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The Observatory: Administrative harassment against 24 lawyers - BHR 001 / 0111 / OBS 007

24 January 2011

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

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources that 24 appointed lawyers were referred to a disciplinary committee initiated by the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs after they refused to abide by an order of the same Minister. They risk penalties ranging from an oral warning, a written warning, temporary disbarment to definitive disbarment, depending whether they have already committed another disciplinary offence. The first meeting of the committee will be held on January 25, 2011.

According to the information received, the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs ordered the establishment of a disciplinary committee to investigate on 24 lawyers, namely Ali Ahmed Al-Oraibi, Shahnaz Ali Abdullah, Loay Abdul Ghani Qarooni, Nabila Sayad Alawi Majeed, Timor Abdullah Karimi, Ali Abdullah Al Ayoubi, Mohamed Ali Alwatani, Mohamed Eid Al-Husseini, Ibrahim Saleh Ibrahim, Abdul Aziz Abdullah Al Ayoubi, Ibrahim Issa Ramadan, Hassan Abbas Haider, Hussein Jaafar Alnahash, Hussein Mohsen Hussein, Mahmoud Hassan Bash, Ziad Reuven, Mona Mohammed Salim, Nouf Mohammed Yousif, Abdulhadi Ali, Saleh Abdel Karim Al-Marzouq, Abdulali Hamza al-Asfour, Layla Jassim Al-Jawad, Mohammad Ali Mirbati, Ahmed Jassim Abdullah, who had been appointed by the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs to represent a group of 25 people including 11 human rights defenders accused of “membership to a terrorist network aiming to overthrow the government” in a trial which opened on October 28, 2010 [1]. The 24 lawyers refused to represent the 25 defendants arguing that the respect of the rights of the accused implied that the defendants agreed to the appointment of lawyers.

On December 9, 2010, a first group of lawyers who had been appointed by the 25 defendants decided to withdraw from the case to protest with the decision of the High Criminal Court not to investigate on allegations of torture and ill-treatment made by the defendants.

23 new lawyers were then appointed by the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs and during the hearing of December 23, 2010, the new lawyers requested the consent of the 25 defendants to represent them in this trial, in accordance with Article 20 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain which states that “anyone accused of an offence must have a lawyer to defend him with his consent”. The 25 refused to be represented by the new defence team and requested representation by their initial defence team. 19 lawyers out of the 23 then decided to withdraw from the case to comply with the rights of the defendants.

New lawyers were again appointed by the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs and during the hearing of January 13, 2011, some of the new lawyers requested the consent of the 25 defendants to represent them in this trial, in accordance with Article 20 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain which states that “anyone accused of an offence must have a lawyer to defend him with his consent”. The 25 refused to be represented by the new defence team. Four lawyers then decided to withdraw from the case to comply with the rights of the defendants.

On January 20, 2011, at the following hearing, Lawyer Abdul Wahab Amin also decided to withdraw from the case. The Observatory fears that the latter will also be subjected to the disciplinary procedure.

The Observatory is concerned by the administrative harassment faced by the 24 lawyers, which merely aims at punishing them for standing for the respect of the rights of the defence.

The Observatory urges the Minister of Justice to re-examine its decision to open a disciplinary procedure, to put an end to any kind of harassment against lawyers and to refrain from hindering activities of promotion and protection of human rights. The observatory also calls upon the authorities of Bahrain to conform in all circumstances with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Bahrain.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

ii. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including administrative - against the above-mentioned lawyers as well as against all human rights defenders in Bahrain and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their work without unjustified hindrances;

iii. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:

* its article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;

* its article 10 which provides that “No one shall participate, by act or by failure to act where required, in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms and no one shall be subjected to punishment or adverse action of any kind for refusing to do so”;

* and its article 12.2 which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

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

Addresses:

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

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

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

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

Please also write to diplomatic representations of Bahrain in your respective countries.

www.fidh.org

Under the Bahraini Authorities Negligence to all the Appeals Demanding the Stop of Torture:

Citizens are Tortured In Front of a Member of Parliament

The officer Faisal Al-Mursi and to the right the Exhibition Police Station

24 January 2011

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its great distress towards the Bahraini Authorities’ persistence in torturing its citizens in the corridors of police stations, prisons and places of detention without taking into account local and international appeals demanding the cease of torture and initiating an investigation in all torture allegations. In the same context, the BCHR received information that a Bahraini citizen was subjected to torture by members of the Special Forces and intelligence officers in the presence of a Member of Parliament[1].

The details of the incident commenced on Thursday January 6th, 2011 when Mr. Mohsen Al-Sharakhat,, who is in his forties from Sanabis, was returning home after playing football beside his house which he does every afternoon. He was surprised by a white car following him after it had been watching them playing football. The car was driven by an officer of Yemeni origins named Faisal Al-Mursi, known in the area for being linked to several torture cases that targeted Shiite villages. Moments later, more than ten cars affiliated with the police surrounded him and they then arrested Al-Sharakhat after he was close to reaching home, which led to his father and uncle being subjected to severe beating by the officer and the rest of the forces with him when they tried to inquire about the reason of the arrest[2].

Mohsen Al-Sharakhat was transmitted to the police station in the Exhibition Area. His brother Saleh, accompanied by the area’s MP and the head of Al-Wefaq parliamentary bloc Mr. Abdul-Jalil Khalil, followed him to file a complaint against the officer Al-Mursi. They were shocked when an officer from the Special Forces and five others wearing civilian clothing who appeared to be of Yemeni and Pakistani origin started to beat Mohsen Al-Sharakhat until blood appeared on his clothes. Some of them were beating him with sticks on his back and head, and others were punching him in his face while others were kicking him all over his body. They also used vile language and insulted him with offensive words aimed at him and his family. They then turned to his brother Saleh who was grabbed and severely beaten in front of the same MP, and in the presence of the deputy head of the capital municipality, Mohammed Abdullah Mansoor. The MP Abdul-Jalil Khalil later informed the BCHR that he was also subjected to vile language and insults when he demanded they stop the beating and torture of citizens, which was taking place in his presence. It seemed as though they were ignorant of the fact that he was a member of parliament. The MP Abdul-Jalil Khalil heads the largest parliamentary bloc which represents more than 50% of the electoral bloc in Bahrain.

The matter developed when the MP filed a written report against the mentioned people, and against the public scenes of torture he had witnessed. Upon realizing who the MP is, the officer threw himself on the ground and pretended to be unconscious. He then got up and filed a report against the victims they had just beaten. Based on the report filed by the officer, the victims of this incident were held in custody at the police station, and two days later they were transferred to the Public Prosecution who then extended their detention for a week pending interrogation. They were released after the matter was exposed in the Bahraini newspapers.’[3]

The recurrence of these incidents and the increase of torture allegations confirm the statements and reports of the BCHR and many other regional and international organizations which verify the presence of torture in prisons and places of detention in Bahrain, which has systematically returned since 2006.

Commenting on this incident, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, president of the BCHR, stated, ‘If torture and degrading treatment is being practiced so plainly against the defendants without any constraints or apprehension in the police stations and in front of the representatives of people, how are they (the detainees) dealt with behind closed doors away from the outside world, and with the existence of numerous torture allegations against the police officers and members of the National Security Apparatus’.

Several criminal detainees died during the last months in the prisons of Bahrain under mysterious circumstances. However, the security apparatuses quickly came up with justifications and explanations in regards to each death which they related to health issues or diseases. Yet, the BCHR has reason to believe that the death of some of those detainees may have been a result of the torture practiced against them during interrogations and detention.

It is worth mentioning that Bahrain is a signatory party to the Convention against Torture. Bahrain has however failed to implement the recommendations given by the committee affiliated with implementing the aforementioned Convention or to amend the laws to measure up to that Convention, especially that the definition of torture in Bahrain is not compatible with the articles of the Convention. Furthermore, all local and international appeals demanding investigations in torture allegations have been ignored.

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the following from the Bahraini Authorities:-

• To immediately end the systematic torture against all detainees in Bahraini prisons; • To prosecute those responsible and put on trial those involved in crimes of torture, especially those whose names have been mentioned in the report of Human Rights Watch and the rest of the reports released by the BCHR; • To adherence to the commitments, treaties and international recommendations it signed, and among them the recommendations released by the UN Committee against Torture.

-- [1]www.alwasatnews.com/3047 [2]www.alwasatnews.com [3]alwefaq.net

Bahraini authorities arrest the activist Mohammed Al-Rashid for expressing his views on the internet

21 January 2011

The BCHR expresses grave concern regarding the Bahraini authorities continued suppression of public freedoms, specifically by criminalizing the freedom of opinion and expression and turning it into criminal and security cases[1]. This time the target of this suppression is the internet activist Mohammed Rashid, who was arrested for writing online about human rights abuses, spreading statements of opposition political movements, and criticizing journalists who are close to the authorities.

The BCHR has received information that the Bahraini Authorities had arrested the activist Mohammed Ali Rashid last October for exercising his legitimate right to freely express his opinions through writing on forums and popular sites like Bahrain Online and AlJazeera Talk. AlRashid is being charged with spreading false rumors and news with the intention of harming public security. He was released after around 3 months from his arrest, in January 2011 but he is prohibited from travel and the court is still considering the case where he faces a prison sentence.

Facing the likely chances of being targeted, repressed, and even detained, many Bahraini bloggers and activists usually hide their real identities and use nicknames on the national forum websites. However, this did not prevent the authorities from reaching Al-Rashid and detaining him. Furthermore, it is evident from the prosecution files that the public prosecution are relying on the investigation conducted by the security authorities, the information was used word by word even containing the same spelling mistakes.

