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RSF: The Enemies of the Internet Report 2010: Bahrain under "Countries under surveillance"

12 March 2011

In the last two years, Bahrain authorities had resolved to set up a targeted filtering system and to arrest netizens on the pretext of fighting terrorism and maintaining national stability. Since early 2011, while democratic demands and popular protest movements have been rocking the Arab world, their strategy has been vacillating between intensifying censorship of the political opposition and concessions in the form of released prisoners. An ingrained targeted filtering system The authorities' efforts to pursue technological innovations has gone hand-in-hand with a tightening of Internet control.

An ingrained targeted filtering system

The authorities’ efforts to pursue technological innovations has gone hand-in-hand with a tightening of Internet control. A strict filtering policy governs Internet use, focused on contents related to political or religious issues, or which are deemed to be obscene or capable of tarnishing the royal family’s reputation. Among the sites blocked are opposition websites and those considered “anti-Islamic,” discussion forums on taboo subjects and certain news websites. Online news websites such as ezaonline.com, and various forums such as Sitra http://www.sitraisland.net and Bharainonline.org have been made inaccessible.

In early 2009, Sheikha Mai Bent Mohammed Al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s Minister of Culture and a member of the royal family, launched a “anti-pornography campaign” which led to the closing of 1,040 websites, even though some of them had nothing to do with the subject. The blocking of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights betrays the government’s intention of attacking sites critical of the regime, the royal family or the Parliament. Some YouTube, Wikipedia and Facebook pages have been adversely affected by this campaign.

This selective filtering policy also applies to social networks, particularly when they discuss topics deemed controversial. On 9 October 2010, for example, the Facebook page of opposition leader Abdul Wahab Hussein was blocked. Facebook currently has 253,000 members in Bahrain.

However, the use of proxy servers such as Hotspot Shield and Your Freedom, is increasingly common in the kingdom.

A news-reactive Internet censorship

The government reacts swiftly to breaking news. Following the pro-democratic demonstrations which began on 14 February 2011 in Manama, the country’s capital, filtering was intensified thanks to software supplied by the U.S. company SmartFilter.

The authorities resorted to blocking the accounts of Bambuser, a streaming platform which allows users to directly share online videos made with cell phones. YouTube pages containing videos of the protests were rendered inaccessible. One Facebook group of 6,000 members which had called for a demonstration against the regime on 14 February was censored by the authorities two days after the page was opened. The Twitter account @Nabeelrajab, which belongs to the President of the Bahrain Human Rights Centre, was among those censored.

Furthermore, high-speed Internet connections have been slowed down since 14 February, undoubtedly to hinder the uploading and downloading of videos and the dissemination of live photos of the demonstrations. According to the company Arbor Networks, Internet traffic to and from Bahrain in mid-February fell 20%, as compared to the three preceding weeks.

On 14 February 2011, King Hamad ben Issa Al-Khalifa made a televised speech to express his condolences to the families of the two demonstrators killed while crowds were being dispersed, and ordered an commission of inquiry to be set up. According to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, some anonymous SMS messages were sent which called for pro-government demonstrations.

Cell phones under pressure

In 2010, the repression spread to cell phones. On 7 April 2010, the Ministry of Culture and Information banned a Blackberry cell phone chat group and threatened the offenders with legal action. Mohamed Suleiman, a journalist who was relaying via his “Urgent News” application free daily news briefs from six of the country’s leading dailies, was forced to stop transmitting these news alerts. The Assistant Underscretary of Press and Publications, Abdullah Yateem, justified this ban by pointing out that certain newspapers and telephone messaging services had not been approved by the authorities. He expressed concern about the impact on the public that such news might have and the “chaos and confusion” it could cause among readers.

These chat groups are very popular in Bahrain. They allow users to exchange various types of information such as traffic updates, the presence of police speed traps (radar), cultural exhibits, religious information, etc. Eleven thousand people were receiving “Urgent News” alerts.

Excessive laws and decrees

Numerous cybercafés are under tightened surveillance and are prohibited from having a separate closed room that could allow Internet users to privately consult websites. In fact, each screen must be visible to all in order to make surveillance easier. This control is coordinated by a commission comprised of four ministries, which monitors compliance with the rules governing the non-admittance of minors and computer station visibility.

The Internet is governed by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), established by Legislative Decree No. 48 of 2002 promulgating the Telecommunicatons Law. Its scope of application was extended to online media. Although a 2008 amendment eliminated prior censorship and prison sentences for reporters, journalists and netizens can still be prosecuted by virtue of the anti-terrorism law or the Bahrain Penal Code.

Two decrees that specifically concern the Internet were adopted in 2009. The first allows websites to be closed without a court order, merely at the request of the Minister of Culture. The second requires the growing number of Internet service providers – currently about 20 – to block pornographic websites or those likely to incite violence or racial hatred.

Netizens under pressure

Committed to a security-based approach in reaction to the Shiite minority protests in the summer of 2010, the regime detained two bloggers under inhuman and degrading conditions and openly flouted their rights, in violation of international agreements signed and ratified by the Kingdom.

