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HRW: Bahrain: Suspicious Deaths in Custody

April 13, 2011

(Manama) - Bahrain's public prosecutor should investigate three deaths in custody reported since April 3, 2011, and hold accountable anyone found responsible for torture, ill-treatment, or denial of medical care, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch observed the body of one of the three men, Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer, which bore signs of horrific abuse.

--Photos collected by BCHR--

Human Rights Watch also called on the government to disclose the whereabouts of detainees, permit them to contact their families and lawyers, and open detention centers to independent inspection. As of April 6, the opposition Wifaq National Islamic Society had collected names of 430 people who relatives say have been arrested since demonstrations began on February 14.

"It's outrageous and cruel that people are taken off to detention and the families hear nothing until the body shows up with signs of abuse," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities need to explain why this is happening, put a stop to it, and hold anyone responsible to account."

Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer, 31, turned himself in to police in Hamad Town on April 3, his family told Human Rights Watch. Police had been looking for him in connection with an incident during anti-government demonstrations in which the authorities alleged that he tried to run over a policeman with his car but hit a protester. Police had visited relatives at least three times, saying that if Saqer did not turn himself in, they would detain the relatives instead, family members said.

After Saqer surrendered, his family heard nothing more about him until April 9, when the interior Ministry announced that he had died in custody. The Interior Ministry issued a statement published in Bahrain newspapers that he had "created chaos" in a detention center, "which led security forces to bring the situation under control," resulting in his death.

Human Rights Watch viewed Saqer's remains during the ritual body washing before he was buried in his home village of Sehla on April 10. His body showed signs of severe physical abuse. The left side of his face showed a large patch of bluish skin with a reddish-purple area near his left temple and a two-inch cut to the left of his eye. Lash marks crisscrossed his back, some reaching to his front right side. Blue bruises covered much of the back of his calves, thighs, and buttocks, as well as his right elbow and hip. The tops of his feet were blackened, and lacerations marked his ankles and wrists.

Family members showed Human Rights Watch a document entitled "Medical Notification of Cause of Death," issued by the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) Hospital on April 9. It listed the cause of death as "hypovolemic shock," a condition usually brought on by extreme loss of blood. The cause, the document stated, was "multiple trauma." The interval between the onset of the condition and death was simply given as "some time." The notification stated that Saqer arrived at BDF hospital "collapsed."

Relatives who retrieved the body at Salmaniya hospital on April 9 said that they did not ask for an autopsy, saying that they wanted to bury Saqer as soon as possible.

On April 10, the Interior Ministry announced that it had opened an investigation against Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, for allegedly circulating on his Twitter account "a fabricated image of Ali Isa Saqer."

"We viewed Ali Saqer's body just prior to his burial, and its condition was exactly as shown in the photo that Nabeel Rajab circulated," Stork said. "It's a sign of how bad things have gotten in Bahrain that the authorities are investigating human rights activists for exposing what happened to Saqer instead of investigating those responsible for his violent death."

In the second case, masked uniformed police arrested Zakaria Rashid Hassan al-Asherri, 40, at about 2 a.m. on April 2, at his home in the village of Dair, his brother, Ali al-Asherri, told Human Rights Watch. Ali al-Asherri is a former parliament member from the opposition Wifaq National Islamic Society. Zakaria al-Asherri administered a blog, www.aldair.net/forum, which carried critical commentary about government policies and which has been blocked in Bahrain. The next day, relatives searched for al-Asherri at the Muharraq police station, but officers there provided no information about him. On April 9, the Interior Ministry announced that al-Asherri had died in detention, attributing his death to complications from sickle cell anemia.

On April 11, at Zakaria al-Asherri's funeral, Ali al-Asherri told Human Rights Watch that his brother was a carrier of the disease, but had never suffered ill-effects from it. Authorities provided the family with a death certificate saying Zakaria died of shock, Ali said. A photograph that Ali said he took by mobile phone during the April 11 pre-burial body cleansing showed a wound on Zakaria's right shoulder, a gash on his nose and some blood that had issued from his ears and lips. Human Rights Watch did not see Zakaria's body.

Al-Asherri's family asked officials at Salmaniya Hospital, where they retrieved his body, to perform an autopsy, which was carried out. Officials told the family that authorities at the Interior Ministry would make the results available to them later, Ali said. Stitches down Zakaria's chest from the autopsy were visible on Ali's photograph of his body.