Regarding freedom of the internet, Bahrain has been ranked as one of the countries under surveillance, which is the rank proceeding the countries enemies to the internet. Bahrain’s status has also been categorized for the second consecutive year (2009, 2010) as Not Free on the ranking of Freedom House. Two of the top bloggers in Bahrain, academic AbdulJalil Al-Singaise, and blogger Ali Abdul-Imam, are detained and being tried under the terrorism act due to their electronic, social and political activity. The BCHR believes that the internet has played an important role in previous years by providing a new method for the freedom of expression and opinion, it has actually become the primary method used to report human rights abuses to the outside world, especially when it comes to the cases that the local media would not dare cover.

The BCHR believes that detaining and criminalizing activist for writing about human rights conditions in the country is a flagrant violation of all international treatise and conventions on human rights. Specifically article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” This campaign, that is being led by the Bahraini authorities against bloggers and activists, contradicts Bahrain’s status as a member in the Human Rights Council, and their continued claims of respecting the freedom of opinion and expression.

The BCHR renews its call to the Bahraini authorities and to national and international organizations for: - The immediate release of all detainees who are being tried in cases related to the freedom of opinion and expression - Abandoning all actions that restrict freedom of opinion and expression or prevent the transmission of information. - Respecting all forms of freedom of expression as stated in the international covenants and treaties. - Amending Press law no. 47 of 2002 in line with international standards of human rights and to stop trying bloggers under the terrorism act.

-- [1]Under the pretext of "inciting hatred against the regime": The criminalization of freedom of opinion & expression continues

Forbidding the BBC team from Running Interviews in Bahrain

Confiscating the Teams’ Cameras and Threatening them with Legal Measures

17 January 2011

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its concern for the Bahraini Authorities continuance in repressing the representatives and correspondents of foreign newspapers, radio stations and TV channels, as well as world news agencies in an attempt to block the news of what is taking place inside Bahrain from the outside world, which was lately represented in attempting to prevent a team from the BBC Radio and TV Corporation from recording and filming radio broadcasts and TV documentaries about Bahrain.

Since the moment of the correspondents’ arrival at Bahrain’s International Airport on November 24th, 2010, they were taken aback by having their cameras confiscated in the airport’s customs and the refusal to return them back despite their repetitive attempts to convince the officials in the airport that they had informed the embassy of their intention to visit Bahrain and that they had not shown any sign of objection.

On November 25th, which coincides with the day of the third session of trialing what is known as the ‘organizational network’, they were prohibited from entering the courtroom despite the government’s declaration that the trial is public. The Department of Foreign Media attempted to drive them away from the court’s surrounding by inviting them to a meeting at the same time of the trial; however, they refused and decided to stay outside the court’s building to detect what is happening, where the families of activists and human rights defenders had gathered. Even while they were recording filmed interviews with the families of detainees who had spread out on the ground outside the court, by the temporary equipment which they had borrowed, the security men intervened to prevent and force them to stop running these interviews, and they tried hard to confiscate the tapes that were recorded with their equipment; however, they refused to obey their orders.

During the week of their presence in Bahrain, the two journalists were subjected to severe and intense security control and pursuit, since the moment of their arrival at Bahrain’s airport and until the hour of their departure; they were even tracked inside the restaurants, coffee shops and shopping malls they were in, whether they were there to dine or purchase things.

On November 29th, the two journalists were summoned by Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (a member of the ruling family), head of the Department of Foreign Media at the Corporation of Information Affairs, and former vice-president of the National Security Apparatus to ask them to stop filming or making interviews, implying that their persistence to record has its legal consequences which they must bear. The Bahraini Authorities monopolize the TV broadcast and do not authorize any private or independent political channels. Last September, the BBC had broadcasted a short documentary[1] about the political situation in Bahrain and the tyrannical attack that led to the arrest of hundreds of activists and human rights defenders, among them the activist Jaffar Al-Hisabi who holds a British and Bahraini nationality.

The BCHR believes that these harassments and bans are another attempt by the Authority to deny the access of correct information and news of what is taking place of daily violations of human rights in Bahrain to the outside world, at a time when all the local media bodies are banned from discussing the news of the current trial of the alleged network.

The Department of Foreign Media which is in charge of the ban is only superficially affiliated with the Corporation of Information Affairs, while in reality it overlaps and is associated with the National Security Apparatus (Intelligence) as far as the tasks assigned to it are concerned. The Department is headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, who was the former vice-president of the National Security Apparatus. This Department has been exerting a lot of pressure in the last years on the correspondents of foreign newspapers and news agencies, and it refrained from issuing permits to some of them, and it tried to impose some correspondents that are closely allied with it on some of the foreign channels and world news agencies. It has become difficult for any correspondent to keep his or her job without the Authority being satisfied with him or her. Last February, it froze the permit of correspondents from the French and German news agencies[2] . In May it also froze the activities of Al-Jazeera News Channel in Bahrain, and banned its correspondents from entering the country[3].

According to international indicators of the condition of freedom of opinion and expression released by some of the international organizations concerned with monitoring freedom of press, Bahrain’s rank in the indicators of freedom of opinion and expression declined until it became categorized by the Freedom House org. as one of the non-free countries. Bahrain’s rank also deteriorated in the indicator of freedom of press of Reporters without Borders org. to reach number 144 among 178 countries included in the 2010 indicator, after it was ranked number 63 worldwide in 2003.

These restricting approaches of the government of Bahrain is inconsistent with its position as a member in the Council of Human Rights and a party in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights where its ‘19th’ Article states, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.

Based on all the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the Bahraini Authorities the following:-

 Allow the journalists, correspondents and media workers to exercise their activities in absolute freedom without obstructing or restricting them.

 Separate the affairs of information from the security apparatuses and permit the foreign newspapers and news agencies to cover the news freely.

 Meet its commitments to the International Charters and Covenants which it has endorsed as far as freedom of press and freedom of opinion and expression are concerned.

-- [1]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=db3Z3bFIaQ0 [2]ifex.org [3]ifex.org

Bahrain : The Arabic Network Announces The Report of Arab Group for Media Monitoring(AWG-MM): Media Performance During Elections

The Report Monitors The Media Bias Towards Government Candidates and The Effect of the Detention Crackdown on Media Performance


Cairo , January 8th ,2011
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information today announced the release of The Arab Group for Media monitoring, AWG-MM, report on the performance of official and independent media during the last elections in Bahrain held on October 3 -31, 2010 . The report presents quantitative and qualitative analysis of audio visual and paper media performance.

The results of a monitoring project that was conducted to evaluate the performance of the media in Bahrain’s latest parliamentary elections, showed limited use of the radio and television channels in disseminating election awareness, whereas, these channels were excessively used in sentimental mobilization and publicizing government officials and figures . In regard to the daily newspapers – which are privately owned – the results of the monitoring project showed that neutrality or biasness have varied towards the candidates and the political societies, however, all the five main newspapers published in Arabic have published materials in favor of the government and senior state officials in a manner that reveals the – indirect – official influence on those newspapers.

The report monitored that all the traditional media avoided addressing the issues related to the elections but considered sensitive by the authority, and it almost declined to convey the statements, opinions, and protests of the figures and parties that were boycotting the elections, which also reflects the influence of the authority over these newspapers, and the self-censorship it commits itself to, in addition to the prevalence of the political tendencies of the newspaper owners over the neutrality and professionalism of the newspapers which require imparting various opinions and information to the readers.

The report showed that the elections took place under a state of political and security crisis which greatly overshadowed the role of media and its neutrality in the elections. The election campaign period was preceded with wide arrests that were especially extended to the leaders and members of political groups who were calling for boycotting the elections. The government also targeted some opposition political groups; both participating and boycotting ones, by suspending their publications and blocking their electronic websites.

The report analyzed 15201 press material items. The performance regarding the election parties was monitored for:

- The candidates (who were 135 candidates competing for 35 seats in the Council of Representatives) - The political societies (49 of the candidates belong to a number of those societies) - Senior government officials and figures - The committee supervising the elections

The quantitative measurement of time was used for the radio and television, while measurement of space was used for the daily newspapers. The evaluation of the nature of material broadcasted or published was classified into three levels as follows: neutral, positive or negative.

The report in Arabic http://awgmm.net/?p=228

The report in English http://awgmm.net/eng/?p=31

You can also read it below.

he Results of Monitoring the Media in Bahrain’s Elections – October 2010

The Results of Monitoring the Media in Bahrain’s Elections – October 2010 Statistics that evaluate the performance of; TV, Radio and daily newspapers towards; candidates, political societies and government figures

A report released by the Arab Group for Media Monitoring (AWG-MM) With the support of the International Media Support (IMS)

This report is released simultaneously in Bahrain and Egypt January 2011

Summary of results and background and nature of the monitoring project:

The results of a monitoring project that was conducted to evaluate the performance of the media in Bahrain’s latest parliamentary elections, which took place between 3 to 31, October 2010, showed limited use of the radio and television channels in disseminating election awareness, whereas, these channels were excessively used in sentimental mobilization and publicizing government officials and figures. The role of the only authorized radio and TV channels in Bahrain, which are fully run and controlled by the government, was limited to transmitting some information related to the electoral process, while there was no broadcast time provided for the competing candidates and their political societies to present their opinions and election programs, which deprived the candidates from crucial means to reach the electors, and deprived the voters from making use of these national media, supposedly owned by the people, to get the information they need to practice their right in making conscious choices.

In regard to the daily newspapers – which are privately owned – the results of the monitoring project showed that neutrality or biasness have varied towards the candidates and the political societies, however, all the five main newspapers published in Arabic have published materials in favor of the government and senior state officials in a manner that reveals the – indirect – official influence on those newspapers.

(Attached are the detailed results, tables and charts related to the aforementioned results).

