Al-Roken and also Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent human rights activist. In April 2011 Ahmed Mansoor and four other persons were arrested. Dr. Al-Roken served as one of the defence lawyers in this trial (UAE 5) and was also defence lawyer in other important trials.

Current situation: Dr. Al-Roken is in Abu Dhabi’s al-Rezin prison. Amnesty International reports an incident in November 2015 when the prison authorities installed loud speakers in each block and played extremely loud propaganda music for hours. Dr. Al-Roken had a panic attack, high blood pressure and an ear infection. Amnesty International says that his health has now improved. He and other prisoners are still subject to insults and degrading treatment and his family members are harassed. img_1207

Further information: Amnesty International issued on 23 September 2016 an appeal with further information about Dr. Al-Roken and other UAE activists who were tried in the UAE 94 trial. Please read and share this appeal and take action for them. More information about the UAE 94 trial and details about the human rights violations can be found in a report by FIDH, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and other organisations and a report by International Commission of Jurists.

2. Waleed Abulkhair

img_0121Date of birth: 17 June 1979

Country: Saudi Arabia

Profession: Human rights lawyer and human rights activists, head of “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia” (MHRSA), an organisation he founded in 2008.

Arrest: Waleed Abulkhair was arrested on  15 April 2014 when he attended the fifth hearing in his trial. He was taken to al-Ha’ir prison, kept in solitary confinement and deprived of sleep. Waleed said he was beaten and denied food. He also did not have access to his lawyer and his family.

Trial: The trial against Waleed Abulkhair began on 6 October 2013 before the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh which deals with terrorism cases. Waleed Abulkhair did not defend himself because he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court. In February 2014 a new terrorism law came into force. Saudi Arabia applied this new law retroactively to Waleed’s case. The law labels free speech as “terrorism” and its aim is to persecute and punish human rights activists. He was the first human rights activist who was tried and sentenced under this new law.

Charges: There were numerous charges against Waleed Abulkhair, including (1) seeking to disarm the state legitimacy, (2) abuse of public order in the state and its officials, (3) inciting public opinion and insulting the judiciary, (4) publicly defaming the judiciary and discrediting Saudi Arabia through alienating international organizations against the Kingdom and make statements and documents to harm the reputation of the Kingdom to incite and alienate them, (5) adopting an unauthorized association and being its chairman speaking on its behalf and issuing statements and communicating through it and (6) preparing, storing and sending what would prejudice public order.

Sentence: On 6 July 2014 Waleed Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years in prison (10 years executed and 5 years suspended), a 15-year travel ban starting from the end of his imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (over GBP 35,000). The sentence was upheld in appeal court on 12 January 2015. The judge in the appeal court told Waleed Abukhair that he will serve the full 15 years and not a reduced sentence of 10 years, because he had refused to apologise for the alleged offences.

Background: Waleed Abulkhair has dedicated his life to human rights and their defence. He began to practice law in 2007. He represented many victims of human rights violations and reformers. He advocated for democracy and reforms in Saudi Arabia. In 2009 the authorities banned him from representing certain defendants. Waleed did not obey and continued to defend human rights activists in court. One of the people he represented was Raif Badawi. Waleed Abulkhair was arrested several times and banned from travelling since March 2012 to prevent him from attending to human rights conferences or receiving international human rights prizes. While the trial in Riyadh was ongoing another criminal court in Jeddah sentenced Waleed to three months in prison for similar charges (29 October 2013). Part of the evidence in both trials was a petition Waleed Abulkhair signed in support of 16 Saudi reformists. He wrote over 300 articles in Arabic, he also wrote articles for Western newspapers and received several prizes. img_2411

Current situation: Waleed Abulkhair was transferred several times and was in different prisons. He is currently in prison in Jeddah (Dhahban). On 7 June 2016 Waleed started a hunger strike to protest against harassment, denial of reading material, ongoing ill-treatment and a refusal to provide him with medical care. On 12 June 2016 he ended his hunger strike after gaining concessions from the prison administration.

Further information: You can find more information about him on a blog in his support. Also the Wikipedia article about him is very detailed. The United Nations (UN) Working Group for Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) adopted in their session in September 2015 an opinion in which they request the release of Waleed Abulkhair and eight other human rights defenders who are arbitrarily detained in Saudi Arabia.