In the third case, the government announced on April 3 that Hassan Jassim Mohammed Maki, a 39-year-old laborer, had died in police custody. The statement also attributed his death to complications from sickle cell anemia. Police had arrested Maki in a predawn raid at his home in Karzakan March 28.

Human Rights Watch viewed photos the family said they took during the pre-burial cleansing of Maki's body. The photos showed bruises on the back and front of his upper body as well as his ankles, and a pair of small, round wounds the size of small coins on the back of his head. His family did not ask for an autopsy.

"We now have, in the space of just a week, three highly suspicious deaths in detention, and Bahrain has an obligation to conduct transparent and thorough investigations into each one and make the results public," Stork said. "Bahraini authorities have detained hundreds of people and refused to divulge any information about their whereabouts or well-being - precisely the circumstances in which detainees are at grave risk of torture."

On April 12, the opposition group Wifaq National Islamic Society announced that one of its members, a businessman named Kareem Fakhrawi, had died in custody. He reportedly was last seen at the Exhibition Centre Police Station on April 3. Human Rights Watch has not been able to investigate the report directly.

Since Bahraini military and security forces violently dispersed pro-democracy protests on March 15 and 16, at least three other civilians have died in custody under suspicious circumstances. In all of these cases the people were apparently taken into custody alive but later died at the BDF hospital, in the village of A'ali south of Manama. Some had serious injuries before they were detained. One of them, Isa al-Radhi, 45, had been missing since March 15, when security forces attacked the village of Sitra. On March 19, officials from the BDF hospital called his family and told them to collect his body. Pictures taken of al-Radhi's body prior to burial showed severe bruising. A forensic expert who reviewed the pictures told Human Rights Watch that "assaultive injuries cannot be ruled out."

The Convention against Torture, which Bahrain ratified in 1998, prohibits torture and ill-treatment under all circumstances. In a February 2010 report, Human Rights Watch concluded that security officials repeatedly used torture for the apparent purpose of securing confessions from security suspects. Bahrain officials claimed in response that torture was neither routine nor systematic, and that anyone found to be responsible would be punished. To Human Rights Watch's knowledge, there have been no independent investigations or prosecutions concerning cases documented in its report.

Bahrain is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 9 states that "anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him," and "shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power."

The United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment specifies that "medical care and treatment shall be provided whenever necessary."

Since March 15, Bahrain has operated under martial law, officially labeled a "State of National Safety," which gave authorities wide powers of arrest, censorship, and prohibitions on freedom of movement and association.

"Emergency laws should not be used as a cover for brutality," Stork said.

hrw.org

Council Of The European Union Conclusions On Bahrain

and Remarks by the High Representative Catherine Ashton at the end of the Foreign Affairs Council,

Council conclusions on Bahrain

3082nd FOREIGN AFFAIRS Council meeting Luxembourg, 12 April 2011

The Council adopted the following conclusions: "The Council reiterates its serious concern at the situation in Bahrain, and the lack of any tangible progress towards dialogue which should address the legitimate concerns of all Bahraini people.

The Council is equally concerned at the arrest of those who exercise their legitimate right to freedom of expression. Persons who have been detained for peacefully expressing themselves should be released immediately. The Government and security forces have a clear duty to respect fully the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons, without discrimination, as well as upholding international standards in this regard. The Council encourages the authorities to further investigate all recent events which have resulted in loss of life and injuries.

The Council calls on all parties rapidly to take concrete and meaningful steps enabling the start of a constructive dialogue that will lead to real reforms."

Remarks by the High Representative Catherine Ashton at the end of the Foreign Affairs Council

12 April 2011, Luxembourg

Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, made today the following remarks:

Syria, Bahrain and Yemen Council has also adopted strong conclusions on Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

The situation in each of these countries is of course different, but in all three, we have seen the use of violence by the security forces against peaceful demonstrators, which has resulted in several deaths.

The authorities must exercise restraint.

Those arrested in connection with peaceful demonstrations must be released immediately.

The authorities should investigate the deaths of protestors and bring those responsible to account.

We call on the Syrian authorities to lift the state of emergency without delay.

There has to be a clear and credible programme of political reform and a concrete timetable for its introduction.

In Bahrain, we all remain concerned at the lack of any tangible progress towards real dialogue.