The team assigned with the monitoring project noticed that all the traditional media avoided addressing the issues related to the elections but considered sensitive by the Authority1, and it almost declined to convey the statements, opinions, and protests of the figures and parties that were boycotting the elections2, which also reflects the influence of the Authority over these newspapers, and the self-censorship it commits itself to, in addition to the prevalence of the political tendencies of the newspaper owners over the neutrality and professionalism of the newspapers which require imparting various opinions and information to the readers, and especially those eligible to vote.

The team assigned with the monitoring also noticed that the elections took place under a state of political and security crisis which greatly overshadowed the role of media and its neutrality in the elections. The election campaign period was preceded with wide arrests that were especially extended to the leaders and members of political groups who were calling for boycotting the elections. The government also targeted some opposition political groups; both participating and boycotting ones, by suspending their publications and blocking their electronic websites. As well, the government closed down all the electronic websites and forums that hold critical political opinions3. Despite that, some of these websites were able to pass over the traditional media by infiltrating the block and conveying the opinions and criticism4.

The Arab Group for Media Monitoring (AWG-MM)5, with the support of the International Media Support (IMS) based in Denmark 6, had implemented a program to monitor the performance of the media in the parliamentary elections of Bahrain in 2006; the local newspapers had at that time published the primary results of the monitoring process, and then the Group released a separate report that includes the quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the diverse parties related to the electoral process7. This year, a team which was made up of 8 members who were trained on the techniques of monitoring the role of media in the elections, had implemented the monitoring project and which continued on a daily basis for nearly a month and a half where the radio, television, five daily newspapers published in Arabic and two other newspapers published in English were marked out. The election campaign period that was monitored was from October 3 to 31, 2010. The broadcasting hours that were assigned and considered as peak hours, where the TV broadcast times from 6 am until midnight, while the radio broadcast hours were from 6:30 am to 10:30 am. The number of information entered in the electronic program that was specified for processing information was 15201 entries. The monitoring process monitored the performance of the media concerning the following actors:

The candidates (who were 135 candidates competing for 35 seats in the Council of Representatives) The political societies (49 of the candidates belong to a number of those societies) Senior government officials and figures The committee supervising the elections

The quantitative measurement of time was used for the radio and television, while measurement of space was used for the daily newspapers. The evaluation of the nature of material broadcasted or published was classified into three levels as follows: neutral, positive (in favour of the party being observed), negative (not in favour of that party).

Click here to download the report

Two Innocent Defendants Falsely Admit Under Torture The Attempted Murder of the Editor-in-Chief while he Denies their Offence!

The Public Prosecution and the Security Apparatuses Conspire to Condemn Innocent People

Jaffar Ahmed Nasser Juma’a (left) Hasan Ali Mahdi Ramadan (right)

1 January 2010

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its astonishment and amazement for the silence of the officials in the security apparatuses at the Ministry of Interior and the National Security Apparatus, as well as the Public Prosecution affiliated with the Ministry of Justice, and them refraining from explaining how the detailed confessions of the two defendants in the case of assaulting and the attempt to murder the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan newspaper (Muhanad Abu-Zaitoon); the defendants are: Jaffar Ahmed Nasser Juma’a (27 years old), and Hasan Ali Mahdi Ramadan Mohammed (21 years old), as well as how the defendants were pushed to perform the crime which they are clear of, especially after the decisive testimony of the victim Abu-Zaitoon which stunned everyone in court and which is that the two defendants present in court and who have made detailed confessions of how they plotted and assaulted him are not the same two people who attacked him, and he even denied facing an attempted murder in first place, justifying that the attack on him was not an intended with murder, which caused the court to release the defendants with ensuring their place of residence, after they had spent more than three months in prison under physical and mental torture.

The Assault and the Confessions Extracted under Torture The local newspapers had announced[1] on Thursday 26th August 2010, that the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan newspaper was subjected to an attack by two masked people at three am in the morning and which led to his injury and burning part of his car. On Monday 30th August 2010, the local newspapers published a statement for the head of Public Security stating that the security apparatuses were able to arrest the two people accused of attacking the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan newspaper Muhanad Abu-Zaitoon[2] . He indicated that the security apparatuses had intensely embarked on a search and investigation operation and which led to determining their identity and arresting them, where they confessed what they were charged with, although their descriptions did not match the description stated by the victim when he reported the incident.

First Attorney-General Abdulrahman Al-Sayed

On Tuesday 31st August 2010, the First Attorney-General Abdulrahman Al-Sayed stated, ‘The Public Prosecution questioned the defendants who confessed in detail committing the crime and their agreement to assault the victim and burn his car. Al-Sayed noted that in order to execute what they had intended to do, they prepared a glass bottle containing flammable petroleum substance and a sharp tool to attack him and they headed towards his work place at Al-Watan newspaper, and as soon as they caught him, one of them started beating him with the sharp tool in his possession and while the victim was busy defending himself, the other took advantage of that and poured the petroleum substance inside the car and set it on fire.’ He added, ‘the Public Prosecution accompanied them to the place of the incident to make a visual inspection where they acted out how they committed the incident and which was in line with their confessions; the investigation resulted in seizing the tools used in committing the crime. The Public Prosecution ordered detaining the defendants for 60 days pending investigation considering it a terrorist crime in preparation for transferring them to the specialized court as soon as the investigations were over’[3] . Note that the details of the film that was shot to act out the alleged crime contradicted the results of the investigation as far as who did beating with the sharp tool and who attempted to burn the car.

As is the case in such cases, the witnesses are usually either security men or intelligence officers, the witnesses that were included in the case file and who witnessed the alleged crime act are: Chief Prosecutor Muhana Al-Shayji, Captain Ahmed Khalifa Al-Thawadi, and Lieutenant Colonel Sheikh Khalifa Al-Khalifa member of the ruling family and Police Chief of the Central Governorate, as well as the photographer Lance Corporal Hussein Jassim. The Public Prosecution and for its inquiries about the defendants, has mainly relied on what was called ‘secret sources’ brought by the Lieutenant Ahmed Mahmood Al-Dalhan. The defendants were later brought forth based on the Anti-Terrorism Law[4] condemned by many international organizations[5] including the UN.

From left: Captain Ahmed Khalifa Al-Thawadi, Lieutenant Ahmed Al-Dalhan

A Security and Media Campaign and a Prior Conviction along with Publishing the Photos and Names of the Innocent as Criminals This assault was followed with an organized security and media campaign that seems to have been prepared in advance before the incident – which made the country appear as if it is a victim of terrorism in order to justify all those arrests that targeted hundreds of people and children since last August. The local TV and Radio, as well as Bahrain News Agency took part in a media fright and in a prior conviction of the defendants. The photos of the defendants and their names were displayed on Monday 30th August 2010. In a statement by the Ministry of Interior Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa (from the ruling family), he condemned ‘vicious murder attempt’ that Abu-Zaitoon faced, and he said that ‘the attempted murder is an act of terrorism’, the head of the Corporation of Information Affairs, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa (from the ruling family) also condemned the incident.

Head of the Corporation of Information Affairs Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa meets Abu-Zaitoon after the incident

The King Receives Congratulatory Telegrams for the Arrest of the Innocent The King’s name was used and was thrust upon the pioneers of the prior conviction of defendants - the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) later published ‘His Majesty the King received congratulatory telegrams from officials, citizens and residents on the occasion of arresting two perpetrators of the terrorist incident, praising through their appreciation and thanks the great efforts carried out by the security apparatuses, and its distinct performance in the rapid arrest of the perpetrators of the terrorist incident’. The Bahrain Journalists Association (governmental) hastened to send a congratulatory telegram to the country’s King on the occasion of arresting the perpetrators of what it named the terrorist act. The Governor of the Central Governorate Mubarak Al-Fadhel commended the immediate efforts of the security men which led to the arrest of the perpetrators of the assault. And as is its norm in each security campaign, the Authority was active in empowering itself from abroad through the speedy visits carried out by the security and political leaders to gain international support and back up for the Authority in its security campaign.
Abu-Zaitoon’s Surprising Testimony, Acquitted those Who Confessed under Torture their Attempt of Murder On Monday 13th December 2010, and after more than three months, the Bahraini newspapers surprised the public opinion with the news of releasing the defendants in the case of the assault of Abu-Zaitoon after he had confirmed before court that the defendants brought forth in court and who made detailed confessions of the plot and assault are not the same people who attacked him, and that they did not even have the same characteristics of the real defendants, and he basically denied being subjected to the alleged murder attempt stating that the defendants who attacked him did not intend to murder, but rather hurt him, and which is the decisive testimony that led to the release of the defendants while ensuring their place of residence.

After their release, the defendants Jaffar Juma’a and Hasan Ramadan informed the Bahrain Center for Human Rights the actual reasons that forced them to admit a crime they initially did not commit, and which happened as a result of the beating and physical and mental torture they faced during the interrogation, and the threat to disgrace their honor or to hold some of their family members in prison as hostages.

Mua’amar (left), Lieutenant Turki Mohammed Al-Majid (right)

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes, and through the arrests it had detected in the last months, that there are certain targeted lists among those arrests in the possession of the security apparatuses, and which include names of activists that are known for their public activities in the Shiite villages and areas, and that the majority of arrests that took place in the last months under various charges and pretexts were in fact targeting those individuals from those lists, and among them are those two defendants as they are known for their public activities in their areas.

The Assaults... and Who Stands Behind Them?

