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CPJ concerned about trial of Bahrain bloggers

December 7, 2010

Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs C/O Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain 3502 International Drive NW Washington, D.C. 20008 Via facsimile: +1-202-362-2192

Dear Sheikh Al-Khalifa,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is deeply concerned about the ongoing detention and trial of prominent Bahraini bloggers Ali Abdel Imam and Abdeljalil Alsingace. We're outraged by allegations of torture made by the two bloggers, along with those made by 23 activists and opposition figures. We call on your government to ensure that the bloggers are not abused while in custody and are granted all their rights--including access to counsel and family visits. We also call on you to instruct the proper authorities to revoke all the restrictions imposed on the coverage of the case ahead of the next court session scheduled for December 9.

Ali Abdel Imam was detained on September 4 by security forces after he was summoned for questioning by the National Security Apparatus. The news website he established in 1999, BahrainOnline--one of the most popular news sites in Bahrain--has been shut down since that day. His arrest came amid a government crackdown on opposition activists ahead of the October parliamentary elections. Abduljalil Alsingace, a blogger and an active member in the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy, was among the first wave of detainees. He was arrested on August 13 at the Bahrain International Airport when returning from a visit in London, where he spoke critically about human rights violations in Bahrain. Before his detention, Alsingace regularly published articles critical of the government's record, particularly with regard to Shiites' rights.

On October 28, when the trial began under a tight security presence, Abdel Imam and Alsingace appeared in front of the High Criminal Court in Manama. They are each accused of forming an illegal organization, engaging in and financing terrorism, and spreading false and misleading information, according to the indictment. Some of those charges carry a life sentence, one of the lawyers told Agence France-Presse.

The two men were allowed to see their lawyer for the first time after weeks in detention for only 30 minutes, according to international news reports. During their first court appearance they both said that they had been tortured. "I was subjected to torture, beatings, insults, and verbal abuse," Abdel Imam told the judge, according to statements widely circulated by local and regional human rights groups. Abduljalil Alsingace said they were subjected to "physical and mental torture" and placed in solitary confinement, according to AFP. CPJ is troubled to learn that the court declined to meaningfully investigate the torture allegations, permitting only some of the detainees to be examined by a physician, whose findings were never made public. We call on your government to conduct a prompt investigation into these serious allegations. We were also shocked to learn that after submitting the torture complaints, detainees, including the two bloggers, were seriously beaten after being taking back to prison, local human rights groups told CPJ.

We also ask you to intervene to revoke the gag order imposed on the media covering the case since August 27 by the public prosecutor, Ali Al-Buainani. In October, the trial judge decided to extend the gag order based on a request from the prosecutor. In a public statement released on October 28, you said that "every defendant has the right to a fair trial. It will be a public trial in which the detainees will be presented in a court and will have independent defense lawyers." The gag order and the restriction the defendants have had to their lawyers belie those assertions.

We are concerned that these bloggers could well be punished for the mere expression of opinions that the government finds distasteful, and we ask that you intervene to ensure that they receive a fair trial. Bahrain's Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, vowed on October 27 that his government was "keen to promote Bahrain's image to be in harmony with the landmark political, economic, and social strides." The ordeal of these detained bloggers stands in direct opposition to that declaration.

Thank for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon Executive Director

The Observatory: Harassment And Unlawful Confiscation Of Equipment And Copy Of Personl Data of Mr Nabeel Rajab

6 December 2010

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

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources that Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was stopped at Bahrain International airport and that his laptop and mobile were confiscated, before being returned to him before take-off.

According to the information received, on December 2, 2010, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was approached at a gate at Bahrain International airport and asked to go with someone who identified himself as Khalid Alkhalifa, a National Security officer. He was then taken back to the passport control area and Mr. Alkhalifa asked for his laptop and mobile phone. He told him that he would not willingly give up his laptop and mobile unless he was to go through them in front of him. He was then surrounded by a group of security officers, and when he refused that his laptop and phone be taken away, another group was called in as well. During this process he was told not to speak to or greet anyone. When a young Bahraini approached him unknowingly to greet him, he was forcefully taken away by the security officers. The laptop and phone were returned to him minutes before the take-off, and after all information in both of them had been copied and downloaded.

The Observatory condemns this unlawful confiscation as well as the unlawful copy of data contained therein. It also fears that security officers may have put a spyware into his laptop for monitoring purposes.

The Observatory fears that these acts may merely aim at sanctioning Mr. Nabeel Rajab for his human rights activities and at placing him under close surveillance by security officers. The Observatory recalls that these acts take place in a context of escalating threats and intimidation against the civil society and organisations critical of the the current administration’s human rights record.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to:

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

ii. Put an end to any acts of harassment against human rights organisations and against all human rights defenders in Bahrain and prevent any interference in their activities;

iii. Carry out an immediate, impartial and thorough investigation into these acts, and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

iv. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, and its Article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

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

Addresses:

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

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

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

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

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

fidh.org

The brief detention of the president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights in his country’s airport

and the copying of the contents on his laptop and mobile phone

7 December 2010

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses deep concern about the Bahraini authorities persistence in targeting and harassing human rights defenders, which was shown recently in the ill treatment inflicted upon the president of BCHR, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, through selective security measures practiced against him. Mr. Rajab was detained for about one hour by national security agents upon his departure to Greece through Bahrain National airport, after being threatened, his personal laptop and mobile phone were forcibly confiscated (in addition to the rest of the electronic devices that were in his possession), all files and information on these devices were copied, even family pictures and files related to his human rights work.

On Thursday the 2nd of December 2010, as Mr. Rajab sat in one of the departure gates in the airport, after going through all the normal security procedures, he was approached by a member of national security named Khalid AlKhalifa. Mr Rajab was asked to leave the departure gate and go with him to the passport area, as they reached the security section he was asked to open his laptop, after which he was surrounded by a group of national security agents, some of whom were non-Bahraini and dressed in civilian clothes. Mr Rajab and his electronic devices were searched thoroughly, Khalid Alkhalifa then ordered some of the men to take the laptop and mobile phone to and unknown location. While Mr. Rajab did not mind or object to the inspection, even though it was selective and unusual, he did ask that the search on his devices be made infront of him, openly and transparently, expressing his concern that abusive or malicious files might be planted on them. Khalid Alkhalifa not only denied him this but also threatened him that if he does not hand over his devices they will be forced to deal with him in a different manner, and they will make him regret it, to confirm this threat another group of agents was called over. After which all his electronic devices were forcibly confiscated and taken to an unknown location for more than half an hour.

