Mid East Posts: What to do About Bahrain? A Headache For Both Obama and Blatter
Written by James M. Dorsey
US president Barak Obama and Sepp Blatter, the head of world soccer body FIFA, share the same headache: what to do about Bahrain?
So far, Messrs. Obama and Blatter have essentially shied away from confronting the issue of the suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators, including some of the country’s most prominent soccer players. The protests in February and March that started with Shiites and Sunnis standing shoulder to shoulder were an expression of frustration about years of failed dialogue over the need for more equitable housing and land policies, fairer representation in parliament and constitutional reform.
The crackdown and the government’s insistence that Iran had instigated the protests aided by a Shiite fifth column transformed the situation into one of sectarian tension. To be sure, there was violence on both sides of the sectarian and political divide during the protests but healing of the wounds is likely to prove difficult if not impossible without a genuine dialogue and members of the security forces being held accountable.
The US has been quietly but unsuccessfully urging King Khalifa for years to engage in a dialogue that would lead to democracy. Mr. Obama in May cautioned that it was difficult to conduct a national dialogue with people who have been incarcerated. Bahrain has since released a number of its detainees, including opposition members of parliament and national team players, but referred some of them to security courts.
Mr. Blatter has questioned the Bahrain Football Association (BFA) about credible reports of retribution against the soccer players and officials who allegedly had participated in the anti-government demonstrations as well as predominantly Shiite Muslim clubs. The FIFA president however appears to have accepted at face value the BFA’s statement that no sports players or officials were disciplined or harassed because of their association with the people power uprising earlier this year that was brutally crushed – a statement that flies in the face of reporting in Bahrain’s state-controlled media and reports by people involved in Bahraini soccer.
For both Mr. Obama and Mr. Blatter, the issue is what is the price of postponing the inevitable?
The widespread sense of discontent remains with a deeper than ever sectarian divide that makes the status quo in Bahrain unsustainable. The crackdown has pushed the uprising out of the capital and reduced it to street skirmishes in villages. A government-inspired national dialogue has all but failed. An independent investigation into the crackdown has yet to prove its integrity and independence but is credited for some of the prisoner releases.
Mr. Obama’s reluctance is strengthened by the fact that he does not want to put at risk the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet base on the Gulf island. Nor does he want to cross what is a red line for Saudi Arabia: a push for the introduction of a constitutional monarchy in one of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the spread of people protests in the Gulf and last but certainly not least, the emergence of a Shi’a majority government.
Similarly, Mr. Blatter has seldom sought to rock the boat in the Middle East and North Africa despite the region’s violation of multiple FIFA rules and regulations. The wearing of the hijab or Islamic headdress by Iranian and deeply religious Muslim women players has been the one exception, and only because, according to Western FIFA officials, it clashes with Mr. Blatter’s strong Catholic beliefs.
The coming months are likely to highlight the pitfalls of the choices Messrs. Obama and Blatter have so far made with regard to Bahrain.
The trials against members of parliament, medics, and democracy and human rights activists put on public display the government’s repressive measures as well as the lack of straightforwardness on the part of Bahraini institutions like the BFA and raise serious questions about the choices made by Messrs. Obama and Blatter.
The recent recruitment of additional Sunni Muslim Pakistanis for Bahrain’s special forces, riot police and particularly the National Guard that led the crackdown, can only serve to deepen cleavages in a Sunni-ruled predominantly Shiite society. Shiites are reportedly barred from joining the security forces – a clear sign of the regime’s lack of confidence in its own citizens. That is reinforced by a widespread belief that the Pakistani recruits will ultimately be granted Bahraini citizenship.
The cleavages are visible across society and nowhere more so than in soccer. They cut, for example, straight through Al-Ahli SC, the one Bahraini club that was non-sectarian, neither Sunni nor Shiite, and won the kingdom’s top league title last year.
The government’s decision to suspend the island’s league during the protests to ensure that the soccer pitch did not become an opposition rallying point didn’t stop players and others involved in soccer from taking sides in a confrontation that has left Sunnis and Shiites deeply divided about the relationship between their communities and the future of their country.
Shiite brothers A’ala and Mohammed Hubail, who also played for Bahrain’s national team, joined the protests. Two of their Sunni fellow players meanwhile hooked up with pro-government gangs that roamed the streets attacking the protesters with clubs and pickaxe handles.
