Bahrain: Theresa May urged to use influence to end repression in Bahrain

Dear Prime Minister

The undersigned organisations are writing to you in advance of your trip to Bahrain on December 6, to express our concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation in the country and the UK government’s abject failure to exert any positive influence in this regard.

After your meeting with King Hamad at 10 Downing Street on October 26, 2016, when he invited you to be the ‘guest of honour’ at the Gulf Cooperation Council Leaders’ Summit, your office issued a statement referring to ‘the progress that had been achieved through the King’s ongoing domestic reform programme.’

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support any claims of progress where human rights is concerned. In fact there has been a marked deterioration in the human rights situation in Bahrain since June 2016, when the authorities dissolved the main political opposition group, al-Wifaq, jailed the country’s leading human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, and harassed and prosecuted Shia clerics who peacefully protested the arbitrary revocation of the citizenship of al-Wifaq’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Isa Qasim.

In November, authorities charged Ebrahim Sharif, a prominent political activist, with ‘inciting hatred of the political system’ after he criticized Bahrain’s government and a state visit to Bahrain by Britain’s Prince Charles, which was undertaken at the request of the British government. Although authorities have reportedly dropped these charges against Sharif, Nabeel Rajab remains detained on spurious charges and the government has denied his requests to be freed on bail while judicial proceedings continue. He faces charges that on the face of it solely relate to his peaceful criticism of Bahraini government policies, including Bahrain’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes in Yemen and alleged torture of prisoners in the country’s largest prison. It is extremely disappointing that the UK has not called for Nabeel Rajab’s release, or indeed the release of any dissidents who are in jail solely for expressing their rights to free expression and assembly.

In response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy in April 2015, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated that the UK has provided the Bahraini authorities with a package of technical assistance, funding, and training, ‘focused on strengthening the oversight mechanisms responsible for investigating allegations of torture and mistreatment and supporting the reform of detention procedures in Bahrain.’ However, as a November 2016 report by Amnesty International and a 2015 report by Human Rights Watch made clear, authorities have made little progress in holding officials accountable for the mistreatment and torture of detainees. According to Amnesty International, ‘the UK government’s portrayal of the Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit as model institutions is utterly disingenuous.’

We also have concerns that Bahrain may soon break a five-year de facto moratorium on the death penalty. Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa are both facing the death penalty despite the fact that their convictions hinge almost entirely on confessions that they retracted and which they claim were extracted after torture. In the case of Mohammed Ramadan, investigation by Reprieve and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) demonstrated that the Ombudsman sent misinformation to the FCO, claiming not to have received torture complaints, a false claim that FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood then repeated in response to a written question from Tom Brake MP.

Your status as the guest of honour at this summit is a clear reflection of the close alliance that the UK government now enjoys with the government of Bahrain and the other Gulf Cooperation Council states.

The Bahraini authorities’ orchestrated attack on the rights to free expression, assembly and association, has seriously undermined the prospects of a political solution to Bahrain’s domestic unrest. If your government is serious about its commitment to encouraging reform and dialogue, you should use this influence to press the government of Bahrain to put an immediate stop to this repression. We urge you in particular, as part of this trip, to urge your Bahraini hosts to release Nabeel Rajab and other the political detainees without whom no process of dialogue will be possible.


Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)
English PEN
European Centre For Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
Scottish PEN
Wales PEN Cymru


PEN Atlas: Rifat Munim reports from Dhaka Literary Festival

The arts editor of the Dhaka Tribune reports from the city’s thriving annual literary festival, where writers and translators came together for a special launch of the latest Comma Press ‘City in Fiction’ anthology – The Book of Dhaka.

Read this week’s PEN Atlas

Watch the full The Book of Dhaka panel at Dhaka Literary Festival here.

Find out more about The Book of Dhaka, published by Comma Press in the UK and by Bengal Lights Books in Bangladesh, on the World Bookshelf.

Read about PEN’s work with emerging translators around the world, including the 2014/15 Bangla translation project and the 2016/17 Swahili translation project both in partnership with Commonwealth Writers.

Catch up on the first English PEN/Commonwealth Writers translation workshop with emerging translators in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania – ‘Something lost, something gained’.

Kazakhstan: Bigeldy Gabdullin, President of Kazakh PEN Club, arrested

On 15 November 2016, as PEN centres around the world marked the annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, journalist Bigeldy Gabdullin, the President of the Kazakh PEN Club, was arrested in connection with alleged extortion.

According to Kazakhstan’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Bigeldy Gabdullin used his positions as editor-in-chief of the Central Asia Monitor and director of Radiotochka to defame the business reputations of public officials and extort 10 million tenge (equivalent to almost US$29,000). Bigeldy Gabdullin is currently held under a two-month pre-trial detention order, the longest period allowable under Kazakh law. Since his arrest, he has been held in the Temporary Detention Facility of the Department of Internal Affairs in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. He is currently only being allowed communication with his lawyer, and no family members are able to see him or speak to him.

PEN fears that Gabdullin may have been targeted for his reporting critical of government officials. We are calling for him to be released unless clear evidence of a criminal offence is made available in which case he should be charged and tried promptly and fairly in accordance with international fair trial standards.

Read a statement from our colleagues at Kazakh PEN here.

For further information, please visit the PEN International website.


Spread the word

Please share details of Bigeldy Gabdullin’s case with friends and colleague and on FaceBook, Twitter and other social media.

Write to the authorities

Send appeals to the Kazakhstan authorities:

• Calling for the immediate release of Bigeldy Gabdullin unless clear evidence of a criminal offence is made available and he is charged and tried promptly and fairly in accordance with international fair trial standards;
• Expressing concern at reports of the widespread use of torture against detainees and prisoners in Kazakhstan and urging the Kazakhstan authorities to ensure that Bigeldy Gabdullin is protected from torture or other ill-treatment while held in detention;
• Expressing further concern at the extensive application of criminal law provisions to individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and lack of independence of the judiciary and urging the authorities to ensure that Kazakhstan upholds its obligations to protect freedom of expression.

Appeals to:

President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev
Palace of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan “Akorda”,
Administration of the President “Akorda” building, Left bank of the Ishim River, Astana, Kazakhstan
Salutation: Your Excellency

Prosecutor General
Zhakip Assanov
14 Orynbor Street Astana, 010000 Republic of Kazakhstan
Fax: +7 7172 506 402
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General

Minister of Internal Affairs
Kalmukhanbet Kassymov
Tauelsizdik avenue, 1 Astana, 010000 Republic of Kazakhstan Email:
Salutation: Dear Minister

Copies to:

Human Rights Commissioner
Askar Shakirov
8 Orynbor Street
Astana, 010000
Republic of Kazakhstan
Fax: +7 7172 740 548


Oman: prominent writer Abdullah Habib’s appeal forthcoming

English PEN joins PEN International in calling on the Omani authorities to overturn the sentence of writer and intellectual Abdullah Habib. Habib, 53, was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 2000 Omani Rials (approx. US$2,600) on 8 November 2016. He was convicted on charges including contempt of religion, spreading hatred and blasphemy, as well as using the internet to publish material that prejudice religious values or public order. His appeal is due to be heard on 5 December 2016.


Spread the word

Please share details of Abdullah Habib’s case with friends and colleagues and on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Send appeals

  • Calling on the Omani authorities to quash the conviction and sentence of writer and intellectual Abdullah Habib;
  • Urging the Omani authorities to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights without delay and reminding them that, in line with the UN’s 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the government must provide protection to human rights defenders, including against any violence, threats, retaliation or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of the legitimate exercise of their rights.

Minister of Justice
Sheikh Abdul Malik bin Abdullah al-Khalili
Ministry of Justice
PO Box 354
Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
Twitter: @moj_gov
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of the Interior
His Excellency Hamoud bin Faisal bin Said Al Busaidi
Ministry of Interior
PO Box 127, Ruwi 112
Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
Salutation: Your Excellency

And copies to:

Chairman, Oman Human Rights Commission
Dr ‘Isa Bin Sa’id Sulayman al-Kiyumi
Fill in form at: dden.php?language=en
Sultanate of Oman
Fax: +968 24 2189 06

It is recommended that you send a copy of your appeals via the diplomatic representative for Oman in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here


Abdullah Habib is a prolific writer, poet, and film critic. He holds a PhD/ABD (2005) in Critical Film Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he has taught courses in ‘Third World Cinema’, and ‘Cinema and Social Change’. A member of the founding committee of cinema in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), he has also directed several short films, including ‘The Statue’ and ‘This is Not a Pipe’, for which he received the Abu Dhabi Cultural Association Award in 1992. Habib has also published twelve books of poetry and short story collections. In 2013, Habib was honoured by the General Secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council for his excellence in cultural production.

On the evening of 15 April 2016, the Omani Internal Security Service (ISS) summoned Habib to appear for investigation before the Special Division of the Omani Police General Command in Muscat. He was held in detention, without charge or access to his lawyer, until his release on 3 May 2016.

Prior to his arrest, Habib had posted a status on Facebook in which he called for the Omani government to reveal the location of the bodies of rebels executed during the Dhofar Rebellion, an insurgency which took place in the south of Oman between 1962-1976 (More details here).

Upon his release, Habib posted an account of his experience in detention and expressed regret if his previous Facebook posts had caused any harm to Omani unity.

On 11 July 2016, Habib was reportedly arrested after he published comments and posts on his Facebook page during the month of Ramadan, relating to fasting and prayers in the Islamic faith. He was released on 28 July.

On 8 November 2016, Habib was reportedly sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 2000 Omani Rials (approx. US$2,600), convicted on charges including contempt of religion, spreading hatred, blasphemy, and using the internet to publish material that prejudice religious values or public order. His appeal is expected to be heard on 5 December 2016.

Season’s Greetings 2016: write to a writer at risk

Every year, our colleagues at PEN International compile a list of writers at risk and their families to whom members are encouraged to send seasonal greetings. Past recipients have told us about how these cards can provide much-needed moral support, and a crucial reminder that they have not been forgotten; others have told of how they were afforded better treatment by prison guards as a result of cards flooding in from all over the world.

Among the writers we’re asking supporters to send cards to are academic Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain, Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and veteran journalist Gao Yu in China, imprisoned Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji, and many other fellow writers from Iran to Turkey, from Eritrea to Vietnam.

We also hope that many of you will continue to send cards and messages of support to your chosen writer throughout 2017 and beyond.

Please email to request this year’s Season’s Greetings list.

The list contains details of writers at risk, alongside addresses  and instructions regarding what to send. We recommend that you include a return address but if you would prefer to use English PEN’s office address please do: Writers at Risk Programme, English PEN, Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London, EC1R 3GA.

We ask that you please do not to publish the list as it contains personal addresses, but we very much encourage you to share photos of any cards you send (before adding the address) on social media with the hashtags #PENgreetings and #imprisonedwriter and tagging @englishpen

Many thanks and very best wishes to you all for 2017.