In that time one the agents asked Mr Rajab not to talk to or greet any of the travelers in the airport, or else they too will be targeted and interrogated. When a young acquaintance going to Dubai, unaware of the situation, recognized Mr Rajab and shook his hand, the agents interfered and pulled the man away infront of all the travelers to an unknown location to search and interrogate him.

Two minutes before take-off Mr. Rajabs belongings were returned to him, he found on later that all their contents were copied including pictures and documents related to his human rights works or his family members. Especially since the security apparatus has before copied information and personal documents from other activists with no legal or judicial order.

The President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights is being subjected to continuous targeting and harassment for years and at different levels. Some come in the form of a personal attack through smear campaigns using the media such as the official television and radio channels, newspapers close to the power and some of the columnists and editors there. In some situations it even amounted to physical assault. The harassment has increased since the latest security crackdown began in August, as a defamation campaign was launched against him in the frame of publishing his image in the Bahrain News Agency as one of the members of the alleged terrorist cell, as well as the continuous publication of his picture in the local government newspapers. Rajab was banned from leaving the country but this ban was lifted recently, and his name was circulated to some Gulf and Arab states and Arab to make it more difficult for him to move around the area, which is something that has repeated itself several times in previous years. Rajab and his family are exposed to constant monitoring of all their personal phones, and this observation has reached to the point that the National Security Agency during the interrogation of some of the current detainees, questioned them using data they had of the contents of calls with Rajab. He and his wife have been subjected to a smear campaign by sending thousands of mail containing his picture, and accused him and his wife of betrayal. This came in addition to sending malicious text messages to his mobile, which he later discovered were being sent using a company in South African, and that the bills were being paid from the special account of Sheikh Ahmed bin Ateyatalla Al-Khalifa, head of the Central Statistics Agency and State Minister for Cabinet Affairs. Rajab and his wife filed several complaints to the Attorney General regarding the messages of threats and defamation, with no result. The complaints were neglected and there was no investigation in the matter. In 2005, during his participation in a demonstration for the unemployed, Rajab and his colleagues were subjected to physical assault by the Special Forces, which resulted in the necessity for a two week long treatment at the hospital due to sustained injuries, especially in the spine which he is still suffering from to this day. In March 2007 Rajab was called in for questioning for publishing documents and information relating to the scandal (Bandergate).

This incident is one of many targeting human rights defenders in Bahrain in an attempt to hinder or stop their human rights work. Several activists have been detained in Bahrain National Airport, amongst them the lawyer Mohammed AlJishi, who works on cases related to human rights defenders and political prisoners; and human rights activist Sayed Yousef AlMahafdha who was stopped several times in the last few months and has missed a flight because of interrogation. Saudi national and activist Waleed Slaise and his electronic devices were also thoroughly searched as he travelled through Bahrains airport. Moreover, most foreign activists, lawyers and journalists visiting Bahrain are subjected to security surveillance without any legal basis or court order, while many activists were arrested during the last security crack down and subjected to torture during their arrest. The High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations expressed grave concern at the opening of the fifteenth meeting to discuss the human rights situation, about the harassment of activists and human rights defenders in Bahrain[1].

The BCHR assures that the authority’s policy of continuing to target human rights defenders and their organizations, specifically the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and its leaders, will not stop human rights defenders from doing their job and continuing their activities, instead it reinforces their belief in exposing the illegal actions that have transformed the country’s image into an authoritarian police state.

The BCHR calls the Bahraini authorities to: 1- Ensure the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Bahrain. 2- Stop all harassment of human rights organizations and activists in Bahrain, whether they be physical, legal or concerning their privacy. 3- Releasing all human rights defenders who are currently detained 4- Committing to the articles of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on the 9th of December 1998 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Especially article 1 which states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.” And article 12.2 which states that “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.” 5- Ensure respect for human rights and basic freedoms and the right to privacy in all conditions in accordance with international standards related to human rights and international conventions which were ratified by Bahrain.

-- [1]un.org

THE OBSERVATORY: BAHRAIN: Ongoing instrumentalisation of the fight against terrorism to repress Bahraini human rights defenders

Paris-Geneva, December 6, 2010 – The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its concern for the ongoing judicial harassment of 11 human rights defenders in Bahrain. All were arrested at the end of the summer and are arbitrarily detained since then. They have been accused of alleged membership to a terrorist network aiming to overthrow the government.

Dr. Mohammed Saeed, board member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), blogger Ali Abdulemam, who created a news website in 1999 on Bahrain (www.bahrainonline.org) and a blog, and who is active at the international level in raising attention to the situation of freedom of expression and the media environment in Bahrain, Mr. Abdulghani Ali Issa Al-Khanjar, Spokesperson of the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture (NCMVT), Dr. Abduljalil Al-Sengais, Spokesman and Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy, Mr. Salman Naji and Mr. Hassan Al-Haddad, members of the Committee of the Unemployed, Mr. Suhail Al-Shehabi, active in the Committee of the Unemployed and the Committee of the Relatives of Detainees, Mr. Ahmed Jawad Al-Fardan and Mr. Ali Jawad Al-Fardan, members of the Committee of the relatives of Detainees in Karzakan, Mr. Abdul Hadi Al-Saffar, Chairman of the Committee against high prices and active in the Committee of the relatives of detainees, and Mr. Jaffar Al-Hessabi, a Bahraini human right activist involved in the fight against torture who has been living in the United Kingdom (UK) for 15 years, are being tried since October 28 along with 14 other activists belonging to the Shi'a community.

Mr. Antoine Aussedat, mandated by FIDH, as well as representatives of the United Kingdom, United States and French embassies attended. The third hearing was held on November 25, 2010. Access to the court room was reportedly restricted, since only one relative for each of the accused was allowed to enter, in addition to the lawyers. Two BBC journalists were denied access, after their camera was confiscated upon arrival at the airport.