In Yemen, we urge President Saleh to take concrete steps to allow a credible and peaceful political transition.

Sources: Council conclusions on Bahrain Remarks by the High Representative Catherine Ashton at the end of the Foreign Affairs Council

The President of the European Parliament on the death of civic activists in Bahrain prison

Brussels - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, made the following statement on the reported death of two civic activists in Bahraini police custody:

"The death of Ali Issa Saqer and Zakaraya Rashed Hassan in the hands of the Bahraini police is unacceptable. I am deeply concerned by concurrent reports of several human rights organisations that both activists had been tortured in prison and might have been killed.

These massive abuses appear to be not the only case. The whereabouts of several other public figures are still unknown, as in the case of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Their well-being is of great concern to the EU.

I firmly condemn these abuses against peaceful protesters. The detention of more than 400 human rights activists, bloggers and opposition supporters in Bahrain does nothing to pacify the situation. To the contrary, such reactions will further alienate the authorities from the people.

Violence against your own people will play into the hands of those that want to seed division and unrest. The heavy hand of the government undermines all hopes for national dialogue.

I call for a credible investigation into the recent deaths and all violations of human rights. Those who were responsible for any abuses must face justice. Those who were arbitrarily arrested must be released. This is the only way forward on the path towards national reconciliation, democracy and stability."

Note to editors:

The European Parliament debated and voted a resolution on the situation in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen on 7 April 2011. The full text of the resolution is available here:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2011-0148+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

www.europarl.europa.eu

19 Human Rights Organizations Severely Condemn The Continuous Crackdown on Human Rights Defenders in Bahrain

To the left:Mr. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and to the right:Mr. Nabeel Rajab. Bottom photos show marks of violence used By Bahraini riot police against the two human rights defenders during previous events

12 April 2011 Joint press release

The 19 undersigned human rights organizations severely condemn the authorities’ crackdown on prominent human rights defenders Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain. We are gravely concerned for the safety and well-being of both human rights defenders who are being targeted for their human rights work.

On April 9, 2011, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, former protection coordinator at Front Line Defenders and former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested by masked police officers from his daughter’s house in Al Manama. Police had been seeking to arrest AlKhawaja for several hours, during which they searched his house and the house of his cousin, Habib Alhalwachi, whom they also arrested and subsequently released.

According to testimonies provided by his eldest daughter, AlKhawaja was attacked, brutally beaten until he lost consciousness, and then arrested and taken to an unidentified location along with two of his sons-in-law, Wafi Almajid and Hussein Ahmed. AlKhawaja’s third son-in-law Mohamed Almaskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, was left behind after being subjected to severe beatings along with AlKhawaja’s eldest daughter, who attempted to intervene to protect her father.

The whereabouts of AlKhawaja and his two sons-in-law remain unknown; there is grave concern for his well-being as he is at great risk of being subjected to additional torture and ill-treatment while being detained incommunicado. Furthermore, he was prevented from taking his medication with him, which adds to the concerns for his wellbeing.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has posted on his account on Twitter that AlKhawaja was arrested and will be legally charged, adding that "he (AlKhawaja) is not a reformer… he called for the overthrow of the legitimate regime." The undersigned organizations note that such expressions are usually used by authorities as a form of intimidation against activists in Bahrain, as trumped-up charges under the emergency law and other exceptional laws are frequently brought against them for their work.

The undersigned organizations are also concerned for the safety and well-being of Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who is believed to be at high risk of arrest. On April 10, the Ministry of Interior stated on its website that Rajab was to be referred to the Military Public Prosecutor for publishing fabricated images of Ali Issa Saqr, who died on April 9 while in detention. Rajab had refuted the officially stated cause of death, suggesting that Saqr had died as a result of torture in prison.

One month ago, Rajab was briefly detained and subjected to severe beatings before being released a few hours later without being given a reason for his arrest and detention.

The harassments that AlKhawaja and Rajab face are part of an ongoing crackdown on dissenting voices and human rights defenders that have escalated since the beginning of the wide pro-democracy popular protests in March. Human rights organizations estimate that over 600 individuals (amongst whom are human rights defenders and political opponents of the regime) remain in Bahraini prisons at high risk of torture and ill-treatment. It is a particularly alarming situation given that torture is a virtually systematic practice that has been used against activists increasingly since last year.