Al-Ahli is owned by Bahrain’s wealthy Sunni merchant Kanoo family. Most of its players and its fans are Shiite, “We are one family. We never thought about whether you are Sunni or Shia,” said Al-Ahly chairman Fuad Kanoo in an interview with The Economist.
Once the protests had been violently suppressed, some 150 Shiite players, referees and officials were dismissed or arrested on the orders of a committee led by King Kahlifa’s son, Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, in a bid to root out athletes who had participated in the protests. Among those penalized were six Al-Ahli players.
The Hubail brothers were detained as they were training and allegedly mistreated in prison after first being denounced on state-run television. Muhammed Hubail was sentenced in June to two years in jail, but released on bail after FIFA questioned the Bahrain association.
Mr. Obama’s dilemma has been for much of this year his struggle to reconcile US principles and values with his country’s short-term interests. So far, he has been able to reasonably manage that in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Bahrain, however, could well prove to be his litmus test. For Mr. Blatter too, Bahrain could turn out to be a public display of failing to in the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton get on the right side of history.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
- Human Rights First Urges FIFA, U.S. World Cup Team to Condemn Bahrain’s Attack on Athletes , July 2011
- The Times: Bahrain's soccer stars tortured in custody , July 2011
- Bahrain: Arrest, military trials, & suspension from sport activities, for athletes who practice their legitimate rights , July 2011
- BYSHR Report: “Sports” defendant in Bahrain, because of freedom of opinion and expression , April 2011
The Economist: Football in Bahrain: A house divided
On the left, Alaa Hubail after getting released
The scars from Bahrain’s protests are still felt on the pitch
Aug 13th 2011
MOST football clubs in Bahrain fall loosely along sectarian lines. Al-Ahli, which won the kingdom’s top league title last year, was the exception. Based in Manama, the capital, it is owned by a wealthy Sunni merchant family. But most of its players and fans are Shia. “We are one family,” Fuad Kanoo, its chairman, grandly says. “We never thought about whether you are Sunni or Shia.” After sectarian strife engulfed Bahrain this year, however, a problem arose. Al-Ahli’s championship defence was on track in February, when thousands of mainly Shia protesters took to the streets demanding democratic reforms from the Sunni royal family. The government responded by instituting martial law, causing the football league to be suspended.
The club’s players took sides. A’ala and Mohammed Hubail, two Shia brothers who had starred in the national team, joined a march by hundreds of athletes calling for political change. Meanwhile, two Sunni Al-Ahli players joined the pro-government gangs that roamed the streets wielding clubs and pickaxe handles.
As the protests spread, the government’s patience ran out. On March 16th it sent in troops to crush the movement. In the following days, hundreds of people were arrested and at least 32 were killed.
Since then, Bahraini politics have stabilised somewhat. But Al-Ahli did not return to normal. The king’s son, Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, led a government committee to root out athletes who had participated in the protests. It sacked or suspended over 150 Shia players, staff and referees, including six Al-Ahli footballers.
The Hubail brothers’ fate was even worse. On April 5th they were arrested while training. When they appeared in court, military police shook their hands, and some asked for autographs. But their experience behind bars was far less friendly. The brothers have refused to speak about it, and the Bahrain Football Association maintains that no players were mistreated. But their relatives, teammates and friends say that foreign men beat them viciously in prison. “They were tortured,” says one Al-Ahli player. “Everyone knows what happened to them.” In June Mohammed Hubail was sentenced to two years in jail. He was released on bail a few days later when FIFA, football’s international governing body, began making inquiries.
When the league resumed, Al-Ahli was without its six players. Its second-string team remained in contention until the last day, when, fittingly, it was defeated by Muharraq, a Sunni club. Mr Kanoo says he believes most players will be reinstated. But those facing criminal charges for protesting, including the Hubails, could be barred from the game. Just as Al-Ahli in its heyday was a microcosm of Bahrain’s integrated society, its woes today reflect the depth of the country’s new divisions.
Human Rights First Urges FIFA, U.S. World Cup Team to Condemn Bahrain’s Attack on Athletes , July 2011 The Times: Bahrain's soccer stars tortured in custody , July 2011 Bahrain: Arrest, military trials, & suspension from sport activities, for athletes who practice their legitimate rights , July 2011 BYSHR Report: “Sports” defendant in Bahrain, because of freedom of opinion and expression , April 2011
Education International: Bahrain: Release detained teacher union leaders
11 August 2011
EI, together with Amnesty International, urgently calls on its member organisations to appeal for the release of Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, Vice-President and President of the Bahraini Teachers Association (BTA) arrested along with several other board members of the BTA. While we understand their colleagues have been released, Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb remain incarcerated awaiting trial in a civilian court. EI also condemns government’s action to dissolve the BTA and replace its leaders with others more amenable to the regime.