At the hearing, one of the accused claimed he had been tortured with electricity. The Public Prosecutor asserted that defence lawyers had full access to their clients and that they had been examined by forensic experts. Defence lawyers reiterated – on the contrary – difficulties in accessing their clients and contested the objective character of the mentioned examinations, given the lack of independence of the forensic experts. They demanded the suspension of the case until the completion of an exhaustive investigation on the allegations of torture, including medical check-ups by independent doctors.

Defense lawyers also denounced the conditions of detention of their clients, which reportedly amount to ill-treatment: limited access to toilets and showers, forced hair and bear shaving, prolonged stays on feet, etc.

The next hearing is scheduled on December 9, 2010, when Prosecution witnesses will be heard. The requests brought by defence lawyers concerning the allegations of torture were once again ignored.

The last two hearings – held on October 28 and November 11 – had been marked by vivid debates around allegations of torture by the accused inflicted during the pre-trial stage and even after the first hearing, as well as on the necessity of an independent medical check-up and exhaustive inquiry into these allegations, as the casefile is built essentially if not exclusively on confessions extorted from the accused. The defense had also protested against the restrictions imposed on family and lawyers' right to visit and highlighted that only one copy of the criminal case file had been handed to all of the defense lawyers. They further reported attacks made against the accused and their lawyers in Bahraini media, reportedly tolerated and even fueled by the Public Prosecution, in violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence.

The Observatory condemns the judicial harassment campaign which uses the pretext of the fight against terrorism in an attempt to frighten human rights defenders in Bahrain for the mere exercise of legitimate human rights work. The Observatory calls upon the Bahraini authorities to conform in all circumstances with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Convention Against Torture (CAT), the Body of principles for the protection of all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment, and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The Observatory also urges the authorities of Bahrain to put an end to any kind of harassment against human rights defenders and to release those detained, in compliance with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

For further information, please contact:

· FIDH: Fabien Maitre, + 33 1 43 55 14 12

· OMCT: Seynabou Benga, + 41 22 809 49 39

Front Line Open Letter to Secretary of State Clinton demands freedom for Ali Abdulemam and 10 other human rights defenders

3 December 2010

As Hilary Clinton arrives in Bahrain (today Friday 03 December) to open the annual Manama Dialogue, which draws political leaders from across the Middle East, Front Line has written to Secretary of State Clinton regarding its concerns re the ongoing trial of Ali Abdulem and 10 other imprisoned human rights defenders.

Secretary of State Clinton is in Bahrain to open the annual Manama Dialogue organised by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, which this year draws prime ministers, defence ministers, military officials, intelligence chiefs and private sector heads from across the region.

As political leaders from across the region gather in Bahrain to discuss regional security Front Line wishes to emphasise the need to recognise the vital and legitimate role of human rights defenders.

Specifically Front Line's open letter calls for the release of Ali Abdulemam and 10 other human rights defenders who are facing trial in Bahrain charged with participation in a terrorist conspiracy.

Front Line has raised the concerns identified in the report of its observer at the most recent trial hearing which focused on the lack of credibility of the charges, the denial of due process and the serious and credible allegations of torture. The letter included a statement from Ali Abdulemam in which he described the torture in detail.

“I was subjected to torture, beatings, insults and verbal abuse. They threatened to dismiss my wife and other family members from their jobs. I was interrogated in the prosecution without a lawyer, and the officer there who appeared to be from the National Security dismissed my denials to the allegations put against me. He never allowed me to respond to the questions he was asking, but rather answering them himself whilst I was stood behind the door as I was not permitted to sit during the investigation.”

Front Line is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Ali Abdulemam and the 10 other imprisoned human rights defenders and for a full and independent investigation into the allegations of torture.

The full text of the Front Line Letter to Secretary of State Clinton is attached in PDF format.

Open Letter to Hillary Clinton l 3 Dec 2010

http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/13954

Open letter to Hillary Clinton on eve of political dialogue in Bahrain

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton US Department of State 2201 C Street NW Washington DC USA

Manama, 30 November 2010

Dear Secretary of State Clinton,

“No nation, no group, no individual should stay buried in the rubble of oppression” Hillary Clinton, January 21 2010

When the United States participates in the Bahraini government’s initiative, Manama Dialogues this week we would like you to use the opportunity to press for freedom of speech, the protection of human rights, greater freedom and democracy in Bahrain. In particular, we would like you to advice the authorities to end its routine practice of torture and ensure fair and independent trials for all detainees. Furthermore, in your historic speech of 21 January, you clearly affirmed your country’s support for online free speech and freedom of opinion, making it a cornerstone of US diplomacy. We now urge you to defend these principles in your relations with Bahrain, which has developed an elaborate mechanisms for controlling the Internet.

Ten years after King Hamad’s accession to the throne in 1999, his record on democracy and human rights is very uneven to the say the least. There were promises of political reform at the start of his reign and Bahrain was hailed as a model democracy in the region by George W Bush, but this was soon reversed and tensions continue to escalate. In August 2010, the Bahraini authorities launched one of its heaviest security crackdowns in over a decade. Currently over 350 people have been arrested including, 23 activists accused of belonging to a ‘terrorist cell’. These include academics, doctors, teachers, clerics and bloggers.

According to independent observers, the entire case of the 23 detainees rests on confessions which appear to have been coerced through physical violence (torture) or at the very least threats of violence and are therefore not credible. We urge you to call for the fair and independent trial of these activists or to release them. The plight of the blogger and cyber dissident, Ali Abdulemam in particular would be of concern to you as you have stated that you are a champion of freedom of speech and information. He has been targeted and accused of ‘spreading false information’ simply for using the tools available on the internet. The Bahraini government should not use the accusation of ‘terrorism’ as a pretext to systematically violate the rights of political activists and those who use the internet for peaceful political purposes. Thousands of websites have been blocked, including facebook pages and those of political societies.

Specifically, the detainees defense lawyers have made five requests which have not been upheld: 1. An investigation into numerous and consistent allegations of torture by all 23 detainees. 2. The formation of an independent medical committee to examine the detainees. 3. An improvement in the conditions for the detainees in prison. 4. To allow local media to report on the trial. 5. To release the detainees.

We plead with the U.S. government to secure the release all political prisoners and to ensure that they receive just trials and welfare, to end censorship and to introduce genuine democratic reforms. We also urge the U.S. government to pressure e Bahraini government to honor their commitment to the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture, to which they are a signatory. As the US spokesman recently stated “you don’t have to make a choice between democracy and security”. Based on this, Bahrain should cease the practice of torture that has been investigated by many human rights organisations such as HRW and Amnesty and end the censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression and association.

