Violations of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly

January 16th , 2006 Ref: 16010605

On the 7th and 8th of January 2006, the cases of twenty one citizens were brought before the Lower Criminal Court. Twenty of those defendants were accused of unauthorized gathering and damaging public property at the Bahrain International Airport. The defendants have been in detention for three weeks without being able to meet their lawyers. On the other hand, the authorities have used their control over the local press to stage a propaganda campaign to influence public opinion and to criminalize the defendants before any court ruling.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is highly concerned that this case contains various violations related to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to defend human rights, arbitrary detention and the right to fair trial.

Based on the circumstances highlighted in this report,:

  • the BCHR call for the immediate release of all the detainees,
  • even in such cases as well-established accusation of sabotage against any individual, the Bahrain authorities should respect human rights principles and international standards of a fair trial, and the principle of being innocent until proven guilty,
  • the BCHR urges immediate and impartial investigation in reports of the repeated use of excessive force by security forces,
  • the BCHR recommends the evaluation of these cases as a test for the impartiality of the public prosecution and the independence of the judiciary as provided for in the Bahraini legislations and international covenants.

It is very essential, considering the current conditions in Bahrain to provide monitoring by local and international human rights organization, especially in cases in which the government is impartial.

Circumstances and background

The protest at the airport was a direct reaction to the temporary arrest at the airport on 25 December 2005, of a prominent figure (Sheikh Sanad) who called two months earlier for a referendum under the supervision of the United Nations on the legitimacy of the political system in Bahrain.

As a result of the protest, Sheikh Sanad was released and was received the next day by the Deputy Prime Minister, while protesters were subjected to arbitrary detention and unfair trial.

On 26 December 2005, the day after the airport event, an official statement clamed that

“after the arrest of Khalid Hameed Mansoor Sanad, who was wanted for preaching national security, at 8:00 pm, around 100 persons gathered in the arrival hall of the Bahrain International airport, they started rising slogans and disturbance in the hall. The police warned them to leave the hall, when they refused, the police dealt with them by evacuating and dismissing them. During that time they rioted and damaged main entrances of the airport. The police managed to retain control and stability and managed to arrest four instigators of riot and sabotage..” (1)

Scores of eye witnesses stated to the BCHR that the demonstrators were peaceful but refused to leave the hall before the release of Sheikh Sanad. They claimed that a special security force used excessive force against demonstrators, leading to disturbance and injuries among demonstrators. According to the local press, eight protestors were treated at AlSalmaniya public hospital for injuries during the forced evacuation (2).

Significantly, four of the detainees in this case, namely: Hasan Abdullnabi, Hasan Al-Hadad , Nader AbdulEeman and Mohsin Al-Salman were among a group of ten activists who staged a hunger strike in December at the UNDP building in Bahrain to draw the attention of the United Nation after being subjected to security police intimidation and assaults. Moreover, two others from the same group namely: Abdullraof Al Shayeb and Sayed Sharaf Al-Sitry were among those who were subjected to physical assault at the airport.

Detention and Trial

Seventeen of the defendants have been in detention since the event. They have not been allowed to meet with their lawyers. Moreover, in regard to the trial, only few selected relatives were allowed to attend court sessions. Nabeel Rajab vice- president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights was prevented from attending the trial.

At court, the defendants pleaded not guilty. The case was adjourned and the defendants have been remanded in custody despite request by lawyers for their release. Mohammed AlMotawa, a lawyer of some of the defendants, said to the press that the trial was unconstitutional and the that defendants were randomly selected among more than 200 persons who were at the scene at the time of event.

At trial, the public prosecutor presented a document issued by the director of Bahrain airport estimating the cost of repairing a broken glass and chairs as BD 460 ($1226) (3). An estimation, which is far less than the picture painted by the authorities in the local press concerning “sabotage” of the airport.

The Defendants

The first group: The Lower criminal court – chamber 2- decided on January 7 to adjourn the case of the first group to 23 Jan 2006, the defendants in this group were:

  1. Nader Ebarahim, Abadul-Emam, 32 years, Jidhafs (member of the Committee of Human Rights Defender and Prisoner of Conscience)
  2. Hasan Abdullnabi, 25 years Sitra, (coordinator of the Unemployment Committee, he was subject to kidnapping by security force and harshly beaten)
  3. Bader Ahmed Al Jazeeri, 40 years, Al- Dair
  4. Yaser Khalifa, 31years, Jidhafs
  5. Jawad Alsalamn, 24 years, Jidhafs
  6. Hasan Majeed Al Jash,i 20 years, Manama
  7. Qasim Hassan khaleel, 19 years, Karzakan

The second group: The Lower Criminal Court – chamber 2 decided on 8th January to adjourn the case of the second group to 30th Jan. 2006, the defendants in this group were:

  1. Mohsin Abdulla Alsalman, 23 years , Jidhafs (Executive Member of the Unemployment Committee)
  2. Hasan Al Hadad, 25 years, Almaharq (Independent activist)
  3. Mohammed Hasan Ashoor, 21 years , Karzakan

The third group: The Lower criminal court – chamber 4 decided on 8 January to adjourn the case of the third group to 5 February 2006. The defendants in this group were:

  1. Atif Mahdi Ahmed , Aljuffair
  2. Yousif Ahmed Hussain, 27, Alma'ameer (member of the Unemployment Committee)
  3. Fakhri Abdulla, 40, Sanabis
  4. Naser Ali Naser, 33 years, Ras Roman
  5. Mohammed Majeed Aljeshi, 24 years, Manama
  6. Ismail Hasan Maki , Jidhafs
  7. Abdulameer Madan, 23 , Ma'ameer

Other defendants: In the same case, and after a request by the General Attorney, the court ordered the arrest of three other suspects who did not turn themselves in to the police.

  1. Abdulla Zain-Eldeen (member of the Unemployment Committee)
  2. Ali Qamber
  3. Sayed Ali Majeed

Other related case: Mohammed Yousif Abdulla Alsengace, 35 years, an activist from Maqaba, was also brought to court on 7th January. He was beaten up harshly by security force and was arrested on December 30th 2005 when he was protesting for the release of the detainees. The court ordered his release on 100BD bail.

Notes:

(1) Akhbar Alkhaleej 26th Dec. 2005 (2) Akhbar Alkhaleej 26th Dec. 2005 (3) Alwatan newspaper 8th Jan 2006