The undersigned organizations call on the government of Bahrain to immediately stop the crackdown on human rights defenders and political opponents in Bahrain. We further hold the authorities accountable for any harm that may be inflicted on them and demand that AlKhawaja be released immediately and the harassments against Ragab halted.

In this context, we firmly believe that that Bahrain’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council ought to be suspended. Failure to act in face of the gross and systematic human rights violations committed by the government of Bahrain is believed to highly undermine the credibility and effectives of the Council as a whole.

Furthermore, the undersigned organizations stress that the continuation of the despotic campaign against human rights defenders and political groups that are calling for profound democratic reforms reflect complicity and lack of political will from international actors, particularly the US and EU. These actors remain to prefer securing their strategic interests in the Gulf region by choosing to sustain the political stability of repressive regimes, turn a blind eye to the people’s aspirations for democracy, and remain silent on massive and systematic human rights violations in this region of the world.

1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies 2. Arab Organization for Human Rights - Syria 3. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egypt 4. Bahrain Center for Human Rights 5. Bahrain Youth Society foe Human Rights 6. Center for Trade Unions and Worker’s Services, Egypt 7. Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedom and Human Rights, Syria 8. Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies 9. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement 10. Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Egypt 11. Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia 12. Human Rights Organization in Syria – MAF 13. Iraqi Human Right Association in Denmark 14. Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria al-Rased 15. Kurdish organization for the defense of human rights and public freedoms in Syria – DAD 16. National Organization for Human Right in Syria 17. New Woman Research Center, Egypt 18. The Egyptian Imitative for Personal Rights 19. Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms

www.cihrs.org

RSF: No concessions to media as indiscriminate repression continues in countries with pro-democracy protests

12 April 2011

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns netizen Zakariya Rashid Hassan’s death in detention on 9 April, six days after his arrest on charges of inciting hatred, disseminating false news, promoting sectarianism and calling for the regime’s overthrow in online forums. He moderated a now-closed forum providing information about his village of origin, Al-Dair. His family has rejected the interior ministry’s claim that he died as a result of sickle cell anemia complications. Three other netizens are still detained. They are Fadhel Abdulla Ali Al-Marzooq (arrested on 24 March), Ali Hasan Salman Al-Satrawi (arrested on 25 March) and Hani Muslim Mohamed Al-Taif (arrested on 27 March). Marzooq and Taif moderated forums in which Internet users could discuss the ongoing events. Satrawi was a forum member. There is no news of Abduljalil Al-Singace, a blogger arrested on 16 March.

Reporters Without Borders is also worried that Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been accused by a military prosecutor of posting a “fabricated” photo of the injuries inflicted on Ali Isa Saqer, one of two people who died in detention on 9 April. Rajab posted the photo on Twitter the same day, saying Saqer had died as a result of mistreatment while in police custody.

As previously noted, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reported that the military prosecutor general issued a decree on 28 March – Decision No.5 of 2011 – under which the publication of any information about ongoing investigations by military prosecutors is banned on national security grounds. The decree reinforces the arsenal of measures that authorities can use to silence any reporting about human rights violations.

The public prosecutor meanwhile decided yesterday to press charges against the three senior Al-Wasat journalists who were fired on 3 April for alleged “serious abuses” including publishing fabricated news that undermined the country’s international image and reputation. The three – editor Mansour Al-Jamari, managing editor Walid Nouihid and local news editor Aqil Mirza – said they had been sent a summons by fax by the Information Affairs Authority, a government agency that regulates the media.

Their problems began on 2 April, when the national television programme “Media Watch” accused the newspaper, which was founded in 2002, of trying to harm Bahrain’s stability and security. The next day, the information ministry announced its closure. After the three had been forced to stand, the Information Affairs Authority reversed this decision and announced that Al-Wasat could resume publishing and distributing on 4 April. Two Iraqi journalists who had worked for the newspaper since 2005, Raheem Al-Kaabi and Ali Al-Sherify, were deported the same day.

