Bahraini authorities escalate crackdown on human rights activists ahead of F1
18 April 2012
In an attempt to silence the prodemocracy movement which started in Bahrain on 14 Feb last year, the Bahraini authorities have escalated their violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters and human rights activists. Villages and houses have been attacked continuously for the past few days. Pre-dawn house raids are being conducted and dozens of protesters are either arrested or wanted for arrest. As F1 is approaching, human rights activists in Bahrain Center for human rights are being targeted with arrests and prosecution, in an effort to undermine thier work in reporting the violence against protesters during the F1.
On 15 April 2012, Sayed Yousif Al Mahafdha, the head of monitoring cases and documentation in BCHR, accompanied with two members of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Tom Malinowski, Washington Director and Nadim Houry, deputy director of ME and North Africa division, were attacked then arrested while observing a peaceful protest in Duraz, one of Bahrain’s villages. According to Sayed Yousif when the protestors against F1 reached the main road, 6 police vehicles approached the protest. Riot police stepped down and started to violently suppress the protest by shooting teargas and stun grenades at protesters. For the safety of HRW members, Al Muhafdha took them to a nearby house where other protesters were also taking shelter in. Sayed Yousif stated that riot police “stormed the house, sprayed pepper spray in our faces and punched me on the back”. Sayed Yousif, Tom Malinowski, Nadim Houry and the protestors were taken to Budaiya police station and kept there for 4 hours before being released. Families of the detainees were attacked with teargas and stun grenade for inquiring about their relatives.
Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR and Ratiu Democracy Award Winner, was arrested several times in the past months for exposing human rights abuses and practicing his right of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. On 31 March 2012, he was arrested yet again and held for several hours. His crime according to the government is “participating in illegal assembly” and calling others to join, as he was protesting in the capital Manama against the detention of human rights defender Abdulhadi Al Khawaja who is now on hunger strike for 70 days. Nabeel Rajab was summoned for his first court hearing on 6 May 2012 with the same charges. He was charged as per Bahrain’s penal code and assembly code which has been criticized by local and international human rights for its limitation to the freedoms of assembly and expression. The Assembly law states that police can lawfully disrupt a public gathering even if the participants are simply exercising basic rights like freedom of expression and freedom of association. It also stated in its article 11 that “No one shall organize demonstrations or marches or rallies that are held or going near shopping malls”. The law set a penalty of imprisonment or a fine for calling or participating in un-notified marches.”
Not only have members of the Bahrain Center of Human Rights been targeted but also individuals who have been supporting the Center in their continuous efforts to document human rights abuses committed by the authorities. Mansoor Al Jamri, a 16 year old, who has supported and assisted in the documentation of human rights abuses against peaceful protestors in villages around Bahrain, has been reportedly subjected to torture and beatings in detention.
BCHR urges the Bahraini government to:
• Drop all charges against Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and Put an end to all prosecution of individuals who aim at practicing their rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly. • Immediately release Mansoor AlJamri, and all other activists who were targeted because of their exercise of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in accordance to the universal declaration of human rights. • Amend the Assembly law, in order to conform to the international standards which ensure the respect of fundamental liberties as freedoms of expression and of association and the right to peaceful assembly; • Ensure the freedom of peaceful assembly and to conform in particular, to 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which stipulates in its Art. 5b that « for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others (...) to meet or assemble peacefully »;