Every effort must be made in this dialogue to avoid the outcome seen so often in the past, an outcome marked by vague statements of praise for so-called ‘reforms’ , while being used by the Bahraini authorities to claim that they are making progress on the democratic and human rights front. The opposite is the case – repression has been stepped up in recent months.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our requests and hope you can wield positive influence to resolve the situation.

Sincerely,

Abdul Nabi Al-Ekri President Bahrain Transparency Society anhalekry@yahoo.com +973 39222412

Essa AlGhayeb Deputy Secretary General Bahrain Human Rights Society alghayeb@gmail.com +973 39668024

Mohammed Al-Maskati President Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights mohdmaskati@byshr.org +973 36437088

Nabeel Rajab President Bahrain Center for Human Rights Nabeel.rajab7@gmail.com +97339633399

Ghada Jamshir President Women's Petition Committee ghadajamsheer@hotmail.com +973 39680807

CC: Embassy of the United States, Bahrain

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

Activists on trial for holding up pictures of detainees

2 December 2010

The BCHR expresses concern for the continued targeting of public freedoms by the authorities especially the freedom of opinion and expression and their criminalization by making them into security cases or linking them to terrorism. The BCHR has received information that four young men are on trial for carrying a banner, in the capital Manama, with pictures of some of the detainees who are also political activists and human rights defenders. The authorities claim that carrying such banners is an act of inciting hatred against the regime, which raises the number of those on trial in cases related to freedom of expression to 19 people in the last three months.

On September, Hassan Abdullah Al-Qassim (20yrs old) and Ahmed Ali Yousef (20yrs old) were arrested. At the same time the authorities are trying to arrest two other young men, the brothers Ahmed Radhi amd Hasan Radhi, for hanging a banner at the end of August with pictures of some of the detainees, they have been charged with “publicly inciting hatred against the ruling regime”. Their trial started in October but has been adjourned until the 5th of December. It should be noted that the first defendant Hassan Abdulla has previously been convicted in another case related to freedom of expression, in which he was also charged with “inciting hatred against the regime” after he distributed leaflets which revealed violations committed by the authorities and the torture of citizens, he was sentenced to one year imprisonment on the 27th of October. This trial is one of 5 cases in court, which includes at least 19 people, in a series of trials which target the freedom of opinion and expression since the beginning of the security campaign 3 months ago:

1- 11 activists among the defendants are accused of being part of the so-called “organized network”[1] and they are being charged with “inciting hatred against the regime” and “distribution of false information and possession of publications containing rumours”. Amongst these defendants is the activist and blogger, Ali Abdulemam, who is also the founder of Bahrain Online, the popular site which has been publishing news of arrests and ongoing violations in the country especially since the start of the crackdown, and which the authorities have been trying to block by all means possible[2].

2- Mohammed Mshaime’ and Hussain Aldurazi are on trial for “propagating negative images to foreign news agencies and channels”, this came after the BBC (Arabic) broadcast films which show riot police attacking civilians during a peaceful gathering[3].

3- The activist Hassan Abdullah has been sentenced to one year imprisonment for distributing leaflets revealing government violations and torture of citizens under the pretext of “inciting hatred against the regime”[4].

4- Mrs Fakhriya Al-Singaice still faces the same charge of “inciting hatred against the regime” after she was arrested for a day last august for holding up a banner which stated Article 9 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in one of the shopping malls.[5]

According to the penal code the defendants in these cases face upto 2 years imprisonment, however sentencing them under the terrorism act which is condemned by international organizations could raise the sentence to life imprisonment.

The BCHR sees that referring such cases related to freedom of expression to the special tribunals which were formed a few weeks before the security crackdown reveals the existence of legal gaps in the vague and unclear legal articles which allow the criminalization of citizens basic rights like the freedom of opinion and expression. This also reveals a sharp decline in these freedoms in a country where even the possession or hanging of pictures of the detainees is considered a crime, namely the crime of inciting hatred against the regime. These trials are a grave violation of international charters and covenants related to human rights, specifically Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “Everyone 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.”

Based on all this, the BCHR calls on the Bahraini authorities to:

- Immediately release all the prisoners and detainees who are on trial in cases related to the freedom of opinion and expression. - Immediately stop using the terrorism law which is internationally condemned for its lack of guarantees for a fair trial. - Stop all measures that restrict freedom of opinion and expression or prevent the transmission of information. - Stop the special tribunals which were formed to look into cases of a political nature, and return the jurisdiction power to the normal judiciary.

---

[1] According to the list related to the “Organized Network” these 11 defendants are charged with “inciting hatred against the regime by distribution of false information and possession of publications containing rumours”: 1. AbdulJalil Abdulla Yousif AlSingaise, 48yrs 2. Shaikh Mohammed Habeeb AlSaffaf (Almuqdad), 48yrs 3. Hassan Ali Hassan Mshaime’, 62yrs 4. Saeed Abdulnabi Mohammed Alshehabi (residing in London), 56yrs 5. Shaikh Saeed Mirza Ahmed Ali (Alnouri), 37yrs 6. Mohammed Saeed Moosa AlSahlawi, 37yrs 7. Shaikh Abdulhadi Abdulla Mahdi Hassan Juma Almkhouder, 42yrs 8. AbdulGhani Isa Ali Isa AlKhanjar, 38yrs 9. Shaikh Abdulla (Mirza) Isa AlMahrous, 45yrs 10. Jaffer Ahmed Jassim AlHesabi, 38yrs 11. Ali Hassan Abdullah AbdulImam (blogger), 32yrs

[2]Prominent Bahraini Blogger and Online Activist Under Arrest [3]Arresting and Torturing Activists due to Transmitting Photos & Info about the Incidents in Bahrain to News Channels & Agencies [4]A Year’s Imprisonment for a Citizen on the Charge of Distributing Information that Reveals the Violations Practiced by the Security Apparatuses [5]manamavoice.com Article 9 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

RSF: Hillary Clinton urged to press for release of detained netizens during visit

2 December 2010

Reporters Without Borders wrote to U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton ahead of her upcoming visit to Bahrain voicing deep concern about the situation of freedom of expression and human rights in the Gulf state.

