Bloomberg: Torture in Bahrain Becomes Routine With Help From Nokia Siemens
By Vernon Silver and Ben Elgin - Aug 23, 2011 Bloomberg Markets Magazine
The interrogation of Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar followed a pattern.
First, Bahraini jailers armed with stiff rubber hoses beat the 39-year-old school administrator and human rights activist in a windowless room two stories below ground in the Persian Gulf kingdom’s National Security Apparatus building. Then, they dragged him upstairs for questioning by a uniformed officer armed with another kind of weapon: transcripts of his text messages and details from personal mobile phone conversations, he says. If he refused to sufficiently explain his communications, he was sent back for more beatings, says Al Khanjar, who was detained from August 2010 to February.
“It was amazing,” he says of the messages they obtained. “How did they know about these?”
The answer: Computers loaded with Western-made surveillance software generated the transcripts wielded in the interrogations described by Al Khanjar and scores of other detainees whose similar treatment was tracked by rights activists, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its October issue.
The spy gear in Bahrain was sold by Siemens AG (SIE), and maintained by Nokia Siemens Networks and NSN’s divested unit, Trovicor GmbH, according to two people whose positions at the companies gave them direct knowledge of the installations. Both requested anonymity because they have signed nondisclosure agreements. The sale and maintenance contracts were also confirmed by Ben Roome, a Nokia Siemens spokesman based in Farnborough, England.
The Only Way
The only way officers could have obtained messages was through the interception program, says Ahmed Aldoseri, director of information and communications technologies at Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. While he won’t disclose details about the program, he says, “If they have a transcript of an SMS message, it’s because the security organ was monitoring the user at their monitoring center.”
The use of the system for interrogation in Bahrain illustrates how Western-produced surveillance technology sold to one authoritarian government became an investigative tool of choice to gather information about political dissidents -- and silence them.
Companies are free to sell such equipment almost anywhere. For the most part, the U.S. and European countries lack export controls to deter the use of such systems for repression.
“The technology is becoming very sophisticated, and the only thing limiting it is how deeply governments want to snoop into lives,” says Rob Faris, research director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Surveillance is typically a state secret, and we only get bits and pieces that leak out.”
Some industry insiders now say their own products have become dangerous in the hands of regimes where law enforcement crosses the line to repression.
The images of the Arab spring crackdowns earlier this year unnerved Nikhil Gyamlani, who as a consultant for Trovicor and Nokia Siemens had developed monitoring systems and sold them to some of the countries. The authorities jammed or restricted communications to stymie gatherings and knew where to send riot police before a protest could even start, according to eyewitness reports.
For that to happen, government officials had to have some means of figuring out where to go or whom to target to nip protests in the bud, Gyamlani, 34, says.
Targeting With Technology
“There’s very little chance a government is smart enough without this technology,” he says while smoking Marlboros and drinking Bavarian beer on the patio of a pasta restaurant in Munich. Gyamlani says nondisclosure agreements with his former employers prohibit him from revealing details about specific countries he worked with.
At least 30 people have been killed so far in this year’s uprising in Bahrain, a U.S. ally situated between Qatar and Saudi Arabia that is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Security forces beat paramedics, doctors and nurses who treated the wounded, and prosecutors have charged dozens of medical workers with crimes such as “incitement against the regime,” according to Human Rights Watch. In June, the U.S. put Bahrain on its list of human rights violators.
A Secretive World
Across the Middle East in recent years, sales teams at Siemens, Nokia Siemens, Munich-based Trovicor and other companies have worked their connections among spy masters, police chiefs and military officers to provide country after country with monitoring gear, industry executives say. Their story is a window into a secretive world of surveillance businesses that is transforming the political and social fabric of countries from North Africa to the Persian Gulf.
Monitoring centers, as the systems are called, are sold around the globe by these companies and their competitors, such as Israel-based Nice Systems Ltd. (NICE), and Verint Systems Inc. (VRNT), headquartered in Melville, New York. They form the heart of so- called lawful interception surveillance systems. The equipment is marketed largely to law enforcement agencies tracking terrorists and other criminals.
The toolbox allows more than the interception of phone calls, e-mails, text messages and Voice Over Internet Protocol calls such as those made using Skype. Some products can also secretly activate laptop webcams or microphones on mobile devices. They can change the contents of written communications in mid-transmission, use voice recognition to scan phone networks, and pinpoint people’s locations through their mobile phones. The monitoring systems can scan communications for key words or recognize voices and then feed the data and recordings to operators at government agencies.
‘Effective As Weapons’
Monitoring technology is among the newest artillery in an unfolding digital arms race, says Marietje Schaake, a European Parliament member who tracks abuses of information and communications technology. “We have to acknowledge that certain software products now are actually as effective as weapons,” she says.
Uprisings from Tunisia to Bahrain have drawn strength from technologies such as social-networking sites and mobile-phone videos. Yet, the flip side of the technology that played a part in this year’s “Facebook revolutions” may be far more forceful. Rulers fought back, exploiting their citizens’ digital connections with increasingly intrusive tools.
They’ve tapped a market that’s worth more than $3 billion a year, according to Jerry Lucas, president of McLean, Virginia- based TeleStrategies Inc., organizer of the ISS World trade shows for intelligence and lawful interception businesses. He derives that estimate by applying per-employee revenue figures from publicly traded Verint’s lawful intercept business across the mostly privately held industry.
In the hands of autocrats, the surveillance gear is providing unprecedented power to monitor and crush dissent -- a phenomenon that Ben Wagner of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, calls “push-button autocracy.”
The technology has become pervasive. By the end of 2007, the Nokia Siemens Intelligence Solutions unit had more than 90 systems installed in 60 countries, according to company brochures.