Since mid last August, the security institutes in Bahrain, led by the National Security Apparatus launched - a suppressive, systematic and continuous campaign until this day, targeting hundreds of activists, religious figures, human rights defenders and children – at a time where the country lived an undeclared state of emergency in all the Shiite areas and villages. This suppressive campaign lacked the humane and moral standards, where hundreds of people were thrown into prison and the majority were tortured, disfigured and sexually harassed, and especially the children among them. This deterioration reached a level that has never been witnessed in the country before. As a result of this security campaign several international organizations and institutions released statements and reports that condemn and denounce this suppressive policy pursued by the Bahraini Authorities to oppress its opponents, at a time when the Authority attempted to justify its security campaign and portray it as if it is within the context of the war against terrorism, which is something in fact Bahrain is not suffering from.

What also raises doubts about who stands behind this attack is that this incident came at a time when the security apparatuses were searching for pretexts and justification that could cause this security campaign, and that the context and planning of the media campaign that succeeded this incident compels one to believe that the incident was arranged by the National Security Apparatus, in order to drive the country towards further sectarian polarization and dispute, especially during the period that directly preceded the last Parliamentary elections. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights emphasizes that the allegation of the systematic torture in the prisons of Bahrain have become a reality that is unquestionable, and that many of these confessions have been extracted by force. Now, after the testimony stated by the victim acquitting the defendants from the crime of attempted murder, it has become quite vital for the security apparatuses and Public Prosecution to initiate an immediate and transparent investigation to identify the reasons that led to having innocent individuals admit a crime they primarily did not commit.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights repeats again that there are highly credible allegations of many confessions in dozens of political and security cases that have been falsely extracted under torture and mistreatment. Based on that, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the following:

1. Immediately stop the mental and physical torture against the detainees, 2. Investigate in a neutral, public and impartial manner all the torture allegations that targeted hundreds of opponents of the political regime, and to bring forth the perpetrators and inciters to justice. 3. Immediately present all the detainees to independent medical committees to reveal the incidents and marks of torture, and to exclude the forensic doctor – affiliated with the Public Prosecution - from revealing and investigating the incidents of torture as the Public Prosecution is a party that lacks independence. 4. Release all the detainees, including the activists and human rights defenders, as their arrest was due to them practicing their fundamental rights in expression, organization and peaceful gathering, and which are guaranteed by international laws. 5. Immediately stop applying the Anti-Terrorism Law. 6. Stop the media campaign that incites hatred and drives the country towards sectarian conflict. 7. Stop libelling and publishing the names and photos of the detainees in the newspapers, as an implementation of the principle that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

--- [1]The Ministry of Interior condemns ‘the attempted murder’ of the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan [2]The Ministry of Interior arrests two people on the charge of attacking Abu- Zaitoon [3]The Public Prosecution: The defendants who attacked Abu-Zaitoon confessed [4]Bahrain terror bill is not in line with international human rights law – UN expert [5]AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

A Report Issued by the BCHR: Evaluating the Parliamentary Performance related to Human Rights during the period 2006 – 2010

The MPs Elected for the Next Four Years Hold a Great Responsibility in Fulfilling their Legislative and Monitoring Role in Relation to Promoting Human Rights and Not Yielding to Influences and Pressures

The Citizens, Civil Society Institutes, Media and International Organizations have to Urge MPs to Carry out their Responsibilities, Cooperate with them and Evaluate their Performance

26 December 2010 The Bahrain Center for Human Rights confirms in a special report released today and that consists of a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of the Council of Representatives (2006-2010) in the field of human rights that there is a deficiency in the balance between the legislative and executive authorities which falls in the interest of the government. This interest lies in forming a legislative council based on a loyal majority which permits the government to control the legislative process, and weakening the legislative initiative of the MPs by using their right to propose bills, and their lax in taking advantage of the monitoring initiative such as their right in questioning and interrogation, which led to establishing human rights files on one hand and making the Executive Authorities safe from questioning and scrutiny when practicing blatant violations to human rights. The report emphasizes that despite the efforts of some of the members, the Bahraini Parliament failed during the period 2006-2010, and in a significant manner, to carry out the bare minimum of its legislative or monitoring role to promote human rights, as well as failing to hold out the widespread and diverse deterioration detected by the local and international organizations during the abovementioned period. The documented report released today by the BCHR reveals numerous and various reflections of this failure which indicates – according to the report – the Council’s lack, as an institute, of the independent and effective will to reform the situation in accordance with the international standards. The report concludes to highlight the well-established correlation of rights where an authentic promotion of the civil, economic and social rights cannot take place without the real promotion of political rights – as stated by Article 21 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1] - and which by implementing would turn the Council of Representatives into a legitimate parliament that represents the citizens in a fair manner, and which reflects their will effectively, and carries out its duties in legislation and observation. The public posts in the country should be open to all citizens away from discrimination, and they should be subject to accountability away from immunity and privileges.

In relation to the civil and political rights:

During the elapsed period of the Council of Representatives – i.e. 2006-2010 – Bahrain’s level in democratic, civil and political liberties indicate a decline from being at the level of the countries categorized as “partially free” to the countries categorized as “not free”, and this is according to the Freedom House organization. Systematic torture has been restored in Bahrain, the nightly house raids, as well as the random detainments, arbitrary arrests and unjust trials, based on Human Rights Watch and the BCHR reports. Bahrain’s level in the transparency indicator also declined and this is according to the Transparency International organization. Pursuing human rights defenders and activists and subjecting them to unjust trials increased according to the reports of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Frontline organization, and the International Observatory that is affiliated with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT). The restrictions on printed and electronic press, and prosecuting and putting journalists on trial also increased according to the reports of the international organization of Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Bahrain’s position in the international category of Broadcasters without Borders fell from 111 in 2006 to 144 in 2010, and has been classified among the countries that are under observation, which is the category that precedes the countries classified as anti-internet. The local human rights organizations documented an escalation in the security forces’ use of excessive force and the policy of collective punishment against the public protests in some of the areas, including the use of suffocating gases and firearms (shotgun) as stated in the interview and letter of these organizations to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during her visit to Bahrain in April 2010. As to all the violations related to the civil rights, the Council of Representatives failed in reforming the laws restricting public liberties, and which lay restrictions and permit all violations, and especially the articles of the State Security Law from the Penal Code of 1976, the laws related to the political societies, the Law of Assembling and the Anti-Terrorism Law. The Council also failed to issue reformed bills related to press and societies and which remained pending since the previous council. As well, the Council failed in effectively questioning the security institutes in their practices that breach international standards related to human rights. To add to that, the Council or the pro-Authority majority of its members went as far as inciting the government and the security apparatuses to become more severe in suppressing the protests, and setting down the cruelest penalties upon detainees even before they are condemned by court, and doubting international reports; this was without them paying attention to their monitoring responsibilities as representatives of the people in investigating the complaints against the government related to abuse and violations in its practices, or related to the lack of judiciary, including the Public Prosecution, independence, integrity and impartiality. Furthermore, the Council of Representatives fell short in executing the binding recommendation of the UN committee which is responsible for implementing the International Convention Against Torture in amending the laws, whereas they include the definition of torture and prosecuting its perpetrators in a manner consistent with the provisions of the Convention. The Council did not make any efforts in regards to driving the government towards implementing the other recommendations related to that Convention. The demands of one of the MPs to investigate the torture allegations went unheeded. In addition, the Council failed to question the government in regards to the report of the UN Commission on Discrimination and the recommendations it demanded the government to implement. The Council also did not put any effort to compel the government to submit its due periodic report to that International Commission since 2007. The Council of Representatives, under pressure from the Authority, was unable to form a Parliamentary committee on human rights. The King and the government neglected the bill of the MPs to form a national body for human rights according to international standards, and instead the King issued an order to form a “National Institute for Human Rights” and appointed its members, and among them are individuals whose majority are known for their loyalty and submission to the will of the Executive Authority. Joining the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came with the initiative of the government itself, and not with an initiative or under the pressure of the Council of Representatives; and the Council did not put any effort into following up on whether or not the terms of that Covenant were being put into practice. In regards to reviewing Bahrain’s record in the field of human rights among the comprehensive review mechanism, the Council failed to have any role except in preparing the reports that precede the review sessions, in participating in the discussions that were held in two phases in Geneva, or in continuing to execute the commitments made by the government in front of the International Mechanism to guarantee achieving an international reputation. The Council left the matter to the government and its apparatuses to activate and say what they desire in that matter. Some of the human rights defenders bore the burden of presenting the other opinion within their modest potentials and were subjected to prosecution and smear campaigns later.

In regards to the economic and social rights and financial corruption:

Some of the committees formed by the Council succeeded in confirming and documenting information that was mentioned in the reports of the opposition and the human rights organizations years earlier, regarding the existence of prevalent and systematic theft of lands and public funds, and the confiscation of most of the country’s shores and widespread and systematic sabotage of the environment. The members of those Parliamentary committees noted that the government was not cooperating with them in obtaining the information, and although those committees accumulated a large number of documents that ascertain that corruption exists, the Council failed to bring these matters forth for discussion in regards to what those documents clearly demonstrated and which was the direct responsibility of the Royal Court, Prime Minister, members of the ruling family and senior officials for those violations. The government was able to circumvent what the Council’s committees revealed by forming an investigation committee and among its members were those same individuals who had been accused of corruption issues. The King then made use of his authority to end the legislative role in the shortest period possible. The environmental violations and the seizure of lands have drastically increased to the interest of those officials and influential figures without the MPs or municipal members being able to do anything to stop them, and this comes in addition to holding the ones responsible for it accountable and return its value which is estimated to be tens of billions of Bahraini Dinars from the Public Treasury. The MPs affiliated with the opposition could only turn to the King and Prime Minister to resolve those files despite knowing that they were also directly involved in those violations. On the other hand, and due to the inflation and the international increase in prices, the percentage of people suffering from low income increased, especially those who work in the private sector, under the dominance of the influential figures on this sector and the exploitation of cheap labor. The housing crisis also grew, where there are still more than 50 thousand requests awaiting housing loans, and the length of time to wait has for some, reached 18 years. The case of dilapidated housing has still not been dealt with according to the plans and promises that were presented a while before the current Council. The government deliberately failed and neglected most of the bills and proposals brought forth by the Representatives that were relevant to promoting the economic and social rights of citizens, so that the government – and not the Representatives - could appear as if they were behind the few positive projects related to the economic and social rights, and among those was the sordid inflation bonus project. While at the same time the government encouraged and supported passing the laws that secure for the MPs high income and lifetime pensions, which some interpreted as working on containing the MPs and inciting the citizens, whose majority suffer from low income, against them. Joining the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights happened with an initiative from the government itself, and not by the initiative or pressure from the Council; the Council did not put any effort into following up on implementing the terms of that Covenant. With regard to the environment, the systematic sabotage of shores and marine life not only continued but increased; the level of pollution and serious diseases also increased in the residential areas near the industrial areas such as the area of Ma’ameer. During the past years, there has been a continuous appearance of yellow clouds and horrible smells in wide areas of Bahrain without the Council being able to do anything to reveal the reasons, rather than treating it. As to the health services, the efforts of some of the MPs failed to improve those service especially in the Salmaniya Medical Center and the numbers of deaths due to genetic blood diseases have reached an unprecedented level.

