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AP: Bahrain job purges linger as protest flashpoint

(AP Photo/Hasan Jamali) By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — One afternoon in May, police in Bahrain led away security guard Mahdi Ali from his job at the Gulf kingdom's state-controlled aluminum plant. He claims he was blindfolded and beaten so severely that the bruises still have not healed.

His only offense, he insists, is being part of Bahrain's Shiite majority as it presses for greater rights from Sunni rulers who have Western allies and powerful Gulf neighbors on their side. The 44-year-old Ali now counts himself among Bahrain's purged: Hundreds of Shiites — some say thousands — dismissed from jobs or suspended from universities for suspected support for demonstrators.

"My only crime is being Shiite," said Ali, who claims he has been effectively blacklisted from finding a new job. "I've paid for it by being dismissed, arrested, tortured and insulted." With Bahrain's Arab Spring crisis moving into its eighth month, the mass dismissals remain a major point of anger feeding near-daily street clashes on the strategic island — which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

The coming weeks could be critical in assessing the chances for any significant reconciliation efforts in Bahrain. The alternative is an increasingly divided and volatile nation where the region's biggest political narratives intersect: Western security interests, Gulf Arab worries about spillover uprisings and Iran's ambitions to cast wider Middle East influence.

"Bahrain had these tensions long before the current Arab upheavals. And it may end up as one of the most enduring and most complex dilemmas after the Arab Spring has run its course," said Sami Alfaraj, director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies.

Shiites account for about 70 percent of the population of some 525,000 people, but claim they face systematic discrimination by the 200-year-old Sunni dynasty. Bahrain's rulers, meanwhile, court Western and Sunni Arab backing by raising fears that Shiite power Iran is pulling the strings of the protests as a foothold to undermine other Gulf monarchs and sheiks.

Bahrain's Shiite groups have pledged to boycott elections Sept. 24 to fill 18 parliament seats left vacant since Shiite lawmakers walked out in March to protest the government's crackdowns. A fresh wave of protests could be timed to try to overshadow the voting and embarrass officials.

There already are signs of escalating violence after months of low-level skirmishes.

Security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and bird shot early Thursday to break up crowds gathered to welcome doctors freed from prison after staging a hunger strike. "Down, down Hamad," chanted crowds in reference to Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as they waited for some of the doctors, who still face charges of aiding the protests.

The broadest aim of the protests is to break the monarchy's monopoly on power and open room for Shiites in top government and security posts. But the smaller battles — such as the job and university purges — have often become the focus of outrage by protesters and denunciations from rights groups.

"We are calling for our forgotten civil rights," said Sayed Ahmad, spokesman for a committee formed by activists to aid workers claiming they were pushed out of their jobs. "We don't want to fight Sunnis, but we will stand up against anyone ... trying to cleanse a sect just because of their political views." Ahmad estimates close to 4,000 Shiite workers have lost their jobs since the protests began in February — many fired for missing work either to join the demonstrations or because they were too nervous to venture out during clashes that have left at least 33 people dead.

Bahrain's biggest labor group, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, put the figure at about 2,500, but no definitive numbers are available and its unclear whether all dismissals were protest related.

Government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, however, King Hamad urged companies and universities to take steps toward bringing back workers and students pushed out for alleged links to the protests.

Some doors have been opening. Hundreds of people have returned in the past month, including more than 400 university students and more 100 workers at the state oil company.

But many activists complain that reinstatements are spotty and still leave hundreds without jobs. Former workers at the state aluminum plant plan a march to Bahrain's Labor Ministry on Sunday in what they call "the rage of the dismissed."

"I've been almost seven months without a salary," said former computer technician at the plant, Mustafa Sadiq, a 39-year-old father of three children. "If this was the case in Europe, there would be massive protests until they got their rights back."

The firings also have been brought to the attention of an independent commission investigating alleged abuses during Bahrain's unrest. The findings by the five-member commission — which includes international judicial and human rights experts — are expected Oct. 30.

A statement by New York-based Human Rights Watch in July called on Bahraini authorities to investigate the dismissals of more than 2,000 workers "apparently as punishment" for backing the protests or following labor union appeals for sympathy strikes.