Besides Bahrain, several other Middle Eastern nations that cracked down on uprisings this year -- including Egypt, Syria and Yemen -- also purchased monitoring centers from the chain of businesses now known as Trovicor. Trovicor equipment plays a surveillance role in at least 12 Middle Eastern and North African nations, according to the two people familiar with the installations.
Trovicor’s precursor, which started in 1993 as the voice- and data-recording unit of Siemens, in 2007 became part of Nokia Siemens Networks, the world’s second biggest maker of wireless communications equipment. NSN, a 50-50 joint venture with Espoo, Finland-based Nokia Oyj (NOK1V), sold the unit, known as Intelligence Solutions, in March 2009. The new owners, Guernsey-based Perusa Partners Fund 1 LP, renamed the business Trovicor, coined from the Latin and Esperanto words for find and heart, according to the company’s website.
“We are very aware that communications technology can be used for good and ill,” NSN spokesman Roome says. The elevated risk of human rights abuses was a major reason for NSN’s exiting the monitoring-center business, and the company has since established a human rights policy and due diligence program, he says. “Ultimately people who use this technology to infringe human rights are responsible for their actions,” he says.
Asked whether Trovicor or its predecessors sold monitoring centers to Middle Eastern nations that have cracked down on uprisings this year, Roome says the company can’t talk about specific countries. NSN retained little documentation on the business after divesting it and has no data about the scope of its monitoring-center sales in the Mideast, he says.
Wolfram Trost, a spokesman for Munich-based Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering company, says he can’t comment because all documentation from the intelligence solutions unit had been transferred to Nokia Siemens.
Birgitt Fischer-Harrow, Trovicor’s head of marketing communications, said Trovicor’s contracts prevent it from disclosing its customers or the countries where it does business. She declined to comment further.
Trovicor’s owners only invest in ethical businesses, says Christian Hollenberg, a founder of Munich-based Perusa GmbH, the adviser to the Perusa investment fund. He includes in that category Trovicor, which the fund owns in its entirety.
“It’s a legal business, and it’s part of every communications network in the civilized world,” he says.
Bahrain is confronting alleged human rights violations through the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a panel established in June by royal decree to probe the recent violence, says government spokesman Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, the international counselor at Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority. Since July 24, the commission has recorded 140 allegations of physical abuse and torture, according to an Aug. 10 statement on its website.
“The first things we’re hearing is there wasn’t systematic abuse or torture, but there were abuses by rogue individuals within the security apparatus,” the government spokesman says. He says he isn’t in a position to comment on surveillance equipment or a specific interrogation.
Most countries, including the U.S. and European Union member states, employ interception technology in their telecommunications and data systems. A valuable tool for law enforcement, monitoring technology typically is accompanied by strict privacy protections and meets standards established by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and similar organizations. After 9/11, as part of the war on terror, the administration of President George W. Bush secretly -- and controversially -- authorized the National Security Agency to monitor communications to and from the U.S.
The Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and other human rights activists have blamed Nokia Siemens for aiding government repression. In 2009, the company disclosed that it sold a monitoring center to Iran, prompting hearings in the European Parliament, proposals for tighter restrictions on U.S. trade with Iran, and an international “No to Nokia” boycott campaign. While there have been credible reports the gear may have been used to crack down on Iranian dissidents, those claims have never been substantiated, NSN spokesman Roome says.
In Bahrain, officials routinely use surveillance in the arrest and torture of political opponents, according to Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. He says he has evidence of this from former detainees, including Al Khanjar, and their lawyers and family members.
‘Even Our Children’
During the recent crackdown, Rajab says, monitoring was pervasive.
“Everyone was interrogated based on telephone calls that were checked -- and not only us, the activists,” he says. “Even our children, our wives, our sisters are being monitored.”
At Bahrain’s telecommunications regulator, Aldoseri says monitoring technology is used only by order of legal authorities such as judges and prosecutors. A former fighter pilot, Aldoseri, 33, led the drafting of Bahrain’s 2009 regulations for lawful interception.
Available online, the regulations make clear that every phone and Internet operator must provide the state with the ability to monitor communications. Phone companies also must track the location of phones within a 164-foot (50-meter) radius, the rules say.
‘Risk of Abuse’
“You have the risk of abuse, so we made it as public as possible,” Aldoseri says.
For Bahraini security agents, monitoring centers are essential for gathering and printing text messages and other transmissions, Aldoseri says.
He says it’s impossible to know which contractor’s monitoring center processed a particular text message transcript. He says he’s barred from identifying vendors.
“I can neither confirm nor deny that Trovicor is there,” he says. “It could be their monitoring center or it could be someone else.”
During the Arab spring, it was easy to spot the company’s fingerprints, says Gyamlani. Tuning in to Germany’s N24 news channel at his home in Munich, he immediately suspected that governments were abusing systems he’d installed.
Failed uprisings stood out to him because of the way the authorities quashed unrest before it spread, says Gyamlani, a native of India who moved to Germany 12 years ago to study and work.
Remote Kill Switches
Once the equipment is installed, Gyamlani says, there is no way to shut it down long distance. He’s forming a new company, GlassCube, that he says will feature remote kill switches as well as other technology and contract requirements that would enable companies to curb such abuses from afar.
“With the power comes a big responsibility; this is a business where people can get killed,” he says. “It was depressing to see there was no control mechanism.”
Visitors to Trovicor’s headquarters on the third floor of a glass office building in Munich are greeted by a life-size statue of the company’s mascot -- a stalking panther -- by the reception desk. The mascot is a carryover from the Nokia Siemens unit, as were most of the company’s roughly 170 workers, current and former employees say.
Former and current Trovicor and Nokia Siemens employees interviewed declined to be identified by name when discussing company business in specific countries. Clients contacted declined to speak on the record about specific contracts. ‘Hidden Somewhere’
Al Khanjar, the Bahraini activist beaten during interrogations about his text messages, is in hiding today. He says he’s reluctant to communicate by mobile phone and takes calls using Skype on a computer with software that disguises its location. The Internet connection is his only way of communicating with his wife and 9-year-old son.