In regards to combating discrimination:

The U.S Foreign Department reports related to human rights and religious freedoms, released during the same period, detected policies of sectarian discrimination against the Shiite majority. The BCHR documented an increase in the policies of sectarian discrimination in holding public posts, and in the State’s policies in employment, education and municipal services; where the percentage of Shiite in the senior posts in the country declined, under the existence of a Parliamentary institute, from 18% in 2004 to 13% in 2008. A former government adviser had disclosed before the elections of 2006 the existence of a secret plot which involves senior officials in the Royal Court and government, related to changing the demography by naturalizing tens of thousands of people on a sectarian basis, and marginalizing the Shiite sect in all aspects of life. The government suppressed the attempts of the MPs to discuss the contents of the report by the former government adviser under the pretext that the judiciary is addressing the issue and that there is a publication ban that continued for an indefinite period. The MPs also failed to reach any conclusions when they questioned Sheikh Ahmed Atyat-Allah Al-Khalifa, the State Cabinet Minister, and who – according to the report of the former government adviser – is standing at the head of the network running the sectarian plot. The MPs were not able to obtain any official statistics and figures related to naturalization or employment in the government sector, and this limited their ability to document the practiced policies of sectarian discrimination, let alone their ability to counter those policies. The Council of Representatives failed to pass a law that criminalizes discrimination, as the majority of the pro-Authority members stood against such a law, although there is a binding recommendation from the UN Special Commission overseeing the implementation of the Convention against Racial Discrimination. The Council had, in addition, failed to drive the government towards adhering to implementing the recommendations released by that committee, and it even failed to push the government towards submitting its due report since 2008, related to applying that Convention. The Ministry of Interior threatened two MPs from the Wefaq bloc with imprisonment because they discussed discrimination at US Congress and in the UN conference on fighting discrimination, while the Council failed to defend these two members, and members of the Council even contributed in an incitement campaign against all who “smear the reputation of the country abroad”. The government succeeded in preventing MPs from obtaining information related to naturalization and employment in the government sector with the justification that it violates the personal rights of those who have been naturalized or employed.

The reasons of failure and the necessary action:

The report of the BCHR concludes that Council of Representatives in the previous period suffered from problems in its structure and jurisdictions. This is due to the constitution of 2002 released by the King, which was quite controversial, in addition to the laws related to the electoral districts and the practice of political rights, and the bylaw of the Council, and granting immediate political rights to the naturalized who have been granted the citizenship exceptionally and on a sectarian basis; all this made the Council under the full dominance of the government, and thus unable to carry out its legislative and observatory tasks in a manner which promotes human rights. Hence, despite the participation of a large portion of the opposition in the elections of 2006, and the Wefaq National Islamic opposition society obtaining 62% of votes, this percentage of votes has turned into an ineffective minority in the Council due to the unjust distribution of electoral districts and due to the executive officials’ ability to accumulate the votes of all other blocs and independent members to their interest in the crucial cases and issues, and the role the Council’s presidency played in setting down obstacles before the initiatives of some of the MPs to activate the questioning and observation. This led to the Council being divided on a sectarian basis, which made it grow weaker and increased the government’s dominance over it. The Council of Representatives, in the past period, not only failed in making constitutional reforms which grants it more jurisdictions, but it also stopped the majority of its members from making any real amendments in the internal regulations that serve that approach. Despite the statistical majority of the opposition in the Council of Representatives, the government had the Shura Council, in addition to the rampant jurisdictions to the King; which serve as a second and third defense line for its interests and which holds back the will of the Council. Therefore, the Council of Representatives in Bahrain has not been and will not be able to carry out any observatory or legislative roles that promote human rights effectively without the ruling regime having the political will to change or without amendments made in the constitution or electoral districts, where the Council can represent the citizens in a fair manner, and the Council can achieve genuine independence from the Executive Authority. This cannot happen under the light of the current unbalanced division of electoral districts, the rapid movement of political naturalization, the government’s dominance over the electoral process and the Supreme Judiciary Council that it runs, the presence of an appointed Shura Council and the King’s jurisdictions which are considered the safety valve to the interest of the senior government officials on the account of promoting human rights, whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural. Despite all that, the elected MPs for the upcoming four years, and the appointed members of the Shura Council have a major responsibility in carrying out their legislative role in reforming the laws that contradict international standards of human rights; as well as to activate their monitoring role in inducing the Executive Authority towards carrying out its responsibilities related to all rights; whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural. They also have the responsibility of defying the breaches and violations practiced by the government apparatuses against public liberties and the fundamental rights of citizens, which Bahrain adheres to among the International Conventions. This is in addition to not yielding to the counter influences and pressures. The citizens, civil society institutes, media and international committee should carry out their role in urging the MPs to carry out their responsibilities and cooperate with them in achieving that and then to evaluate their performance. The Full Report (Arabic)(PDF) --- [1] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21: (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Waiting For Reform & Recognition: Female Migrant Domestic Workers In Bahrain

24 December 2010

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) calls on the local and international community to give special attention to the plight of female migrant domestic workers in the Kingdom of Bahrain. To a great extent, this sector of Bahraini society has been ignored and excluded from the discourse on women's and migrants’ rights in Bahrain. Women and children around the globe are the most vulnerable section of society to the effects of economic, political and social ills; for migrant women, the conditions are even worse. According to the ILO, domestic work is the "single most important category of employment among women migrants to the Gulf as well as to Lebanon and Jordan." In 2008 BCHR, Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights and CARAM Asia collaborated in releasing a report on the situation of female migrant domestic workers in the Kingdom of Bahrain. This year on the International Migrants Day, BCHR follows up on the 2008 report with an updated appraisal of the situation of female migrant domestic workers in Bahrain. This report summarizes the continued problems faced by migrant domestic workers and the lack of improvements over the past two years. Following an appraisal of the current situation, this report offers several key recommendations to the Bahraini government on the issue of female migrant domestic workers.

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INTRODUCTION

The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are approximately 214 million migrants worldwide, with nearly half of them being women. The ILO warns that the global financial and economic crisis has exacerbated the situation of migrant women workers, especially workers from developing countries. Across the globe migrant workers face issues of discrimination, abuse and low pay. Bahrain is home to over 438,000 migrant workers mainly originating from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Women in Bahrain face job discrimination and harassment. Migrant domestic workers --estimated to be around 70,000 in Bahrain -- suffer these and many more undignified abuses. Leaving behind their home countries in search of a high income, many migrant workers pay exorbitant migration and recruitment fees to gain employment in Bahrain. Upon arrival, however they find living and working conditions not worth the price.

Migrant workers employed in Bahraini households, especially female domestic workers, are often “invisible” and therefore particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. They work and live within the confines of their employer’s home. Domestic workers do not fall under the purview of Bahrain's labour laws, because of their 'unrecognized' status. Thus they are unable to exercise the rights and freedoms afforded to expatriate workers. It is difficult to scrutinize and regulate the working and living conditions of domestic workers. There is little protection for their rights embedded in Bahraini law. Consequently, they are frequently subjected to conditions of forced servitude. Migrant domestic workers face a multitude of problems: long (and often undefined) working hours, low salaries, the withholding of salaries and poor living conditions such as being forced to sleep outside or in cramped quarters and denied food. They suffer from psychological, physical and sexual abuse. In addition they are subjected to restrictions on movement, including the withholding of passports by their employers. It is extremely difficult for victims of these gross abuses of human dignity and human rights to seek legal redress.

Since 2008, the Bahraini government has received international praise for its labour law reforms and proposed future reforms. However, these changes are not sufficient in protecting the physical and financial well-being of migrant domestic workers. Bahrain made a stride forward in improving the quality of life for migrant workers through a reform allowing migrant workers to change employers (without their employer’s consent and in the absence of allegations of nonpayment or abuse). This major improvement for migrant workers does not apply to domestic workers.

Although Bahrain has ratified the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, it fails to uphold those standards for female migrant domestic workers. Furthermore, Bahrain has not ratified other important treaties related to the protection of migrant workers such as the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families or relevant ILO conventions.

