8 Apr, 2009

The Committee to Protect Journalists: concerned about Bahrain Web crackdown

CPJ concerned about Bahrain Web crackdown April 7, 2009

His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa King of Bahrain C/o The Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain International Drive, NW Washington, D.C. 20008

Via facsimile: 202-362-2192

Your Majesty, ‎

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to protest the ‎recent deterioration of press freedom in Bahrain and your government's ‎ongoing campaign against critical or ‎opposition Web sites and blogs. The crackdown against those sites has resulted ‎in dozens of them ‎being blocked inside the kingdom, according to local and international human rights and ‎press ‎freedom watchdogs. ‎

CPJ is concerned about a campaign targeting independent or critical Web sites that discuss ‎social, political, and human rights issues, especially with the backdrop of an escalating crackdown on Shi'a activists, opposition figures, and human rights defenders. In January, local media outlets published ministerial order ‎‎1/2009, issued by Culture and Information Minister Sheikha Mai ‎bint Muhammad Al Khalifa, ‎ordering ‎telecommunications companies to block specific Web sites without warning or providing specific reasons when ordered to by the ‎ministry. Dozens of blogs, discussion forums, and sites of local and regional human rights groups have been blocked since.

Authorities have described their campaign as one against pornographic ‎and socially inappropriate Web sites, but CPJ research reveals that the sites of dozens of human ‎rights groups, opposition or independent bloggers, and political organizations have been blocked ‎inside Bahrain. Article 2 of the order states that "all telecommunications companies and Internet service ‎providers must block Web sites that are pornographic‎ or violate public decency," but Article 1 ‎compels those companies to block Web sites on order from the minister, presumably even if they ‎are not of a pornographic nature.

Freedom of expression advocates have argued that before this order was issued, Web ‎sites and blogs that the government deemed troublesome were blocked anyway. But multiple sources told CPJ that ‎the number of blocked sites has risen exponentially as of late. The Ministry of Culture and Information is using advanced ‎technology that can filter keywords and block sites, multiple sources inside Bahrain told CPJ. ‎Blocked sites feature a screen that reads: "This Web site has been blocked for violating regulations and laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain."

On February 11, the Ministry of Culture and Information told Reuters that some Web sites had been ‎blocked because of technical problems and that this would be resolved. But many sites blocked before February 11 are still inaccessible, local sources told CPJ.

For example, the Google Translation service has been blocked for the last three months, sources told CPJ. Abduljalil Alsingace, who blogs at alsingace.katib.org, told CPJ that his blog was blocked on February 10, after he posted a petition by an international group of intellectuals. Among the demands of the petition was the lifting of a travel ban on Alsingace. Alsingace migrated his entries to alsingace.blogspot.com. Both of his blogs remain inaccessible inside Bahrain, he told CPJ. Mahmood al-Yusef's blog, Mahmood's Den, which covers political and social issues among its topics, has been blocked for years within the country.

Most sources told CPJ that forums that discuss cultural, social, or political matters perceived as sensitive by the government are the most targeted Web sites. The political forum Multaqa al-Bahrain, the cultural ‎forum ‎Muntadayat al-Bahrain, and the cultural and political ‎forum al-Sarh al-Watani have all been blocked. In addition, the Web sites of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Arab Network for ‎‎Human Rights Information have also been blocked for long periods of time and remain ‎inaccessible inside the kingdom. ‎Dozens of sites that provide proxy ‏services are also inaccessible.

CPJ believes that Web sites and blogs must ‎‏not be blocked arbitrarily. On the rare occasions when blocking a site is justified, it is incumbent on the authorities to make clear the reasons why. Without such a mechanism in place, as is currently the case in Bahrain, authorities have arbitrarily engaged in the censorship of critical voices by simply blocking access to them under the cover of protecting decency or national unity. CPJ research reveals that many sites blocked inside the kingdom have been guilty of nothing more than addressing social, political, or human rights concerns through a critical prism. That alone must not be grounds for censorship.

These acts of censorship contradict multiple provisions of the Bahraini Constitution, which guarantees the right of freedom of expression. They are also in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain ratified in 2006, which guarantees the freedom "to seek, receive, and impart information."

CPJ also wants to draw your attention to two lawsuits that have recently been filed ‎by ‎government agencies against two independent journalists.‎

Maryam al-Shrooqi, a journalist for ‎the independent daily al-Wasat, is on trial for writing an article titled "Fake governmental ‎advertisements" on August 27, ‎‎2008. The article examines hiring discrimination at the ‎Department of Civil Services supposedly based on religious affiliation. ‎Al-Shrooqi told CPJ that ‎her article was based on interviews with ‎multiple sources. Nevertheless, ‎in December 2008, the Department of Civil Services filed a criminal lawsuit against al-‎Shrooqi ‎for "insulting" it. Initially she faced two additional ‎charges of "fabricating lies" and "defaming" ‎the Department of Civil Services, although those ‎charges have since been dropped, al-Shrooqi ‎‎told CPJ. ‎

Al-Shrooqi said that she was advised by officials close to the department to ‎apologize and reveal ‎the identity of her sources to avoid legal action, but she refused. She has appeared in court four ‎times so far and her next hearing is scheduled for April 8, she told CPJ. If convicted, al-Shrooqi could be ‎banned from writing, fined or imprisoned, she said.

In a separate though equally alarming case, Lamees Dhaif, a columnist with the private daily al-‎Waqt paper, is on trial for ‎‎"insulting the judiciary" in a series of five investigative articles published in February. Titled "The ‎dossier of ‎‎great shame‎," the series was meant to expose alleged judiciary corruption, she told CPJ. Dhaif said that an official asked her to write an apology or an article praising the judiciary to ‎avoid being sued; she refused. On February 26, the Supreme Judiciary Council, the branch's highest administrative organ, filed a criminal lawsuit against her. In ‎early March, the public prosecutor's office summoned Dhaif to appear in court as "an ordinary ‎citizen," to try her under ‎Bahrain's penal code instead of the press law, under which she would be less harshly penalized, she said. She protested the decision and demanded that she should ‎be charged under the press law. The ‎prosecution office accepted her demand. The case is still pending and no court ‎date has been set.‎

CPJ believes that both legal proceedings contradict the spirit of an October ‎‎2008 speech by Prime Minister ‎‎Sheikh Khalifa‎‏‎ bin Salman Al Khalifa in which he encouraged the media to "benefit from the climate of democracy and freedom available in the Kingdom of Bahrain" and "truthfully speak on behalf of Bahrain's society, mirroring the reality of its daily life and contributing with neutrality and objectivity to the search for adequate solutions to its problems."

We respectfully call on Your Majesty to direct the Ministry of Culture and Information to annul the ministerial ‎order calling for the blocking of critical Web sites. CPJ also calls on you to instruct the relevant agencies to drop the politically motivated ‎charges against al-Shrooqi ‎‎and Dhaif without delay. ‎

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your reply.


Joel Simon Executive Director

April 7, 2009 2:43 PM ET

7 Apr, 2009

THE OBSERVATORY: Release / Ill-treatments and torture of Mr. Maytham Al-Sheikh


New information

BHR 001 / 0208 / OBS 017.2

Release / Ill-treatments and torture

Bahrain April 7, 2009

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) of the release of Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, member of the Unemployment and Underpaid Committee (UUC).

According to the information received, on April 3, 2009, Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh was released from Jaw Prison by a Royal decree due to the deterioration of his health condition.

The Observatory welcomes the release of Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh and wishes to thank all the persons, organisations, and institutions that intervened in his behalf. Nevertheless, the Observatory expresses its concern about the ongoing detention of other human rights defenders in Bahrain and calls upon the Bahraini authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally, when their detention aims at sanctioning their human rights activities.

The Observatory is extremely concerned by the health condition of Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, who has been diagnosed of multiple sclerosis disease. The Observatory is also highly preoccupied with allegations of torture and ill-treatments occurred against Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh while in detention, and urges the Bahraini authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into those allegations.

Background information:

On December 17, 2007, a peaceful demonstration at the occasion of the Martyrs’ Day, in the Sanabis area, aiming at paying tribute to victims of torture in the past, was violently dispersed by members of the riot police and of the special security force, who heavily resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets. Mr. Ali Jassim Meki, a human rights defender, who participated in the demonstration, died a few hours later.

Between December 21 and 28, 2007, members of the Special Security Forces began a wave of arrests that targeted more than 60 activists, including several human rights defenders. Allegedly, all human rights defenders who were arrested had been involved in public protests during the last few years that related to economic and social rights and restrictions on freedoms.

All those arrested deny the acts of violence and the possession of firearms. Several were detained in isolation, hand-cuffed and blindfolded for long periods of time. Some complained of mistreatment or torture, including acts of sexual assault, by the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) to coerce them to confess. More specifically, Mr. Al-Sheikh complained that during 45 days he had been exposed to all sorts of torture, which included electric shock in the sensitive parts and attempt of sexual assault, with a wooden rod inserted by force in his rear.

On July 14, 2008, five human rights defenders and activists, namely Messrs. Hassan Abdulnabi and Maytham Bader Jassim al-Sheikh, members of the Unemployed and Underpaid Committee (UUC), Mr. Naji al-Fateel, member of the BYSHR, Mr. Mohammed Abdullah al-Sengais, founder of the Committee to Combat High Prices (CCHP) and Mr. Isa Al-Sarh, member of the Amal Political Society, were condemned on charges of “illegal gathering” as well as “theft of a weapon and ammunition and possession of weapon and ammunition without permission” by the High Criminal Court of Bahrain to prison terms ranging from five to seven years. Mr. Al-Sheikh was sentenced to five years of prison. Appeal of this conviction was denied on December 28, 2008.

In November 2008, after three months of his request, M. Al-Sheikh was finally presented, for the first time to a neurologist to diagnose his breaking-up health condition.

Actions requested :

Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to :

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh and of all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

ii. Release all human rights activists immediately and unconditionally, where their detention aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iii.Guarantee unconditional access to their lawyers, families and any medical treatment they may require;

iv. Order an immediate, effective, thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of torture and ill-treatments against Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent, independent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided by the law;

v. Ensure that adequate, effective and prompt reparation, including adequate compensation, proper medical care and rehabilitation, is granted to Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh;

vi. Put an end to all forms of harassment against human rights defenders in Bahrain;

vii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, Article 11, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to the lawful exercise of his or her occupation or profession”, as well as Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”;

viii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.


· Cheikh Hamad bin Issa AL KHALIFA , King of Bahrain, Fax : +973 176 64 587

· Cheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tel : +973 172 27 555; fax : +973 172 12 6032

· Cheikh Khalid bin Ali AL KHALIFA, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Tel : +973 175 31 333; fax : +973 175 31 284

· Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: info@bahrain-mission.ch


Paris-Geneva, April 7, 2009

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29


7 Apr, 2009

Reuters: Bahrain trial aims to silence government critics: Lawyer

Shiite defendants accused of planning to oust regime, which denies that trial is political

By Frederik Richter, ReutersApril 6, 2009 4:02 PM

Tires burn in front of a local mall in Budaiya, some five kilometres from the capital Manama on Thursday,, after protesters closed the streets to demand for the government to release members of opposition who have been detained. Photograph by: Hamad I Mohammed, ReutersMANAMA - A trial of 35 Shiite Muslims that has fuelled weeks of violent protests in Bahrain, the island kingdom that is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, is an effort to silence government critics, the defendants' lawyer said.

Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Shiite opposition movement Haq, and some of the other defendants are accused of planning to overthrow the government by violent means, amongst other charges, said Jalila Sayed, one of the defendants' lawyers.

"It's his right of expression which is meant to be stopped, because of the ideas and the beliefs he has, that's the trial, nothing but that," Sayed told Reuters.

Nighttime battles between police with teargas and youths with bottles and burning barricades contrast with efforts by Gulf Arab state Bahrain, a U.S. ally and regional banking hub, to present itself as a stable place for international investors.

Dissent began to stir in December after officials arrested a group of protesters, saying they planned violent acts ahead of Bahrain's national celebration on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17.

Bahrain, an island country of 500,000 nationals, has a history of political tension between its Sunni-Muslim al-Khalifa rulers and its Shiite Muslim majority.

Periodic unrest has erupted with the Shiite opposition attributing them to immediate grievances such as marginalization in jobs and services, a charge government officials deny.

Abdulaziz Mubarak Al-Khalifa, undersecretary of Bahrain's Foreign Ministry, said claims the trial is of political nature were untrue.

"Potentially very serious terrorist attacks were uncovered and prevented in December, and the government has a duty to investigate and prosecute individuals against whom there is evidence," he said in a written statement to Reuters.

Mushaima, previously a member of the main Shi'te opposition party Al-Wefaq, was arrested in January, along with the head of Haq's human rights section, Abduljalil al-Singace, and a prominent Shiite cleric.

"Our case is part of a series of measures to stifle all forms of freedom of expression," Singace told Reuters.

He said the case involving Mushaima, the cleric and himself was tied to the earlier arrests in December to hide the political nature of the trial to the outside world.

"It is shown to the world as a campaign against terrorists or the use of violent means," Singace said. "This way others will say what you're doing is OK."

New-York based rights group Human Rights Watch said in a recent statement the trial was based on coerced testimonies and violated the defendants' right to fair trial.

Al-Khalifa denied these claims.

"Procedures are in place to prevent abuses or coercion of those in custody, and all testimonies and evidence are fully investigated during the trial, including being subject to challenge from defence lawyers," he said.

Bahrain's king recently pardoned jailed opposition activist Maitham Bader al-Sheikh 15 months into his five-year sentence because of his ill health.

Unlike most other Gulf Arab states, Bahrain has a lively parliament, consisting of an elected lower house and an upper house for which delegates are appointed by the King. Bahrain in particular serves as a banking and logistics hub to the Arab world's largest economy Saudi Arabia, to which it is connected via a causeway and which has a minority Shiite population in its Eastern province.

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet patrols the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of water between Oman and Iran, through which around 40 per cent of globally traded oil leaves the world's largest oil exporting region. The trial is scheduled to resume on April 28.

Four years of Shiite-led violent protests gripped Bahrain in 1995 to demand reforms by the government. The disturbances abated in 1998 after King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa launched landmark political and economic reforms, including pardoning all political prisoners as well as activists in exiles.

© Copyright (c) Reuters

3 Apr, 2009

BBC NEWS: Police 'use guns' at Bahrain protests

By Bill Law BBC Radio 4, Crossing Continents http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7976480.stm On 13 March at about 1530, unemployed dustman Muhammad says he stepped out into the street to join a peaceful demonstration to protest against brutality by the police forces.

Five minutes, later along with about 50 others, he says he was fired upon by members of the Bahraini security forces. He was hit in the legs with a shotgun blast.

Asked if he or the others had done anything to provoke or threaten the security police Muhammad (not his real name) replied "Absolutely not!"

"There was no violence," he insisted. "It was a peaceful demonstration. The police opened fire without provocation."

Video footage of the incident - supplied to the BBC by a Bahraini human rights organisation - would appear to corroborate Muhammad's account.

It shows a line of police standing near from a group of protesters carrying Bahraini flags. Suddenly and without any apparent cause, the police open fire.

Members of this island nation's Shia community say they had joined the protest against alleged police brutality.

Divisions in society

The tiny island kingdom of Bahrain is unique in the Arabian Peninsula in that it has a Shia majority, thought to be about 65% of the population.

But like the other Arab Gulf states the ruling elite is Sunni. And with the Shia Muslim-led Iran just across the Gulf and tensions growing between Islam's two largest sects, Shia here find themselves under suspicion.

Members of the ruling family and its Sunni supporters in parliament have long accused Iran of fomenting unrest in Bahrain. Bahraini Shia organisations say Iran has nothing to do with it. They say Shia have long been victims of discrimination. “ There is an increasing level of force being used and all that is doing is creating anger and more violence ” Khalil al Marzok, MP

They accuse members of the royal family of seizing Shia land, and point to poor housing, high unemployment and employment discrimination as the root causes of what is now becoming almost nightly rioting in their villages.

Tear gas, rubber bullets and stun bombs are used to quell disturbances, but the alleged use of live ammunition signals a trend that is disturbing many people in Bahrain.

Khalil al-Marzok MP, a member of a Shia political party and a leading activist, says excessive use of force is making a volatile situation ever more dangerous, particularly for young Shia men.

"There is an increasing level of force being used and all that is doing is creating anger and more violence."

Government response

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Interior Minister's office told the BBC that the use of shotguns against ordinary citizens is not permitted as a general policy.

"Their use is allowed only in rare cases under the law, such as when people's lives are in danger or when the use of force becomes the only means for the security forces to perform their duty," the statement says.

It says all security personnel are aware of this policy and obey it.

But evidence of the use of live fire has continued to emerge. On 27 March, three children aged of 11 to 14 were reportedly hit by shotgun pellets, including one who was badly injured.

"We want a dialogue and we are trying to persuade the authorities that the opportunity to talk is still there," says another Shia MP, Jasim Husain.

But he says the political will to make that happen is not coming from either the ruling family or the government.

"Without dialogue," he says "I'm not sure where this country is going."

Bill Law is a reporter for BBC Radio 4's foreign affairs documentary series, . You can also listen to Crossing Continents on the or subscribe to the .

Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/7976480.stm

Published: 2009/04/03 01:27:06 GMT


31 Mar, 2009

THE OBSERVATORY FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS: Call for the acquittal of Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati


Paris-Geneva, March 30, 2009. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, call for the acquittal of Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, Director of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), which organises training workshops, monitors and documents human rights violations and participates in forming a regional network for young human rights activists in eight Arab countries.

Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati will be tried on March 31, 2009 upon charges of “activating an unregistered association before issuing the declaration of registration”, in the follow-up of a hearing that had taken place on November 27, 2007 before the Fourth Degree Minor Criminal Court.

These charges are linked to the fact that BYSHR failed to get registered because of the restricting procedures included in the Bahraini 1976 Criminal Code and 1989 Law on Associations, which pose conditions to the registration of NGOs, among which the approval by the authorities, the forbidding of handling political issues and the fact that all members should be older than 18 years old. According to these laws, the sentence incurred by Mr. Al-Maskati is six months' imprisonment and a 5,000 dinars fine.

The Observatory recalls that the Kingdom of Bahrain presented its candidacy to the Human Rights Council in 2006, and has accepted in this respect to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, in line with the General Assembly resolution creating the Council (A/RES/60/251). The Observatory points out in that regard that the grounds invoked by the authorities of Bahrain against BYSHR's Director are inconsistent with a number of international human rights standards.

First, the Observatory underlines that BYSHR had filed for registration in June 2005, and has never received any answer from the authorities since then.

According to the United Nations (UN) former Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, "registration should not be compulsory” and “NGOs should be allowed to exist and carry out collective activities without having to register if they so wish"[1].

Ms. Hina Jilani also recommended that when registration was required, States should adopt regimes of “declaration” or “notification” rather than “authorisation”, and that the law must set short time limits for the State to respond to the applications. Additionally, the decision to deny registration should be fully argued and cannot be politically motivated. Failure to provide a response should result in the NGO being considered as legally operative[2].

The Observatory therefore points out that according to international standards, approbation by the authorities should not be a pre-requisite for the creation of an association, and that any denial of registration should be adequately motivated, which never happened in the present case.

Secondly, the Observatory underlines that BYSHR carries out human rights, not political, activities. Hence the provision forbidding the handling of political issues cannot be retained against Mr. Al-Maskati.

The Observatory argues in the end that the provisions of the Bahraini legislation requesting that members of associations be over 18 years-old violate Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the Kingdom of Bahrain acceded on February 13, 1992, and which reads that “States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly”.

For all these reasons, the Observatory calls for the acquittal of Mr. Al-Maskati, in particular as the judicial proceedings against him seem to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities.

More generally, the Observatory urges the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to ensure that acts of harassment against human rights defenders in the country be stopped, in conformity with the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

For further information, please contact:

FIDH : Gael Grilhot / Karine Appy, + 33 1 43 55 25 18

OMCT : Delphine Reculeau, + 41 22 809 49 39


[1] See recommendations in the Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, 2004, at III, 54, Good practices and recommendations in conformity with the Declaration.

[2] Idem, at III, 82.

29 Mar, 2009

An Asian Worker Loses his Life in the Worst Deterioration of Ethnic Tension Yet,

1. An Asian Worker Loses his Life in the Worst Deterioration of Ethnic Tension Yet 2. A growing sense of hatred towards all foreigners, due to the Bahraini authorities employment of foreign mercenaries to suppress protests and attack protestors. 3. The Bahraini authorities instigate 'clashes' with protestors, and later use 'clashes' as an excuse to increase repression, justify further repression, and as part of a smear campaign against opposition activists

BCHR 29/03/2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights note with great sorrow the news published in the local press on March 22 regarding the death of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, a Pakistani national (58 years old). Mr. Riyad died on March 21 at Salmaniya hospital as a result of burns, which according to the Ministry of Interior, he suffered after the car he was driving was attacked with a Molotov cocktail on Maameer road on March 7.

Background The assault that took the life of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad is part of a series of incidents of violence and clashes between the Special Security Forces - and an increasing number of young youth who operate at the entrances of the Shiite villages in various areas of Bahrain, where they burn tires and garbage containers, and some of them throw stones or sometimes Molotov cocktails at the Special Security Forces. This happens within the tension of the political and security conditions in Bahrain, and the increasing decline of rights and liberties, and an escalation in the systematic sectarian discrimination by the country against the Shiite sect.

The BCHR believes that Sheikh Mohammed Riyad may not have been targeted as an individual, but rather, was a victim of the security clashes, and the increased suspicion and hatred against foreigners - especially of the Pakistani nationality - who are used widely in the National Security apparatus and the Special Security Forces. The Special Forces have been in charge of besieging and suppressing Shiite villages and areas - which witness acts of protest - and which are intensively and arbitrarily attacked with massive quantities of tear gas, rubber bullets. Special Security Forces also regularly carry out the random pursuit of individuals inside the villages, often assaulting and beating them.

In the last four years these activities have led to the death of one protestor, Ali Jassim Mohammed, the serious injury of scores of people, as well as the general exposure to tear gas of families, including the elderly and children, residing in villages. The BCHR released a report last month that reveals that 64% of the National Security Service are non-Bahrainis, with the majority of them are of Asian nationalities. Photographic and video evidence from 'clashes' show the employment of foreigners - in particular, Pakistanis - both in the Special Security Forces, and also as plainclothes intelligence officers operating in areas where there are protests.

It is in the context of the above-described situation, that Mr Riyad's car was attacked. It is important that his tragic and inexcusable killing sheds lights upon an increasingly dangerous situation in Bahrain, of violent ethnic tension, which is being created and stoked by the actions of the government.

Procedural Issues

The security services have announced the arrest of five suspects, and stated that a search is underway for others. Lawyers have already spoken against the practice of detaining and questioning the accused in the absence of their lawyers.

The process of arrest also raises concern. As is the case with the arrest of those suspected of attacking Mr Riyad's car, it is rare that the individuals accused are arrested red-handed at the scene of the incident. Instead, in the days following any given incident a campaign of arrests is launched based on lists in the possession of the National Security Service. 'Suspects' are then held in custody, and questioned over periods of up to two or three weeks. They are then brought before courts that do not even consider the improper legal proceedings, or the allegations of maltreatment in custody. The court sentencing is generally based on pre-obtained confessions which are usually extracted under duress during custody, and denied by detainees deny in court. The testimonies of security personnel, whose statements are inconsistent and who often fail to identify the detainees are also used as evidence - while the defense witnesses' statements are not considered.

Guilty before Proven

These skewed legal proceedings tend to take place alongside a politically motivated smear campaign in the local pro-government press or international news agencies, where the incident used to damage the reputation of legitimate opponents to the regime, and human rights defenders. This media campaign has the effect of creating a 'conviction' or consensus of guilt before the detainees' actually go through court proceedings. It also works to discourage and taint the lawful demands for rights of the detainees, including the right to not be to arbitrarily arrested, the right to protection from maltreatment or torture in custody, and the right to a fair trial.

Previous Incidents of Note

19 people - most of who are activists and human rights defenders - are currently being held in custody and on trial for allegedly causing the death of Majid Asghar on April 9 2008. Mr Asghar was a Pakistani member of the Special Forces who was part of a security mission on that day, wearing civilian clothes and in a civilian car, near the Karzakan village where protests were being staged.

The Ministry of Interior has also recently announced that almost 40 people set fire to a civilian car by Duraz village, where two security officers inside it survived. The Bahraini authorities also announced that a number of Asian migrant workers have been assaulted and injured by Bani Jamra villagers. The local Press has also reported more than one incident where civilians of Asian origin were attacked due to suspicions that they were members of the National Security. All of these incidents show the dangers which ordinary expatriates, or even Bahraini citizens of Asian background, are being exposed to, in a climate of increasing mistrust and violence.

Some opponents have questioned the truth behind some of the allegations of arson and violence. In the case of Mr Asghar, the medical examiners testimony in court confirmed that his death was not caused by burning, as was announced through the Interior Ministry's media office and by the Public Prosecution. According to the coroner Mr Asghar was killed as a a result of collision with the ground or a solid object.

On March 16, the local Press ran a statement by security officials stating that a car was set aflame by several individuals throwing Molotov cocktails at it in Duraz village, and photos of the burnt car were published with the news piece. However, on the same day, several electronic forums published photographs of the same car showing a group of Special Security personnel from the National security apparatus standing by the above-mentioned car watching the small flame beside the car without attempting to extinguish it. Photos in the sequence show that a member of the security forces appears to be pouring a liquid on the small fire which then causes it to grow and burn the whole car. (Photos attached) The Bahraini authorities has used these incidents to justify the arrest, maltreatment and trials of numerous political opponents and human rights activists. The photos that are related to incidents of arson are used within an organized media campaign inside and outside Bahrain in order to depict incidents in Bahrain as organized acts of terror. This same campaign accuses independent human rights organizations and opposition activists of standing behind these incidents, or provoking people to carry out these acts, in order to justify a crackdown on their liberties, activities and to prosecute them in Bahrain's legal system.

The BCHR and the BYSHR stress that the attack on Sheikh Mohammed Riyad is a terrible violation of his right to life, the most fundamental human right. We emphasize that nothing justifies endangering the safety and lives of innocent people. The BCHR and the BYSHR are sad and disturbed by the escalating sense of hatred and enmity towards foreigners, particularly Asians, among the ordinarily-tolerant Bahraini society. This escalating tension and violence threatens social harmony and civil peace, and is especially worrying since foreigners form almost half of the population of Bahrain, and many of them contributed towards building this country.

The BCHR and the BYSHR holds the Bahraini authorities accountable for this dangerous increase in negativity and violence towards foreigners, and calls for public awareness of this matter.

The BCHR and the BYSHR demand the following:

A fair and independent investigation into the assault on Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, and that its perpetrators are brought to justice in a trial with fair and independent proceedings.

A guarantee that the rights of those arrested on charges related to the incident are protected in a fair trial, and a guarantee that International standards in the procedures of arrest, detention and investigation are met. This also includes the prevention of torture and maltreatment in custody, and the guarantee of the fairness and independence of the court, as well as the assurance of every individual's right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial.

A just and independent investigation into complaints regarding violations committed by Special Security Forces in the areas where protests are constantly taking place, and that security personnel involved in such breaches are held accountable presented before an unbiased and independent court.

An end to the policy of using foreigners in State Security apparatus to suppress Bahraini civilians, and an end to the practice of using foreign mercenaries as plainclothes officers in Bahraini villages, which ultimately endangers them and other foreigners who are not involved in the Security Forces.

And end to the policy of using security incidents as part of a smear campaign against human rights defenders, and as a means to hinder their legitimate work and prosecute them.

To honestly address the causes of political and security tension, and to stop the policy of the systematic sectarian discrimination and to guarantee the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all citizens.

For all Bahrainis to recognize the ultimate futility and failure of such acts of violence, and to end all acts of violence and hatred against foreigners, the vast majority of whom are here with legitimate cause and contribute greatly to the Bahraini nation.

26 Mar, 2009

Bahrain: Special Forces Shoot and Wound Protestors with Shotgun Bullets

Bahrain: Special Forces Shoot and Wound Protestors with Shotgun Bullets 26 March 2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights express their deep concern regarding the use of shotguns by the Special Forces, that is a subordinate of the National Security Service, against the demonstrators in the escalating protests in Bahrain.

Based on the information supported by photographs, the Special Forces used this gun Friday 13 March 2009 to disperse the participants in the peaceful gathering in Sitra area, who were demanding the retrieval of their lands that have been taken up by the government for military purposes. The same Forces reused the same gun on Sunday 15 March 2009 at a gathering of some of the families who were demanding the release of their detained children by the Duraz roundabout. The use of that gun led to the injury of several protestors.

The shotgun fires a bullet which explodes directly after being shot, and which releases tens of solid balls that spread over a wide area to hit the largest number possible of targets, and leads to the injury of more people among the demonstrators. These solid masses penetrate the human skin, stop at the bones, and do not penetrate them. It is difficult to pull out these masses from the body later; there are tens of Bahraini citizens who still suffer from the penetration and settling of these objects in their bodies, since the 90’s. It is also difficult to treat or remove these masses due to their small size, and there are many who died in the incidents of the 90’s also due to the use of this gun which has been prepared for different purposes. It is believed that the gun that is used is the shotgun (Baikal MP-153) and which is usually used for bird hunting or for small animals.

The Special Forces in Bahrain increased its excessive use of force in the last months, and which is believed to be used to terrorize the participants in the protests, in order to cause the most possible damage to the demonstrators. The Special Forces in Bahrain are made up of foreign mercenaries, who the Bahraini authorities bring from some of the Sunni Arabian tribes, from Syria Jordan, Yemen, Iraq or from Baluchistan tribes in Pakistanis . Usually, the victims that are targeted are from Shiite villages and who form the majority of the native inhabitants of the country.

Mohammed Al-Maskati – president of the BYSHR – commented on this and said, “the Bahraini authorities pursue of excessive violence, and the targeting of demonstrators and shooting them with shotguns, and depending on foreign mercenary forces to do so will not only not solve the human rights and political crisis, but it will rather complicate it further”. He added, “The authorities in Bahrain have to respect the international commitments and conventions which it had adhered to both legally and morally, especially that it is a member in the Human Rights Council.”

The BCHR and the BYSHR recommend the following:

1. To stop using firearms, of all kinds, and to stop using excessive violence against the demonstrators.

2. To stop bringing in and using non-Bahraini mercenaries, with a sectarian agenda, in the various security services.

3. To form an independent investigation committee, which inspects the issue of using excessive force and illegal use of foreigners and to bring those responsible to trial.

4. To start an actual dialogue with the powers of society to resolve the crisis the country is going through, and to stop resorting to security solutions.

25 Mar, 2009

Nabeel Rajab:dangerous this time is that they are legalising it under the pretext of national security

'Big Brother' move rapped By GEOFFREY BEW NEW regulation that would force telecommunication companies to keep records of everyone's phone calls, e-mails and the websites they visit in Bahrain, has been attacked by human rights activists and MPs.

It has been drafted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which wants the information to be stored for up to three years.

Both the National Security Agency and the BDF Directorate of Military Intelligence would have access to the data, but only upon receipt of a court order or permission from the Public Prosecution.

It would allow authorities to eavesdrop on the content of phone calls, e-mails and any other form of electronic communication.

In addition, information such as the phone numbers of the parties' involved, the date, time and duration of the call and their location at the beginning and end of the call would also be stored.

Similar data will also be logged from text messages, multi-media messages and enhanced messages.

Meanwhile, information retained from e-mails sent and received would include the authentication username, date, time of login and logout, the Internet Protocol (IP) address, date and time the mail was sent.

Telecommunication companies would have to provide access to the information within 24 hours of a request being made.

They would also be responsible for paying the costs of setting up such a system.

Companies would have two months to submit a plan for establishing a database to the TRA and another six months to put it into effect.

Firms would be able to keep an electronic copy of the data, but would have to ensure its safe storage and maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the information.

The TRA says the law has been proposed to help maintain national security, but has been criticised for allowing Bahrain's authorities to spy on its citizens.

President of the now-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab claimed it would provide a legal mandate to invade people's privacy - especially political and human rights activists.

"Although infringing privacy of activists has always been practised by the Bahrain authorities, what is more dangerous this time is that they are legalising it under the pretext of national security," he said, as he urged the TRA to withdraw the draft law.

Parliament's foreign affairs, defence and national security committee chairman MP Shaikh Adel Al Maawada was also against the proposal.

However, his opposition could be futile since the regulation does not have to be approved by MPs.

"This is a breach of personal freedom and is unethical," he told the GDN. This will mean everyone being monitored - including me.

"It is like (the government is) entering your home without your permission to see what you are doing with your family. This is against Islam. Everyone has the right to personal freedom."

Tomorrow is the deadline for public comments on the draft law. People can submit their views directly to the TRA by e-mail or deliver their comments in person to the TRA's office, in the Diplomatic Area, by 4pm tomorrow.

The TRA will then review the feedback and publish a report on the public consultation process, before officials decide whether the draft should be amended.

Once that process is completed, the regulation will become law and officials said it could be implemented as early as next month.

However, Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) general-secretary Dr Abdulla Al Deerazi claimed the law could breach the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Bahrain has signed.

"The whole thing will breach privacy and interfere with personal freedom," he said.

"To apply such a law goes against transparency.

"This is not a 21st Century step. This is like going back to the dark ages, especially with the Information Technology revolution.

"It puts into mind that the state is moving towards security solutions, but they have proven unsuccessful before the reform projects and even now.

"If you do not trust your citizens how can you expect them to trust you?"

Dr Al Deerazi believed the government was trying to discourage activists, but predicted the plan was doomed to failure.

"The only explanation for such a law, the way it is, is to target activities in all fields of political and human rights," he said.

"It will not stop us. We will be more determined to continue our work."

However, TRA officials claimed there had been a "misunderstanding" about the purpose of the regulation and denied suggestions it breached the country's constitution.

"It (the draft regulation) sets out the requirements for telecommunications operators to retain all communication logs and to allow access to such information and actual call content when required by the authorities," said a TRA statement.

"The competent authorities will have to follow standard procedures as part the relevant laws to instigate access on the strength of a permit by the Public Prosecutor's office or by virtue of an order issued by the court."

Officials also claimed the proposed regulation was no different to other national security measures around the world.

"In line with international practice, this regulation addresses lawful access and data retention in the context of the constitution and the Telecommunications Law and strives to balance the individual right to privacy and national security requirements," added TRA general director Alan Horne.

The full text of the regulation is available in English and Arabic on the TRA's website at www.tra.org.bh.

People can e-mail their comments to the TRA on consult@tra.org.bh. geoff@gdn.com.bh


© Gulf Daily News http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=246587

24 Mar, 2009

Human Rights Watch: Bahrain: Coerced Testimony Taints Trial

Charges Against 35 Political Opponents Also Marred by Lack of Evidence, Overbroad Laws, Trials in Absentia March 23, 2009 (New York) - Bahrain's use of televised, coerced testimony and other serious flaws in the criminal trial of an opposition leader and others shows contempt for the right to a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that all coerced testimony in the trial of Hassan Mushaima, leader of the political opposition group Haq, and 34 others should be withdrawn and that those not charged with a genuine criminal offense should be freed.

"The televised statements of young activists detained without access to lawyers smacks of coercion and should be tossed out of the courtroom," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "Their use makes a mockery of government claims of providing Haq members a fair trial."

On December 28, 2008, state-controlled television showed a program in which young opposition activists who had been held incommunicado for weeks "confessed" to committing violence at a Haq rally ahead of Bahrain national holidays on December 16 and 17. The broadcast accused Mushaima of inciting violence as part of a plot to overthrow the government during these holidays.

The televised testimony is a key element in the prosecution's case involving various charges against Mushaima and 34 others. The trials began in February and resume on March 24, in Manama, the capital.

Large portions of the February 23 court proceedings were omitted from the official trial record, said a defense lawyer, Jalila al-Sayed, including detailed torture allegations by many of the 19 defendants then present. She told Human Rights Watch that they testified that they had been beaten with water hoses and on their feet, and tortured with electricity, especially on their genitals. Several reportedly said all their clothes were removed, and one alleged being threatened with sexual assault.

In the broadcast, which is accessible on the internet, several young men are shown and identified by name, admitting to throwing stones, shouting slogans, and setting street fires. They repeat allegations that Mushaima, the secretary-general of Haq, prompted and persuaded them to "continue the fight." The broadcast was divided into five sections, one of which was headlined "Terrorism and the Industry of Death" (al-irhab wa sina'at al mowth). Some of the detainees said, though, in a February 23 court session that their confessions were coerced.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Sheikh Abd al-Aziz Bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, defended the broadcast. "With all the facts that we have we believe that we were entitled to put the public at firsthand knowledge," he told Human Rights Watch. Mai Al Khalifa, the minister of culture and information, told the media that the ministry was complying with a "judicial order" of the public prosecutor when it broadcast the "confessions."

Some of the 35 defendants were arrested before the holidays, after a Haq-sponsored rally in Manama that ended with stone-throwing and tires being set on fire in the streets. Three of the defendants, including Mushaima, were arrested without warrants at their homes in the early hours of January 26. The others are Abd al-Jalil al-Singace, who heads Haq's human rights unit, and Muhammad al-Moqdad, a cleric. The three face various charges, the most serious being "inciting violent overthrow of the government using terrorist methods."

Thirteen are believed to be abroad and are being tried in absentia. Human Rights Watch opposes in absentia trials in virtually all circumstances as violating the right of defendants to challenge the evidence against them.

Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that none of those in custody were informed of the charges against them until February 10. Nineteen of the 35 defendants, including Mushaima, remain in solitary confinement, a lawyer for the group told Human Rights Watch.

Mushaima faces the most serious charge of "forming, leading, providing necessary monies, and training an illegal organization whose purpose is the advocacy of disrupting provisions of the law and which uses terrorism as one of its methods," under article 6 of Bahrain's counterterrorism law (58/2006). He has been ordered to remain in detention until the court reaches its decision, and faces possible life imprisonment if convicted.

He and Singace are also charged under article 165 of the 1976 Penal Code with "inciting hatred against the system of government, using violence to distort the government, discrediting the government's reputation through publications and speeches, and trying to convince others to join in this effort." Singace also has been charged under the 1976 Penal Code with "joining an organization outside the provisions of the law whose purpose is the advocacy of disrupting provisions of the Constitution and the law and to knowingly undertake terrorist operations."

Bahrain's obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include the right to a fair trial. Bahrain has also ratified the Convention against Torture, which prohibits torture and other ill-treatment under all circumstances and prohibits the use of statements made as a result of torture as evidence in legal proceedings.

"The overly broad and ambiguous language of Bahrain's counterterrorism law and penal code allow the government to criminalize the basic rights to freedom of expression and association," Stork said. "The government, for political purposes, seems to have turned a matter of stone throwing and lit tires into a conspiracy to overthrow the government without any evidence to prove it."

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http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/03/23/bahrain-coerced-testimony-taints-trial © Copyright 2008, Human Rights Watch

23 Mar, 2009

Menassat:Bahrain's "anti-porn" campaign heightens censorship

Published on Menassat (http://www.menassat.com)

By ALEXANDRA SANDELS Created 23/03/2009 - 16:40

BEIRUT, MARCH 23, 2009 (MENASSAT) – In January, local newspapers in Bahrain made public a ministerial order by Bahrain’s new Minister of Media and Culture, Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, that called on telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to tighten their measures in preventing access to websites previously banned by the ministry.

The resolution read, “Lifting the block on any site should only be on the instructions of the minister herself."

Al-Khalifa's campaign is being billed as an action against, "pornographic websites and public morality,” but activists cite several examples of websites that have been censored or banned, which fall outside of the minister's edict, including those of human rights, religious, and political organizations.

According to rights-groups, hundreds of websites have been blocked by the government on the grounds that they "incite violence," the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, BCHR, reported.

Nabeel Rajab of BCHR, whose website is on Al-Khalifa’s blacklist, told MENASSAT earlier this year that the majority of the sites blocked in Bahrain are dealing with human rights and political issues in the country and in “village chat forums.”

Sites that are currently inaccessible in Bahrain include independent newspaper Bahrain Times, the online current events forum Montadayat, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Facebook censorship

The Bahraini authorities appear to have also turned their attention to social media, in an attempt to block dissident voices.

In a recent press release, BCHR accused Al-Khalifa of expanding the censorship campaign to social networking sites such as Facebook. The organization “discovered” that the national authorities had removed postings on Facebook pages belonging to Bahraini rights groups that reported on the human rights situation in the country.

Among the reports that mysteriously disappeared from BCHR’s page were Amnesty International's recent report on human rights defenders in the Middle East and North Africa, an AlJazeeratalk report on human rights violations in Bahrain, and a statement from the BCHR on the prosecution of Bahraini journalist Lamees Dhaif.

BCHR said it believes the motives behind the censoring of the “dissident entries” on Facebook is the “realization of the Bahraini authorities that this social site has extensive accessibility and distribution.”

Rajab also personally attacked Al-Khalifa in response to BCHR’s recent Facebook ordeal and accused the minister - often labeled as a “liberal" - of being the chief architect behind the censorship campaign.

“We are dismayed that this war is spearheaded by Mai Al-Khalifa, a lady modeled as liberal and presented with many medals in recognition of her support to culture and liberalism,” stated Rajab.

Not just politics and porn targeted

A Bahraini human rights activist speaking on the condition of anonymity told MENASSAT that the current censorship campaign is “getting out of hand” with regular sites that are unrelated to porn and politics falling victim to the government’s censorship campaign.

The activist added that this development has led to much frustration among Bahrainis.

“You should note that the outcry is amongst all citizens, even average business owners who rely on the web. There are some web services, like galleries, that are blocked despite being entirely unrelated to proxies or porn or local politics. We demand that a full investigation is put in place on how and why all these sites are blocked and not only those that are either porn-related or relevant to the authorities,” the activist told MENASSAT.

The activist agreed with the claims made by BCHR that the censorship campaign has expanded to social media sites, saying that authorities have been blocking Facebook links since the beginning of March.

“We can't even share articles on our Facebook profiles, which is something I do all the time,” said the activist.

Activist crackdowns

Along with censorship, Bahraini activists are facing gloomy days as several have been sent to court for defamation suits.

The most recent was Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, former president of BCHR who currently works for the rights group Front Line. Al-Khawaja was accused of "instigating hatred and disrespect," in a speech he made in January, where he had lashed out against the Bahraini authorities, calling the government an "oppressive regime," that "plundered public lands, degraded the people, and used mercenaries against them.”

Human Rights Watch has reportedly called on Bahrain to drop all charges against Al-Khawaja and lift the travel ban authorities have imposed on him.

Legal suits have also been filed against human rights activists Abduljalil Alsingace, Hassan Mushaima and Mohamed Habib Al-Muqdad, "in relation to their publishing activities and speeches about the political situation in Bahrain,” reports the London-based Article 19.

The three men are due in court on March 24 to respond to the 18 charges filed against them. One of the charges is related to Bahrain’s Article 6 of the Terrorism Code of 2006 and carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

In a press release today, HRW reported a "serious use of flaws" in the criminal trial of Mushaima, leader of the political opposition group Haq, and said that all coerced testimony in his trial and in that of 34 others "should be withdrawn and that those not charged with a genuine criminal offense should be freed."

Meanwhile, HRW has reported legal suits against two Bahraini journalists, Lamees Dhaif of "Al Waqt" and Maryam al-Sherooqi of "Al Wasat.”

Dhaif is supposedly facing three years behind bars for writing an article series on the Bahraini court system's failures in family law. Al-Sherooqi has been charged with "insulting and degrading the Civil Service Bureau" for exposing discriminatory hiring practices at the Bureau.


Source URL: http://www.menassat.com/?q=en/news-articles/6231-bahrain-more-internet-censorship-activist-crackdowns