Judged alongside some 20 other human rights activists, bloggers Ali Abdulemam and Abduljalil Al-Singace, who had been arrested on 4 September 2010, were harshly treated while in jail. According to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, blogger Ali Abduleman allegedly stated during the trial: “I ws tortured, beaten and insulted. They threatened to get my wife and other members of my family fired from their jobs. I was questioned without a lawyer present and the officer there with me looked as though he were a security agent. He ignored my denial of the accusations made against me. He never let me answer his questions and answered them himself.” When he appeared before the court, Abdeljalil Al-Singace protested against the “moral and physical torture” to which he had been subjected and the threats of rape made against his relatives. He suffered four heart attacks while in custody. Allegedly, he also pointed out that he was deprived of medical care by the guards and that, despite his rapidly deteriorating health, he was never given any medication.

On 22 February 2011, as a gesture to appease the opposition and demonstrators, the authorities suddenly released the two bloggers, as well as 21 other opposition and human rights activists who had been on trial at the same time, after multiple hearings and a trial parody marked by the collective resignation of the initial defence lawyers. The latter had demanded that the trial be suspended and an investigation started into the torture allegations, as provided by law. Nabeel Rajab, Director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, stated on U.S. TV channel CNN that some 400 prisoners were still behind bars.

Abdeljalil Al-Singace, spokesperson and head of the human rights office of the Haq movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy, had already been arrested in 2009 for allegedly launching a government-targeted estabilisation campaign. On his blog, alsingace.katib.org, he denounced the anti-Shiite discriminations, as well as the deplorable status of public freedoms in his country. Ali Abdulemam, a very active blogger considered by Bahraini netizens as an Internet pioneer, had been arrested in 2005 for posting criticisms of the regime on his blog. As a contributor to the blogger worldwide network Global Voices, he has spoken in numerous international conferences to denounce human rights abuses in Bahrain.

The two netizens were charged with defaming the kingdom’s authorities and publishing “false information about Bahrain’s internal affairs" with the aim of destabilising the country.

Mohammed Al-Rashid was also victimised as a result of the government’s repressive policy. The netizen was arrested in October 2010 for “spreading false information with the aim of undermining public security.” On 4 January 2011, he was released after posting bail in the amount of USD 530. He is now restricted in his displacements and his trial is still underway. According to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, this cyberdissident was known for denouncing – mainly on online forums and websites such as Bahrain Online and AlJazeera Talk – human rights violations in the country and the lack of professionalism of journalists with close ties to the regime. He acted as a relayer of opposition views often omitted in the traditional media.

Defenders of netizens and human rights activists have not been spared. Nabeel Rajab was denied entry into the courtroom when the bloggers’ third hearing began. On 2 December 2010, already the victim of obvious harassment, the human rights activist was questioned for over an hour by national security agents in the Manama airport as he was preparing to board a flight to Greece. Prior to his release, he had been threatened. His personal computer and cell phone were allegedly confiscated and all the personal files and information stored on these devices were copied without a warrant. In the fall of 2010, he had also been the target of a smear campaign in the state-controlled media. He had discovered after reading the newspapers on 5 September 2010 (specifically the Gulf Daily News) that he was considered to be a member of a so-called “sophisticated terrorist network.”

Journalist Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, who did an outstanding job of covering these events, was the target of an online smear campaign most likely spearheaded by the authorities.

The regime, which has been brandishing national security as a reason to muzzle dissident opinion in the last few months, has so far shown itself to be pragmatic. The future of the Internet and freedom of expression in Bahrain therefore depends on how the political situation will evolve and what latitude the regime believes it can afford.


Amnesty: Bahraini activists receive threats after anonymous death call

11 March 2011

Amnesty International has called on the Bahraini authorities to ensure the safety of three human rights activists after text messages were yesterday circulated to many people in Bahrain calling for them to be killed.

The messages contained personal details of the activists and labelled them "advocates of subversion". One of the three then received a series of anonymous threats from callers to his phone. "The Bahraini authorities must mount an immediate, thorough investigation to identify the source of these threats and bring to justice those responsible for inciting murder and issuing death threats," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The government must also ensure the safety of the three activists who have been named in these threats and any others who may be targeted in the same way, and afford them all possible protection."

The unrest in Bahrain started with a “Day of Rage” on 14 February in which one protestor was killed by the security forces. Six more protestors were killed in the following days and hundreds injured, many due to the use of excessive and lethal force by riot police and other security forces.

The worst incidents occurred on 17 February when the police carried out an early morning raid to clear demonstrators camped at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama, killing five protestors and assaulting ambulance staff and medical workers seeking to assist the wounded.

One of the activists named in yesterday's text message, Mahmmad al-Maskati from the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, told Amnesty International he has received around 11 anonymous threatening phone calls since the message calling for him to be killed was circulated yesterday.

All callers delivered broadly the same message: 'You are a donkey. We will kill you. We want you to stop going to the (Pearl) roundabout. If you don't stop your human rights business we will f*** you".

Another activist from the same organization, Naji Fateel, said he had received two messages along similar lines.