ANALYSIS OF THE SITUATION

LACK OF LEGAL PROTECTION

As domestic workers do not fall under the purview of Bahraini labour law, abuse of power at the hands of employers goes largely unchecked by the government. Employment contracts for domestic workers are set between the employer and worker, at the employer's discretion. The government provides a model contract, but it is merely a suggestion and not a requirement. Vague terms of contract lead to confusion over the exact job requirements. Often this results in domestic workers taking on multiple roles within the household including cleaner, babysitter and cook as well as tending to their employer's relatives as well. According to a 2005 ILO study, the average number of work hours for female domestic workers in Bahrain was 108 per week, slightly higher than in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (101 and 105 respectively). These women had an average of 1 day off per month. Another issue faced by domestic workers is contract substitution whereby the worker agrees to one contract while still in their home country, but they are made to sign a new contract with different (often worse terms) upon arrival.

Bahrain has pledged to cancel the Kafala (sponsorship) system for expatriate workers. It is among the first of the GCC countries to make this pledge to remove what has been criticized as a system of "modern day slavery." Although Bahrain has announced the cancellation of the sponsorship system, this has yet to be implemented. Furthermore, domestic workers are not slated to be included in the reformed labour laws. Domestic workers are legally required to live with their sponsor (employer). Their legal status in Bahrain is dependent upon the continued sponsorship of their employers. Migrant workers in exploitative or abusive situations face a catch-22. Their employer is their key to legal residency status in Bahrain, but workers who attempt to flee abusive or exploitative living and working conditions risk arrest, prolonged detention and deportation. If a domestic worker attempts to leave their employer’s home without the employer’s consent, the employer can report the worker as a runaway to the police, grounds for arrest. It has been the case in Bahrain that victims of abuse who fled their employer’s home to file a complaint were detained by police as runaways. A frequent consequence of this system is that domestic workers who suffer abuse do not make complaints against their employers.

There is no formal system in place to monitor the contracts between employers and domestic workers. Nor is there a formal system for monitoring working conditions. A recent legal reform entitles workers to maintain their passports in their possession. It is still common practice, however, for employer’s to withhold passports, limiting freedom of movement. Since domestic workers are excluded from labour laws, the regulation of domestic work is sorely lacking, at the expense of victims of abuse.

One major positive change that took effect in 2010 is the introduction of the Easy Exit Program. This government initiative allows illegal migrant workers, including domestic workers, to leave Bahrain quickly and easily. This program was adopted to help the estimated 43,000 illegal migrant workers in Bahrain. As long as a migrant worker is not involved in a pending legal case, they can pay simply pay a fine and leave Bahrain immediately .

MISTREATMENT AND VIOLENCE

Reports of abuse and mistreatment against female migrant domestic workers have continued to surface in local newspapers and from foreign embassies since the 2008 report. According to the Labor Ministry, 322 domestic workers ran away from their sponsors in 2009. In the first five months of 2010 another 42 fled their sponsors.

Contributing to the vulnerable situation of domestic workers is the practice of hiring runaways or illegal residents. According to the Labour Ministry Inspection and Labour Director Ahmed Al Haiki the practice of hiring domestic workers off the street has worsened recently. This is a higher risk situation for migrant domestic workers. Their illegal work and residency status, further limits their legal rights and can increase apprehension in reporting mistreatment and abuse.

During Ramadan in the month August, the Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC) run by the Embassy of the Philippines reported that between August 11th and August 24th alone, 22 female domestic workers sought shelter from abuse at the hands of their employers. The FWRC reported that they typically receive 30 domestic workers during the month of Ramadan, 50 percent more than the average monthly intake.

The Philippines' Mass Repatriation Program aims to repatriate distressed workers by assisting in resolving outstanding issues and fines. The FWRC and Philippine Government in coordination with the Labour Market Regulatory Authority repatriated 39 illegal Filipino domestic workers and laborers in August. Many of the illegal Filipino workers in Bahrain leave the Philippines undocumented through an illegal escort system.

In August, the Gulf Daily News reported the abuse of a 32 year old Indian housemaid who was under the care of the MWPS after running away from her employer. The maid reported that during her two months of employment she had been subjected to physical and verbal abuse from her employer's wife, had not been paid her monthly salary of 50BD and was refused meals. She ran away from her employer's home and was discovered by a Bahraini citizen who took her to the Indian embassy to file a complaint. The Indian embassy assisted her in filing a complaint at the Khamis police station where her employer had already reported her as a runaway. The maid left Bahrain in November after being cared for at the MWPS shelter for three months. In December the Lower Criminal Court found the employer's wife guilty of assault. The Bahraini woman was sentenced to one month in jail and fined 280 BD. The MWPS reported that it was pursing further financial compensation in Civil Court.

Bahrain witnessed the mass exit of 300 Sri Lankan domestic workers between May and November of 2010. The domestic workers left Bahrain under the government’s new Easy Exit program. Reasons cited for leaving were physical abuse, sexual harassment, non-payment of salaries and being overworked. Out of the approximate 13,000 Sri Lankan migrants in Bahrain it is estimated that there are 3,000 Sri Lankan domestic workers in Bahrain.

Another serious problem resulting from the mistreatment of domestic workers is suicide. There were several reported cases of female migrant domestic workers resorting to suicide.

LACK OF ACCESS TO JUSTICE

Only a small number of female migrant domestic workers are able or willing to seek legal action against their employer. The fear of reprisal, arrest or deportation inhibits many from stepping forward to report abuse. Additionally, although the government and local NGOs have carried out information campaigns, many migrant domestic workers are unaware of their rights. This is especially true for domestic workers who work long hours in the household and have little access or interaction outside the confines of their employer’s home.

Those who seek legal redress for exploitative working conditions find little institutional support within the government. They must rely on their foreign embassy or NGOs such as the Migrant Worker Protection Society (MWPS) to facilitate the proper legal recourse against abusive employers. Court cases can take several months, costing migrant workers valuable time and money. If a domestic worker is involved in a pending court case they are legally prohibited from leaving the country until the issue is resolved.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

Female migrant domestic workers are the most vulnerable sector of Bahraini society to illegal human trafficking. In their annual report on human trafficking the U.S. Department of State rated Bahrain as a tier II country for human trafficking. A tier II classification applies to “Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards” The report noted that although Bahrain has made some attempts to curb human trafficking in to the country, including introducing the anti-trafficking law, there is still a great deal of work to do. Most notably, the report cites that the government lacks a formal procedure for identifying victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant domestic workers. The report charges that Bahrain does not provide adequate protective services for victims. Although the government funds the Dar Al Aman shelter for trafficking victims, only a small number of victims are being directed there. Foreign embassies and the MWPS generally take on the responsibility for caring for trafficking victims. The report also cites concern over the lack of legal alternatives for the removal of trafficking victims to countries where they face retribution or hardship.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights proposes the following recommendations to the government of Bahrain: • Take immediate steps to amend the Labour Law to cover domestic workers and to put in place all necessary measures to ensure its implementation. • To implement all recommendations issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons following her visit to Bahrain in October-November 2006, including: – To abolish the sponsorship system. – To establish mechanisms to monitor the working conditions and compliance of employment contracts of domestic workers in the households of their employers. – To inspect, in the presence of employers and workers, all migrant workers’ contracts. – To prohibit mandatory HIV/AIDS-testing of targeted groups. – To guarantee foreign workers the right to an accessible and fair system of justice. – To automatically inform embassies when their nationals are being detained and to facilitate visits by the relevant consular officials. • To ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. • To ratify relevant International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions, including Convention No. 97 (1949) on Migration for Employment, and No. 143 (1975) concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers. • To adopt anti-trafficking legislation and practices to fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking set forth in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act • Continue to enforce the 2008 anti-trafficking law and significantly increase the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses, especially those involving forced domestic labor • Adopt formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among domestic workers and ensure that victims of trafficking are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as illegal migration or prostitution • Adopt legal alternatives for victims of trafficking when they face retribution or hardship in their country of origin

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Bahrain : Refusal to Investigate Torture incidents Asserts Trial Unfairness

The Arabic Network Publishes The Trial Monitor Report

Cairo , December 23rd , 2010

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said that the trial of 25 Bahraini activists held today in the Third Major criminal Court was adjourned to Jan 6th , 2010. The court assigned 19 lawyers in the stead of the 21- lawyer defense team who withdrew upon the court refusal to investigate the defendants complaints of being tortured by Bahraini security. Activists stood before three court with torture scars on their bodies.

Today’s hearing was held with the attendance of another defense team. The team attempted to take the consent of the 23 defendants in custody , however the defendants insisted on their chosen defense team and refused to be represented by the new team. Following, 19 of 21 lawyers withdrew declaring they did not wish to represent the defendants. The court , presided by Ibrahim Sultan elZayed, ignored the will of defendants and lawyers and adjourned the case to Jan 6th , 2010.

The Arabic Network as an IFEX member , has sent monitors to attend the trial on 9/12/2010. The monitors report pointed out irregularities that indicate unfairness of the tribunal particularly wasting the right of the defendants to a fair and impartial investigation under court control to prove torture incidents thereby voiding all confessions extracted under physical or moral assault .

The Arabic Network said,” In such a significant case and with abundant indicators of torturing defendants , the court is urged to take all the possible measures that would end the doubts casted on the fairness of this tribunal. Not only activists need to trust the fairness of this trial , but lawyer local and international public opinion as well. This is a serious test to Bahrain’s credibility , judiciary integrity and the extent of respect shown to local and international laws and the international covenant for civil and political rights”.