The trial of 25 human rights activists and opposition supporters who were arrested in August and September began on 28 October. Two follow-up hearings have since been held, on 11 and 25 November. The defendants include Adeljalil Al-Singace, a blogger and academic who heads the civil liberties and pro-democracy movement Al Haq, and Ali Abdulemam, a blogger regarded as one of Bahrain’s Internet pioneers, who is an active member of the Bahrainonline.org forum. All of the defendants, who pleaded not guilty to the 10 charges brought against them, have complained of being the victims of violence and mistreatment while detained.

The letter urged Clinton to do everything possible to have such practices stopped and to support the cause of the country’s human rights defenders in her conversations with the Bahraini authorities. Reporters Without Borders, which is especially concerned about the right to a fair trial and respect for defence rights, called on Clinton to press for the release of the detained cyber-dissidents, and to raise the cases of Abdeljalil Al-Singace and Ali Abdulemam in particular.

Bahrain was ranked 144th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, a fall of 25 places from its ranking last year. The fall was due above all to serious cases of imprisonment and prosecution, especially those involving bloggers and other netizens, and to the government’s repressive attitudes.

Access to thousands of websites is currently blocked in Bahrain. Culture minister Sheikha Mai Bent Mohammed Al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family, launched a campaign against online porn in early 2009 that led to the closure of 1,040 websites. A radical content filtering policy is applied to the Internet that affects all content of a political or religious nature regarded as obscene or damaging to the royal family’s dignity. Opposition leader AbdulWahab Hossein recently found that his Facebook page had been blocked as a result of this censorship.

During her historic address last January, Clinton very clearly affirmed U.S. support for freedom of expression and opinion on the Internet, saying the United States had a “duty” to defend “this tool of economic and social development.” Reporters Without Borders hopes she will now defend these principles with the authorities in Bahrain.

en.rsf.org

Continuing its Policy of Blocking Websites: Bahrain Blocks Opposition Leaders Page on Facebook

27 November 2010

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its concern at the continuous policy in the fight against freedom of opinion and expression by blocking websites and other forms of new media including specific pages on social networking websites such as Facebook where the Information Affairs Authority has blocked the page of the prominent political opposition leader AbdulWahab Hussain.

Since the 9th of October 2010, members of Facebook trying to access the page[1] of AbdulWahab Hussain were greeted with the now very common ‘This Website is Blocked’ page. On his page, AbdulWahab Hussain has regular updates of his activities, the most notable of which was the sit-in demonstration in solidarity with those detained in August 2010, whilst also regularly expressing his political views and opinions on current affairs in Bahrain. This move followed the decision made by the Information Affairs Authority last September to block the website ‘www.alostad.net’ in a campaign which affected several websites[2] in a sweeping crackdown against freedom of opinion and expression.

It is worth noting that many Bahraini bloggers now feel obliged to use pseudonyms on local discussion forums, and due to their websites being blocked have transferred their activities to social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter in order to continue the electronic activism under a situation of extreme repression on all the means of opinion expression. Several pages within Facebook have been created for this purpose; Political Prisoners which updates its members on latest news regarding detainees in Bahrain, Freedom For Moh'd Saeed Al-Sahlawi a page dedicated to providing the latest news regarding the Bahrain Center for Human Rights member Dr Mohamed Saeed Al-Sahlawi, Stop Shooting Protesters in Bahrain a page dedicated to protest against the use of shotguns against Bahraini citizens, whilst coherently the page for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has encountered a record number of visitors during this time.

This is not the first time in which the Information Affairs Authority has blocked pages on social networks. Previously, a page of a human rights activist on Twitter who updated her followers via links and articles from human rights organizations (including BCHR) had been blocked[3]. Her Youtube page was also blocked[4].

Amira Al Hussaini, a Bahraini Blogger and editor of Middle Eastern and North African affairs on the Global Voices website expressed her concerns regarding the blocking of websites and the crackdown against Bahraini bloggers by stating, ‘Being outspoken has a price tag, not everybody is willing to do it’, she then went on to add, ‘People have given up, there is a sense of failure, it's a depressed mood amongst bloggers.’. [5]

In a period in which the authorities claim they only censor pornographic websites and those which incite violence and provoke sectarian tension, this is far from the case, rather censorship is primarily aimed to suppress so called ‘dissenting’ voices and opinions or those that fight for human rights against the oppression endured by the people of Bahrain.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is gravely concerned by the way the government of Bahrain is dealing with the online community of activists and bloggers which is one of the most active communities in the region, and rather than encouraging these cadres and the energies, the authorities are working to suppress them and to block their sites or even to arrest them. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that, in light of the accelerated evolution of technology, it has become difficult for governments to block all Websites completely, but by insisting on the policy of blocking, it strengthens its position in the black lists of authoritarian and undemocratic countries. In fact, Reporters Without Borders has already included Bahrain in the category ( under surveillance) in its report "enemies of the Internet".

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the Bahraini government to:

- Lift the ban on all public sites which encourage cultural dialogue, social and human rights, as well as social and religious expression. - Cancel all actions restricting freedom of opinion and expression, or preventing the transmission of information. - Fulfill its international commitments and respect all forms of freedom of expression which are a part of international covenants and treaties. - Amend the Press Law No. 47 of 2002 to ensure it is in line with international standards of human rights.

-- [1]facebook.com [2]New Web crackdown Blocks dozens of websites and electronic forums in Bahrain [3]bahrainrights.hopto.org [4]Minister blocks YouTube channel [5]Lively Bahrain social media face government pressure

Report On Front Line Hearing Observation: Human Rights Defenders In Bahrain

A report of the hearing of:


· Ali Abdulemam (blogger and owner of bahrainonline.org);

· Dr. Abduljalil Al-Sengai (spokesman and Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy);

· Abdul-Ghani Khanjar(spokesperson for the Bahraini National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture);

· Suhail Al-Shehabi (Committee of the Relatives of Detainees and the Committee of the Unemployed);

· Ahmed Jawad Al-Fardan (Committee of the Relatives of Detainees in Karzakan);

· Ali Jawad Al-Fardan (Committee of the Relatives of Detainees in Karzakan);

· Salman Naji (Committee of the Unemployed);

· AbdulHadi Al-Saffar (chairman of the Committee Against High Prices);

· Hassan Al-Haddad (member of the Committee of the Unemployed);

· Mr Jaffar Al-Hessabi (dual British-Bahraini national, independent human rights defender supporting the rights of detainees in Bahrain);

· Dr Mohammed Saeed (board member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights),


High Criminal Court, Manama, Bahrain – 11 November 2010


INTRODUCTION

Front Line works worldwide for the protection of human rights defenders at risk, people who work, non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Front Line publicly reported on numerous occasions on the trial against a number of human rights defenders facing charges of “terrorist” activities in Bahrain, and repeatedly called for their release and for the charges to be dropped as they appeared to be motivated by their legitimate human rights work.