In Washington, the powerful AFL-CIO labor group has asked U.S. officials to suspend a five-year-old free trade accord with Bahrain in retaliation for the mass job dismissals and the firing of union leaders. The pact is just one of 17 such bilateral trade agreements with Washington, which also includes Israel, Jordan and Oman in the Middle East.

This week, investigators are conducting the final interviews for the independent fact-finding commission, which is headed by Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-born professor of international criminal law and a former member of U.N. human rights panels.

Among the accounts is a 29-year-old Bahrain University professor who says she was fired in April and later roused from her apartment at 2:30 a.m. and beaten at a police station until dawn. She claims police then presented her with a prewritten confession detailing links to the protests.

"They forced me to admit to something that I did not do," said the woman, who asked for anonymity because of fear of reprisals from authorities. "Then they let me go." She claims she is not banned from leaving the country or even renewing her passport.

"And all because I am Shiite," she said.

google.com/hostedn..

See also: HRW: Bahrain: Revoke Summary Firings Linked to Protests

Washington Post: Bahrain needs U.S. attention now

By Editorial, Published: September 10

BAHRAIN HAS BECOME the hidden story of the Arab Spring. While the popular uprisings in Libya, Syria and Yemen have dominated the news in recent months, far less attention has been paid to the tiny but strategic Persian Gulf emirate, which hosts the U.S. 5th Fleet. That’s partly because Bahrain’s ruling al-Khalifa family deflected criticism from the massive crackdown it launched in March by promising to initiate a dialogue with its opposition and implement political reforms. The regime, however, hasn’t delivered — and now it is risking a new explosion of unrest that could destabilize not just Bahrain but the region around it. The latest trouble began with the promised National Dialogue, which unraveled soon after it began in July. The government gave the largest opposition party five out of the assembly’s 300 seats and left some crucial reform issues — such as the reform of parliamentary districts — off the agenda. Most of the opposition walked out before the “dialogue” concluded with several minor recommendations. One of them would increase the powers of the regime’s principal hard-liner, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has been in office since 1971.

Another conciliatory initiative, a commission to investigate the unrest, has been undermined by the behavior of its Egyptian chairman, who has made public statements preemptively exonerating the ruling family. A promise to rehire thousands of workers fired from their state jobs because of their suspected support for the opposition has been only partly fulfilled. And while some political prisoners have been released — a group of doctors were freed this week after they and other prisoners staged a hunger strike — hundreds remain jailed and the regime continues to use a “court of national safety” to imprison opposition leaders.

Rather than moving toward reconciliation, Bahrain is more polarized than ever, and the fault line increasingly falls between the ruling Sunni elite and majority Shiite population. Clashes between protesters and police occur almost every night in Shiite villages, and the Aug. 31 death of a 14-year-old boy who the opposition says was struck by a tear gas canister has magnified the tension. Thoughtful Bahrainis worry that a new eruption of mass protests is imminent and that it may lead to a purely sectarian conflict that could spread to Saudi Arabia and even Iraq.

The United States has considerable leverage in Bahrain — through the 5th Fleet, military aid programs and a free-trade agreement. But the Obama administration has been timid here as elsewhere during the Arab Spring. In May, President Obama made a strong statement about Bahrain during a speech on the Middle East in which he promised to support the cause of democratic change across the region. But there has been no follow-up; no senior U.S. officials have visited Bahrain in months, and the administration has had nothing to say about the deteriorating situation. This is shortsighted: If Bahrain blows up, vital U.S. interests will be at risk. The administration should use its influence now — before the crisis resumes.

washingtonpost.com

Global Research: Bahrain: US Ally Kills Children… So When Is NATO Intervening?

by Finian Cunningham Global Research, August 31, 2011

This is the face of state terror against civilians in the US and British-backed Gulf oil kingdom of Bahrain – the latest victim a boy shot dead by police. But there will be no call by Washington or London for a Libya-style NATO intervention to protect human rights here. No call for regime change. No call for an international crimes tribunal.

Fourteen-year-old Ali Jawad Ahmad was killed on 30 August when Saudi-backed Bahraini riot police fired a tear gas canister at the youth from close range. On the day that was supposed to be a celebratory end to Ramadan – Eid al Fitr – people across Bahrain were shocked by yet another “brutal slaughter of innocents” by the regime and the stoic silence of its Western backers.