Report On IFEX And ANHRI Hearing Observation: Human Rights Defenders In Bahrain

A further report of the hearing of:

• Ali Abdulemam (blogger and owner of bahrainonline.org); • Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace (spokesman and Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy); • Abdul-Ghani Khanjar (spokesperson for the Bahraini National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture); • Suhail Al-Shehabi (Committee of the Relatives of Detainees and the Committee of the Unemployed); • Ahmed Jawad Al-Fardan (Committee of the Relatives of Detainees in Karzakan); • Ali Jawad Al-Fardan (Committee of the Relatives of Detainees in Karzakan); • Salman Naji (Committee of the Unemployed); • AbdulHadi Al-Saffar (Chairman of the Committee Against High Prices); • Hassan Al-Haddad (member of the Committee of the Unemployed); • Mr Jaffar Al-Hessabi (dual British-Bahraini national, independent human rights defender supporting the rights of detainees in Bahrain); • Dr Mohammed Saeed (board member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights); • In the High Criminal Court, Manama, Bahrain – 9 December 2010

INTRODUCTION

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information [ANHRI] is a central repository for human rights information and websites in Arabic throughout the Middle East and North Africa. IFEX was created in 1992 in Montréal, Canada when a dozen leading free expression organisations came together to create a coordinated mechanism to rapidly expose free expression violations around the world. Today, IFEX numbers more than 80 independent organisations worldwide and is internationally recognised as a highly credible and effective global network.

With the support of IFEX, ANHRI commissioned Mr Matthew Moriarty, a UK based Pupil Barrister, along with Ahmed Mansoor Ali Alabd Alshehhi, a human rights activist and blogger based in the UAE, to attend the trial session at the High Criminal Court on 9 December 2010. The trial observation team also met with interested parties to discuss the ongoing proceedings.

Although only in Bahrain for a short period, the trial observation team were able to meet with trial defence lawyers, numerous family members of the defendants, officials from the UK, US and French Embassies and prominent human rights activists as part of the visit. However, although the Public Prosecutors Office [PPO] and Ministry of Justice [MoJ] were notified in advance of their attendance at the trial, they were unable to meet with any Bahraini officials to talk about the case or general situation.

This report is to be read in conjunction with previous reports on the above trial. In particular, it is intended to act as a ‘follow-up’ to the Front Line report of Ms Charlotte Peevers, from the trial session held on 11 November 2010[1], and borrows heavily from the background details and legal references contained within that report.

BAHRAINI LAW: GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

As noted in the Front Line report:

“Bahrain’s penal code criminalises the use of “torture, force or threats, either personally or through a third party, against an accused person, witness or expert” in order to induce a person to confess to an offence or to offer statements or related information.[2] It also provides that civil servants (and any other persons) who engage in torture shall be subjected to a term of imprisonment. The code of criminal procedure provides that anyone arrested or detained must be treated “in such a manner as to maintain his human dignity and shall not be subjected to any bodily or psychological harm.”[3] Further, the law requires that interrogations of those detained be conducted by the Public Prosecution Office in the presence of the accused person’s lawyer[4]…

“…The Public Prosecution Office is charged with investigating and prosecuting all crimes, which would include torture.[5] The Public Prosecution Office can also demand that law enforcement agencies investigate and punish breaches of duty by their officers.[6] Civil servants, medical professionals, and other civilians are required to report crimes to the Public Prosecution Office or other relevant authorities.[7]”

These provisions remain of particular relevance to the trial, as the detainees have repeatedly informed the High Criminal Court judges that they have been tortured over a long period of time, without being given access to lawyers for a number of weeks. They have also requested through their lawyers that the allegations of torture be investigated before any evidence is heard in the trial. (See further details below.)

Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain

Article 19 – Prohibition against Torture

“d. No person shall be subjected to physical or mental torture, or inducement, or undignified treatment, and the penalty for so doing shall be specified by law. Any statement or confession proved to have been made under torture, inducement, or such treatment, or the threat thereof, shall be null and void.”

Article 20 – Criminal Trials

“c. An accused person is innocent until proved guilty in a legal trial in which he is assured of the necessary guarantees to exercise the right of defence at all stages of the investigation and trial in accordance with the law. d. It is forbidden to harm an accused person physically or mentally. e. Every person accused of an offence must have a lawyer to defend him with his consent. f. The right to litigate is guaranteed under the law.”

Relevant provisions in international law

Bahrain has ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT). A number of their provisions are also relevant to the trial, including:

• ICCPR: Article 7 (Prohibition of Torture), Article 9 (Right to Liberty and Security of Persons), Article 14 (Right to a Fair Trial), Article 19 (Right to Freedom of Expression), Article 22 (Right to Freedom of Association); • CAT: Article 1 (Definition of Torture), Article 4 (Criminalisation of Torture), Article 11 (Prohibition of Torture for those in Custody), Article 12 (Investigation of Acts of Torture), Article 13 (Right of Complaint to the Competent Authorities), Article 14 (Right of Redress), Article 15 (Prohibition against Evidence obtained under Torture).

THE HEARING

Background

Following the commencement of this trial on 28 October 2010, before the High Criminal Court in Manama, there have been further sessions on 11 November 2010 and 25 November 2010. All of the defendants have maintained their innocence throughout this process and all but one have previously provided accounts of torture and ill-treatment in detention.

It has been a common feature of each of the previous sessions that the defence legal team has raised the following issues / concerns:

1. That the defence lawyers have not been given adequate access to their clients and did not have any access to them at all for weeks after their arrests; 2. that many of the defendants have raised serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment and that the individuals concerned should be given a sufficient opportunity to address the court to give evidence of their treatment; 3. that the defence team have not been given sufficient materials [eg. copies of the court file] or time to properly prepare for the trial proceedings; 4. that both the defendants and their lawyers have been defamed as terrorists in the media, despite the reporting restrictions imposed by the court; 5. that all of the defendants should have prompt access to an independent medical expert, in order to produce an objective report regarding any physical signs of torture and / or ill-treatment; and 6. that it is crucial that the trial proceedings be stayed until a full and impartial investigation regarding the allegations of torture and ill-treatment has been concluded.

The Public Prosecutor [PP] has resisted the calls for an independent medical expert and an investigation to be conducted in light of the torture allegations. He relies on the conclusions of the medical examiner appointed by the PPO and has suggested that it is for the court to decide whether the confessions were made following torture or ill-treatment, based on the limited information currently available.

During the third session, on 25 November 2010, one of the defendants made a further allegation of torture using electricity. The defence legal team also raised fresh concerns about the defendants treatment in custody, including allegations of limited access to basic sanitary facilities, forced shaving of the hair and beards of many of the detainees and prolonged periods of enforced ‘standing’ in one position. One of the defence lawyers also notes that the leading trial judge instructed the defence team to refer to their clients as ‘prisoners’, not ‘detainees’, following a request by the PP at the previous hearing.

It appears that the judge has not made any ruling in open court during any of the previous sessions in relation to the repeated defence requests for an investigation into the allegations of torture.

Trial Session – 9 December 2010

On the evening of 8 December 2010, prior to the fourth session of the trial, the observation team met with one of the main defence lawyers, Jalila Al-Sayed, who had been working on the case pro bono throughout the proceedings. Mrs. Al-Sayed confirmed that the trial has been taking place under an unusually accelerated time-frame and reiterated the concerns about the lack of opportunity to properly prepare the case and advise the defendants.

Mrs. Al-Sayed also confirmed that the court had not yet made a ruling in open court regarding the repeated requests for an independent investigation into the allegations of torture. However, she noted that following the session on 25 November 2010 the judges had retired to privately consider how to proceed with the case. The defence lawyers were subsequently provided with a written document, outlining the judge’s position.

The trial observation team were later able to obtain a copy of this written document, provided by another of the defence lawyers. Although not in possession of a full English translation of this document, it has been studied by the team and it appears to be an official court order which clearly refers to the trial in issue. For the purpose of this report, the key elements of the document are:

i. that it states that the defence request for greater access to the detainees has been respected; ii. that it states that the detainees were moved to a new prison, in accordance with the court’s previous directions; and iii. concerning the allegations of torture, it asserts that the PPO has passed files containing all the allegations and medical reports to ‘the responsible entities’. It goes on to state that the judges therefore intend to proceed with the trial on 9 December 2010 and listen to the prosecution witnesses in order to reach a decision in the case.

In relation to iii. it is unclear who or what the ‘responsible entities’ are supposed to be, but it is understood that this is a reference to the Ministry of Justice [MoJ], as the employers of those alleged to have carried out the torture. Therefore, it appears clear that the PPO is not taking any direct responsibility for investigating the allegations, as required under the Bahrain Constitution, but instead is suggesting that the MoJ can carry out some form of ‘in-house’ enquiry, absent any input from the detainees, their lawyers or independent experts.

Of even greater concern is the fact that the judges clearly did not intend to stay the trial pending the outcome of any MoJ enquiry, as they expressly stated their intention to proceed with the witnesses for the prosecution at the next session [ie. 9 December 2010]. In this regard, the document also thereby appears to bypass the court’s obligation to investigate under the Bahrain Constitution.

On the morning of the hearing, which was observed by representatives of the French, American and British Embassies as well as by the ANHRI team, the witnesses for the prosecution were present in the High Criminal Court and apparently ready to give evidence. These witnesses included some of the employees of the National Security Apparatus [NSA] who are specifically alleged to be involved or complicit in acts of torture and ill-treatment against the defendants, leaving the defence lawyers in no doubt that the court had every intention of admitting all of the evidence against those on trial, including the strongly disputed confession evidence.

In light of the court’s decision to proceed without an effective investigation, and the potentially devastating implications of this decision to the fairness of proceedings, the team of defence lawyers have therefore taken the major decision to withdraw their representation of the defendants, providing the judges in open court with a written document explaining the reasons for this decision in detail.