The other named activist was Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, formerly the Middle East and North Africa director for Frontline, an NGO which supports human rights defenders.

The circulated message contained all the information about the activists that would be found on a national ID card: their full name, home address, photograph, personal ID number and employment, along with their telephone numbers.

This has prompted suspicion that the threats may emanate from Bahraini security officials, who would have easy access to such details, or from people acting on their behalf.

"The authorities must urgently probe whether these threats are the work of Bahraini security or intelligence officials and are intended to deter the activists from continuing their human rights work and involvement in protests demanding reform in Bahrain,” said Malcolm Smart.

“If officials are found to be responsible, they must be brought to justice.”

The text messages reportedly follow the wide circulation of a leaflet a few days ago which contained the photographs and names of a number of human rights defenders and opposition political activists who, it said, were to be targeted.


Bahrain Urgently Recruits More Mercenaries Amidst Political Crisis

Click to enlarge , English version here

11 March 2011

Bahrain is continuing to hire hundreds of former soldiers from Pakistan to serve in its National Guard, even as pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain demand an end to the government’s controversial practice of recruiting foreigners in to the security forces.

A call for applicants titled “Urgent Requirement: Manpower for Bahrain National Guard” was recently placed on the website of a prominent Pakistani human resource firm that has close ties to the Pakistani military[1].

The announcement said it was hiring several categories of ex-military personnel, including anti-riot instructors, Pakistan Military Academy drill instructors, retired infantry majors, and military police.

The statement said that a delegation from the Bahrain National Guard would be visiting Pakistan for the purpose of selecting the Pakistani personnel from March 7 to March 14.

A similar advertisement was published in the Daily Jang, Pakistan’s most widely read newspaper, on the first of March[2] , and before that on the 25th of February[3] .

It is difficult to confirm the exact numbers of Pakistani ex-soldiers who have been recruited in response to the recent adverts, but sources claim as many 800 Pakistanis have already been hired in the past few weeks.

Bahrain is now in the fourth week of pro-democracy protests in which seven people were killed by security forces and dozens were injured.

Human rights activists have long complained about the controversial practice of hiring large numbers of foreigners in to the Bahraini security forces to suppress political dissent in the Kingdom[4] .

Bahrain’s police, military and national guard are staffed in large part by non-Bahraini citizens, mostly from Pakistan, Yemen and Syria.

One of the chief complaints of the pro-democracy protesters is that no Shii’ite citizens are allowed to serve in the security forces even though they make up approximately two-thirds of all Bahraini citizens.

Opposition activists also claim that tens of thousands of expatriates, many associated with the security forces, have been illegally naturalized since 2001 to reduce the proportional size of the Shi’ite majority among Bahraini citizens.

Last week saw clashes between Shi’ite youth and recently naturalized Syrians in Hamad Town[5] .

The current recruitment of hundreds of Pakistani ex-soldiers in the Bahraini security forces is taking place even as the Crown Prince of Bahrain has been urging the political opposition to enter a dialogue to resolve all political disputes.

On March 3, King Hamad visited the headquarters of the National Guard and “thanked them on their permanent readiness to protect national security”, a statement from the state-run news agency said[6].

In an attempt to quell the pro-democracy protests, the Ministry of Interior on Saturday announced it would recruit twenty-thousand Bahrainis, and would not exclude the current protesters[7].

--- [1] “Urgent Requirement Manpower for Bahrain National Guard”, posted on website of Overseas Employment Services, Fauji Foundation, Pakistan [2]Advert placed in Jang Newspaper, Pakistan, March 1, 2011 [3]Advert placed in Jang Newspaper, Pakistan, February 25, 2011 [4] “The Bahraini Authorities Recruit of Mercenaries from Makran Town, Pakistan”, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, June 6, 2009 [5] “Sectarian violence flares in Bahrain”, Financial Times, March 4, 2011 [6]“HM King Hamad Visits the National Guard”, Bahrain News Agency, March 3, 2011 [7]“Bahrain’s Promised Spending Fails to Quell Dissent”, The News York Times, March 6, 2011

The Pearl's Shine Bloodied

Protesters' deaths show the dark side of Bahrain by Joshua Colangelo-Bryan

Published in: Executive Magazine March 10, 2011

The world watched with horror as security forces in Bahrain killed at least seven peaceful protesters and wounded hundreds more. The protesters were seeking a measure of political accountability from the ruling Al Khalifa family and an end to discrimination against Shia Bahrainis.

For the past decade Bahrain has promoted itself as a liberal state in an authoritarian neighborhood, on the basis of reforms by King Hamad al-Khalifa, who took power in 1999. These reforms included holding elections - though for a parliament that lacked authority - and largely abolishing torture. United States officials went out of their way to burnish Bahrain's image. In December, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raved, "Bahrain has demonstrated that multi-ethnic, multi-confessional societies can address their challenges through peaceful reform and representative institutions." Cables by US diplomats claimed that King Hamad "understands that Bahrain cannot prosper if he rules by repression."

Such endorsement can be attributed to the fact that Bahrain hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. The Bahraini government also insinuates whenever possible that its Shia citizens, upwards of 65 percent of the population, would turn Bahrain into an Iranian client state if so allowed.