Reporters Without Borders has learned of the arrests of two photographers last month. They are Mujtaba Salmat, who was arrested on 17 March, and Hussain Abbas Salim (also known as Hussain Al-Khal), who was arrested on 28 March. Both are members of the Bahraini Photography Association. They had been taking photos of the demonstrations in Pearl Square. Salmat had posted some of them on Facebook. The sports journalist Faisal Hayat was arrested on 8 April for participating in the 14 February movement. His photo was displayed on state TV with the label “traitor.”

rsf.org

CPJ: Bahraini blogger dies in custody; journalists under attack

New York, April 12, 2011-- The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Bahraini authorities to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the death of a blogger while in state custody. Bahraini authorities, meanwhile, announced that they would file criminal charges against three senior editors at the Gulf kingdom's premier independent daily, continuing a months-long pattern of violence, harassment, and intimidation against journalists covering widespread civil unrest. CPJ documented other attacks on the press in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The blogger, Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, who moderated and wrote for a website that covers news and other developments in his village of al-Dair, died under mysterious circumstances while in government custody on Saturday, regional and international media reported. Security forces arrested al-Ashiri on April 2, according to the same press accounts. He was charged with disseminating false news and inciting hatred, the BBC reported. Although the site is inaccessible inside Bahrain, according to local journalists, CPJ viewed the website and found no basis for the government's allegations. Government claims that al-Ashiri died from complications of sickle cell anemia were vigorously denied by his family, CPJ research shows.

"The circumstances of Zakariya al-Ashiri's death raise numerous questions about his treatment," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "The government's claim that he died from a pre-existing condition--which is disputed by the family--does nothing to answer any of those questions."

Bahrain's public prosecutor, Ali al-Buainain, will be filing criminal charges against three former editors at the independent daily Al-Wasat, the official Bahrain News Agency reported on Monday. Editor-in-chief Mansoor al-Jamri, Managing Editor Walid Nouwaihidh, and Local News Director Aqeel Mirza will be charged with "publishing false reports" and "harming the interests of the country," the news agency said. All three stepped down on April 3 in what al-Jamri described as an effort to save the newspaper. On April 4, another Al-Wasat editor, Ali al-Sharifi, and columnist Rahim al-Kaabi, both Iraqi nationals, were deported from Bahrain.

"If the case against Al-Wasat and its journalists is not a politicized witch-hunt, prosecutors must seriously investigate the paper's claims that they were duped into publishing false information, which was later used as a pretext for manipulating the country's premier independent publication," CPJ's Abdel Dayem said.

Al-Jamri conceded that the news items called into question by the government had been "printed in error," but maintained that the newspaper had not deliberately published misleading information, AFP reported. He told Human Rights Watch that an internal investigation revealed that all six false news leads, which described alleged government misconduct, had come from different email accounts, but had all originated from the same IP address. Human Rights Watch added that the false leads "appeared to have been sent also to other Bahraini newspapers, making them appear more authentic, but with small mistakes in the addresses so that, in fact, Al-Wasat was the only recipient."

cpj.org

Amnesty International: Bahrain urged to stop targeting protesters as two more die in custody

12 April 2011

Bahraini authorities must urgently reveal the whereabouts and legal status of more than 400 mostly Shi’a opposition activists detained in recent weeks, Amnesty International said today amid concerns about their safety after reports that at least three have died in custody.

Security forces detained leading human rights defender ‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and his two sons in law in a raid on his daughter’s home, where they were staying, last Saturday. He was assaulted before being taken away barefoot and denied access to his medication. Alkhawaja’s and his sons in law’s whereabouts remain unknown. One of Alkhawaja’s daughters has launched a hunger strike to demand her relatives’ release.

“These further arrests are evidence of the mounting toll of opposition activists who have been thrown into jail because of their involvement in the protests that have rocked Bahrain since people came onto the streets in February to demand reform,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“We are increasingly concerned for the safety of these detainees, especially after reports of two further deaths in custody last Saturday. The Bahraini authorities must immediately reveal the detainees’ whereabouts, allow them access to their lawyers and families, and protect them against torture or other abuse.”

With two new deaths last Saturday, at least three detainees have now reportedly died in custody in suspicious circumstances since the beginning of the month.

According to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, detainee Ali Isa Saqer, 31, died in hospital on 9 April after security forces intervened to prevent him causing “chaos” in prison.

Two other detainees – Hassan Jassim Mohammed Makki, 39, and Zakaria Rashid Al-Ashiri, aged 40 – reportedly died in custody on 3 and 9 April respectively. The authorities have attributed both deaths to sickle-cell anaemia, an inherited blood disease.

