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Arab Program For Human Rights Activists :"Abduction and Assault – Activists fate"

Cairo in 14.5.2009

Urgent – Bahrain

The Arab Program for Human Rights Activisits is follows up with deep concern the brutal assault which occurred to the activist Mr.Gaffar Kazem, who was abducted by a group of persons wearing a civilian cloths in the night 0f 7.5.2009, where the activist was driving his car near the Gad-Hafs Medical Center, west of Manama city. He was stopped by two cars, and before he pays an attention they dragged him blind-folded to a remot and unkown area,where they brutally assaulted and beaten him until he lost consciousness. He suffered from a broken rips and head injury.

The activist is well known for his work in the human rights fields in Bahrain and the Arab world. He worked in the "Activists, prisoners of opinion and detainees committee". And helped in organizing peaceful marches for the detainee's rights. Recently he is assisting the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Youth Association of Bahrain for Human rights.

The Arab Program is condemning such acts, and the continuing of violations gainst the human rights activists in Bahrain. And he calls the Bahrain government upon the article (7) of the international covenant for the human and poltical rights, which states : "No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel treatment or punishment, inhuman or degrading of the dignity"

The Arab program calls for the Bahrain authorities to:

1- Prompt and impartial investigation into the abduction of human rights activist Mr. Jaafar Kazem and make a statement on the subject and the circumstances of the incident and the results and bring those responsible to court..

2-Work to provide a suitable environment for all workers and defender of human rights.

Human Rights Watch: Bahrain: Labor Reforms a Major Advance

13/5/2009 (Beirut) - Bahrain's revision of its restrictive kafala (sponsorship) system will dramatically improve the status of most migrant workers and reduce their risk of exploitation, Human Rights Watch said today. But the protections should be extended to migrant domestic workers, who are especially vulnerable to employer abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

The kafala system ties migrants' work visas and immigration status to their employers, enabling employers to prevent workers from changing jobs or leaving the country. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented how this system fuels abuses such as unpaid wages, exploitative working conditions, and forced labor in countries across the region, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon.

"Most governments in the region acknowledge that the current system allows employers to abuse workers, but have wasted years debating alternatives without taking action," said Nisha Varia, deputy director of the women's rights division, who researches abuses against migrants for Human Rights Watch. "Bahrain deserves enormous credit for being the first to make concrete reforms. Other countries should follow suit."

Many countries in the Middle East that rely on low-wage workers from Asia and Africa use the kafala system. Several of these countries are also considering changes, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, though progress has stalled.

Bahrain's labor minister, Majeed al-Alawi, announced last week that beginning on August 1 the government's Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA), rather than employers, will sponsor migrants' work visas. Migrants will be able to apply to the authority to change employers. The government will also cap the number of migrant workers entering the country.

"These reforms reduce the lopsided power balance between employers and migrant workers," said Varia. "Previously, employers could threaten migrants with deportation or seize their passports, and force them to accept lower wages. Employers now have an incentive to improve working conditions because these reforms will give workers more opportunity to choose where they work."

The reforms do not apply, though, to migrant domestic workers, whose employment visas will continue to be sponsored by their employers. Human Rights Watch research in the Middle East shows that domestic workers' isolation in private homes and exclusion from key labor protections puts them at particular risk of a wide range of abuses, from excessively long working hours to physical and sexual abuse.

"Bahrain took the first step, but they neglected the workers in greatest need of protection," said Varia. "The government should move quickly to extend the sponsorship reforms to domestic workers and to bring them under the protection of the labor law."

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/13/bahrain-labor-reforms-major-advance © Copyright 2008, Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch - Bahrain: Investigate Abduction, Beating of Rights Activist

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/1...activist?print

May 12, 2009

(New York) - Bahrain should immediately begin a thorough and impartial investigation into the abduction and torture of the human rights activist Ja'far Kadhim Ibrahim, Human Rights Watch said today. Men whom Ibrahim believed were working for a Bahraini security agency abducted him on the night of May 7, 2009, and beat him severely with batons.

Ibrahim had been contacting political activists recently released from detention concerning their allegations that they had been subjected to torture and abuse in detention. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), said Ibrahim believes that the men who attacked him are agents of the National Security Apparatus - an official security force - citing their use of walkie-talkies and the batons they used to beat him.