Front Line commissioned Ms Charlotte Peevers, an English qualified Barrister, to conduct a visit to Bahrain in early November 2010 to observe the proceedings. Ms Peevers attended the session of the trial held on 11 November 2010 before the High Criminal Court.

Ms Peevers sought to meet with representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor's Office. Ministry of Justice Officials indicated they were unwilling to discuss the case as both the Minister of Justice and his Deputy were out of the country at the time.Unfortunately, although the PPO did appear willing to discuss the trial there were apparently bureaucratic difficulties that prevented a meeting. It was, however, possible to meet with lawyers of the detainees, human rights activists, and family members of the detainees.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN BAHRAIN: THE LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK

Under Bahraini law, trial proceedings are more akin to a inquisitorial system, and therefore closer to the civil law than common law system. The Public Prosecutor’s Offce (PPO), a branch of the judiciary, is charged with investigating all criminal matters brought before it by the police or national security. Following interrogation by the PPO, trial proceedings may or may not be launched depending on the evidence.

Bahraini Law

Bahrain’s penal code criminalises the use of “torture, force or threats, either personally or through a third party, against an accused person, witness or expert” in order to induce a person to confess to an offence or to offer statements or related information[1] It also provides that civil servants (and any other persons) who engage in torture shall be subjected to a term of imprisonment.

The code of criminal procedure provides that anyone arrested or detained must be treated “in such a manner as to maintain his human dignity and shall not be subjected to any bodily or psychological harm.”[2] Further, the law requires that interrogations of those detained be conducted by the Public Prosecution Office in the presence of the accused person’s lawyer.[3] As a remedy for violations of these provisions, Bahrain’s constitution provides that any “statement or confession proved to have been made under torture, inducement, or such treatment, or the threat thereof, shall be null and void.”[4]

Bahraini law requires that suspects be presented to the Public Prosecution Office within 48 hours of arrest.[5] When the Public Prosecution Office issues a summons or an arrest warrant, the arresting authority must present the suspect to them “immediately” or, if not feasible, within 24 hours.[6] The Public Prosecution Office must decide whether to charge the suspect with a criminal offence and, if the individual is charged, whether to continue his detention or order his release.[7] A person may be held for up to seven days in pretrial detention, after which a court may authorise additional pretrial detention of up to six months.[8] The Public Prosecution Office, however, has the power to extend pretrial detention for up to a total of 45 days for offences found in the special section of the penal code involving national security crimes.[9] The High Criminal Court must approve any pretrial detention exceeding 45 days in the context of national security crimes.[10]

The Public Prosecution Office is charged with investigating and prosecuting all crimes, which would include torture.[11] The Public Prosecution Office can also demand that law enforcement agencies investigate and punish breaches of duty by their officers.[12] Civil servants, medical professionals, and other civilians are required to report crimes to the Public Prosecution Office or other relevant authorities.[13]

Under Bahraini law victims of torture can also seek redress through a civil action.[14] However, Decree 56/2002 confers immunity from investigation or prosecution on government officials alleged to be responsible for torture or other serious human rights abuses committed prior to 2001. These provisions, on their face, appear to violate the Convention against Torture (on which see below).

Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain

Article 19 – Prohibition against Torture

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

Article 20 - Criminal Trials

“c. An accused person is innocent until proved guilty in a legal trial in which he is assured of the necessary guarantees to exercise the right of defence at all stages of the investigation and trial in accordance with the law.

d. It is forbidden to harm an accused person physically or mentally.

e. Every person accused of an offence must have a lawyer to defend him with his consent.

f. The right to litigate is guaranteed under the law.”

Relevant provisions in international law

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

· ICCPR Article 7 (Prohibition of Torture), Article 9 (Right to Liberty and Security of Persons), Article 14 (Right to a Fair Trial), Article 19 (Right to Freedom of Expression), Article 22 (Right to Freedom of Association);

· CAT Article 1 (Definition of Torture), Article 4 (Criminalisation of Torture), Article 11 (Prohibition of Torture for those in Custody), Article 12 (Investigation of Acts of Torture), Article 13 (Right of Complaint to the Competent Authorities), Article 14 (Right of Redress), Article 15 (Prohibition against Evidence obtained under Torture).

Relevant are also the provisions included in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.[15]


THE HEARING

Background

On 28 October 2010 the opening session of the trial began before the High Criminal Court in Manama of 23 members of the Shi’a community who were arrested in August and September and who face charges of setting up, joining and financing a group which aims to overthrow the government and cancel the constitution and which uses “terrorism” as one of the methods to achieve these goals. Two other men, charged in the same case and who reside outside Bahrain, are being tried in their absence.

The trial was observed by the French, British and American Embassies and by Amnesty International. The Amnesty International report noted that the trial was taking place at a time of national elections, held on 23 October, and against a background of recent unrest and clashes between the security forces and protestors, mostly youth from within the Shi’a community, who complain that they are discriminated against by the government. This sparked a rise in tension that threatens the significant improvements in human rights made in the years immediately following King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa’s accession to the throne in 1999. Amnesty noted that in recent months, scores of people have been arrested and prosecuted for participating in violent protests, though most have then been pardoned and released. Others currently remain in prison and are on trial or awaiting trial.[16]


History of Proceedings

On 28 October human rights defender Ali Abdulemam and 10 other defenders were put on trial in Manama, Bahrain charged with being part of an alleged “terrorist network”. All of the defendants denied such charges. All but one of the defendants claimed that they had been tortured during their period in detention.

Prior to the commencement of the trial, lawyer Hassan Radhi spoke on behalf of all the defendants’ lawyers stating that they had not been allowed access to their clients since their arrest, a breach of both Bahraini and international law.