“I’m hidden somewhere,” he says. “I’m unfortunately in Bahrain. They’re going to kill me. What to do? What to do?”
Al Khanjar took up the anti-torture cause after being detained and interrogated for six days in 2000. His jailers handcuffed him, hung him from a stick “like a goat” and beat the soles of his feet, he says.
He’s now spokesman for the government-banned Bahraini National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture. He and other activists have documented the security service’s human rights violations for a decade, he says. His activism includes work with the United Nations Committee Against Torture and appearances on Qatar’s Al Jazeera channel.
An Agonizing Stretch
Al Khanjar says that on Aug. 15, 2010, three days after he returned from speaking about human rights to a committee at the House of Lords in London, plainclothes police knocked on his door in Bahrain at about 2:30 a.m. It was the start of a six- month ordeal.
For his first 85 days or so in custody, Al Khanjar saw no one from the outside, he says. For one agonizing stretch, his jailers forced him to stand without sleeping for five days. At other times they beat him with hoses and their hands and threatened him with sexual abuse, he says.
Al Khanjar’s interrogators repeatedly quizzed him about his contacts with Iran, where his wife’s family originated generations ago, he says. They also focused on his activities in opposition politics and in religious gatherings with fellow Shiite Muslims, who form a majority of the kingdom’s population yet are ruled by the Sunni minority.
“They had collected their information from tracking calls,” he says, including whom he spoke with and what they said. “They told me a lot of things about our activities in the human rights field and political activities I’d participated in.”
And they showed him several pages of transcripts of his text messages. An interrogator held the papers in front of Al Khanjar, pointing out the Arabic words printed in black ink on white paper and reading aloud details such as the dates and recipients of the texts, he says.
Al Khanjar says he sent one of the messages on June 9, 2009, after a flight to Qatar to visit a friend. His trip was thwarted when Qatar refused him entry at the Bahrain government’s request. He suspected that his appearances on the satellite news channel, based in Qatar, explained the Bahraini government’s interest in his travel there. Al Khanjar fired off the text to a fellow activist. “What happened to me is because of Al Jazeera,” it read.
More than a year later, when Al Khanjar was in jail, authorities seized on a transcript of that message, asking what he meant by it, particularly the reference to Al Jazeera, he says. Suspicious of his explanation, officers threatened to put him in a solitary confinement cell with no toilet two floors down -- the same floor where they tortured prisoners.
“You cannot hear anything,” Al Khanjar says. “You don’t know the time. You don’t know if it’s day or night. No windows.”
Only after overhearing officers refer in radio chatter among themselves to their national security building as Jazeera did he conclude their interest in his innocuous text message was a misunderstanding that he had been making a reference to their facilities.
“They thought that I knew something about their code,” he says. A prosecutor charged Al Khanjar with crimes that included establishing a group in violation of the law and inciting and participating in unauthorized meetings of more than five people for the purpose of undermining national security, according to a copy of the indictment translated by the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales.
An arm of the England and Wales lawyers association, the committee sent a delegation to Bahrain that observed an Oct. 28, 2010, hearing in the case against Al Khanjar and 22 others arrested at the same time.
The detainees testified about being tortured while in custody, according to the bar committee’s February 2011 report: beatings, particularly to the legs and ears; being kept in stress positions or naked for prolonged periods; hanging in a position called falaqa in which the detainee is suspended from a bar and the soles of his feet beaten; and, in some cases, sexual abuse. The actions violated both international law and the laws of Bahrain, the report concluded. “Credible and pervasive allegations of mistreatment and torture, which are dismissed as fabrication by the Public Prosecutor, completely undermine the rule of law,” it stated.
Convicted in Absentia
In February, before Al Khanjar’s trial had reached its conclusion, protests flared and the government released all 23 detainees to relieve political tensions. Al Khanjar immediately went into hiding.
A separate military tribunal later tried him and others -- many, like him, in absentia -- and convicted them on charges that included trying to overthrow the government. Al Khanjar, who denies the charges in this and the earlier case, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Al Khanjar says the first of his communications used in the interrogations was intercepted in June 2009. At that time, the Nokia Siemens family of related companies was the only known supplier and maintainer of monitoring centers to Bahrain, the two people familiar with the installations say. The clusters of computers required constant upgrades by the companies, they say.
Company executives understood that they had the only monitoring-center computers in the country, based on conversations with Bahraini officials, one of those familiar with the situation says. The other says he knew of the arrangement from internal company communications. Neither knows whether the equipment originally installed and maintained by the companies is still in use.
NSN and Trovicor’s status as exclusive provider in Bahrain continued at least through 2009, the two people familiar with the installation say. That period of more than two years coincides with the dates of text messages used to interrogate scores of political detainees, human rights advocate Rajab says. Based on his conversations with former detainees and their representatives, he says that authorities used messages that dated as far back as the mid-2000s, even in recent interrogations.
Schaake, 32, who represents the Netherlands in the European Parliament, says companies should be barred from exporting such equipment to countries with poor human rights records. U.S. and EU export laws and UN sanctions control just a narrow slice of technology such as weapons systems or data encryption. International embargoes that cover a broader range of equipment target only a small circle of the worst actors, such as Myanmar and North Korea.
Transparency and Accountability
“It is time for more pressure, for more transparency and accountability when it comes to these products and services,” Schaake says. As a first step, Schaake says surveillance systems involving information and communications technology should join military items such as missile parts on lists of restricted exports.
Schaake helped to sponsor a parliamentary resolution in February 2010 that called for the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, to ban exports of such technology to regimes that could abuse it. The commission hasn’t implemented the nonbinding resolution.