But independent observers have for several years been raising concerns about the country's return to the dark practices of the past.

In February 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the revival of torture. A trove of reports by government doctors backed up victim accounts that security forces were again suspending detainees by their arms and legs and using electro-shock devices. In August, the government instituted a crackdown that began with arrests of opposition activists on charges of being part of a "terror network" and soon extended to the arrests of hundreds more, including children, many on vague or non-existent charges. The government dissolved the board of a human rights group that had suggested detainees should not be abused. Authorities blocked websites of opposition parties, including Al Wefaq, which won a majority of votes in the October elections.

As for the "terror network," the testimony of government agents regarding information allegedly provided by unnamed sources made clear that the defendants were being tried for political opinions rather than for any criminal acts. Authorities denied these defendants access to counsel or their families, and most defendants alleged that security officials abused them to elicit confessions.

The government denied these allegations, but hasn't explained the defendants' wounds displayed in open court, some of which I observed first hand. Several other prosecutions recently collapsed after independent evidence disproved coerced confessions. In one case, the editor of a pro-government newspaper testified that the defendants who "confessed" to assaulting him bore no resemblance to the attackers. When I interviewed one of those defendants last December, he said, "It's better to confess before they break everything."

This is part of the background to the protests that erupted on February 14. By all independent accounts, demonstrators peacefully demanded reforms. After riot police killed two protesters on February 14 and 15, King Hamad expressed condolences, leading many to believe that the government might honor its citizens' right to peaceful assembly. Riot police shattered that illusion on February 17, assaulting men, women and children, many of them sleeping, in a public square, killing several and wounding hundreds. The next day, security forces opened fire on people mourning those killed. The king has again ordered these forces off the streets, but the casualties from the February 18 ambush have yet to be counted.

The government has careened between indiscriminate violence and temporary accommodation, making it impossible to predict how the crisis will resolve. But clearly the US should no longer view Bahrain with rose-colored glasses, whether due to concerns about Iran, the Fifth Fleet or anything else. There is no evidence of Iranian involvement in the protests, or of any appetite among Bahrain's Shia to emulate Iran's authoritarian regime. Nor have protesters expressed antipathy toward the US or questioned the US naval presence.

Bahrain should no longer be allowed to masquerade as liberal even by local standards. Rather, Bahrain has a lot of work to do to persuade its own people, and the rest of the world, that it is anything other than a police state.

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan is a lawyer in private practice in New York and a consultant for Human Rights Watch


HRW: Bahrain: Explain Protester's Detention

Military Officials Refuse to Disclose Reasons for Holding al-Buflasa

March 10, 2011

(Manama) - The Bahrain Defense Force should immediately make public the reason military commanders have detained a former officer for three weeks, Human Rights Watch said today. Military authorities detained Mohammed al-Buflasa on February 15, 2011, after he spoke at the Pearl Roundabout, criticizing the government and supporting the protesters.

On March 4 the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) announced that al-Buflasa, a 34-year-old former military officer, who is Sunni, would stand trial for "breaching the B[ahrain] D[efense] F[orce] law." This was the first official acknowledgement that al-Buflasa was in custody, but authorities have not provided any information regarding the charges against him. Prior to the BNA announcement, al-Buflasa was the only person associated with the protests whose whereabouts had not been accounted for.

"Bahrain's long silence about Mohammed al-Buflasa's whereabouts and continuing failure to explain why he's being detained suggests that authorities have locked him up solely because they did not like what he said at the Pearl Roundabout," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Al-Buflasa, who was wearing civilian clothing when he delivered one of the first speeches at the Pearl Roundabout on February 15, expressed support for public demonstrations that had begun the day before. He introduced himself as a Sunni and called for national unity between Sunnis and Shias, but did not identify himself as a military officer. His comments touched on numerous controversial issues, including discrimination against the majority Shia population and the "political naturalization" of Sunnis from other countries, which the Shia opposition claims is permitted to change Bahrain's demographic balance. Al-Buflasa disappeared shortly after leaving the Pearl Roundabout that day.

Rashid Yusif al-Buflasa, Mohammed's brother, who lives in Qatar, told Human Rights Watch that he arrived in Bahrain on February 23 to look into his brother's detention. He learned, through his sources, that authorities were holding Mohammed at Ras al-Qurayn, a military prison in southern Bahrain and that they planned to prosecute him in a military court. Rashid visited the military court in Rifah on February 23, where a military official told him his brother would be prosecuted because of statements he made and because he was a military employee.

Rashid al-Buflasa said that on February 24, authorities transferred Mohammed to the military court where the two brothers met for the first time since Mohammed's arrest. During the first and only trial session which held on February 27 and was not open to the public, the military court sentenced Mohammed to two months' imprisonment, according to Rashid.

"As his brother, I'd like to know what they've charged Mohammed with," Rashid al-Buflasa said. "I saw his speech [at the Roundabout] on YouTube. He has not done anything illegal."

He said authorities have transferred Mohammed back to Ras al-Qurayn and have allowed him to speak with his wife on the phone several times since his arrest.