Mr Radhi requested time to consult with the clients before the beginning of the trial. The judge then ordered that the courtroom be cleared of everyone except the lawyers and the detainees, and permitted the lawyers 30 minutes to converse with their clients before the proceedings commenced. During the trial each of the detainees addressed the court and denied all charges filed against them. All but one of the detainees alleged that they had been tortured while in detention. A number of the detainees revealed marks on their bodies to the court to demonstrate that they had been subjected to beatings and torture.

The defence made further submissions. First, they argued that in light of the allegations of torture and coerced confessions, the public prosecutor’s investigation should be conducted again, in accordance with article 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The defence further requested that the proceedings be halted until the detainees could be medical assessed by a specialist medical committee, independent of the public prosecutor’s office.

The defence also requested the release of all the detainees and that if they are not released, that they be removed from National Security Apparatus (NSA) detention to a different facility where they are not be held in solitary confinement and are provided access to their lawyers and families.

The judge ordered that the detainees be removed from the National Security Apparatus and be placed in a different detention facility. He also stated that five of the detainees should be seen by a physician. The judge also granted the detainees access to their lawyers and instructed that they be allowed visits from their families. The judge ordered that all the case documents be made available to the defence which, up until that time, had not bee seen by the defence. The trial was adjourned until 11 November.

Although these appeared to be positive steps taken by the court, it transpired that the detainees were not in fact moved from NSA detention until a week later, and one day before their access to lawyers. In the interim they remained in solitary confinement. A number of the detainees reported being subjected to further torture and beatings following the hearing on 28 October.[17]


Trial Observation – 11 November

The second session of the trial took place on 11 November 2010 at the High Criminal Court, Bahrain and was observed by representatives of the French, American and British Embassies as well as by Front Line. The defence team, consisting of 22 lawyers all acting pro bono and representing the defendants as a whole rather than individuals, made the following submissions:

1. The defence had been prevented by the public prosecutor from meeting their clients until ten days after the court order was promulgated. This, the defence alleged, was a clear violation of the judge’s ruling.

2. A number of detainees had just disclosed to the defence that they had been tortured and beaten since the lawyer’s visit, and in any event, subsequent to the previous session. In the circumstances, the defence sought a short adjournment to take instructions on these allegations. The defence also requested that the individuals be permitted to address the court to give evidence of their treatment.

3. The defence were not in a position to proceed to trial today. Not only did these allegations raise further concerns about the detainees’ treatment, they also confirmed the need to halt proceedings until a thorough investigation could be carried out. Further, the defence had been provided with only one copy of the court file and it had proved impossible to prepare for trial in those circumstances.

4. The defendants had been defamed in the media despite the reporting restrictions imposed by the judge. The defence argued that these media reports had been at the behest or at least acquiescence of the public prosecutor’s office and had not only attacked the defendants but, worryingly, the integrity of the defence lawyers. In one publication Mohammed Al Tajer had been named and photographed under the caption “terrorist”. Fellow defence lawyer Mohammed Ahmed made a direct allegation against the public prosecutor that his office had been behind the media attacks.

5. The defence repeated the defendants’ allegations that during the public prosecutor’s interrogation a number of them had not been given the opportunity to have recorded the extent of their injuries and whether they appeared to be marks consistent with the allegations of torture.

The judge refused the application for a short adjournment on the basis that he had previously ordered that detainees could have access to their lawyers and that any issues ought to have been discussed at these meetings.

The defence then demanded that the court investigate the veracity of the defendants’ torture allegations and listen to them to allow them the opportunity to recount what they have suffered since the last hearing. This was essential because the entire case rests on confession which appear to have been coerced through physical violence or at the very least threats of violence and are therefore not credible.

The defence provided a list of names of those detainees who still bore marks of torture and beatings. The court had not entered on the court record the injuries that defendants had shown them on the last occasion: the judge only indicated that the “defendants are showing me their legs”. The defence submitted that this was insufficient in terms of investigation of the alleged torture and also prejudiced the defendants in seeking to prove that they had been tortured because with the passage of time that evidence would eventually disappear.

The judge refused the application for the defendants to address the court, stating that they had previously had an opportunity to address the court and had done so. The judge then asked why the detainees had not been subjected to medical examination.

The defence indicated that this was opposed because the medical examination office was within the public prosecutor’s office. Detainees had provided evidence to them of one medical examination taking place whereby the doctor sat behind his desk through the entire medical examination and never got up to inspect the detainee’s injuries (this account was given by Dr Saeed, a trained dentist, to his legal team). His report concluded that his injuries were consistent with self-harm, though it appeared that there had been no psychiatric report (or expertise on behalf of the medical examiner).

The Public Prosecutor objected to the defence on the following:

1. The PP denied that there was any need for a further investigation to be conducted by the PP in light of the torture allegations. He stated that it was for the court to act as the final investigator and to determine the truth.

2. In respect of the medical examiner, although dependent on the public prosecutor’s office, he had specialist knowledge about conditioning injuries which were not available to a regular doctor.

3. The defendants have failed to establish the PP’s violation of the law and have not proved injuries to the defendants. For example at page 55 of the PPO records of investigation injuries were mentioned by a detainee in the presence of his lawyer at the PPO investigation. The PPO ordered a forensic medical examination to determine if the injuries were consistent with the allegation of torture and this came back as negative. This demonstrated that the PPO had ensured that such allegations are properly investigated.

The defence responded that the PPO’s position was unequal with the defence. The PPO stated that they had seen marks. When a subsequent medical examiner from the PPO office made his report, he concluded that there were no signs of torture. This was inconsistent and demonstrates the need for impartiality. Far from absolving the PPO, it merely confirmed the absence of neutrality and independence in investigating the allegations.

The defence demand the lifting of the reporting restriction. Wrongful publication was due to the PPO’s office. This demonstrates that there is no independence in relation to the PPO role.

In rebuttal, the PPO appeared to single out Mohammed Ahmed and stated that he was making false allegations against the PPO.

The defence concluded by stating that there were clear breaches of procedural law and inherent contradictions between the constitution and international standards.