"It looks like the men who abducted and beat Ja'far Ibrahim intended to teach him a lesson - that pursuing torture allegations in Bahrain today carries a high price," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to appoint an independent prosecutor or commission to investigate this incident as the first step in bringing the attackers to justice."

Rajab told Human Rights Watch that he spoke with Ibrahim in his hospital room on May 8. Ibrahim said that at approximately 8:45 p.m. the previous day, he was driving in the Jid Hafs neighborhood, west of the capital, Manama, when two cars cornered him on the road. At least six men in plain clothes, some with walkie-talkies, dragged Ibrahim from his car and confiscated his wallet and two mobile phones. The men blindfolded Ibrahim, forced him into one of their cars, and drove 10 to 15 minutes to an unidentified area, where they beat him unconscious.

When he recovered consciousness he found himself covered in blood and back in his car, alone. He attempted to drive himself to the nearby house of Hasan Mushaima, the head of Haq, an opposition political party. Eventually, acquaintances drove him to the nearby Salmania Public Hospital, where he remains with wounds to his face and head, as well as two broken ribs.

Photographs taken by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights show him badly bruised, with swollen facial features, stitches, and a brace on his head and neck. At the time of the attack, Ibrahim was working on behalf of the BCHR and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, documenting recent allegations of torture in detention and assisting the families of detainees.

"The abduction and beating of Ja'far Ibrahim are a wake-up call that Bahrain needs to investigate seriously and hold accountable those responsible for violence against dissidents," Stork said. "The message here seems to be that torture is acceptable in Bahrain."

Ibrahim, 41 years old and a father of two, was himself was only recently released from detention. In the early hours of February 4, he and fellow rights activist Ali Hassan Salman were taken from their homes by security agents without warrants or explanation and detained for a month without access to a lawyer or family members. Ibrahim was released on March 2.

Bahrain's obligations as party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include the right of individuals not to be tortured and the right to freedom of association and peaceful public assembly. The UN Convention against Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Bahrain is a state party, prohibits torture and cruel and inhuman treatment and requires all cases of torture to be investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted.

Bahraini press coverage of Ibrahim's abuse has been limited to one article in the independent newspaper Al Wasat on May 9, in which a spokesperson for the director of the Northern Governorate Police said that Ibrahim was a victim of robbery, despite the fact that, according to Rajab, no money had been taken from his billfold. The websites of many prominent critics of the government and most human rights organizations that would normally have published details of such an incident continue to be blocked in Bahrain.

Human Rights Watch said the government should make public the results of the investigation into Ibrahim's abduction and beating.

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http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/1...ights-activist © Copyright 2008, Human Rights Watch

The Free Movement of Foreign Workers: a positive step towards abolishing the sponsorship system

The Free Movement of Foreign Workers: a positive step towards abolishing the sponsorship system, and towards improving the work opportunities of Bahrainis

7 May 2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights welcomes moves by Bahraini government, reflected in the Ministry of Labour’s decision, to allow the free movement of migrant workers in Bahrain. The change allows foreign workers to transfer from one job to another independent of their sponsors, and lifts all restrictions that were previously applicable.

According to the Official Gazette issued on 30 April, the decision will come into effect next August. The Minister of Labour clarified that, “the worker’s transfer represents one of the important elements for labour market mechanisms to function in a natural way, because it will benefit both the employer and employee alike.” He added, “To push the reform of the labour market one step forward calls for a change based on foundations and principles that are equitable for all.” He also stressed, “Maintaining the current situations is not considered a reform but rather a main retreat from the idea of reform.”

Bahrain now works with the sponsorship system, which is a method used in the GCC countries to bring migrant workers into the country. It is a system that has been internationally condemned and long criticized by international human rights organization, and has been compared to the slave trade system of the past. One of the negative results of this system in Bahrain is the free-visa phenomenon. There are an estimated 60,000 migrants working illegally in Bahrain, most of whom have to make monthly payments to the sponsors who bring them to the country without appropriating jobs for them.