Neither the Bahrain Defense Force nor military court officials responded to Human Rights Watch requests for further information about the charges. In a March 8 phone conversation, Col. Ahmad al-Khalifa, director of military cooperation with the media, told Human Rights Watch that the military court is continuing to investigate al-Buflasa's case and that he has not yet been sentenced. Colonel al-Khalifa told Human Rights Watch that al-Buflasa is an "active" military employee, and that all "members of the armed forces must get permission [from the military] before joining a party." He declined, however, to disclose the charges against al-Buflasa.

Rashid al-Buflasa said that Mohammed had served as a military officer for about 15 years. He left about three years ago to work in the media section of the Crown Prince's office, the brother said, but arranged with the military to continue his service for purpose of accruing pension benefits. Rashid said his brother had briefly run as an independent candidate in parliamentary elections held in October 2010, but then withdrew. He had not encountered any disciplinary response from the military for his candidacy, although Bahraini law precludes military officers from running for public office.

Bahrain is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary detention. It states that all people arrested "shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against [them]" and brought promptly before a judge. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said that detention that results from the exercise of basic rights, such as freedom of expression, is considered arbitrary.

"Bahraini authorities should publicly disclose the reasons why al-Buflasa has been detained, including his military status, if any, and the specific military provisions that he has allegedly breached," Stork said. "In the absence of this information it is difficult to avoid concluding that the military has arbitrarily detained him because someone in power did not like what he had to say.


RSF: Overview of media freedom violations of past few days

Reporters Without Borders presents an overview of the acts of violence against journalists and other media freedom violations that have taken place in the pasts few days in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

In Bahrain, the authorities have been using indirect censorship methods with foreign news media in order to keep live coverage of the demonstrations rocking the country since med-February to the minimum. A France 24 journalist told Reporters Without Borders:

“We arrived at 1 a.m. on 19 February. We were forced to spend the night at the airport and could not get out until the next afternoon. Our transmission equipment was confiscated. This was not the case with all the journalists. Some had no problems. We were lucky inasmuch as we were given a visa for two weeks. The next ones only got 72-hour visas. That was the case for the France 2 crew.

“On our arrival, we saw a BBC journalist being taken away and his equipment being confiscated. Despite the promises made by the authorities, our equipment was never returned to us. As we could not do live reports, we sent our reports via the Internet.”


FIDH: Interview with a human rights activist, Bahrain: "I fear a civil war"

7 March 2011

The following interview was conducted with a woman human rights activist in Manama, Bahrain who wished to remain anonymous.

In what ways are women participating in the protests in Bahrain?

There are two demonstrations currently taking place in Manama, one is taking place in ’Luāluā Square’ and is composed of a majority of Shi’a, and the other is principally composed of Sunni, who have their own demands. Women are taking part in both protests.

But the real question is what role do women have there?

In Luāluā Square, for example, there are thousands of women participating in the demonstrations but they are kept aside. When they arrive at the square, they are asked to go to a corner where women are separated from the men or at the back of the demonstration. This has been the practice in any demonstration in Bahrain since 2001. That is why I personally do not participate in the demonstrations. I don’t believe that women should be put aside.

Among the people on the square, there is no leadership of the youth, leadership is being taken by the religious leaders.

Some women have been injured by tear gas, although not by bullets. As far as I know, there are no women among those taken to hospital and women have not been arrested.

What do you think of the media’s representation of women in the movement?

The media has shown images of women during the demonstrations or sitting down in the square. But nobody talks about women as women. Those who are interviewed about the protests on satellite television channels like Al Jazeera are virtually all men. Women are not considered to play an important role there, and they are certainly not the driving force behind the movement.

Are there any demands relating to women’s rights during the protests?

The political and social demands of the demonstrators do not include women’s rights. The question of women is not present. Nobody, not even the women, demand equality or respect for their civil rights!

It’s important to remember that a few years ago when a women’s movement in Bahrain demanded the enactment of a family law [aiming to protect women’s rights as called for by international conventions], there was another demonstration against it, in which thousands of women participated, opposing the law. Now, at the Luāluā square where protesters have been gathering, and in the demonstrations, the majority are those same women who opposed the family law.

The Bahrain Women’s Union has made some demands, for example that there should be women present at any negotiations between the government and the people. They are saying that any reform should make women and their needs a priority.

What are your views on the ongoing events elsewhere in the region? What do you think are the potential implications for women’s rights?

Even in Egypt and Tunisia women’s needs and demands were not a priority during the demonstrations, but the difference is that Tunisia and Egypt have strong women’s movements which can push for women’s rights. In the transitions women must have a role. Women’s needs and equality should be priorities for any government, any revolutionary government in this region.

Here in Bahrain, the movement for women’s rights, especially in terms of calling for equality, is still very weak. In Bahrain the revolution is different from Egypt and Tunisia because there everybody revolted together. In Bahrain, unfortunately, society is split, one part is calling for deep reforms, and the other, although calling for political changes, do not want the political regime and the government to end. I am afraid there may be a civil war. I hope that we do not reach that but the situation here in Bahrain is very serious and the division between the Sunni and Shi’a is becoming increasingly severe.