The U.S. Congress passed a law in 2010 barring federal contracts with any businesses that sold monitoring gear to Iran. An investigation ordered by Congress and completed in June by the Government Accountability Office was unable to identify any companies supplying the technology to Iran, partly because the business is so secretive, the agency reported.
Lack of Oversight
Al Khanjar says lightly regulated sales of lawful interception technology expose an industry lacking appropriate oversight. “The United Nations should put pressure on those companies that supply equipment to these tyrant regimes,” he says.
Bahraini government regulator Aldoseri says the companies are all too happy to sell the equipment regardless of what happens once it’s installed.
“If you provide someone with a knife, you expect them to use it responsibly,” he says. That’s not necessarily the case with surveillance companies, he says.
“They don’t ask any of the operators or security organs what happens after. They provide equipment to filter and monitor and they don’t care about due process.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Vernon Silver in Rome at email@example.com; Ben Elgin in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org To contact the editors responsible for this story: Melissa Pozsgay at email@example.com; Gary Putka at firstname.lastname@example.org
ITUC: Bahrain’s Anti-union Repression
23 August 2011: The authorities in Bahrain are stepping up repression of the country’s trade union movement, with further suspensions and sackings of workers due to their actual or suspected participation in trade union and political actions earlier this year.
Government workers in particular are being targeted, including in health, education and municipal services, as the authorities seek to cleanse the public sector of workers who hold political opinions of which it does not approve.
Dismissals have in fact increased since June, and government workers facing dismissal report having to appear before disciplinary boards with no opportunity to mount a defence of any kind. There is little question that the outcomes of these hearings are predetermined. Minister of Labour, Jamil Humaidan, has disclaimed any responsibility over the public sector, effectively giving a green light to the on-going dismissals.
This year, some 2,600 workers in both the public and private sector have been fired, with an additional 361 workers suspended. Despite numerous promises to the contrary, the government has largely failed to reinstate workers illegally dismissed. According to the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU), only 134 workers have been reinstated to date. Many of these workers had to agree to unacceptable, indeed illegal, conditions in order to get their jobs back – including agreeing not to take part in any future political activity, waiving the right to participate in legal cases against the government and agreeing not to re-join their trade union.
Six members of the GFBTU Executive Board remain dismissed as well as 44 Executive Board members of GFBTU-affiliated unions. Of great concern, the Vice-President of the Bahrain Teachers Association, Jalila al Salman and Roula al-Saffar, head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, are to stand trial before a military tribunal next week, despite the fact that they are both civilians. It is highly unlikely that either will get a fair trial on the dubious charges related to the protests earlier this year. The two were only recently released on bail after being jailed for months, where they were reported to have been subjected to torture and degrading treatment during their detention.
“The Bahrain government is continuing its campaign of punitive action against workers who have simply exercised their rights under international law, causing real suffering to them and their families. The imprisoned trade unionists must be released without delay, and all the workers illegally dismissed must be reinstated,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “Instead of maintaining their destructive and repressive approach, the authorities should engage in meaningful dialogue with the GFBTU to resolve pressing issues such as job creation, labour relations and a broader agenda for real reform.”
Summon of Nabeel Rajab for his tweets, Return of military trials and other news from Bahrain
23 August 2011
Nabeel Rajab President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was summoned to the police station of Roundabout 17 of Madinat Hamad on August 19th for "deliberately posting sensational propaganda and false information on his social networking site likely to disrupt public order, spark fear among people, damage public interests and defame authorities" The interrogation was conducted by Ministry of Interior personnel. During the entire interrogation there was an individual videotaping the entire procedure. The questions were in regards to things he had written, his opinions and posting articles from the international media on twitter. They also interrogated him about Zakaryia AlAsheeri who had died in custody and had obvious torture marks on his body. They told him that AlAsheeri died of Sickle Cell disease, and he responded he had evidence that late AlAsheeri had been severely tortured. They also told him that Zainab AlJuma died a natural death, to which he responded that she had died due to teargas inhalation. He said he continues to stand by what he wrote and will continue to write on Twitter. Finally, they informed him that the case would be turned over to the public prosecution.
"Nabeel Rajab has been notified to abide by the law in exercising his right to freedom of expression, as stipulated in the constitution, and commit to legal constraints," the Northern Police director-general said.
Nabeel said that they had a stack of papers, all of which were copies of things he had written on Twitter. This is only one of a lengthy campaign of targeting human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab who is one of the leading activists in the country.
Today 40 people were taken to court, all of who have been in detention for several months without charges or trial. Amongst them were Hussain Ahmed and Wafi AlMajed, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja's sons-in-law. Families were not notified, but found out through the internet, and showed up at the court where they were not allowed to speak to the detainees or sit in on the hearings. Amongst the charges were illegal assembly with the intent of disseminating false information, sending information internationally with the intent of distorting the country's image and incitement to hatred against the regime. The cases were adjourned for two weeks until September.
Despite the order from the King to move all cases to civilian courts, felonies cases are still set to be tried at the military court. Some of these cases are: the appeal of the 21 prominent activists, the case of the doctors and the case of those accused of allegedly cutting the tongue of man.
Report by Human Rights First about the return to Military Courts.
Jalila AlSalman, deputy head of the Bahrain Teacher's Association, and Roula AlSaffar, president of the nurse's society, were both released yesterday with ensuring the place of residence. The court case against them is still ongoing. AlSalman had recently been taken to the hospital twice due to chest pains.
Shaikh Isa Qassim, one of the most respected Shia clerics in Bahrain, today received a letter from the Minister of Justice, A copy of the letter in Arabic can be seen here. In short, it was a warning to the cleric in what the minister called: incitement to violence by use of his religious statute. The minster have included no supporting evidences to his accusations.