“The Bahraini authorities must ensure that these three deaths are independently investigated, promptly, fully and thoroughly,” said Malcolm Smart.

“It is alarming when so many deaths occur in so short a period when the great majority of detainees are being held in secret locations and there is no known independent access to them.”

“These are conditions ripe for torture and other serious abuses.”

From mid-February until mid-March 2011, Bahrain was gripped by popular protests inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt.

Protesters, mostly members of the majority Shi’a Muslim community, complain that they are discriminated against and marginalized by the ruling Sunni Muslim minority.

Some of the protesters have called for a new constitution, an elected government and greater freedoms and opportunities. Others, including many of those now detained, advocate replacing the monarchy with a republic.

Bahraini security forces used overwhelming force to quell the mid-February protests, killing seven protesters and injuring hundreds. After a brief lull, and after protesters began to stage marches and sit ins outside the Pearl Roundabout, including in the Financial Harbour, in Manama security forces launched a brutal crackdown in mid-March resulting in clashes that led to further deaths and injuries.

Shortly before the renewed crackdown, the King declared a state of emergency and Saudi Arabia sent a thousand troops into Bahrain to buttress the government.

On Monday, the Minister of Interior reportedly announced that 86 of those arrested in relation to the protests had been released after legal procedures were taken against them.

Read More

Bahrain must free detained opposition activists, (News story, 18 March 2011) Evidence of Bahraini security forces’ brutality revealed, (Report, 17 March 2011) Violent crackdown in Bahrain condemned, (Press release, 15 March 2011) Bahrain protest deaths point to excessive police force, (Press release, 15 February 2011)

amnesty.org

Amnesty: URGENT ACTION: Bahrain continues to detain protestors

Further information on UA: 79/11 Index: MDE 11/017/2011 Bahrain Date: 11 April 2011

URGENT ACTION

BAHRAIN CONTINUES TO DETAIN PROTESTORS

The crackdown on activists continues in Bahrain, with the detention of a prominent Bahraini human rights activist and his two sons-in-law on April 9. They join over 400 activists currently held for their participation in and support for protests that began on 14 February.

‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, a prominent Human Rights Defender and former director of the Middle East and North Africa department of Frontline, a Dublin-based international NGO that works with Human Rights Defenders, was arrested on 9 April in connection with the protests. He was taken from his daughter’s house in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, where he was staying at the time. Security forces raided the house at night and assaulted ‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and one of his daughters. They took ‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja away together with his two sons-in-law, Wafi AlMajed and Hussain Ahmed Hussain and their whereabouts are now unknown, raising fear for their safety. ‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja was taken barefoot and not allowed to take his medication with him.

Over 400 people, almost all members of the majority Shi’a community, have been detained in the past month in connection with the popular protests that began on 14 February. In most cases, the detainees’ whereabouts have not been disclosed by the Bahraini authorities though many are believed to be held by the Bahraini military. Only six, all leaders of the protest movement, have been allowed access to lawyers, including Hassan Mshaima’a, Ebrahim Sharif, ‘Abdel-Waha Hussain and ‘Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, all of whom are expected to be tried before a military court on charges of calling for the overthrow of the Sunni minority government and “collaboration” with a foreign power (Iran). Three detainees are reported to have died in custody in suspicious circumstances, heightening concern that detainees may be subject to torture or other ill-treatment.

On Monday the media reported that the Minister of Interior announced the release of 86 protesters arrested in relation with the protests after legal procedures have been taken against them. Amnesty International is concerned about the well being of all detainees and calls on the Bahraini authorities to reveal their whereabouts and grant them access to lawyers and families.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Arabic or English:

- Call on the authorities to immediately reveal the whereabouts and legal status of all the those detained in relation to the protests.

- Urge the authorities to grant all detainees immediate access to their lawyers and families and to any medical care they require.

- Call on the authorities to ensure prevent the torture or other ill-treatment of detainees and immediately establish independent investigations into the deaths in custody that have occurred, and to bring to justice anyone responsible for torture or other ill-treatment

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 23 MAY 2011 TO:

King Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa Office of His Majesty the King P.O. Box 555 Rifa’a Palace, al-Manama, Bahrain Fax: +973 17664587 Salutation: Your Majesty

Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa Prime Minister Office of the Prime Minister P.O. Box 1000, al-Manama, Bahrain Fax: +973 17533033 Salutation: Your Highness

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

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the second update of UA 79/11. Further information: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE11/015/2011/en

amnesty.org

Back Human Rights in Bahrain

by Joshua Colangelo-Bryan

Published in: Politico April 11, 2011

The United States has struggled to balance human rights principles and strategic concerns in responding to protests across the Middle East, from Tunisia to Iran. Too often, it has been behind the curve.