The teenager was among a crowd of youths who had gathered in a peaceful protest following morning prayers in the mainly Shia village of Sitra, calling for the overthrow of the unelected Sunni monarchy.

The Bahraini protests against the US and British-backed autocratic rulers have been continuing for nearly seven months despite the military intervention of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf island to crush the pro-democracy movement. Nearly 40 civilians have been killed by state forces since the uprising began in mid-February; thousands more have been injured, imprisoned, tortured or sacked from jobs.

But the relentless repression – condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and several other rights groups – has failed to halt the pro-democracy campaign. The resilience of the protesters is all the more remarkable given that their cause has been met with cold indifference from Washington and London, and from much of the mainstream media.

While Western governments have been quick to condemn the rulers of Libya and Syria for alleged human rights violations – launching a full-scale military onslaught on the former and mounting diplomatic sanctions against the latter – these same governments have continued to give full backing to the Al Khalifa dictatorship in Bahrain.

The mainstream media agenda has dutifully followed suit. While the BBC, CNN etc have descended on Libya and Syria to champion the cause of armed rebels with dubious credentials, these same media outlets have virtually ignored Bahrain where the pro-democracy movement is supported by a majority of the population and which has so far remained peaceful in the face of gratuitous state violence.

The latest victim of state terror in Bahrain is at least the sixth person to die from the indiscriminate lethal use of tear gas by Saudi-backed pro-state forces. Ironically, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as other Gulf sheikhdoms such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have lent diplomatic and military support to NATO’s interventions in Libya and Syria to allegedly defend human rights. Yet these autocrats have been murdering unarmed civilians in Bahrain with impunity and Western imprimatur.

For several weeks since the Bahraini regime’s initiative of so-called “national dialogue” failed to engage opposition groups, there has been a massive stepping up of indiscriminate use of tear gas in villages deemed to be supportive of the mainly Shia-led pro-democracy movement.

Riot police have attacked villages on a daily and nightly basis, firing tear gas into homes. Families have had to flee their dwellings in the middle of the night, sometimes by carrying children out of bedroom windows using ladders. Those unable to move – disabled, sick and elderly – have been trapped indoors during these attacks and some have died from acute exposure to the tear gas. The youngest victim was five-year-old Mohammed Farhan [1].

Pro-democracy sources have labelled the deployment of tear gas as a deliberate tactic of “toxic terrorism”. It is the regime’s way of coercing the opposition groups to enter the dialogue process – which the opposition has dismissed as an empty public relations exercise designed to shore up the status quo of the Al Khalifa dynasty.

It is scarcely believable that Washington or London is unaware of the Bahraini state terror over recent months and in particular the massive, indiscriminate use of tear gas on civilian homes. Bahrain – a former “protectorate” of Britain – has close links between its ministry of interior and British security personnel. The Gulf island is home to the US Navy Fifth Fleet, from where the entire Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea down as far as the coast of Somalia are surveyed. The territory of Bahrain is less than 60 kilometres long and only 17 kilometres wide.

Two of the Bahraini villages that have been subjected to heavy tear gas attack are Ras Rumman and Bilad Al Qadeem where the British and US embassies are located. As one pro-democracy activist commented on being asked about official British and American knowledge of improper tear gas use: “They must smell it everyday coming under their doors.”

But the issue for many Bahrainis is not just mere knowledge, but rather direct approval by Washington and London of what is a state terror tactic against civilians.

They point out that the upsurge in tear gas deployment followed the visit to Bahrain in the beginning of July by Jeffrey Feltman, the US roving ambassador for the Middle East. Feltman, who was previously ambassador to Israel and Lebanon during the Israeli invasion in 2006, was a strong advocate of the Bahraini regime’s national dialogue, urging “all moderates” to participate.

It seems more than conceivable that someone with Feltman’s hawkish credentials would have advised the US Bahraini clients to resort to a more coercive policy if the opposition shunned the talks process.

Feltman has visited Bahrain on at least eight occasions. One of those visits was just before the Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain. “Every time this guy Feltman comes to Bahrain, we see a drastic increase in repression and deterioration in human rights,” said one pro-democracy activist.

At least three US companies have been identified as suppliers of tear gas to Bahrain, including NonLethal Technologies, Combined Systems and Penn Arms, all based in Pennsylvania [2].