Under the sponsorship system there is a restriction on the free movement of workers to seek employment with any person other than their initial sponsor, and workers are unable to leave the country without their sponsor's approval. The countries of the Arabian Gulf are 'receiving countries' with huge migrant labour populations, and the most violations of migrant workers' human rights at both the public and official levels. The majority of labourers in the Gulf come from Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Labourers usually live and work in poor or inhumane conditions. The UN Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Ms. Sigma Huda criticized the sponsorship system during her last visit to Bahrain and other Gulf countries, and called for the abolishment of this anti-migrant employment system. Ms Huda also appealed Gulf countries to sign the International Convention on the Rights of migrant workers and members of their families.

The BCHR sees in this positive initiative a step towards promoting the protection of the human rights of this vulnerable group of society who have made major contributions to their host countries in the Gulf in terms of construction and infrastructure in the past decades. Abolishing the sponsorship system will make Bahraini workers more capable of competing and improving their job conditions because it will decrease exploitation in employment, and raise new standards for the treatment and conditions of workers in the country. The BCHR calls on the concerned governmental bodies to back up their decision by taking responsibility for the consequences of the transition period by way preserving the rights of all work parties, including employers, and by avoiding the negative consequences of this change on the prices and the living standards of Bahraini citizens.

Bloomberg: Bahrain’s Shiites Demand Equal Rights in Home of Fifth Fleet

May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Unrest among the Shiite Muslim majority in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, is threatening to spark a return to the wave of violence that enveloped the Persian Gulf archipelago in the 1990s.

Youths rioted and burned tires almost nightly for three months after the arrest of three Shiite leaders in January. On April 30, a homemade explosive device went off accidentally in a car outside Manama, the capital, killing one Shiite and injuring another. Police said it resembled bombs seized during the riots. Shiites complain of sectarian discrimination in housing and jobs by the ruling Sunni Muslim elite; Sunnis make up only 30 percent of Bahrain’s citizens. Political frustration is also mounting because an elected chamber of parliament set up in 2002 by King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has limited authority.

“The country is not stable,” Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, said in an interview in Manama. “Stability won’t come until human rights are respected. The existing policy of the ruling elite is pushing the country into conflict.”

The riots stopped after al-Khalifa, 59, on April 11 released 178 Shiites detained on security charges. They included Shiite community leader Hassan Mushaima, cleric Mohammed al- Moqdad and 33 others arrested in late January on charges of plotting terrorist attacks and seeking to overthrow the government.

Violence Risk

The releases won’t remove the risk of violence in the Gulf financial center as long as the government quells protests and the parliamentary system is unrepresentative, Shiite leaders and human-rights activists in Manama say.

The parliament -- reinstated by al-Khalifa when he came to power in 1999 after an earlier body was dissolved in 1975 -- has no right to initiate laws. Though Shiites are a majority of the population, their party holds 17 of the 40 seats in the legislature, which can only pass laws with the assent of an upper chamber whose members are chosen by the king.

Violence between 1994 and 1999 killed 38 people and 1,000 were arrested and held in prison without trial.

The instability in Bahrain is a concern for the U.S.: Mushaima says Shiite opposition to the presence of the Fifth Fleet is growing because of U.S. support for the Al-Khalifa government.

The Fifth Fleet, which has about 20 warships and 15,000 sailors and marines, is responsible for an area of 7.5 million square miles, including the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. It is active in combating Somali pirates and countering Iran.

Saudi Concerns

Neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has a restive Shiite minority in its oil-producing heartland in the east. Kuwait’s population is one-third Shiite. Concern that Iran is seeking more influence in the Gulf mounted after a senior Iranian official, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, said in February that Bahrain used to be Iran’s 14th province.

Shiite leaders say they are excluded from top government jobs and from key ministries, including defense and interior affairs. Only 13 percent of senior state posts are held by Shiites, down from 25 percent in 2001, according to the human- rights center.

Major-General Abdul Latif Rashed al-Zayani, Bahrain’s chief of public security, denied any discrimination and said government employees are not classified by religious affiliation.

Shiites are caught in a squeeze: While they can’t get the good jobs, immigrant laborers from India and other south Asian countries do most of the unskilled work. They are paid as little as $260 a month.