Jalila al-Salman’s house in Manama was raided on 29 March by more than 40 security officers. She was reportedly taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate in Manama where she remained for about a week during which she was beaten and held in solitary confinement. She is believed to have been transferred to the custody of the military and held there for two months, before being transferred again to a detention centre in ‘Issa Town, where she is currently held. Jalila al-Salman’s family were not aware of her whereabouts until recently and have only been allowed to see her there on two occasions and under very strict surveillance.
Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb’s house was raided by 20 members of security forces on 20 March in the middle of the night. His wife and children were interrogated for two hours. This raid marked the beginning of the persecution of teachers and students, creating a climate of fear of arbitrary arrest and detention. On 29 March, the security forces again inspected the house of the President, twice on the same day, without being able to find him. He was subsequently arrested and remains in detention.
The charges against the two union leaders include “inciting hatred towards the regime”, “calling to overthrow and change the regime by force”, “calling on parents not to send their children to school” and “calling on teachers to stop working and participate in strikes and demonstrations”. The two leaders were brought to trial before the National Safety Court of First Instance (a military court) on 15 June. After two further hearings, their trial was transferred to a civilian court and postponed until further notice.
Amnesty International has reviewed the statements issued by the BTA and has listened to speeches delivered by its President Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb. Amnesty found no evidence that either of them advocated violence of any kind. Consequently, Amnesty believes that they are likely prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly as leaders of the BTA.
EI calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb. - EI calls on the Bahraini government to cease its persecution of teachers and students. - EI urges the Bahraini government to reverse its decision to dissolve the BTA. - EI urges the Bahraini government to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of teachers, students and their unions, and to begin a reform process that not only allows but enables freedom of expression and freedom of association for its citizens.
Since March 2011 Bahrain has been carrying out a punitive and vindictive campaign of violent repression against its own citizens. The repression has been characterised by widespread arbitrary arrest, allegations of torture and ill treatment, unfair trials and mass dismissals of workers, especially teachers, and expulsions of students. Many teacher unionists participated in the pro-democracy movement against state repression of human and trade union rights that started on 14 February in Pearl Square, Manama. Many teachers also responded to the call for strike action made on 14 March to raise concern about the physical security of academics, education workers and students in education institutions. The government response has been violent repression and persecution.
Members of the BTA and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights now report at least 66 of such serious infringements of their human and trade union rights since the uprisings for democracy began.
Teacher dismissals have escalated, reported this week by Karim Radhi of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Union to be more than 132. A claim by the Ministry of Education that only 58 teachers were dismissed on various grounds during the unrest has been publicly refuted by teachers themselves, who also say they were not given a chance to defend themselves after receiving the recommendation of termination of service, and that written statements of witnesses were overlooked. The salaries of those under investigation were either stopped completely, or halved. Of concern also is that the investigation and dismissals continued even during the official holidays of teachers that coincides with the holy month of Ramadan.
The authorities arrested 19 students from the Teachers College in Bahrain in March, expelled many others, including 63 students on 12 June, effectively ending their careers before they have properly begun.
What you can do
1. Send appeals, in English, Arabic or your own language,urging the Bahraini authorities to:
Releaseimmediately and unconditionally Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Deeb; protect them from torture or other ill-treatment; immediately set up a full, impartial and independent investigation into the reported ill-treatment of Jalila al-Salman and bring those responsible to justice; Reinstate the teachers dismissed and the students expelled, together with their salaries and scholarships; Respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of teachers, students and union activists in accordance with international standards; Engage in respectful dialogue to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy and a fair resolution of the current impasse and legitimate claims of the Bahraini people.
Send appeals to:
His Majesty Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain P.O. Box 555, Rifa’a Palace, al-Manama, Bahrain Fax: +973 17664587 Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister Fax: +973 17533033; +973 175 32839 H.E. Majid bin Ali al-Naimi, Minister of Education Fax: +973 17273656; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Diplomatic representatives of Bahrain accredited to your country. EI (email@example.com or fax +32 2 224 0606).