More recently, Bahraini sources have noted that newer types of tear gas canisters do not bear the usual manufacturer markings [3]; that the canisters are larger therefore dispensing much more smoke [4]; and that the toxicology is much more potent, causing victims to go into convulsions similar to the symptoms of nerve agents [5].

So, given that the Bahraini regime can kill civilians and children without a murmur from Washington or London, then it is reasonable to conclude that their avowed noble interventions in Libya and Syria are as pungent and as thick as the smokescreens hanging over Bahraini villages.

Finian Cunningham is a Global Research Correspondent based in Belfast, Ireland. He was expelled from Bahrain for his critical journalism on 18 June 2011. cunninghamfin@yahoo.com

NOTES

[1] Victims of Bahraini state terror, including Mohammed Farhan (5) and other victims of tear gas intoxication: http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/3864

[2] Video detailing US suppliers of tear gas to Bahrain: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0iOYpiR4..

[3] Pictures showing newer tear gas canisters with no markings: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.24138642589604..

[3] Video of new, larger tear gas canisters that engulf homes: youtube.com/watch?v=lJj6dRPMup4

[5] The more lethal effects of new tear gas causing convulsions in victims: youtube.com/watch?v=EypDipIHL7U

globalresearch.ca

Amnesty International: Bahraini health workers released on bail will continue to face military trial

8 September 2011

Thirteen Bahraini health workers facing trial before a military court apparently over treating some of those injured during a government crackdown on pro-reform protests were released on bail yesterday.

All 13 are part of an original group of 48 health workers, mostly from al-Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama, arrested in March and April 2011 during the protests.

The trial will resume on 26 September at the National Safety Court of First Instance, a military court established under the state of emergency in force from March to June 2011.

Days before the trial session all detained health workers started a hunger strike in protest at their detention. Two were too weak to attend the trial. Many have complained of torture and other ill-treatment during their detention.

Charges against some of the health workers include hiding weapons and explosives in the hospital, as well as attempting to overthrow the regime by force. However, the court has failed to provide any evidence of that.

"Civilians should not be tried before a military court whose proceedings do not meet international standards for fair trial," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"It is widely believed that the real reason for the detention and trial of these health workers is the fact that they provided medical assistance to people injured during the protests and that they spoke out against the government crackdown to international media.

"If this is true and these health workers are convicted and imprisoned on 26 September, we will consider them prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release.

"The authorities must also carry out a full and independent investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment and bring to justice any officials responsible."

The 48 health workers were previously split into two groups, one of 20 accused of felonies, or more serious offences, and the other of 28 accused of misdemeanours, or less serious offences.

Trial proceedings for both groups started in early June.

All those accused of misdemeanours were released on bail before the end of June. Their case will resume on 24 October before an ordinary court.

The thirteen released yesterday were part of the group of 20 accused of felonies. Another six were released on bail between June and August and one is being tried in absentia.

Their trial will continue before a military court despite reported assurances made by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in August that all trials related to the pro-reform protests would be held in civilian courts.

Yesterday's trial was attended by an Amnesty International observer, representatives of the French, British and US embassies and two Bahraini NGOs.

Amnesty International's observer said that during the seven-hour trial session the president of the court did not give the defence witnesses enough time to speak. He kept interrupting them and sometimes prevented them from giving evidence.

The judge announced that the verdict will be given during the next trial session on 26 September.

Amnesty international is concerned that this would mean the court is effectively rejecting a pending request made by lawyers that it listens to each defendant’s testimony about their arrest and treatment while in custody.

READ MORE

amnesty.org

Statement by the spokesperson of EU High Representative on the recent release on bail of medical staff in Bahrain

EUROPEAN UNION Brussels, 8 September 2011 A 351/11

Statement by the spokesperson of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on the recent release on bail of medical staff in Bahrain

The spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, issued the following statement today:

"The High Representative welcomes the release on bail by the Bahraini authorities of the medical staff who had been detained in the wake of unrest this spring. The High Representative again urges the Bahraini authorities to conduct all trials of civilians in civilian courts, with due process and full rights to a fair and transparent trial, as promised by His Majesty King Hamad last month.