Interview conducted by Shawna Carroll - FIDH


Bahrain : Cosmetic Reforms Do Not Substitute Real Political Reform Leading to A Democratic Government and Media Freedoms

Cairo , March 2nd ,2011

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said today that Bahraini authorities should make serious political reforms in response to people’s will. The first demand is to dismiss the cabinet and set a new constitution to declare Bahrain a constitutional monarchy.

The Bahraini authorities made some talks with protesters and released activists charged of fabricated terror charges and ignored the rest of the demands ,dismissing the cabinet and media reforms. Baharaini media has for so long distorted the democratic reform movement and describing it as sectarian. As well, blocking policy is still deployed extensively which blows all formal reforms.

The Lebanese artist , Marcel Khalifa was attacked by the Bahraini ministry of culture when he declined on the spring festival in Bahrain, saying that he would never betray call of millions against oppression and death.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said, “ Bahrain is experiencing a public reform movement calling for democracy. The Saudi family is shamed for their oppressive policy , they are just making it worse by defying the Bahrainin people’s will and sending Saudi mercenaries to support Bahraini authorities instead of supporting the people’s demands or at least stand neutral”.


Bahrain: Hold Perpetrators of Crackdown Accountable

Launch Independent Investigation Into Deaths, Vicious Attacks on Protesters

A protester lights candles at the makeshift graves of people killed during anti-government protests in Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain on February 26, 2011. © 2011 Reuters

February 28, 2011

(Manama) - Political reform in Bahrain has to include a transparent and independent investigation into government-initiated violence that claimed the lives of seven protesters and injured hundreds of others, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch also called on authorities to prosecute those responsible for perpetrating the violence as well as for abusing people taken into custody.

On Monday, February 21, 2011, 32-year-old Redha Bu Hameed died from serious injuries caused as a result of bullet wounds to his head - the seventh victim of gunfire by security forces since February 14. On February 18 the army as well as riot police shot live rounds, metallic pellets, rubber bullets, and teargas at demonstrators approaching the Pearl Roundabout to demonstrate against earlier violence by security forces.

"Real reform in Bahrain cannot take place without judicial accountability for serious human rights violations committed by security forces - and those who ordered the deadly assaults on peaceful protesters," said Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. "Bahrain's existing treaty obligations also require nothing less."

Bahrain's government has announced that it will investigate the killings of protesters, but it is not apparent whether such an investigation will be independent and transparent, or whether it will cover the deaths of all seven protesters in addition to looking into allegations of injuries, arbitrary arrests, and abuse or ill-treatment of detainees following the attacks.

Human Rights Watch has documented serious human rights violations committed by security forces against peaceful protesters including use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and abuse and ill-treatment of detainees picked up by security forces during demonstrators.

Human Rights Watch confirmed the use of live ammunition against protesters as well as birdshot pellets and rubber bullets by the military and security forces. The vast majority of deaths were caused by pellets. The seven protesters killed are Ali Mushaima, 21 (died February 14), Fadhel al-Matrook, 31 (died February 15), Mahmoud Ahmed Makki, 23 (died February 17), Ali Mansour Ahmad Khudeir, 53 (died February 17), Isa Abdul Hassan, 60 (died February 17), Ali al-Moamen, 22 (died February 17), and Redha Bu Hameed, 32 (died February 21 as a result of injuries sustained on February 18).

Bu Hameed, the demonstrator who died on February 21, was engaged in a peaceful protest at the time army and riot police fired on protesters, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. They said that he and other protesters approached military and security units positioned to prevent demonstrators from reaching the Pearl Roundabout with their hands raised to show that they were not carrying any weapons. Their accounts are apparently corroborated by a YouTube video of the incident.

Sixty-year-old Isa Abdul Hassan was shot to death during the riot police raid on the Pearl Roundabout in the early morning hours of February 17. Mohamed, who witnessed the killing but asked not to be identified further, told Human Rights Watch, "Isa Abdul Hassan spoke to the police. He said that he was not going to move because it was a peaceful protest. We all had the right to do it and we were not doing anything illegal. As soon as he said that, one policeman took a gun from another, put it to his head, right in the middle of his forehead, and fired. Abdul Hassan's head split open; he died on the spot."

Another witness who wished to remain unnamed and who participated in the February 18 demonstration told Human Rights Watch that as he and other protesters approached riot police and army personnel close to the Pearl Roundabout, they heard the faint voice of someone over a loudspeaker in the distance but could not make out what the speaker was saying. He said the protesters continued to move forward, chanting "Peaceful, Peaceful!" and had their hands raised when security forces suddenly opened fire. Abdul Redha Buhmaid died as a result of a bullet to his head.

Human Rights Watch has also documented incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention, and abuse and ill-treatment amounting to torture. Sadiq Alekri, a 44-year-old doctor from Salmaniyya hospital was at the Pearl Roundabout in a medical tent the evening of February 16 and the morning of February 17, when riot police attacked. He told Human Rights Watch that he and his staff were wearing jackets with the Red Crescent emblem on them, and carried identification cards indicating they were part of a volunteer medical team. A little after 3 a.m., he said, he heard someone yelling that riot police were attacking the camp. He went out to see what was going on and was immediately engulfed in teargas and sounds of gunfire.

Several minutes later, he said, riot police confronted him with sticks and guns. When they attempted to handcuff him, he sat on the floor, raised his hands, and told them he is a doctor. They proceeded to handcuff him from behind and several of them began punching, kicking, and beating him with sticks. They then lifted him and walked him to an unknown location. Alekri said that every 100 meters or so other riot police punched and kicked him. During one attack, someone struck him in the face with a stick, fracturing his nose. As a result of the repeated beatings, Alekri also sustained damage to his left eye, which caused temporary loss of vision.

Alekri told Human Rights Watch that after this series of attacks he was loaded onto a dark bus parked somewhere close to the Pearl Roundabout. As he boarded the bus one of the officers pulled down the doctor's pants, raising concern that he might face sexual assault. A police officer then walked him into the bus, forced him into a seat with handcuffs still on, and pulled his shirt over his head. Before sitting he noticed other detainees inside the bus. Alekri said that for the next hour or so several police officers walked up and the aisle and beat the detainees repeatedly. Alekri told Human Rights Watch that one threatened him, saying: "If you bleed in my chair with your dirty blood I will beat you to death!"

Alekri said that the police eventually allowed him and three of the other detainees to board an ambulance. He was admitted to Salmaniyya hospital at 6 a.m. on February 17, with severe injuries to his face, back, and torso. On February 22 a tired Alekri, still nursing a fractured nose and heavily bruised face, underwent facial surgery.

Human Rights Watch previously documented attacks against paramedics whom police prevented from providing timely and critical care to those wounded following the early morning attack against protesters camped out at the Pearl Roundabout.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture, Bahrain must prevent the use of torture by its security forces, and has an obligation to protect and promote the right to life, freedom of expression and association, and the right to assemble peacefully. Bahrain should also abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which state that lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life, and must be exercised with restraint and proportionality.

The principles also require governments to "ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense under their law" and that "superior officers are held responsible if they know, or should have known, that law enforcement officials under their command are resorting, or have resorted, to the unlawful use of force and firearms, and they did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress or report such use."

"The Bahraini government should urgently establish an independent commission tasked with investigating the use of deadly force against peaceful demonstrators and statements by protesters who say they were abused or tortured after arrest," said Stork. "Prosecution of those responsible for any unlawful attacks is a critical element to any meaningful political reform."


Bahrain: Medical action update - Attacks against health professionals must be investigated

25 February 2011



Amnesty International researchers in Bahrain have gathered testimonies from health professionals who report being attacked by security forces in the morning of 17 February, hours after a large number of state security personnel entered the Pearl Roundabout in Manama to evict protesters who were staying in tents they had erected. Between 3 and approximately 7 am around 200 people were taken by ambulances to Al-Salmaniya medical unit. However, after that time, ambulances were prevented from entering the roundabout area apparently because the Interior Ministry informed the Health Ministry wrongly that the area had been cleared and there were no more injured people there. The assaults by security forces constituted criminal acts and were carried out in breach of international law enforcement standards, which stipulate that law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required by the particular circumstances, including any threat posed to their lives or the lives of others.Although the government has since tempered its use of force against protesters, Amnesty International remains concerned that the attacks on health professionals were unprovoked and unjustifiable, and is urging that they be immediately investigated, fully and independently, and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Dr Sadeq al-‘Ekri (pictured [top] a few days after he was attacked) helped set up a mobile clinic in a tent on the Pearl Roundabout on 15 February. The mobile clinic had received several donations from members of the public and had a number of volunteers helping to care for injured protesters. At about 3 am on 17 February Dr al-‘Ekri heard people screaming. Riot police started shooting and throwing teargas at the protesters. They also destroyed the tents of protesters as well as those erected by the health staff.

Dr al-‘Ekri told Amnesty International that he was surrounded by police in dark uniforms, who then tied his hands behind his back. They forced him onto a bus, pulled his trousers down and proceeded to punch him and beat him with sticks all over his body, including his genitals. One officer covered his face with a shirt and sat him in a chair and said: “if your blood spoils my chair I will beat you to death.” The same officer went outside and asked another officer to come inside, and they both continued to kick him and hit him with sticks. Dr al-‘Ekri reports that one of the officers said, “Let him breathe”, and the other said, “This is just the beginning" and then threatened sexual abuse. When Dr al-‘Ekri told them he was a doctor they came back with a torch and could see his white blouse and a Red Crescent sign. They then took him and two others to an ambulance which took them to Al-Salmaniya medical unit. Dr al-‘Ekri suffered a broken nose, injured left eye and bruises on his chest and abdomen. He recounts his horrifying experience by saying, “These physical injuries will disappear but the psychological damage will not disappear. The body damage can be repaired but the psychological damage can’t. I couldn’t believe that this would happen in Bahrain.”