2. Encourage your individual union members to send online messages to the authorities through the EI website: www.ei-ie.org/uaas/issues_actions. (available very soon)
3. Express your solidarity with the Bahraini Teacher Association, through EI.
4. Give visibility to the situation of teachers in Bahrain and the online appeal in your magazine, on your website, during meetings and via other appropriate means.
EI will of course keep you updated on all development. For additional information or to discuss possible action, contact the EI Human and Trade Union Rights Coordinator.
EI is grateful for your solidarity in support of our Bahraini colleagues.
Al Jazeera: Bahrain: The social media battle continues
The battle over Bahrain’s future is raging online between government loyalists and opposition supporters.
It’s the latest chapter in the on-going protests organised mostly by the country’s Shia majority. That movement -- believed to be inspired by popular protests for change in Tunisia and Egypt -- began in February with Shia activists urging Bahrain’s rulers to give them greater political rights and freedoms.
Activists say the story is being kept alive by citizen journalists and social media in the face of a media clampdown by the government.
Shia Muslims comprise about 70 per cent of Bahrain’s population and have long complained of persistent discrimination in employment, education and housing.
A number of people were killed in clashes between security forces and pro-reform demonstrators in the capital Manama in February.
But the violence galvanised the movement with protesters demanding an end to the monarchy of the Sunni al-Khalifa family that has ruled the country since its independence from Britain in 1971.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa declared a state of emergency and appealed for help from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of which Bahrain is a member, along with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
In March, GCC forces led by Saudi Arabia rolled into the country to quell the movement and the King said an “external plot” had been foiled. Government loyalists believe Shia-majority Iran may have influenced and provoked the protests in Bahrain.
At least 31 people are reported dead since the uprising began. The King announced an independent inquiry to look into the political turmoil and the commission is due to release its report on October 30.
That investigation is being headed by Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-American, who has led similar UN inquiries in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia. He says the Bahrain government is cooperating fully but pro-reform activists dismiss the exercise as flawed.
Last month, a national dialogue backed by the U.S. also hit a snag when representatives of Bahrain’s largest Shia opposition group al-Wefaq walked out of talks with the ruling al-Khalifa family saying “the regime was not interested in political reform.”
As the stalemate continues, the battle for global public opinion is being waged on social media with bloggers and activists from both sides arguing their points of view, go to stream.aljazeera.com to see some of the different efforts being undertaken online.
Watch the recorded debate between Zainab AlKhawaja and Suhail AlQusaibi here: stream.aljazeera.com
ICRC: Health care in danger: making the case
10 Aug 2011
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday it was "extremely concerned" about events in Bahrain and mentioned the country in a report on attacks against health care workers and hospitals.
"We are extremely concerned about what is going on in Bahrain. We are doing our utmost to ensure we have access not only to hospitals but to detention centres," ICRC director-general Yves Daccord told a news briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.
The report, which surveyed 16 countries and took more than two years to research, warned that the very foundations of the Geneva Conventions - the right of those wounded in war to receive medical attention, and the right of those treating them to work unimpeded - are under threat.
The report cited several examples as evidence that attacks on health care workers are increasing, from the murder of medical students in Somalia, to the invasion of an Afghan hospital by militia groups, to the shelling of hospitals in Sri Lanka. All of these incidents took place in 2009.
One year later the picture was, if anything, even bleaker, with doctors in Libya attacked, and ambulances fired upon. In Bahrain, patients were reportedly snatched from their beds, and hospital staff intimidated.
The ICRC said the violence is driving thousands of medical professionals from their jobs, and putting millions of lives at risk.
Extracts from the report regarding Bahrain
VIOLENCE AGAINST HEALTH-CARE FACILITIES
Attacks on health-care facilities during armed violence and internal disturbances tend to fall into four main categories. [..] The second category of attack is also deliberate, but this time for political, religious or ethnic reasons rather than for military advantage per se. Such assaults against health-care facilities include [..]; the cordoning off and military takeover of Salmaniya referral hospital in Bahrain in early 2011 after it was perceived to support the cause of anti-government protesters;
What the law says:
• Health-care facilities shall be respected and protected at all times and shall not be the object of attack.
• Protective emblems such as the red cross, red crescent and red crystal identifying medical units shall be respected in all circumstances.