The High Representative also looks forward with great interest to the upcoming conclusions of the independent Commission of Inquiry on the events surrounding the unrest earlier this year”

consilium.europa.eu

HRF: Bahraini “Sham” Trials Condemned

September 8, 2011

Washington, DC – The military trial of 20 doctors and other medics who treated injured protestors during pro-democracy protests resumed this week, further undermining Bahrain’s claim to respect human rights. The remaining doctors who had been in detention – some for many months – were released, but the charges against them still remain. Some are in extremely poor health after 9 days on hunger strike and are need of immediate medical treatment. Despite assurances that these cases would be tried in civilian courts, the cases are slated to proceed in military court and verdicts are anticipated by Sept 29.

“Trying civilians in military courts that offer inadequate legal protections is a sham process,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “It exposes the Bahraini Government’s real intentions to crack down on peaceful activists. The United States Government should publicly condemn these trials and make clear that Bahrain’s decision to prosecute people for peacefully expressing their views will have consequences for the relationship between the United States and Bahrain.”

The Bahraini authorities announced on June 26 that they were transferring all cases from military courts to civilian courts. On August 18, government authorities made an about-face and announced that the doctors would be tried in a military court. Bahrain’s military court does not meet international standards for a fair trial.

Among those on trial is Roula Al-Saffar, the head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, who spent four months in detention before her release last year. She studied at Widener University in Pennsylvania and at the University of North Texas. She also worked for many years as a nurse at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

“In July, I spoke to several of the medics who have been detained, including Roula and others on trial today, “ said Dooley. “I heard credible, detailed and consistent stories from them of torture in detention. The United States should not be aligned with a regime that perpetuates such abuses.”

humanrightsfirst.org

FIDH: Bahrain : Fears that National Safety Appeal Court proceedings violate international human rights standards

7 September 2011

On September 6, 2011 the 21 political leaders and human rights activists sentenced on June 22nd to harsh prison sentences appeared before the National Safety Appeal Court. At the close of this first and penultimate hearing, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its utmost concern with regard to proceedings, which once again disregard fair trial guarantees, and reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of these activists, and for the end of the proceedings against them, due to the arbitrary nature of these charges and of the entire proceedings.

« According to the information received, this last hearing demonstrates that the Bahraini judiciary cares nothing for the international human rights obligations and commitments of the government of Bahrain. While the judge of the National Safety Appeal Court (NSAC) has rejected all requests of the defence lawyers and, among others, those pertaining to impartial investigation into reports of torture and ill-treatment made by several defendants, he tarnishes once more the credibility of the judiciary » stated Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH [1]. FIDH is concerned that lawyers were given only one week to prepare and submit their appeal defense. Such a short notice comes in contradiction with the right to adequate time to prepare defense. In addition, the right to full access to the case file should be granted to the defendants lawyers. The publicity of debates has not been fully guaranteed, as visas have been denied by the Bahraini authorities to FIDH delegates who were given a mandate to monitor and assess the conformity of the trial with relevant international standards. The final verdict will be pronounced on September 28.

This hearing was the first in the appeal launched by 21 political leaders and human rights activists who were given harsh sentences (including life imprisonment) on June 22, 2011. They have been brought to trial before an exceptional court, the National Safety Court of First Instance (NSC), under charges of ”organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempt to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country,” and the “collection of money for a terrorist group” [2]. FIDH and other international human rights organisations have repeatedly denounced what they consider to be politically motivated charges. Moreover, violations of fair trial guarantees have been documented throughout the proceedings before the NSC, which was established to try people accused of crimes committed under the state of emergency.

“In addition to failing to guarantee the most basics of fair trial, the Judiciary dodges today the issue of deciding on the legality and even constitutionality of the Royal Decree (decree no. “28” 2011), which has reversed a previous decision and allows again the prosecution of these defendants before an exceptional court.” added Souhayr Belhassen.

Consequent to the lifting of the State of Emergency on July 1, the King of Bahrain issued a Royal Order that stated that all cases tried before the NSC would be transferred to ordinary courts, putting an end to prosecuting civilians before exceptional courts, a practice which contravenes international standards. However, this decision has been reversed with the adoption of Decree no. “28” 2011. According to this, it has been announced that several cases, including the present case, will be retransferred before the National Safety Courts. The defendants’ lawyers in this case, as well as those in charge of the defence of 20 medics also arbitrary prosecuted as it seems that charges against them mainly aimed at sanctioning them for exercing their professional duty or expressing opinion [3] have challenged the constitutionality of this decree. While the judge of the NSAC has rejected today the request of the lawyers on this issue, the judge of the NSC should determine on it on September 7, after he decided on August 28 to adjourn the hearing as a consequence of a memorandum presented by the defendants’ lawyers on the unconstitutionality of Decree 28.