Low-Wage Carpenter

A short drive from the gleaming office towers of Manama, Said Abdullah, a Shiite carpenter, lives in a dilapidated concrete apartment building with his wife and four children.

The plywood roof leaks when it rains in winter and his teenage boy and three younger daughters have to sleep in one room. Abdullah says he can’t get work in the army or police and struggles on pay of $530 a month. “If you come from a Shiite area, you have no chance,” he said.

Security Chief Al-Zayani said only 100 to 200 youths have been involved in regular disturbances, describing them as “a radical minority.”

“We hope that with the amnesty they will come to their senses and join other forces in properly expressing their views,” he said.

Post-Boycott

Shiite legislators say they are frustrated. They boycotted the assembly from 2002 to 2006, then returned because the king persuaded them to give the political system a chance to work.

“It’s the third year now; in truth we can’t move anything,” said Abdul Hussain Al-Mutghawi of Shia al-Wifaq. It is the largest single party.

Shiite leader Mushaima, whose home is adorned with a photograph of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, warns that patience is running out. The al-Khalifa family has ruled the country since invading the Persian province in 1783.

“We are the original citizens, we deserve full rights,” he said. “The problems will start again and they will be more violent, because people are angry and upset. There is an explosion coming.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Manama via the Dubai newsroom at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: May 10, 2009 17:01 EDT

BCHR/IFEX - Journalist summoned for allegedly defaming Civil Service Bureau

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahraini Public Prosecution (PP) has summoned Mr Abdulhasan Bu-Hussain, a journalist writer at "Alwasat" local newspaper, on a case brought against him by the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) accusing him of smear and defamation in a series of articles written by Bu-Hussain about the CSB and its regulations. Bu-Hussain, who was a former executive at the CSB, wrote a series of articles in "Alwasat" in the period of 16 September to 16 November 2008, outlining many of the CSB bylaws, executive circulations, resolutions and instructions for government employees which violate the Bahraini Constitution and laws. The CSB responded furiously more than once, threatening to prosecute the writer who was obstinate in upholding what he considers his right to freedom of expression on public issues.

After a 23 October article in which Bu-Hussain criticized the inclusion of employees of executive position in the overtime payment system, deeming it a violation of the Civil Service Act, the CSB responded angrily, taking recourse to the law. Bu-Hussain noted: "The Service Bureau has responded nervously to my published article, pledging to (involve) the Public Prosecutor on a matter of opinion on the contents of the internal bylaws in breach of the Civil Service Act, claiming that what I expressed as opinion is a serious accusation, smear and defamation."

BCHR President Nabeel Rajab stated: "It is ironic that the summoning of the journalist writer Mr Bu-Hussain came 48 hours after the celebrations of World Press (Freedom) Day, giving an indication that the local authorities are, unfortunately, not serious about improving the status of freedom of expression and journalism in Bahrain." He continued: "We are deeply concerned as the ranking of Bahrain drops towards the end of the tail of countries as regards freedom of the press, as outlined by the latest Freedom House report."

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the authorities urging them to: - repeal the case against Mr Abdulhasan Bu-Hussain, and ensure that no reprisals are carried out against him as a result of his criticizing the CSB and highlighting its violation of the laws and constitution - stop harassing journalists and writers for expressing their views on public affairs and issues of relation to misconduct, corruption and ill-practices - amend or abolish all legislation which prosecutes journalists and writers who exercise their duty of documenting and analyzing the conduct of public institutions

APPEALS TO: His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa King of Bahrain

Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Fax: +97 3 1721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information contact Nabeel Rajab, President, BCHR, Manama, Bahrain, tel: +973 3963 3399 / 3940 0720, fax: +973 1779 5170, e-mail: nabeel.rajab@bahrainrights.org, info@bahrainrights.org, Internet: http://www.bahrainrights.org; Facebook: English Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=44138766349, Arabic Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=50727622539 http://www.youtube.com/user/baharincenter

Bahrain: Released human rights defender Jaafar Kadhim was severally beaten

Bahrain Center for Human Rights - May 10, 2009

The Bahrain Centre for human rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) are gravely concerned upon hearing that human rights defender Mr. Jaafar Kadhim was severely beaten after being abducted by 5-6 men in plain clothes.