Last night a religious procession was attacked by civilian clothed thugs in Bani Jamrah. The thugs threw stones on people taking part in the ceremony then ran off, there was one serious injury in which a young man's wrist got cut when one of the stones flew into a car window causing glass to fly. In Muharraq a group of provocateurs targeted a religious procession by standing on the sides and chanting "the people want Khalifa bin Salman (the pm) at people taking part in the procession. Luckily there were no clashes.
Bahrain: Sectarian cleansing campaign to the security institutions
Bahrain’s regime aims at the slight Shiites manpower in the police and the army by killing, torturing and imprisoning
This campaign comes after decades of excluding Shiites out of military
Bahrain’s regime aims at the slight Shiites manpower in the police and the army by killing, torturing and imprisoning
31 July 2011
Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its deep grave due to the crackdown led by the regime in Bahrain against anyone expressing his/her views demanding freedom, democracy and human rights, this time it affected the employees of both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense which are chaired by members of the ruling family. The authorities have killed, arrested, and demobilized large numbers of their employees, BCHR has documented more than 248 cases.
Since decades Bahrain’s regime practiced the policy of sectarian discrimination in the military, in the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense and any other military institutions. Since the seventies and after the independence of Bahrain, the Bahraini authority led a sectarian discrimination and marginalization campaign conduce to separate and imprison large number of military personnel, this discrimination against Shiite in these institutions continued until this day, reaching its peak in last March, through murdering, imprisonment and torturing lots of Shiites working in the police and the army. To fill this void in the military institutions, Bahrain’s regime employs foreign forces in the security forces and the army.
Since Monday, February 14, 2011 peaceful demonstrations inspired by the Arab spring in Tunisia and Egypt broke out in Bahrain, and many workers at the military stood side by side with the rest of the people demanding freedom, political and civil rights guaranteed by the international human rights covenants as well as the Constitution of Kingdom of Bahrain. Thursday, February 17, forces launched a surprised attack on the peaceful protestors at the Pearl Square in the early morning hours. This sparked an outrage among Bahraini people of all sects, affiliations and orientations, protests promoted Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, to appear on the official TV trying to ease the demonstration and announced that every citizen has the right to express his opinion peacefully.
Friday, March 20, 2011 Jawad Shamlan’s family received a phone call from the Ministry of Interior stating Jawad’s death in mysterious circumstances . Shamlan used to work at Al khamis police station, that day he had delayed from the usual time, his family tried to contact him several times on his mobile but with no avail. Until someone answered the frequent calls saying that your son was killed.
The family received the corpse on the second day; Signs of live bullets appeared on his legs and stomach also, a sharp stab in his back .
Another military officer was killed Abdulaziz Jumaa Ayad, under torture with electric shocks in prison after being arrested by who thought they were military. On March 13, Ayad who works at Bahrain Defense Force disappeared and lost contact with his family, after days of his last phone call informing his family that he refused to be in the sniper squad to quell protests. March 24, an official at the military hospital called his family informing them with his death, later they found that he was killed under torture and electrocution and he was killed at March 17 according to the medical report, a week before his family was informed of his death. After that, the military hospital refused to hand over the corpse in an ambulance as it is common, but asked the family to take the body in their car.
On Wednesday, 16-3-2011, S.S a military officer at Bahrain defense forces got arrested after investigating him about pictures he took with his friends. He was transferred to a place where nearly thirty masked civilians stripped him of his cloths and started beating and torturing him continuously using rubber cables and metals, they cursed him and his sectarian beliefs. On Thursday, March 17, they unmasked him and unscrewed the restrictions after threatening him; he was forced to sign a pledge without knowing its content, and then they asked him to forget what happened and not talk about it to anyone or it will be repeated. On 17-7-2011, S.S received his dismissal out of the military service without knowing the reasons.
After the brutal attack at the protesters at the Pearl Square and the death of 4 martyrs, a group of military personnel announced their withdrawal from the military objecting on killing innocent civilians and demanding democracy and human rights like the other protesters, Ali Jassim Ghanimi was the first one. He went to Salmaniya hospital to check on the wounded and dead, and from there he announced his withdrawal from the military protesting against the military and the police repressive practices against unarmed peaceful people. Ghanimi had disappeared after the peninsula shield force arrival to Bahrain and their attack at the Pearl roundabout, also after their massive arrest campaign led by the government at those who participated in the sit-ins and marches. Security forces raided Ali Ghanimi house and broke its contents, stole his money and precious possessions as revenge of him and his family. Moreover, in order to support the demands movement Ali Ghanimi started a page on “FACEBOOK”, but not for very long he got arrested and the page closed. Until now, Ghanimi sits behind prison bars since 28 March 2011 without a trail and without knowing his charges.
Bahrain's flag expressing his peaceful demands and patriotism. After attacking the roundabout, bloody events sequenced, Shiite military personnel were targeted and discharged them from military, whereas most protesters demanding democracy and human rights are Shiites. As revenge the government started arresting group of them through raiding their houses at dawn, breaking all the house contents and in many cases stealing money and possessions. Furthermore, the government hastened the military trail without taking into account the international standards for the fair trial by having a lawyer and the right to defend themselves. The sentences ranged between 4 and 7 years. Perhaps the most prominent charge is "participating in a gathering intended to disrupt security," this is after some of them get on the roundabout's stage declaring their refusal to kill people, civilians and expressed their sympathy with the legitimate demands for democracy and human rights.
Among those targeted military personnel were the brothers Alaa Hubail and Mohammad Hubail, football players in the Bahraini national team, both were arrested and tortured, in addition to several other players who work in the military. Although, Alaa and Mohammad were released after several months in jail their trial is still on, this prevents them from talking about what they have gone through.
About 120 police personnel are behind Muharraq detention center bars, all of them have been investigated about participating in the peaceful protests for democracy and social justice. Some of them have had a fast trial while others are waiting for theirs . Almost all detainees in Bahrain have gone through systematic torture whereas 4 citizens were killed behind jails since the beginning of the protests in February.