• Small arms are permitted in health-care facilities for the purpose of self-defence or defence of the wounded and the sick (against bandits, for example). The presence of all other weapons
compromises the neutral status of a facility.
• Health-care facilities lose their protection if they are used to commit “acts harmful to the enemy.”
• “Acts harmful to the enemy” include the use of health-care facilities to shelter able-bodied combatants, to store arms or ammunition, as military observation posts or as a shield for military action.
VIOLENCE AGAINST THE WOUNDED AND THE SICK
In some contexts, the wounded and the sick face discrimination in access to, and quality of, health care. Although prohibited by international humanitarian law and human rights law, as well as contrary to medical ethics, health-care personnel have refused to treat, or given inferior treatment to patients on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. [..] In recent unrest in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen, protesters have been too afraid to use medical facilities for fear that their wounds will identify them and provoke harsh reprisals.
What the law says:
The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional rotocols of 1977 contain the following rules:
• The wounded and the sick, as well as the infirm, and expectant mothers, shall be the object of particular protection and respect.
• The wounded and the sick must be protected against ill-treatment and pillage.
• No one may be left wilfully without medical assistance and care.
• Whenever circumstances permit, and particularly after fighting, each party
to a conflict must, without delay, take all possible measures to search for, collect and evacuate the wounded and the sick without adverse distinction between them.
• The special role of the ICRC is recognized in facilitating the establishment of neutralized zones to protect the wounded, the sick and civilians from the effects of war.
• Parties to a conflict have the first obligation to care for the wounded and the sick. Any care provided by the local population, humanitarian organizations or other third parties does not relieve the parties of their obligations.
VIOLENCE AGAINST HEALTH-CARE PERSONNEL
Health-care personnel face many challenges working in situations of armed conflict and other violence, having to adapt standards of care to the resources available and dealing with large influxes of patients requiring immediate life-saving attention. Beyond these professional challenges often lie grave dangers associated with the nature of their work. [..] On occasion, health-care personnel have also been arrested for carrying out their professional responsibilities to treat all in need regardless of who they are and what they have done. In Bahrain, 47 doctors and nurses who treated protesters have been detained in sweeping arrests of health workers that followed the crackdown on protesters and face trial in a military court on a range of other accusations.
What the Law says: • Health-care personnel, whether military or civilian, may not be attacked or harmed. • Health-care personnel shall not be hindered in the performance of their exclusively medical tasks. • Parties to a conflict shall not harass or punish health-care personnel for performing activities compatible with medical ethics, nor shall they compel them to perform activities contrary to medical ethics or to refrain from performing acts required by medical ethics. • Medical personnel may not be required to give priority to any person except on medical grounds. Medical personnel decide, in accordance with medical ethics, which patient receives priority. • The protection of medical personnel ceases when they commit, outside their humanitarian function, acts harmful to the enemy.
NPR: An Update With A Woman Caught In The Middle Of Bahrain's Crackdown
Former MP Jawad Fairooz
by EYDER PERALTA NPR Listen to the Story on NPR.org
On today's All Things Considered NPR's Kelly McEvers brings us an update on a story she reported in May. The story was about how the Bahraini government had started targeting women in effort to quell a rebellion that raged in the country since February.
Kelly reported on one women who agreed to be interviewed by NPR only if she could whisper and talk in English so the government could not track her down.
"They took me from my work," she said. "And from the beginning, they slapped me on my face, on my head, shoulder."
"She had been detained, beaten, then let go," Kelly reported. "When she met with NPR, she was limping from pain."
Today, Kelly revealed that the woman in that story was the wife of Jawad Fairooz, a politician who was part of the opposition in Bahrain. The reason Fairooz's wife did not want to be identified in the original story is because her husband was in state custody at the time.
But, earlier this week, Fairooz along with Matar Matar, another MP, were released.
Fairooz's wife told Kelly the reason the government took her was to put pressure on her husband to confess and to get her to admit that that they were having secret meetings at their house and using special equipment to broadcast news out of the country. None of them confessed because it wasn't true.
Kelly said the family told her they had no plans to leave Bahrain or stop opposing the government. Matar told the BBC, that during their time in jail, they were "tortured" and "beaten."
But Kelly said the men's release sheds light on the issues in Bahrain. Kelly said the men were released for no reason; randomly one day a man came into their cells and told them they were free to go.