3. Abdolfattah Soltani

img_3200Date of birth: 2 November 1953

Country: Iran

Profession: Human rights lawyer and spokesman of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. He is also co-founder of this group together with Mohammed Seifzahdeh und Nobel Peach Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. He was a member of the Arbitrary Detention Investigation Committee.

Arrest: On 10 September 2011 security forces entered his offices and confiscated files, his briefcase, his computer and also several personal and family documents. Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested at the Revolutionary Court where he was to review the files of one of his clients.

Trial: The trial against Abdolfattah Soltani started on 8 January 2012 at Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court. On 1 January 2012 he was allowed to see his file the first time for 3 hours per day. Abdolfattah Soltani did not defend himself, because he did not belief the court to be qualified. The rights of Abdolfattah Soltani were violated in several ways, in particular through an illegal extension of his imprisonment (after the pre-trail detention expired). He was not released on bail until the court of appeal issued his final ruling, even so he should have been released. He did not have access to records or law books and could not properly prepare his defence. In addition personal items which were confiscated at his arrest were not returned. His family were not allowed to visit him.

Charges: There were four charges against Abdolfattah Soltani: “propagating against the regime” (in particular interviews with media about his client’s cases), “establishing the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (founding an illegal group)”, “assembly and collusion against national security” and “accepting an unlawful prize”. The “unlawful prize” was the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award which he received in 2009.

Sentence: On 4 March 2012, Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Abdolfattah Soltani to 18 years in Borazjan prison and a 20-year ban on his legal practice.

  • 10 years for founding the Defenders of Human Rights Center
  • 5 years for gathering and colluding with intent to harm the national security
  • 2 years for accepting an illegal award
  • 1 year for spreading propaganda against the system.

In June 2012 an appeal court reduced his prison sentence to 13 years.

Background: Abdolfattah Soltani has been a human rights lawyer for many years and represented many political and human rights activists and their families as well as Nationalist-Religous figures and Iranian union activists. In 2005 he represented the family of the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi who was allegedly tortured and murdered in Evin Prison in 2003. In the context of this trial Soltani criticised the fairness of the trial brought by Kazami’s family. Two days later, his house and office was searched and on 30 July 2005 he was arrested for espionage charges. In prison he was kept incommunicado. On 6 March 2006 Abdolfattah Soltani was released on bail.

During the unrest after the disputed president elections in 2009, Soltani and many other political figures, human rights activists and journalists were arrested – without an arrest warrant. He was arrested on 16 June 2009 and on 26 August 2009 after 72 days released on bail secured by property deeds. During this time his access to his family was limited; he was in solitary confinement for 17 days and lost 15 pounds in prison.

After his arrest in 2011, the Iranian conservative politician, Chief Justice of Iran and Iran’s highest human rights official Mohammad Javad Larijani made false allegations against Abdolfattah Soltani and claimed he was “connected with a  terrorist group” even so there were no such charges against him.

Current situation: Even so the judgement stated that Abdolfattah Soltani should serve his sentence in Borazjan prison which his almost 1,000 km from Tehran, he was not transferred to Borazjan. He has served his sentence up to now in Evin prison in Tehran. He spent several months in solitary confinement in the Intelligence Ministry’s Ward 209 in Evin prison. He went on hunger strikes to protest against inadequate health care and prison conditions. Abdolfattah Soltani has several health problems, in particular heart problems. The authorities prevented hospitalisation and treatments several times. He was also refused necessary medication. So far he was given once furlough on medical grounds on 17 January 2016 and had to return to prison before he had fully recovered. On all other occasions furlough was denied. On 17 May 2016 he was granted temporary leave on compassionate grounds, because his mother had passed away on the same days a few img_3201hours earlier. It was only the second time that he was granted furlough. He had applied for it several times to spend time with his dying mother, but the authorities delayed their decision until it was too late.

In addition also his family is harassed and was denied the right to visit him in prison on several occasions. His daughter stated in November 2016 that there are currently serious concerns about his health. She hopes that he will be released soon, because he has served half of his sentence and therefore qualifies for conditional release. So far none of their requests was answered.

Further Information: There is detailed article about Abdolfattah Soltani on Tavaana homepage. Also the homepage of the City of Nuremberg which gave him in 2009 their human rights contains a lot of information. Finally there were a number of articles on the website International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) which are worth reading.