Principles have been given short shrift in Bahrain, home port of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. Its Sunni-led monarchy, backed by Saudi tanks, has cracked down on largely peaceful protests by the country's Shiite majority - to a muted U.S. response. President Barack Obama calls Syria's response to its protesters "abhorrent," but he loses his voice when it comes to Bahrain. He is apparently conceding to Saudi Arabia, whose rulers seem determined to stamp out any uncontrollable democracy -one perhaps under Iranian influence - in the neighborhood.

The Obama administration must do all it can so that the people protesting for freedom do not view Washington as the monarchy's enabler, particularly because the monarchy is losing legitimacy with a majority of its people.

Washington should speak out, making clear that U.S. military and other cooperation can't continue in the face of Bahrain's brutal police-state tactics.

Bahrain has marketed itself as a "constitutional monarchy" for the past decade. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa instituted important reforms after assuming power in 1999. In recent years, however, his government has imposed increasing restrictions on civil society - and revived use of torture.

The Shiite population complains, justifiably, about pervasive discrimination. For example, Shiites are barred from the military and the security services, while the government relies on foreign recruits.

The king has also gerrymandered electoral districts to ensure that candidates representing Shiite areas can never achieve a majority in Bahrain's advisory parliament.

In August 2010, the government arrested many prominent dissidents and hundreds of others on trumped-up terrorism charges. Allegations of torture emerged, and some defendants displayed wounds in court they said resulted from abuse while in custody. The government also dissolved a human-rights group and blocked opposition party websites.

I have interviewed many of those arrested. They regularly asked why Washington had not taken a public stand against these repressive tactics. Their questions did not reflect anti-Americanism - rather a sense of abandonment. "No one will help us now," one activist said. "We're alone."

This February, against the backdrop of the protests in Egypt and Tunisia, Bahrainis took to the streets, peacefully demanding meaningful political participation. Security forces killed at least seven protesters and wounded hundreds more.

After Washington expressed public concern - and Obama contacted Hamad directly - the government withdrew its forces. The king called for a "national dialogue."

Though back-channel discussions ensued, there were no formal meetings. Authorities allowed demonstrations to continue for a time, but on March 15, after Saudi intervention, martial law was declared and continues.

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

www.hrw.org

HRW: Bahrain: Drop Charges Against Editor of Independent Daily

Following Crackdown, Al Wasat No Longer Presenting Critical Reports

April 11, 2011

(Manama) - Bahraini authorities should immediately drop politically-motivated charges against Mansoor al-Jamri, allow him to return as chief editor of Al Wasat, and cease their campaign to silence independent journalism, Human Rights Watch said today. Al-Jamri's resignation under duress and his subsequent indictment on charges of knowingly publishing news has left Bahrain without a single independent mass media outlet to report about the fierce repression that has killed more than two dozen people, wounded hundreds, and created a state of fear, Human Rights Watch said.

On April 11, 2011, the state-run Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported that the Public Prosecutor will charge al-Jamri and two other editors "with publishing fabricated news and made up stories ... that may harm public safety and national interests." Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority had previously suspended Al Wasat on April 2, 2011, following a program on state-controlled Bahrain television claiming that the paper had published "false news" and photos in its March 26 and March 29 editions and would not be allowed to publish on April 3. The Information Affairs Authority allowed Al Wasat to resume publishing on April 4, but only after al-Jamri, the founder and editor in chief, resigned, along with the managing editor and local news editor.

"Mistaken information is no justification for shutting down a newspaper and prosecuting its editor," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Bahrain's rulers are showing they have no shame by muzzling the one media outlet that was widely regarded as the country's only independent news source."

Human Rights Watch has monitored Al Wasat's contents since the editors' departure. It found that paper has largely ceased publishing news and analysis differing from that of the rest of Bahrain's mass media, which are effectively controlled by the state or government supporters. Coverage of subjects such as arbitrary arrests and deaths in custody, and other sensitive information, has been considerably reduced.

Al-Jamri and his colleagues told Human Rights Watch they examined the alleged false news and photos, and that the six items had been sent as emails from different addresses, but from a single external internet protocol (IP) source, based in a neighboring country. All of the false news items and photos dealt with alleged incidents, such as raids on homes by riot police, that have been frequent and routine in Bahrain since March 15. The emails appeared to have been sent also to other Bahraini newspapers, making them appear more authentic, but with small mistakes in the addresses so that in fact Al Wasat was the only recipient.

The authorities announced on April 3 that they would initiate legal proceedings against Al Wasat "following compelling evidence of press law violations including forgery and falsification." On April 11, authorities summoned al-Jamri, managing editor Walid Nouwaihidh, and the head of the local news department Aqeel Mirza to the Public Prosecutor's office, where they were questioned for more than two hours. The announcement that the three would be charged followed immediately.

On April 4, the Information Affairs Authority had separately summoned two Iraqi journalists who had worked for Al Wasat since 2005, Ali al-Sharefi and Rahim al-Ka'bi. Employees at Al Wasat told Human Rights Watch that the officials pressured them to claim that al-Jamri had knowingly fabricated the stories and photos in question. When they insisted otherwise, Bahraini authorities summarily deported them and their families.

The Bahrain television program attacking Al Wasat was followed by a 30-page report by the Information Affairs Authority detailing Al Wasat's alleged transgressions. The BNA reported that Al Wasat "disseminated old news published in other Arab, local newspapers, websites and blogs." Authorities also alleged that Al Wasat had presented incidents that happened in other countries, claiming they took place in Bahrain, causing "human rights organizations and countries [...] [to rely on] baseless information when commenting on the situation in Bahrain."

The report, according to the news agency, concluded that the evidence presented "leaves no doubt that [Al Wasat] has malicious intentions" and that it sought to incite its readers, thereby violating Article 168 of Bahrain's penal code and Royal Decree 47 concerning the establishment of the press. Article 168 imposes imprisonment "for a period of no more than 2 years" or a fine if a person is found to have "willfully broadcast[ed] any false or malicious news reports" that result in "disturbing public security, terrorizing people or causing damage to public interest."

"In normal circumstances, even in Bahrain, authorities would inquire about the source of a news item and if it couldn't be verified the newspaper would publish a correction or retraction," Stork said, "The rush to force Mansoor al-Jamri out of the paper he founded was clearly aimed at silencing all critics, not at correcting misinformation."

After Bahrain television aired its program, al-Jamri publicly acknowledged that the reports identified by authorities were false and misleading, but he rejected accusations that he and his staff knowingly published false information. He told Human Rights Watch that on April 3 Al Wasat had opened an internal investigation into the source of the false information, and found that all of it originated from one internet protocol source in a neighboring country.

Al-Jamri also told Human Rights Watch that the fabricated information was released at a time when the newspaper was operating with reduced staff following attacks on its employees and offices, and that the articles had not been properly vetted to verify their authenticity. Unknown assailants attacked Al Wasat's printing press at about 1 a.m. on March 15, reducing printing capacity. The unstable security situation had also affected operations at Al Wasat's main office, forcing employees to shut down evening operations to prepare the next day's paper, and instead work from their homes.

"Under normal circumstances, Al Wasat would have some 30 desk editors, reporters, photographers, page-makers, proof-readers, and other supporting staff available to check and process incoming news," al-Jamri told Human Rights Watch. "However, under the emergency situation, staff had to stay away and process the work from their homes."

Al-Jamri also told Human Rights Watch that, since the declaration of martial law on March 15, Al Wasat had been in close contact with authorities, including the Interior Ministry, regarding the content of material it planned to publish.

Human Rights Watch said that Bahrain's efforts to end Al Wasat's critical reporting violated the country's international human rights obligations. Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain acceded in 2006, protects the right to freedom of expression, including "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." Any restrictions on this right must be provided by law and necessary to "respect the rights or reputations of others" or "for the protection of national security or of public order or public health and morals."

"The actions to tame Al Wasat are symptomatic of a full-scale clampdown against any form of dissent in Bahrain," Stork said. "Since mid-March, the government has methodically targeted and attempted to silence critics of every stripe inside the country. Now they have managed to eliminate Bahrain's only independent mass media outlet."

www.hrw.org