"Opposition figures are also saying the arbitrary nature of this release... is kind of a reflection of the larger problem in Bahrain, that you can sort of arbitrarily be taken away and released at the whim of the state," said Kelly. "This is the reason people came out in the first place."
The protesters came out demanding a more democratic system, a system, said Kelly, based on rule of law.
The New York Times: What Happened to My Bahrain Friend
By Nicholas Kristof
9 August 2011
I wrote recently about an old friend, Hasan al-Sahaf, a Bahraini artist who had been imprisoned –nominally for economic offenses, but in reality for standing up to the regime. My column was an appeal to King Hamad to release him, and recently Hasan was indeed released. He telephoned with the good news, and I invited him to write a post on my blog about what happened. He courageously agreed, and here’s what he wrote:
I’d like to thank everyone how’s written to the government of Bahrain to demand my release from prison. Of course I write this note here hoping heartily that the Bahraini Minister of Interior will read it. And here’s what went on.
On May 13th at 2 am while everyone was asleep, the Bahraini security forces attacked my house with more than 30 armed men. They pulled me from my bed half naked and arrested me, and then they took me outside, where I was astonished by the number of armed forces, backed by two black tanks and seven armed jeeps. There were armed men on the roof of the house, boundary walls and around my car. They blindfolded me with a black cloth and drove me for three hours. I felt that we had left Bahrain for Saudi Arabia, and that was probably a way to make me horrified and scared. Finally I found myself in a prison cell at a police station. No one spoke to me at all that day. I could not go to sleep. For three days I was in a solitary cell, not allowed to talk to anyone or call anyone. No one told what my crime was.
After a week or so, I was transferred to another prison called Jaw where men are dehumanized, insulted, and hurt. A Bahraini officer named Jowder interrogated me. He asked me about politics and things like: What is your relationship with the American press? Do you communicate now with the American press and with whom? What are your political tastes? Why did you go to the roundabout (a center of protests)?
Just days before my release a Bahraini prosecutor visited me in prison. He asked so many questions concerning my leaving the University of Bahrain, about my business life, the reasons I am at prison, and asked about my current financial situations. At the end he told the reason for the interrogation: a U.S. journalist wrote an article calling for the King of Bahrain to release me from prison. He added that the writer accused the state of treating me this way because I am a Shiite, saying that this was a claim without a justifiable basis, and merely an opinion haphazardly stated. He asked then if I agreed with what was stated in the article. I told him I hadn’t read the article and I didn’t know who wrote it.
At the end, I told the prosecutor that I am ashamed to know that a person of another country is fighting for me, whereas my own government is torturing and humiliating me.
In the past when I had been in prison in Bahrain, I had been tortured and beaten from behind – they weren’t courageous enough to hit me face to face. This time they were more open in their torture, they punched and kicked me face to face. I was hit in the face and kicked on my legs.
There are so many people tortured: beaten by hands, sticks, shoes, etc. I saw people beaten before my eyes and screaming loudly. I also heard police calling for killing the Shia.
Reuters: Some freed Bahrain detainees to be tried - former MP
Left to right: Lawyer Mohamed AlTajer and former MP Jawad Fairouz after releasing them.
Aug 10, 2011 By Isabel Coles
DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain has released more than 100 detainees who had been facing military trials over their roles in anti-government protests earlier this year, but some of them will still be prosecuted in civilian courts, one of those set free said on Wednesday.
A panel of international lawyers which Bahrain's Sunni Muslim monarchy invited to investigate the protests that mainly involved the Gulf state's Shi'ite Muslim majority, said on Tuesday that a total of 137 people had been released.
Among the detainees, who walked free on Sunday, were Jawad Fairouz and Matar Ibrahim Matar, former members of parliament in the largest Shi'ite political bloc, al Wefaq.
Fairouz, who expects proceedings against him to be dropped, said some other detainees had been told they could not leave the country pending prosecutions in a civilian court.
"I heard they took some photos of them to show that they are in good health, so that later on when they re-appear in court there shouldn't be any kind of claim they're going to be tortured," said Fairouz, who had been charged with spreading false news and taking part in illegal gatherings.
"When they released us they didn't take any signature or any commitment from us that we were going to be referred to the civil court," he said.
Among those likely to face trial in a civilian court is lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer, who was detained in April after defending people arrested during the protests, Fairouz added.
More than 1,000 people were detained after Bahrain crushed demonstrations in March for greater political freedom and an end to sectarian discrimination that Shi'ites say they face in access to land, housing and state employment.