Amnesty International spoke with more than a dozen ambulance staff who worked that day and the majority said they had been beaten, insulted and threatened by the riot police. At around 9 am on 17 February, a convoy of five clearly marked ambulances was driving between Al-Salmaniya medical unit and the Pearl Roundabout, when it was stopped by anti-riot police at a traffic light. The ambulance workers were all wearing their uniforms and were clearly identified as health professionals.

Jamil ‘Abdullah Ebrahim (pictured [top] a few days after the attack) had already made the trip at least three times when he received a call to return to the Roundabout. Jamil described the situation, “I thought they were going to show us victims to help, but they came to both side doors and opened them.” Jamil said, “I am a paramedic”, but the police pulled him out and started beating him. Jamil tried to run away, but he was chased and pulled to the ground. He says, “About a dozen were there, beating me with sticks, black wooden sticks about 60 cm long. Some took off their helmets to hit me with them…. I thought I was going to die.” Jamil says they beat him on his back and buttocks while one officer was video-taping the attack. The attack was finally over after about five or six minutes when another officer yelled “Stop” and pulled him up. Jamil was returned to the ambulance covered in blood where he found his colleague ‘Issa Salman, with blood pouring down his face as a result of being hit twice on the head with a rifle-butt. ‘Issa Salman had previously returned to duty after being kicked and beaten two hours earlier by some 20 police who had pulled him out of his ambulance. The officers told the medics “If you come back I will kill you.” Jamil says he saw three senior officers standing about 50 metres away who watched the assaults but failed to intervene. Jamil was examined at the hospital but found to have no broken bones, though he now has pain and experiences difficulty when moving his hand and shoulder, which he used to protect his head during the assault.

Paramedic Ja’fer Hasan, 34 years old, was in the same group of ambulances. He reports that when they reached the lines of the police, they were surrounded by officers who smashed the windows of the ambulance with rifle butts. They pulled him out of the vehicle and beat him all over with ‘harawa’ (a kind of stick) on his arms and shoulders. They also kicked him for about five minutes while shouting insults at him.

In the last ambulance assistant paramedic Jassem Mohamed Hassan (pictured [top] a few days after he was attacked), aged 27, also reported being beaten with sticks and guns. He says that while he was being kicked, one police officer shouted “No, he’s Filipino”, but when they lifted his head and saw he was Bahraini they continued to beat him. They also beat Yasser Mahdi, another paramedic accompanying him and who then required admission to hospital with abdominal trauma. The officers yelled at both men, “Get into the ambulances and don’t come back. If you do, we will kill you.”

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY: - Explaining that you are a health professional concerned about human rights; - Urging the authorities to ensure immediate protection for all health and medical workers attending victims of violence and full protection of the right to all appropriate medical care of those suffering injuries; - Calling on the authorities to immediately establish an independent and thorough investigation into the assaults on health and medical workers and the blocking of movement of ambulances, and to bring to justice those found responsible for these serious violations of human rights; - Urging that doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health and medical workers are able to carry out without discrimination their professional responsibilities to provide emergency and other medical care to those who have sustained injuries, and to document and report on their injuries, without interference or fear of reprisal.


Minister of Interior Shaikh Rashid bin ‘Abdullah bin Ahmad Al Khalifa Minister of Interior Ministry of Interior P.O. Box 13, al-Manama, Bahrain Fax: +973 17232661 Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Health His Excellency Dr. Faisal Bin Yagoob al-Hamer Minister of Health Ministry of Health P.O. Box 12, al-Manama, Bahrain Salutation: Your Excellency Fax: +973 17252569

Also, send copies of your letters to the Bahrain Medical Society: E-mail: bms@bms.bh



Demonstrations in support of political reform started in Manama on 14 February 2011. On 14 and 15 February two protesters were killed by the riot police. Subsequently, an informal "camp" was established in Pearl Roundabout in central Manama where protesters stayed. In the early hours of Thursday 17 February 2011 a large number of security personnel entered the Roundabout to evict protesters who were staying in tents they had erected.

The riot police used tear gas, batons, rubber bullets and shot guns to disperse the crowds. An eyewitness said that one battalion of the riot police fired shots from a bridge over the roundabout while another battalion was shooting from the opposite side, while the crowd was trying to seek refuge. Another eyewitness said: "The protesters are being attacked! Women and children are running around screaming and there is no where to run. Riot police are everywhere and are attacking from every corner. Many are wounded. There is a panic and chaos at the roundabout. Everyone is running and screaming."Ambulances were prevented from arriving at the Roundabout and several ambulance drivers were reported to have been beaten.

Those evicted from the Roundabout moved to the grounds of the al-Al-Salmaniya Hospital and were joined by others who swelled the numbers to several thousand.

At least seven deaths have been confirmed and more than 200 people were injured, including some very seriously, since the attack on demonstrators on 14 February. In the afternoon of 18 February peaceful protesters again gathered a few hundreds metres away from the Pearl Roundabout. The army fired directly at the protesters, and a doctor in Al-Salmaniya hospital reported to the media that the hospital was full of seriously injured people and that fatally wounded patients were arriving with ‘their brains blown out’.