Footnotes

[1] See Urgent appeal of the Observatory for the protection of Human Rights defenders, Ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against Abdulhadi Al-Khawaj, June 29, 2011 fidh.org/Ongoing-arbi.. [2] See FIDH-OMCT press release, « BAHRAIN-Heavy-sentences-for-human-rights-and dissenting activities », June 22, 2011 [3] Most of them are charged, among others, with possession of unlicensed weapons, attempt to forcefully occupy a public hospital, spreading of false information etc

fidh.org

RSF: Companies That Cooperate With Dictatorships Must Be Sanctioned

2 SEPTEMBER 2011

Reporters Without Borders condemns the criminal cooperation that exists between many western companies, especially those operating in the new technology area, and authoritarian regimes.

“These companies no longer have any reservations about collaborating with criminal governments,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Providing dictatorships with communication equipment or confidential data is irresponsible. A total of 122 bloggers and netizens are currently detained worldwide. The companies that work with these governments are complicit and responsible for the fate of these detainees. Financial sanctions should be imposed on companies collaborating with governments that jail bloggers or censor the Internet.

“Without financial sanctions, these practices will not stop. Companies are not above the law. There are courts that try illicit practices by companies. Why shouldn’t they try the criminal responsibility of companies that collaborate with regimes that are guilty of crimes? Provision should be made at the national level for penalizing such collaboration, and referral to the International Criminal Court should be considered when companies become the accomplices to war crime by dictators. After being concerned about impunity for dictators, the world should now be worrying about impunity for companies.

“Human lives are at stake. Must they be sacrificed for the sake of profits? The leaders of international companies operating in the new technology domain, especially telecommunications surveillance, in Libya, Syria, Burma, China, Turkmenistan and other authoritarian counties should think about their responsibility. Their tools, their equipment and their know-how are being used for criminal purposes.”

These technologies are at the heart of a new war. Emails can now be intercepted, Skype calls can be recorded, webcams can be turned on remotely and Internet content can be modified without the users knowing. Reporters Without Borders urges Internet users to be much more careful.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates the need for legislation banning cooperation between companies and dictatorships on the lines of the proposed Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA) in the United States and its European equivalent. Like the EU regulations on trade in products that could be used for “capital punishment, torture or other cruel treatment,” there is now a need to introduce international regulations on the provision of technology that threaten cyber-citizens, to control the export of certain technologies, to create a monitoring body that is independent of governments and to have dissuasive sanctions ready. Companies should also have legal and official recourse against measures in countries like China or Iran that force them to obstruct the free flow of information.

The GOFA, a bill submitted to the US Congress in 2006 and still awaiting adoption, aims to prevent US companies from “cooperating with repressive governments in transforming the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance.” The European equivalent, submitted to the European Parliament on 17 July 2008 by Dutch MEP Jules Maaten of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), aims to forestall online censorship possibilities and to regulate the potentially repressive activities of European Internet companies. It would create an Office of Global Internet Freedom with the job of combating online censorship by the most repressive governments and protecting the personal data of Internet users.

These measures are now urgent and necessary. Examples of companies cooperating with such governments are on the increase. Referring in May to Microsoft’s acquisition of the Internet telephony company Skype, Microsoft Russia president Nikolay Pryanishnikov said he was ready to provide its source code to the Russian security services. Microsoft is nonetheless a leading member of the Global Network Initiative, an alliance that brings private-sector companies and investment funds together with organizations that defend freedoms.

Many other companies that have shown no interest in the GNI’s principles seem ready to stop at nothing to conquer new markets. Bull, Nokia, BlueCoat, Netfirms and Cisco have all yielded to the lure of profits. Reporters Without Borders has compiled the following summary of their repressive practices.
Bahrain and Nokia Siemens Network (Finland)

Nokia Siemens Network (NSN) has been accused of providing the monitoring technology that the Bahraini authorities have been using to spy on the emails, mobile phone conversations and text message of dozens of human rights activists. Abdul Al-Khanjar, an activist who was detained from August 2010 to February 2011, said the security officials who interrogated him revealed that they had the records of the messages he had sent from his phone. Speaking on condition of anonymity, several Nokia employees confirmed that this technology had been provided to Bahrain. Ahmed Al-Doseri, director of information and communications at Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, confirmed that Bahrain was using this kind of sophisticated monitoring technology. There may be a European Union investigation into these allegations.

Nokia spokesman Ben Roome said: “We are very aware that communications technology can be used for good and ill.” Reporters Without Borders regrets that this awareness is not reflected in the company’s commercial decisions. Nokia and Siemens already provided Iran with software necessary for telecommunications surveillance in 2009. Nokia confirmed that it had sold DPI-based technology to Iran.

Read full report on rsf.org

Huffington Post: Democratic Opening in Bahrain Needs Release of All Prisoners of Conscience

Left to right: Dr.Abduljalil AlSingace and Ali Abdulemam , 2 bloggers sentenced to life and 15 years imprisonment in Bahrain.
by: Jean-François Julliard - Secretary general, Reporters Without Borders

6 Sep 2011

That Bahrain released 137 people on August 9th is good news, but it also shows the scale of arrests, done in full view with little criticism. Five weeks ago, President Barack Obama hailed the launch of a national dialogue by the Bahraini government as an "important moment of promise for the people of Bahrain." The government lifted the state of emergency on June 1st and started the national dialogue a month later, but continued to arbitrarily hound bloggers, the media and journalists. Clearly the regime is saying one thing, but doing another.

Earlier in the year, President Obama pointed out that "mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens" and recalled the necessary constitutional separation of powers -- particularly between the executive and judicial. Reporters Without Borders urges the United States to renew its pressure on Bahrain, a leading U.S. ally in the Gulf, and to secure the support of Saudi Arabia, whose has strong influence over Bahrain. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia must work together to pressure the Bahraini authorities to cease violating their citizens' rights to free expression and assembly by arbitrary arrest and prosecution, to release prisoners of conscience, and to continue the national dialogue in good faith.

On June 22nd, a military court imposed long jail sentences on 21 activists and civilians supposedly on charges of belonging to terrorist organizations and trying to overthrow the government. These actions violate international human rights standards. But this is not the sole irregularity observed in the trial. According to some of the defendants and their families, the suspects were tortured or mistreated while in detention.

Eight of them, including the human rights activist and blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace, were given life sentences. The head of the pro-democracy and civil liberties movement Al Haq, Singace has been in jail since March 16th, for allegedly trying to destabilize the government because he used his blog to denounce the deplorable state of civil liberties and discrimination against Bahrain's Shiite population. He had been arrested several times since 2009 for the same reasons.

The other 13 suspects got sentences ranging from two to 15 years in prison. The blogger Ali Abdulemam, tried in absentia, got 15 years. Abdulemam is regarded by fellow Bahrainis as one of his country's Internet pioneers and is an active member of Bahrain Online, a pro-democracy forum that gets more than 100,000 visitors a day despite being blocked within Bahrain. A contributor to the international bloggers network Global Voices, he has taken part in many international conferences at which he has denounced human rights violations in Bahrain. He was arrested in 2005 for criticizing the regime in his blog and was detained again from September to February 2011, but he avoided re-arrest and has been in hiding for several months.

And of course, none of them were amongst these 137 released prisoners.

There are limits to the regime's leniency. Two royal decrees signed on June 29th were an attempt to silence international criticism. The first makes it possible for civilians to be tried in civilian court instead of the martial ones when they are accused of destabilizing the government. It also makes it possible for them to appeal to the highest civilian appeal court to fight against the rulings of the national security appeal court. The other, Decree No. 28, created a commission of enquiry into the incidents that took place in the kingdom during February and March.

These were obviously positive measures but they should have been retroactive and they should have applied to Singace and Abdulemam and all the media personnel who were convicted prior to the decree. The authorities will have to quickly demonstrate that this is not a smokescreen and there is a real will to reconcile the nation. And as President Obama pointed out in a May 19th speech on Bahrain: "you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail."

Encouraging this dialogue was actually the grounds for the release of now more than 200 people since February but none of them have been acquitted, in the absence of an official order from the king. They include Hamza Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairi and his son, Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairi (the administrators of an online forum, who were arrested on April 1st and released on July 4th), the blogger Ali Omid and two photographers, Hossein Abbas Salem and Mohamed Ali Al-Aradi.

But these releases fail to disguise the censorship methods employed in the kingdom. Even before last spring's developments, Bahrain was on the list of "Countries Under Surveillance" in the Reporters Without Borders annual survey of "Enemies of the Internet," because the government uses a strict system that filters content of a political or religious nature, content regarded as obscene and content that is deemed to insult the royal family. Since June 9th, the security forces have controlled the Facebook and Twitter pages of Rasad News -- an important source of information about human rights violations in Bahrain -- using them to put out reports critical of the demonstrators. PalTalk, an online voice and video chat service that allows communication between different networks, has reportedly been blocked since the start of June. And a new news website critical of the government, BahrainMirror, has been inaccessible since June 5th.

The international community must press Bahrain to drop all charges still pending against prisoners of conscience and to quash the sentences of those that have been convicted, including the bloggers Ali Abdulemam and Abduljalil Al-Singace. Despite the initial reforms and the few releases, Bahrain continues to violate freedom of the media and information and the international community's reactions are still timid or non-existent.

The international community must not put oil and financial interests before justice and fundamental rights. It must not turn a blind eye to the fate of activists in Bahrain or let itself be won over by theories of an Iranian conspiracy or government talk of possible religious conflict. Human rights and dignity cannot be defended solely in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Bahrain's human rights activists have every right to be regarded as part of the Arab Spring movement as well.

huffingtonpost.com

Release of doctors with continuation of trial, postponement of appeal of 21 prominent figures

08 Sep 2011

In good news, the military court yesterday (07 Sep 2011) decided to release the remaining medical staff in detention who were on their 9th day of hunger strike. There is still concern for them as the charges have not been dropped, and the reading of the verdict was set for the 29th of September. This means they are still at high risk of being re-arrested at any time. The release comes after doctors in Ireland, the UK, USA and France announced they were to join 24 hour solidarity fast for the doctors, and hundreds in Bahrain joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the doctors including Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and AbdulJalil AlSingace.

Names of the released doctors: 1- Dr.Ali Al Ekri 2- Dr.Nader Al Dewani 3- Dr.Mahmood Asghar 4- Dr.Ebrahim Al Demestani 5- Dr.Ghassan Dhaif 6- Dr.Basim Dhaif 7- Dr.Sayed Marhoon 8- Dr.Moh'd Al Shehab 9- Dr.Abdulkhaliq Al Oraibi 10- Dr.Hasan Al Tublani 11- Dr.Ahmed Omran

The appeal of the 21 prominent figures yesterday was postponed until the 28th of September. The lawyer requested during the hearing that the detainees be allowed to address the court about being subjected to torture, but the request was denied. Alkhawaja's lawyer said that he was very concerned about the well being of his client as he appeared to be in poor health and was very thing and pale.

There remains to be a large number of detainees on hunger strike (more than 100) in the Dry docks prison and the Jaw prison. There is great concern about their health.

A few days ago Mohammed AlHaiki, a sacked employee, decided to run into the Pearl square carrying the Bahrain flag. As shown on this video he was chased then beaten by security forces (they appear to be from the army as per their uniform), then arrested. The latest we received was that he was in the hospital due to the severe beating, and is now being charged with assaulting a police officer. Today another man, Mohammed Jaffar decided to do the same thing, and we received news that he was also beaten and arrested. There is no news about him yet. People are now talking about planning on doing the same thing but in much bigger groups, some even calling for thousands to go into Pearl square on the 23rd of September. In another act of personal defiance a man decided to run in front of the riot police jeeps to prevent them from entering the village of Sitrah during protests.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry has announced that and international expert on hunger strike has joined the team.

The majority of areas in Bahrain are still witnessing protests on a nightly basis, and we receive reports about injuries on a nightly basis. A 9 year old boy was hit with a stun grenade in the head, and we are still waiting to hear about his health condition. Last night 7 youth were beaten severely in Barbar then arrested. At least one of them was 12 years old. Another young boy was hit by one of the riot police jeeps then arrested.

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