Notably, targeting military personnel began before March 16, which is the date of the Peninsula Shield forces arrival and attack at the pearl Roundabout. Yousif Salman Jerdabi who’s an employee at the military hospital has disappeared at March 11, 2011. Then, one of his colleagues called his family to inform them that their son got arrested on the charges of taking pictures of wounded, although there were no wounded at that time. Moreover, the campaign has targeted personnel at silly reasons , such as Mohammad Owainati, whom was talking to his friends and asked “ Why don’t Prime minister Sh. Khalifa bin Salman Al khalifa just step down? “ Mohammad got arrested and trailed exactly after asking this question. Another one got arrested because of a joke he sent via SMS to his friend who snitches on him, like Sayed Ahmad Abbas Alalawi.
Lots of the detainees were arrested because there are pictures of them in the pearl roundabout, and were published on FACEBOOK or TWITTER by intelligence forces. Even a picture related to the last protests in their mobile is enough to drag them to jail and convicted them with not less than two years that is what happened to Hussain Ali Ahmad Isa. And Sayed Qasim Hadi Marzouq- awards winner in Bahrain and Gulf as the best sniper in bird shot- got arrested because of his refusal to shot protesters in the democracy protests. Even resigned police officers had their share; Redha Kathim Owainati refused what was happening and resigned. However, he got arrested.
Not less than five military offices are missing since the day of the pearl roundabout attack, March 17, without even their family knowing where they are, like Sayed Ali Sayed Ashour – Volleyball player- , the security forces still raid Naseem yousif Hussain house to arrest him, they have threatened his wife if he did not surrender himself, they will arrest all her brothers. Another one is Hassan Khalil Aqsh whose house had been raided three times, and his brother was threatened to be arrested from school, which urged him to convert his study to “home schooling”.
Bahrain’s authority justified the arrest of hundreds of military personnel with the law that prevents military personnel to participate in any political gathering but even to join with political assemblies. As a clear violation of Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Article 20: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and no one may be compelled to belong to an association.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights has previously documented the discrimination against the Shiite population in employment at the security services, which represent the largest recruitment in Bahrain (more than 60 thousand workers) and receive the largest budget in state , though the percentage of Shiites in it do not exceed 1%. BCHR believes that all those military personnel have been thrown in jail not because they are involved in any pro-democracy protests, but on the basis of their sectarian and religious background. The Interior Ministry and the Bahrain Defense Force profiteered from these protests to purge their institutions of the few remaining Shiites. Now, those institutions became models of cleansing and sectarian discrimination practiced in Bahrain.
Bahrain’s minister of defense Marshal Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa is from that part of the Khalifa’s who have a hostile history with Shiites since the beginning of the last century, but now; he dragged most of the khalifa’s family to hate Shiites.
Based on the foregoing, Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls for the following:
1. Release of all prisoners of conscience from the military and civilians immediately 2. Investigate those in charge of killing, imprisonment and torture military personnel publically and transparently, also, compensation for all the crimes committed against them and pin them to work. 3. Stop the systematic discrimination against Shiites in state institutions and open the chance for them to work in the military and civilian sectors, so these institutions reflect the national fabric of the country's religion and social. 4. Stop bringing foreigners to work in the army and police, and stop using mercenaries in the security services. 5. Alienate those figures in the ruling family who are behind discrimination, marginalization and sectarian distinction that have had much influence on what the country’s problems.
http://www.alwasatnews.com/3119/news/read/533493/1.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYUbgDN1IR8  According to a witness http://www.alwasatnews.com/3040/news/read/518752/1.html
Amnesty International: Bahrain must not try activists in military court
22 August 2011
The Bahraini authorities’ decision to try two prominent women activists in a military court is a backward step and raises concerns that they will not receive a fair trial, Amnesty International said today.
Roula al-Saffar, head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, and Jalila al-Salman, vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA), have been released on bail after being detained for several months for their involvement in pro-reform protests.
Roula al-Saffar will be tried next Sunday together with 13 other medical workers before the National Safety Court, a military court, although she and Jalila al-Salman, who will be tried by the same court the following day, are both civilians.
"While we welcome the belated release of Jalila al-Salman and Roula al-Saffar, it is deeply disturbing that they are to stand trial before a military court and so are at risk of being imprisoned again next week,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"Civilians should never be tried before military courts. The National Safety Court has been a parody of justice and a stain on the Bahraini authorities' claim to uphold the rule of law," he said.
The two activists were released on bail on Sunday after the Chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), Professor Cherif Bassiouni, visited them in prison on Saturday.
Roula al-Saffar was among a group of health professionals accused of committing felonies, including theft of medicines, during the protests that began in February. They strongly deny the allegations.
Jalila al-Salman faces trial on charges that include "inciting hatred against the regime" and calling to overthrow and change the regime by force".
She appeared before the National Safety Court several times in June before her case was transferred to a civilian court and postponed until further notice.
Later the same month, the King of Bahrain announced that all military court trials connected with the February-March protests would be moved to civilian courts.
He then backtracked on 18 August, issuing a decree which makes it clear that the new measures do not apply to all arrested protesters.
The decree requires that those charged with a felony are to be tried by the National Safety Court if their cases had already been referred to that court, which was set up when the King declared a state of emergency at the height of the protests in March.
The new law means that scores of people detained during the protests are now liable to be tried in the military court.
"This is a complete U-turn by the Bahraini authorities. After they indicated that military courts were a thing of the past, it now seems that these courts are being resurrected to do the government's bidding ," Malcolm Smart said.
"Anyone charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence must be promptly given a fair trial in a civilian court."
According to local human rights organizations, many teachers and members of the BTA were detained, harassed and tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention for their participation in protests earlier this year.
At least 500 people have been detained in Bahrain since pro-reform protests began in February and four have died in custody on suspicious circumstances. More than 2,500 people have been dismissed or suspended from work.
BICI’s five-member investigation panel is expected to report on its findings in October.
- Bahrain frees Head of Nursing Society and Deputy Head Teachers Society
- BCHR Report: Activists women under fierce attack: detained, tortured and prosecuted for political reasons
- Amnesty International: Bahrain: Imprisoned activists on hunger strike
- HRF: Bahrain Government Makes U—Turn on Military Courts
ANHRI: Arab governments target Twitter users; Bahraini rights activist summoned
(ANHRI/IFEX) - 20 August 2011 - ANHRI is deeply concerned over the targeting of Twitter activists by Arab governments for the news and comments they post. Thus far, it is certain that at least three Arab governments, in Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt, have launched investigations or prosecuted Twitter activists. In addition, the Emirati Security Service has issued serious warnings stating that it closely watches social networking websites, especially Twitter and Facebook. Bahrain started the hostility against users of Twitter in April, when it investigated famous rights activist Nabeel Rajab for publishing a picture of a Bahraini citizen who died during his detention by police. More recently, on 19 August, Rajab was summoned to the Dawar 17 police station. An investigation was opened based on allegations that he published false news on the situation in Bahrain and incited violence against a Special Forces police officer. Rajab was surprised to see that his "tweets" had been printed on several papers. He was later released.
In Kuwait, blogger Nasser Abel was arrested in June for what the Kuwaiti government considered "criticism of the Saudi and Bahraini governments". The blogger awaits a hearing in the case in September.
In Egypt, a military investigation has been conducted against activist Asmaa Mahfouz for comments she posted on Twitter and Facebook, in addition to a phone call she made to a religious satellite channel. Despite the fact that the Military Council announced that it would waive the lawsuit and release the activist on an exorbitant bail of 20,000 Egyptian Pounds (approx. US$3,400), Mahfouz still awaits a hearing in yet another lawsuit filed by a citizen over a "tweet". The hearing is to be held in September.
"The Dubai police are closely monitoring social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook. Anyone posting false and malicious news or statements that harm public security will be punished with 'imprisonment' of one month to three years," Colonel Abdul Rahim Bin Shafi, the director of the Organized Crime Department in the Ministry of Interior of the United Arab Emirates, said on 17 August.
"It seems that Arab governments have run out of values like tolerance, dialogue or respect for freedom of opinion and expression, and have settled for police repression as a means to deal with different and critical opinions. They are fed up with freedom of expression to the extent that they restrict the 140 characters that Twitter allows, which are the tools activists use against police forces and the security apparatus. It has become crystal clear that a war is raging between freedom of speech and the police in countries whose dictionaries lack terms like freedom of expression and political criticism," said ANHRI.
It is worth noting that the experiences of activists with the Internet, especially blogs, Facebook, and, lately Twitter, strongly contributed to the success of the Arab revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. They have also strongly supported the revolutions raging now in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. This provides assurances that the uncontrollable forum provided by the Internet is the best supporter of fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of opinion and expression.
RSF: Anti-Media Offensive Continues
20 AUGUST 2011
The Bahraini authorities have blocked access to the website of the Bahrain Justice and Development Movement, a new London-based group consisting mainly of Bahraini exiles that denounces human rights violations in Bahrain and advocates democratic reforms. The website had been about to post an article in which Ali Al-Aswad, a former parliamentarian now living in exile, said he feared a civil war could break out in Bahrain. Without elaborating, the authorities accused the site of “breaking Bahrain’s laws.”
HRF: Bahrain Government Makes U—Turn on Military Courts
August 22, 2011
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today criticized the Bahrain government’s sudden decision to bring back military courts to try pro-democracy activists. The group called the development as shocking as it is duplicitous.
“The world needs to take notice that the government of Bahrain has brought back its discredited military courts, which is further evidence that meaningful reform in that country is an illusion,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “I met with many people in Bahrain last month who had been told their cases would now be heard in civilian instead of military courts. They were lied to.”
More than a dozen doctors and other medical professionals have been summoned to appear before the military court on Sunday August 28, even though the Bahraini authorities announced on June 26 that they were transferring all cases from military courts to civilian courts.
Among those waiting to have their cases heard are medics like Roula Al-Saffar, the head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, who was released from detention yesterday after four months in custody. Roula studied at Widener University in Pennsylvania and at the University of North Texas. She also worked for many years as a nurse at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Though she has been released, the charges against her have not been dropped and she has now been summoned with her colleagues to appear before the military court on Sunday.
“The U.S. government has been publicly silent on Bahrain for some time now. It has not disassociated itself from the discredited National Dialogue nor spoken out against the police attacks on peaceful protests over the last few weeks. In light of this latest development, it should say clearly and publicly that any step back to military courts will have consequences for the relationship between the United States and Bahrain,” Dooley concluded.
Bahrain frees Head of Nursing Society and Deputy Head Teachers Society
On 21 August 2011 Bahraini authorities released Rola al-Safar, the country’s top nursing official, and a teachers’ union official, Jalila al-Salman, after several jailhouse meetings with the head of an international panel investigating alleged abuses in Bahrain. They were detained for over five months during crackdowns on Shiite-led protests.
The charges against both activists are not dropped. Next Sunday 28 August 2011 Ms Rula AlSafar along with more than dozen doctors and nurses will appear at military court again as their trial resume, and despite the royal decree no 62 last June to transfer all cases to civilian courts. Latest information published today indicate a new decree with a law that amends the first one and orders misdemeanor cases to be transferred to civilian courts while the felonies to be resumed at the military court (National Safety court).
The trial of Ms Jalila AlSalman along with the head of the Bahraini Teachers Society Mr Mahdi AbuDeeb (still detained) should resume in Sep.
CS Monitor: Bahrain government fires hundreds of employees for political views
Banner reads: "My father is suspended from work since 3 months for no crime"
More than 100 government employees have been dismissed in recent weeks, joining 2,500 workers – nearly all Shiites – who have been fired since Bahrain's pro-democracy uprising.
By Kristen Chick, Correspondent / August 19, 2011
More than 100 Bahraini government employees have been fired in recent weeks for their political views, signaling an ongoing campaign to crush dissent in the wake of a pro-democracy uprising this spring.
They join 600 workers who have already been forced to leave government ministries and universities and about 1,900 workers sacked by private businesses this spring. While the Ministry of Labor has reinstated about a fifth of those fired, the most recent dismissals challenge official portrayals of the kingdom as going back to normal following the government's brutal crackdown, in which at least 30 people were killed and hundreds detained.
An independent commission appointed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to investigate the crackdown could lead to more workers regaining their jobs. But some are losing confidence in the Bahrain Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which has become a focal point for angry protests.
Sayed Salman, head of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBT), says he appreciates the efforts of the Labor ministry so far to reinstate employees who were unfairly fired, but says the proportion of workers reinstated is too small and has taken too long. He also rejects government arguments that dismissals, such as those taking place at government ministries currently, are disciplinary measures carried out according to law.
“When you talk about the dismissal of 10 or 15 people, that is one thing," says Mr. Salman. "When you talk about the collective dismissal of hundreds of people from different ministries, it is a systematic dismissal to get rid of anyone who is suspected of having supported the political unrest.”
19 Shiite academics fired last week
Last week, 19 academics and 40 staff members were fired from the University of Bahrain, including Abdulla Al Derazi, who has been an English language professor at the university for 20 years and is also head of the Bahrain Human Rights Society. He says the university accused the academics of participating in protests, expressing political opinions critical of the government, and talking to the media. The university also accused Prof. Derazi of civil disobedience for being absent from work during protests – which he denies.
“There’s no grounds for what they did because it’s all unconstitutional,” says Derazi. “The decision was based on political and sectarian reasons.”
All 19 academics are Shiite, as are most of the more than 2,500 workers who have so far been dismissed, according to the count of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. Bahrain’s population is about 60 percent Shiite.
Though Shiites made up the majority of the protesters demanding democratic reform from Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, the movement's aims were democratic rather than sectarian. But the government has largely targeted Shiites in its efforts to quell the uprising, which began in February inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The government called in Saudi and other Gulf forces to participate in a violent crackdown in March.
'Is sending an e-mail a crime?'
In recent months, the government has sought to portray the crisis as over. It held a national dialogue billed as a gathering to address political problems, and released some of the hundreds it had detained during the crackdown, including two former members of parliament from the largest opposition bloc, Al Wefaq.
But activists and opposition members say the national dialogue didn’t address Bahrain’s real problems, and point out that those who have been released still face politically motivated charges.
The private sector firings largely took place in April, targeting Shiites and employees who had participated in protests. Many companies attempted to justify the dismissals by saying employees were absent. But some of the government institutions seem to be more open about the political reasons for the dismissals.
One man who worked for the University of Bahrain says the university told him he was fired because of emails he had forwarded to colleagues that contained articles critical of the government.
“Is sending an e-mail a crime? It’s a right of expression,” says the man, who did not want to give his name for fear of harming his chances of being reinstated through an appeal. “I have a family, I have kids. Things are difficult without a job.”
One employee recently fired from the Ministry of Municipalities was told he was dismissed for participating in protests at Pearl Square, the focal point of the demonstrations. Another fired University of Bahrain employee said his superiors showed him a photo of himself at Pearl Square. This employee was recently reinstated, and did not want to give his name for fear of losing his job once again.
The total number of public sector firings, which are concentrated in the ministries of Health, Education, and Municipalities, has seen a recent uptick because many employees who were suspended in April or May have recently been notified of their terminations after investigations were completed.
503 workers reinstated
Some workers have been reinstated; the Ministry of Labor said Monday that 503 workers have regained their jobs.
“Persistent efforts have been exerted ... to encourage corporate managements so as to comply with legal criteria and requirements and adopt the right lawful procedures in order to reconcile the outcomes and recommendations of legal teams, ministry and corporate investigation committees as well as to explore any likely difficulties or problems which may still obstruct workers reinstatement to their jobs,” said the Ministry’s statement.
Government officials were unavailable for comment.
The commission shut its office Monday after hundreds of sacked workers gathered there, angry over an article in a local newspaper that reported the head of the commission, respected international war crimes expert Cherif Bassiouni, said he had found no evidence of crimes against humanity during the government’s crackdown. The commission said that hundreds of protesters forced their way into the office, yelling and threatening the staff.
The BICI said in a statement that Bassiouni had made no such determination about crimes against humanity, the commission was still gathering evidence, and that Bassiouni would give no more interviews after “certain media outlets and activists have misrepresented” his comments.
The offending interview, published in Al Ayam newspaper, which has ties to Bahrain’s government, was the second interview given by Bassiouni that raised concern among activists. In a Reuters interview Aug. 8, he praised the cooperation of the Interior Ministry and said his investigation, which had just begun, led him to believe that “there was never a [government] policy of excessive use of force or torture,” a point that activists have heatedly contested. After an uproar, he stated he had not yet come to conclusions.
A bid for the Guinness Book of World Records
Activists say that some Bahrainis are now less likely to go to the commission and report instances of torture or mistreatment they endured.
Others are taking matters into their own hands, forming a group to advocate for the rights of sacked employees. One of the group’s leaders, who asked to remain anonymous for his protection, said the group is collecting resumés of those fired, with plans to submit them to the Guinness Book of World Records to set a record for most workers collectively sacked for political reasons.
“We think that this kind of activity will not only make pressure to return the sacked people, it will also be a spotlight for the issue of Bahrain and what happened after the protests in February and March,” says the group leader. “There are still many kinds of crisis for the people of Bahrain. But maybe nobody cares.”