The kingdom, which hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth fleet, attributed the unrest to manipulation by Iran of its Shi'ite co-religionists in Bahrain and denied persistent allegations of torture during and after the wave of detentions.
It has responded to international criticism of the crackdown
by funding an international legal commission to investigate the events, but activists and rights groups say the panel is cut off from people who fear reprisal for testifying.
Bahraini opposition activists have also faulted the panel's head, Cherif Bassiouni, for praising the authorities for cooperating with the investigation, and suggesting that abuses were individual acts, not official policy.
In a statement, Bassiouni said the cases of detainees had been transferred to civilian courts at the commission's behest.
Bahrain's public prosecutor has said some of those released had been held for a period equivalent to possible sentences, implying that their cases might be dropped.
(Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Statement
10th Aug 2011
In view of the fact that certain statements made by chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (“BICI”) have been interpreted as prejudging the outcome of the Inquiry, the BICI has decided to issue the following statement on how it has worked, will continue to work, and determine the contents of its report. 1. The BICI is still at the beginning of its investigations. It has not reached any final conclusions. Its work continues to be independent and free from any interference, either by the government of Bahrain, any other government, or any interest group, either within or outside of Bahrain. The BICI hires its own staff, conducts its own investigations, has its own budget, and acts in every respect as an independent commission.
2. In carrying out its responsibilities, the BICI has so far met with a number of government officials, as well as opposition leaders, representatives of civic organizations, and individual victims and witnesses. It has conducted unscheduled visits to several detention and prison facilities, as well as police stations, and its investigators have spoken to detained individuals outside the presence of any public official. It has also reviewed arrest and conviction records.
In the short period since July 24, the BICI has:
Met with over 200 persons in prisons and detention facilities and injured persons in hospitals; 50 senior government officials, including several members of cabinet; 18 opposition parties and civil society organizations; 90 students who have been suspended from their studies; and 105 persons who have been arbitrarily dismissed from their work positions. Received 300 complaints from dismissed employees. Recorded 140 allegations of physical abuse and torture in prisons and police stations. Secured the release of 151 persons from prisons or detention facilities. This number includes 137 persons who were charged with misdemeanors and were pending trial. These cases were transferred from the military court system to the civilian court system by a Royal Order at the request of the BICI chairman. Instigated an investigation by the Ministry of Interior into 2 police officers and 10 police personnel charged with physical abuse and torture. Received statements from 348 witnesses and victims of alleged arbitrary arrest and detention, physical abuse, and torture. Received over 900 emails, many of them containing information about events, and alleged victimization, either by the sender or claimed to be known by the sender. 3. All of the above has been done in cooperation with individual witnesses and victims, representatives of political opposition groups and civil society organizations, and the government. The BICI wishes to acknowledge with appreciation the hundreds of victims and witnesses who have come forward with their information. In addition, the BICI wishes to reassure them and others of the safety and privacy of these communications. We have taken and will continue to take all possible measures to safeguard the confidentiality of all information received, and we sincerely believe that there is no reason for anyone to believe otherwise.
4. It is important for anyone following the work of the BICI to know that while all of what is described above is taking place, there can be no final conclusions that can be derived therefrom. Conclusions and recommendations will occur after investigations are complete, and a more complete record is established. As of now, it can be stated that the BICI has had the cooperation of witnesses and victims, civil society organizations, opposition groups, and the government. The chairman of the BICI has publicly credited the Ministry of Interior, National Security Agency, the Attorney General, and the Military Prosecutor General for their cooperation, and it is only fair to do so. This should not be interpreted by anyone as covering up or overlooking the responsibility of any organization or any person for any illegal act. The BICI will continue to gather evidence and the conclusions in its report will be based on that evidence, in whatever direction it may lead and at any and all levels of responsibility.
5. We look forward to the continued cooperation of all parties concerned, and we hope that the heightened level of anxiety that exists in Bahrain society, and particularly with respect to the victims and families of victims of those who have been arrested, detained, tried and convicted, physically mistreated and tortured, does not carry them to any unfounded conclusions or judgments on the BICI and its work. We remain committed to the truth, and to continuing our work on the basis of impartiality, fairness, and neutrality.