The trial observation team was also provided with a copy of this document, which details a number of legal and evidential issues. In summary, the defence lawyers submit that:

(1) the defendants have been interrogated in underground NSA facilities, not suitable for detention or imprisonment; (2) the defendants have been subjected to ongoing physical and psychological torture, in manifest violation of the Bahrain Constitution, the Bahraini criminal law and the relevant international law, which have not been investigated; (3) the manner of the proceedings against the detainees, from the initial arrests without warrant, to their incommunicado detention, to the manner of the PPO investigation under counter-terrorism laws (including the denial of proper access to their families and lawyers) has made it impossible for the defence team to represent their clients in a way that enables them to maintain their own professional obligations and commitment to national and international law; (4) the defendants have been denied their right to the presumption of innocence as a result of the defamatory media campaign against them and their categorisation as a ‘terrorist organisation’; (5) the High Criminal Court has failed to properly document the physical signs of torture shown to the judges by some of the defendants, or to enable the defendants and their lawyers to make full submissions during trial proceedings;

The defence team goes on to conclude that they are not able to do their work professionally and in accordance with proper legal standards under the conditions that have been imposed upon them by the nature of the proceedings. They state that in order to avoid being a merely cosmetic addition to the trial process, they find themselves obliged to step down and no longer continue defending the accused in this case.

Following the submission of the above document by the defence lawyers, they left the court room and the judges called a brief adjournment in order to consider how best to proceed with the session. After approximately 10 – 15 minutes the judges returned and informed the defendants that the trial was adjourned until 23 December 2010. They also asked each of the defendants whether they had another lawyer, to which all replied that they did not and some said that they wanted to keep their existing ones. The judge then stated that the defendants would be appointed with new lawyers in the intervening period, although it is unclear how these appointments will be made or how the new lawyers will be able to prepare properly for the next session.

After the hearing, the trial observation team also met with family members of many of the detainees. Detailed accounts were provided about their own experiences and contact with the defendants in recent weeks, including confirmation that many of them had been able to make pre-arranged weekly visits to their loved ones. However, these visits were consistently described as taking place under very oppressive conditions, for example:

(a) only immediate relatives are allowed to attend; (b) the maximum time for a visit varies from 15 to 30 minutes; (c) many family members said that they are forced to sit approximately 8 – 10 feet away from the detainees, who were closely attended by plainclothes guards / officers; (d) between three and six prison guards / police officers are present throughout the visits and generally position themselves so that they can hear everything that is being said; (e) some of the female family members said that they feel humiliated and intimidated by the manner in which they are treated, particularly by the female guards / officers.

Many of the family members said that they have serious concerns that the detainees are only able to talk about mundane topics and appear to be extremely wary of discussing their treatment in detention or the trial. They believe that the presence of the police / guards is threatening and intimidating. It is also noted that none of the family members appear able to communicate with the detainees by any other means, as there is no access to a telephone in the prison and they do not appear to be able to write to their relatives from detention.

In spite of the obvious difficulties faced by the family members in discussing the treatment that the detainees are currently experiencing in custody, some of those who had attended the hearing on 9 December 2010 said that their relatives had made it clear that they continue to be seriously ill-treated and harassed. Others who had visited the prison said that their relatives had tried to communicate that they were being deprived of sleep and were not eating (although it was suggested that at least one of them is on a self-imposed hunger-strike). All of the family members who spoke to the trial observation team said that the detainees have been forcibly shaved by the prison guards, some describing it as being held down on a chair and ‘shorn like sheep’. Many reiterated reports that the detainees are frequently made to stand for long periods, when a bell or alarm sounds within the prison, and some also provided consistent accounts that detainees have reported being blindfolded and humiliated when they use the toilet, for example by being forced to sing songs or being verbally abused by the guards.

A number of the family members volunteered their view that there has been a recent general escalation in the detention and ill-treatment of perceived opponents of the Bahraini authorities, with numerous allegations of confessions being forced under torture being raised in criminal trials, as well as access to lawyers being routinely denied in the initial stages of criminal investigations. This view was also shared by at least two of the defence lawyers, Mrs. Al-Sayed and Mr. Al-Tajer. It was further supported by the accounts of the parents of two Shia teenagers who are stated to have been arbitrarily arrested along with many other young men in their area and remain in detention, where they are said to have been threatened with extreme sexual violence.

CONCLUSIONS

• In addition to the ongoing concerns already raised in previous reports, the withdrawal of the defence lawyers presents the accused with significant new concerns. Any new lawyers appointed by the MoJ will face many of the same problems experienced by the previous team (including the admission of the confession evidence), and will also suffer from the severe lack of time and resources available to them to prepare for future sessions, with no legal aid being made available even for the most basic or fundamental work on the case.

• Further, even if suitable and willing independent lawyers are appointed, Mr. Al-Tajer has explained that there are underlying difficulties with the nature of the proceedings, including the fact that some members of the previous defence team found themselves in the professionally impossible position of trying to provide representation to different clients who had implicated each other in the disputed confessions.

• It is noted that some of the most severe forms of torture alleged during the first session of the trial appear to have abated following the submissions made on behalf of the detainees during the second and third sessions. However, it is of grave concern that numerous family members who have visited the detainees in custody have provided consistent and credible accounts of ongoing forms of inhuman and degrading treatment against the defendants, including:

i. forced ‘standing’ for long periods of time; ii. various forms of humiliation before and during visits to the toilet; iii. forced shaving of the head and beard, contrary to the detainees personal and religious beliefs; iv. sleep deprivation.

• The Bahraini authorities have undertaken not to subject detainees or other persons to torture or other forms ill-treatment, under both international conventions and the Bahraini constitution [see above]. It is therefore reiterated that, in the absence of a thorough and impartial investigation of the evidence, the alleged confessions should not be admissible and the witness evidence of those alleged to have carried out the torture should not be heard.

• Further, to ensure the fairness of the trial and compliance with the national Constitution, the proceedings must be put on hold until such time as the court can be properly satisfied that the PPO has thoroughly and impartially investigated allegations of torture. As noted in the Front Line report of Ms. Peevers, “[r]egardless of the outcome of those investigations, it would appear appropriate for the PPO to conduct their preliminary investigation of each defendant for a second time [before any further trial], in order to ensure fairness of the trial proceedings and approach to the building of the prosecution case.”

• In light of the seriousness of the allegations of torture, if the current trial does continue without a genuinely impartial investigation, the court can only objectively be said to be adhering to the most minimal requirements of due process if the defendant’s alleged confessions and the witness evidence of their alleged torturers are totally excluded from the evidence against them at trial.

• In light of the withdrawal of the defence team at the hearing on 9 December 2010, the absence of legal aid or other funding, and the previous media attacks on lawyers willing to act pro bono for the detainees, coupled with the practical difficulties with representing them (noted above), it is hard to see how they can possibly receive a fair trial if the case proceeds as it has done to date. Therefore, the court is urged to reconsider the weight of the written submissions provided by the defence team regarding the allegations of torture, the inadmissibility of the confessions and the impossibility of providing adequate representation without a full investigation of the matters raised.

• ANHRI urges officials from the French, UK and US Embassies to continue to observe the trial sessions and to take an active interest in the approach of the PPO and High Criminal Court in light of recent developments. In this regard, it is noted that senior US figures have recently reiterated the importance of adherence to basic principles of due process to the Bahraini authorities. It is further noted that prior to the fourth session Mr Jaffar Al-Hessabi (a dual British-Bahraini national) had been visited in custody only once by UK Embassy officials. However, it is understood that a further visit had been applied for and it is hoped that prison officials will make every effort to accommodate regular private visits by all interested parties, including family members. ________________________________________ [1] Go to http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/13904 for details of the report [2] Bahrain Penal Code, arts. 208, 232. [3] Bahrain Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 61. [4] Ibid., arts. 133-35. [5] Ibid., arts. 5, 8 and 81. [6] Ibid., art. 44. [7] Ibid., arts. 47-48

Original report posted on anhri.net (Blocked in Bahrain)

Reporters Without Borders: Jailed blogger’s wife talks to the BBC

20 December 2010

Jenan Al Oraibi, the wife of Ali Abdulemam, a blogger who has been detained in Bahrain since 4 September (http://en.rsf.org/bahrain-detained-human-rights-activists-02-11-2010,38730.html), has given a moving account of his detention and treatment by the authorities in an interview for the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12000292).

The next hearing in the joint trial of Abdulemam and 24 other activists on terrorism charges is scheduled for 23 December.They will be defended by court-appointed lawyers because their own lawyers resigned en masse on 9 December in protest against the court’s refusal to suspend the trial while their torture allegations are investigated (http://en.rsf.org/bahrain-leading-human-rights-activist-08-12-2010,38986.html).

Their call for a suspension was based on article 186 of Bahrain’s criminal code, which states that when defendants claim they have been tortured, the trial must be suspended while the allegations are investigated. Reporters Without Borders supports their demand and accuses the Bahraini authorities of violating their country’s law.

In her interview for the BBC, Oraibi described her husband as a writer, journalist and blogger. “Ali does not belong to any political party,” she said. “He just writes his opinion. Ali has a free pen. That is exactly his crime. He has a free pen.”

His last blog entry before his arrest was to call for support for those who had already been arrested, she said. "The last thing he wrote was for those prisoners, defending them and now he is one of them. " his wife said. Referring to the detainees as “victims, she said: “They are all good people who have good jobs in this society. They are all innocent.”

As regards the torture of the defendants, she said the authorities warned them that “if you speak of any mistreatment, any torture, we will torture you even more.” She added: “But they are really brave, they are heroes, they decided to stand up and say exactly what happened to them.”

She was supposed to be able to visit her husband every Wednesday but the frequency and duration of the visits has been reduced. They are not allowed to “talk about politics, what has been happening on the street or in the newspapers (...) even if there is nothing about them in the newspapers because the subject is banned in Bahrain.”

Since her husband’s arrest, she has had to look after their three young children alone and feels constantly under threat. During his interrogation sessions, the authorities threatened to have her dismissed. She said she was worried about talking to the BBC, especially as its reporters are constantly followed, “but I will be more worried if I don’t do anything.”

rsf.org