The judge ruled as follows:

1. The lawyers to be given daily access if they so desire;

2. 22 copies to be made of the court file and distributed to the defence team;

3. No short adjournment to speak with clients;

The judge made no comment on the issue of reporting restrictions, nor in relation to the defence requests about the torture allegations.

The case was adjourned to 25 November 2010.


CONCLUSIONS

It is clear that a number of extremely serious allegations of mistreatment and torture have been made against the Bahraini authorities, in particular during the course of interrogations by the National Security Apparatus. The detainees further allege that this torture led to the signing of confessions, both at this early stage and in many cases at the PPO stage of investigation. If true, such coerced confessions represent not only a fundamental breach of Bahraini criminal and civil law, procedural law and constitutional rights, but also breach of Bahrain’s obligations under the ICCPR and CAT.

Under Article 15 of the CAT, the Kingdom of Bahrain is prohibited from admitting in proceedings any evidence or statements extracted through torture. A similar obligation exists in Article 13 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, and Article 19 of the Bahrain Constitution. The alleged mistreatment clearly reaches the threshold required for torture as it includes allegations of hanging (falaka), beating of the soles of feet, sleep deprivation, and threats of sexual assault.

In the absence of a thorough and impartial investigation of the evidence, the confessions should not be admissible. Further, it is incumbent on the PPO and judge to thoroughly and impartially investigate allegations of torture. Under the Bahrain Constitution both the judiciary and the public prosecutor have a positive obligation to investigate such claims. It appears that in this case, such investigations have either not taken place or have been compromised by an apparent, or appearance of bias in terms of medical investigation. Given these circumstances, and in the absence of sufficient investigation, the defendants confessions ought not to form the basis of the evidence against them at trial. The court may wish either to exclude such evidence and proceed to trial without it, or more appropriately should stay the criminal proceedings pending the outcome of such investigation. Regardless of the outcome of those investigations, it would appear appropriate for the PPO to conduct their preliminary investigation of each defendant for a second time, in order to ensure fairness of the trial proceedings and approach to the building of the prosecution case.

The fact that confessions are relied upon in so many of these defendant’s cases is unusual to say the least. It is extremely disturbing that these confessions constitute the main direct evidence against the defendants and that the allegations of torture are consistent and unwavering. The following is an extract from the July 2010 Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) Report into the Adary Park and Ma’ameer cases[18]. It is clear from the 11 November trial observation report that many of the same serious concerns are again at issue:

“It is disappointing that the issues raised by our Bahrain trial observation report of 2009 are of concern in the present hearings: admissibility of coerced confessions and alleged torture/cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The allegations of mistreatment and torture of detainees are not simply persistent; they are pervasive. In virtually all the cases of convictions in ‘special’ cases investigated by BHRC, those convictions were founded on disputed confessions, all alleged to have been made under duress and torture. It is not credible to blame this on defence lawyers or the political situation. Moreover, despite clear provisions for legal advice and representation in Bahraini law, these confessions invariably occurred prior to any access to lawyers. It may be that there are some detainees who have declined legal assistance, and there may have been difficulties with availability of lawyers on some occasions, but it offends common sense to suppose that all of these detainees were afforded their proper rights under the law. If they were not, this alone must support their contentions of mistreatment. BHRC was repeatedly told that detainees were taken before the Public Prosecutor in the early hours of the morning when access to defence lawyers would be most difficult. In the Ma’ameer case all 7 convicted men confessed to the killing and then tried to retract their admissions. Seven separate disputed confessions in a murder case is an extremely irregular phenomenon yet is a pattern in cases of this type in Bahrain.”[19]

Confessions were the sole or main evidence against the accused in both cases observed on the BHRC July 2010 visit. Unfortunately, again, confessions appear to be the sole or main evidence against the defendants in this “terrorist network” case. It is not sufficient or credible for the Kingdom of Bahrain to claim that defence lawyers are making false accusations relating to torture/ill-treatment. Given the widespread reports of such claims, Bahrain should investigate all cases of alleged torture and prosecute those responsible, in compliance with its obligations under the CAT and the Bahrain Constitution.

In relation to access, it is encouraging that the trial judge has ordered greater visitation rights but it appears that his orders have been delayed and obstructed in early stages of proceedings. This raises concerns about the role of the PPO in carrying out the judge’s orders. It is also disappointing that the judge did not rule publicly on whether the defendants could address the court as to the extent of their injuries, nor on whether independent medical examiners be permitted to assess their injuries.

Finally, it is of great concern that media reporting of the proceedings has gone unpunished by the court. Given the judge’s ruling, the publication of “terrorist” identities and defamatory claims against defence lawyers amounted not only to defamation but more importantly to a contempt of court. It is not clear whether such media reporting is connected to the authorities in any way, but it has created the appearance of bias in the media. It is extremely disturbing that defence lawyers should be targeted by such elements of the press and suggestions made about their own “terrorist” links. This presents a very dangerous situation to lawyers acting pro bono in defence of human rights activists and such media actions ought to be condemned and punished appropriately.

[1] Bahrain Penal Code, arts. 208, 232.

[2] Bahrain Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 61.

[3] Ibid., arts. 133-35.

[4] Bahrain Constitution, art. 19(d).

[5] Bahrain Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 57.

[6] Ibid., art. 141.

[7] Ibid., arts. 57, 141-142.

[8] Ibid., arts. 147-148.

[9] Ibid., art. 147, and Bahrain penal code, arts. 112-177.

[10] Bahrain code of criminal procedure, art. 148.

[11] Ibid., arts. 5, 8 and 81.

[12] Ibid., art. 44.

[13] Bahrain code of criminal procedure, arts. 47-48.

[14] Ibid. art. 22, and Bahrain civil law, art. 158.

[15] Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Though not binding on Member States, due to its status as a General Assembly Declaration, it is nevertheless an important confirmation of principle and it authoritatively specifies how rights included in binding treaties are applicable to human rights defenders.

[16] Amnesty: Bahrain: Fair trial and freedom of expression must be guaranteed AI Index: MDE 11/009/2010

[17] See below observation of proceedings on 11 November 2010.

[18] The Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) is the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales. It is an independent body primarily concerned with the protection of the rights of advocates and judges around the world. It is also concerned with defending the rule of law and internationally recognised legal standards relating to the right to a fair trial.

[19] Bar Human Rights Committee Report of Trial Observation, Bahrain, July 2010

--
Khalid Ibrahim

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