Reply of the Head of the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to the BCHR Open Letter
August 9, 2011 Mr. Nabeel Rajab President Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Dear Mr. Rajab,
Thank you for your letter of August 9, which states your concerns with the work, but more so the integrity, of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
1. The BICI does not espouse the government’s views or any other views. The statement I made was that so far we have received the cooperation of the Ministry of Interior, and that is borne out by the facts. I am attaching a self-explanatory statement that will soon be posted on the Commission’s website.
This allegation insults the Commissioners and staff who are working 14 to 16 hours a day to serve the cause of human rights in Bahrain. All of us have well-established records in the field of human rights and this speaks for itself. We are neither bought by nor at the service of anyone. We are at the service of human rights and will continue to act as such.
2. There is no doubt that there have been a large number of reported cases of human rights violations which include: deaths, torture and physical mistreatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, wrongful dismissal of public and private sector employees, suspension of students and termination of scholarships, destruction of mosques, and destruction of private property. As we now know it, 35 people have been killed, and one is too many. We estimate from the more than 900 emails and 200 complaints, as well as interviews with over 300 victims and witnesses, that the possible number of physical abuse and torture may well reach into the hundreds, but we still do not have a complete picture of these violations. We need the cooperation of everyone in order to ascertain that information.
3. Once we have concluded our investigations, it will be possible to determine whether such a large number of violations are the product of “state or organizational policy” (see the definition of crimes against humanity in the ICC’s Art. 7, para. 2; see also M. Cherif Bassiouni, Crimes Against Humanity: Historical Evolution and Contemporary Application (Cambridge University Press, 2011). This is separate from the individual determination of individual cases of torture under the Convention Against Torture to which Bahrain is a state party. (See Nigel Rodley & Matt Pollard, The Treatment of Prisoners Under International Law (Oxford University Press, 3d ed. 2009), and M. Cherif Bassiouni, The Institutionalization of Torture by the Bush Administration (Intersentia, 2010)).
4. As a lawyer, you know that each of these crimes has separate legal elements that need to be established. Moreover, I am sure you know the legal differences between individual criminal responsibility and the responsibility of superiors, which is more difficult to establish. In particular with respect to the latter, we need to establish whether superiors in the chain of command failed to take appropriate measures to prevent torture when they knew or should have had reason to know that torture took place. There is also command responsibility, when those in the chain of command failed to investigate and prosecute those who commit such a crime.
5. These considerations of international criminal law are not exclusive, since the Bahrain criminal code contains two provisions criminalizing torture (namely, Arts. 208 and 232). These provisions also apply with respect to torture and other forms of physical mistreatment which may be of a lesser nature, and we are not ignoring this source of national criminal responsibility. The BICI is diligently pursuing all of these leads, and it is premature at this point to reach any valid legal conclusions.
5. With all due respect to all the international human rights organizations you have mentioned, I am sure that as a lawyer you will agree that their reports are considered secondary evidence. We need to either have access to the facts upon which they reached their conclusions, or to be able to determine those facts on our own. Since we are not a human rights organization, as you yourself stated, we need to ascertain the facts not only for their broader significance, but also with a view to determining where the system went wrong, who in the system initiated wrongful policies or carried them out, and how to correct these wrongs.
6. In light of the scope of what has happened, the polarization and radicalization that exists, the climate of suspicion and distrust, and the scale of the violations claimed, I am sure you will agree that it is premature to reach any conclusions. Any focalized or limited statements such as the one I made to Reuters cannot be used as a basis for the type of generalizations to which you and others have arrived.
7. Lastly, I understand that you were interviewed in an online newspaper article today in which you claim that the BICI is not looking into the deaths of persons. This is simply incorrect and you know this, since you yourself have an appointment with the BICI to accompany witnesses with evidence concerning deaths. Furthermore, I found it disheartening that you deemed it necessary to personally attack me in that interview.
The BICI will continue its work as an impartial, fair, and neutral body dedicated to the service of human rights, irrespective of any criticism or any political perspectives that are at play. We are here for the truth and nothing but the truth. We remain open to any constructive criticism and to any constructive ideas that may improve our work, and we welcome everyone’s cooperation in the pursuit of these goals which we are all pursuing.
Trusting that you will publish this reply to give it the same publicity that you have given your open letter, and that you will see fit to continue to cooperate with us and to help us in achieving our mission. We look forward to cooperating with civic leaders like yourself to successfully accomplish our mandate. Sincerely,
M. Cherif Bassiouni Chair, Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry