Human Rights First 22 February 2007 http://www.humanrightsfirst.info/pdf/07222-hrd-ltr-king-bchr.pdf

In a letter sent to the King of Bahrain, Human Rights First calls for an immediate end to the persecution against the Bahraini Center for Human Rights and its members. The chair of the group, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was arrested and interrogated on February 2 for several hours. The arrest of Mr. al-Khawaja is only the latest in a series of measures that have targeted the BCHR in what appears to be a pattern of persecution against the organization.

February 15, 2007

His Majesty the King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa King of Bahrain Office of His Majesty the King Amiri Court, Riffa Palace Bahrain

Your Majesty,

We are writing to express our deep concern about the situation of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the continuous harassment of its members.

The arrest on February 2 of Mr. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, president of the BCHR is only the latest in a series of measures that have targeted the BCHR and its members for the last two years, in what appears to be a pattern of persecution directed against the organization.

The crackdown on the BHCR started with the closing down of the organization by an order of dissolution issued by the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs in September 2004. This measure was accompanied by the confiscation of the organization’s office and bank account.

The closure of the organization was followed by the persistent harassment of Mr. al-Khawaja and the BCHR Vice-President, Nabeel Rajab. In November 2004, Mr. Al-Khawaja was given a one-year prison sentence, out of which he served two months, after he criticized the Prime Minister for the country’s economic problems. The security services have subsequently arrested and beaten Mr. al-Khawaja on at least two occasions while he was taking part in non-violent protests against the government. In the course of 2005, Mr. Rajab and his family received dozens of menacing letters and phone calls accusing him of being a “traitor” and threatening him with “the death sentence”. Despite two complaints lodged by Mr. Rajab with the Public Prosecutor none of the intimidatory messages he received were investigated. Moreover, police beat Mr. Rajab severely and injured him during his participation in a peaceful demonstration in July 2005.

In addition, the Bahraini authorities have blocked access to the BCHR website for Internet users in Bahrain since September 2006.

On February 2, 2007 the Bahraini security forces arrested Mr. al-Khawaja. He was released the same day after being interrogated for several hours but the Public Prosecutor charged him with “promoting change to the country’s political system through unlawful means”, “inciting hatred and animosity against the political system” and “insulting” it. If sentenced, Mr. al-Khawaja could face more that ten years imprisonment. The charges against Mr. al-Khawaja are apparently connected to his call for an investigation into the allegations made by a former government adviser who claimed that government officials planned to rig last November’s parliamentary elections.

The persistent harassment of the BCHR members are a clear violation of their basic rights and freedoms including their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly . It aims to punish them for seeking to defend human rights in Bahrain and to deter them from carrying out their legitimate, non violent activities.

The policies of repression and persecution that have targeted the BCHR for years are a setback for human rights in Bahrain and a serious violation of its constitution and international obligations.

The Bahraini Constitution states in Article 23 that “freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed” and that “everyone has the right to express his opinion and publish it verbally, in writing or otherwise under the rules and conditions laid down by law.”

In Article 27 the Constitution states that “the freedom to form associations and unions on national principles, for lawful objectives and by peaceful means is guaranteed under the rules and conditions laid down by law…” and adds in Article 28 that “public meetings, parades and assemblies are permitted under the rules and conditions laid down by law, but the purposes and means of the meeting must be peaceful and must not be prejudicial to public decency.”

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by Bahrain last September declares that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference,” and adds that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers,…”

The ICCPR states in article 21 “that right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Article 22 of the ICCPR guarantees that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others,” adding that “no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The practices used by the Bahraini government to silence the BCHR are a serious violation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 9, 1998. Article 5 of this Declaration clearly states that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels...[t]o meet or assemble peacefully” and “[t]o form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups.” And Article 6 reaffirms the right of everyone to “study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters.”

Your Majesty, we call on you to urgently stop all forms of harassment and persecution against the BCHR and its members and in particular to take all necessary measures to quash the decision that led to the dissolution of the organization. We also strongly urge you to ensure that all the politically motivated charges that have been filed against Mr. al-Khawaja are dropped and to intervene to unblock the access to the BCHR website in Bahrain. We finally call on you to ensure that efficient and independent investigations into the physical assaults on Mr. al-Khawaja and Mr. Rajab are conducted and that those responsible for them are held accountable.

As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Bahrain is expected to be a model in its respect for human rights and not a country where peaceful activists are threatened as a result of their engagement in the promotion and defense of human rights.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters.

Sincerely,

Neil Hicks Director, Human Rights Defenders Program

CC: His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Prime Minister of Bahrain His Excellency Dr. Naser M. Y. Al Belooshi Ambassador of Bahrain to the United States of America