Jaafar Kadhim is currently at Salmania Public Hospital where he is being treated for severe injuries in the head; face and back (see photos). He told representatives of BCHR and BYSHR that on May 7, 2009at 20:45, while he was driving close to Jidhafs Medical Centre west of the capital Manama, his car was stopped by two cars, a red Tida and a gray Lancer and before he knew what was happening he was pulled from his car, his eyes were blind folded and he was taken for a 10-15 minutes drive to an unknown area where he was severely beaten until he lost conciseness. He regained conciseness only to find himself back in his car covered in blood. He managed to find his way to the nearby house of Hassan Mushaima where he was transferred to the hospital by ambulance. He was visited the next day by the police and Public Prosecutors Office. The next day the government controlled newspapers reported the event as a robbery!

Jaafar Kadhim has worked for the Committee of Activists and Prisoners of Conscience since December 2007 and has helped to organizing peaceful marches and protests for the rights of detainees. During 2007-2008 he hosted, at his house meetings for relatives of detainees with many visiting foreign journalist and international Human rights organization including an Amnesty international delegation. As a result he was detained from February 4, 2009 (Refer to Front Line releases on March 2, 2009 at http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/en/node/1817) and was released. Since his release, Jaafar Kadhim has been helping the BCHR and BYSHR in documenting recent cases of torture and assisting families of 19 detainees who remain in prison despite the royal pardon on April 12th, 2009 which witnessed the release of 178 activists and human rights defenders. There have been numerous and inclining numbers of documented cases of physical assault against activists and human rights defenders in the past 7 years. The cases which involve abduction though are few in number but reflect a pattern of a possible policy to harass activists, these cases include: the abduction and physical assault of Jassim Ahmed Salman on June 2002 as after his participation in a demonstration against the America embassy, the abduction and physical assault of Hassan Abdulnabi in May 2005 and abduction, physical assault and sexual abuse of Moosa Abdali in December 2005. Both Messieurs Moosa and Hassan were leading members of the Committee of the Unemployed and Underpaid. Another relevant case is the alleged assault against Ali Jassim Mohammed which took place after his participation in a demonstration to support victims of torture, which lead to his death on December 17th, 2007. All these cases were documented and attracted wide attention however no serious investigation has taken place. The Bahrain Centre for human rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) believe that Mr. Jaafar Kadhim was subjected to this atrocious act because of his continued work in defense of human rights, specially the rights of detainees and the documentation of torture cases. Hence BCHR and BYSHR call upon all those who are concerned to appeal to the Bahrain Authorities to: • Conduct prompt, impartial and thorough investigation in the abduction and assault against human rights defender Mr. Jaafar Kadhim, and to the findings public and bring those responsible to trial, • Investigate previous similar cases in order to examine the existence of a pattern of assault against activists and human rights defenders, in order to reform security institutions and that must include the dismantling of the National Security Apparatus which is accused of such abuses • Take all necessary steps to provide protection and adequate environment for human rights defenders to conduct their peaceful and legitimate work in accordance to international standards and obligations

Bahrain: Despite Pardon Activists and Human Rights Defenders are Targeted

The Former President of the BCHR banned from travelling despite a Supreme Court's Decision The National Security Service and the Prosecution obstruct the execution of the Supreme Court's Decision to Lift the Travel Ban from Al-Khawaja, Al-Singaece and Others The "Pardon" decision is Temporary and does not include closing the cases of the accused or dropping the rest of the sentences from the convicted! The National Security Service is Persecuting the Released and Warns them from the International Organizations and blackmailing them to Work as Informants Human Rights Organizations Demand Dissolving the National Security Service and to Hold those Responsible Accountable for Torture and other Violations A report by:

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights 30 April 2009

Abdul-Hadi Abdulla Al-Khawaja - the former president of the BCHR and the regional coordinator for Frontline International - was subjected to temporary arrest and was prevented from leaving Bahrain when he was on his way to the Saudi Arabia through the causeway. This happened in the morning of Thursday 30 April 2009. Prior to this, International organizations, among them Human Rights Watch and Frontline and IFEX network demanded dropping the charges off Al-Khawaja and allowing him to travel. http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/03/11 Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja had received a week earlier a written letter by the president of the "Primary Supreme Criminal Court" dated 22 April 2009 addressed to the "Undersecretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Citizenship, Passport and Residence", where the president of the Court asks him to lift the travel ban from Al-Khawaja. On 23 April, Al-Khawaja headed to the Ministry of Interior, where he completed all the procedures of lifting the ban. The officer in charge (Sameer Al-Jenaid) told him that he could travel at any time he wishes to. However, when Al-Khawaja was about to leave the country in the morning of 30 April, he was stopped and had his passport taken to the National Security office at the checkpoint who informed him that he was banned from travel. This is despite the fact that he showed them a copy of the Supreme Court's decision. Al-Khawaja headed directly to the Ministry of Interior and met the officer in charge who expressed his surprise and assured him that the Ministry of Interior lifted the ban decision from all its services and at all border points, and that the ban order is perhaps related to another apparatus other than the Ministry of Interior. In a similar case, Dr. Abdul-Jalil Sangaece - head of the human rights committee in Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy - was subjected to travel ban for three times: on the 15th, 25th and 29th of April 2009, although the chief prosecutor Nawaf Hamza, who is in charge of what was known as Al-Hujjera case, had informed the Court that the Prosecution has no orders to ban travel for the ones included in the pardon, including Dr. Sangaece. However, the border authorities informed Dr. Abdul-Jalil Sangaece that there is ban against him by security services for an unspecified period. Other information received state that in the past few days, several activists who were released lately were banned from travelling. The Bahraini Minister of Interior had released an official statement on 11 April 2009 that the King of Bahrain had issued a royal pardon for (178) convicts and accused in cases related to security issues (a term used to describe among others, cases relating to practicing freedom of speech, assembly, association and defending human rights). An official source assured to local and foreign media that the pardon includes the activist Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, who was accused of delivering a speech in which he incited hatred against the ruling regime. The pardon also included Dr. Abdul-Jalil Sangaece, who was accused of joining an unauthorized organization and incitement against the regime. For more information on the Dr. Sangaece and others accused in Al-Hujjera case, refer to the statement of the World Organization Against Torture: http://www.omct.org/index.php?id=&lang=eng&actualPageNumber=1&articleId=8374&itemAdmin=article On the next day from the Minister's statement, a large number of convicts and accused were released, among them all the detainees in what is called Al-Hujjera case, which includes Sheikh Mohammmed Habib Al-Muqdad (president of Al-Zahraa Society for Orphan Care) and Hasan Mushaima (president of Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy) and Abdul-Redha Hasan Al-Saffar (activist in the Committees of the Families of Detainees and Unemployed). A group of human rights defenders who were arrested since 2007, and who were sentenced to imprisonment for a period ranging between 5 to 7 years were also released, among them: Hasan Abdul-Nabi Hasan (a leading member of the Unemployed and Low-waged Committee), Naji Ali Fateel (a board member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights) and Mohammed Abdulla Sangaece (president of the Committee Against High Prices). A few days before that, Maytham Bader Al-Sheikh (a leading member of the Unemployed and Low-waged Committee) was released due deterioration in his health. http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1878 The defendants in Al-Hujjera case included 13 others, which according to the indictment were fugitives. Among them: Abbass Omran, board member in the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, who is currently in London, in addition to two others who previously obtained political asylum in the United Kingdom, they are: Abdul-Raoof Abdulla Al-Shayeb (the former president of the Committee of Martyrs and Torture Victims) and Ali Hasan Mushaima (a leading member of the Unemployed and Low-waged Committee). These three human righs defenders still do not know whether the cased filed against them has been dropped once and for all, or if they will be prosecuted once they return to Bahrain. http://www.bchr.net/ar/node/2761\ The release included other human rights defenders who were accused in similar cases, among them: Sayed Sharaf Sayed Ahmed (a board member of the Committee of Martyrs and Torture Victims) who was arrested since 11 February 2009. As well as Ali Hasan Salman and Jaffar Kadhim Ibrahim (members in the Committee of Activists and Prisoners of Conscience) who were arrested since 4 February 2009. http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1817 However, the procedures and practices associated with the implementation of the release decision, raised the doubts of defense lawyers and the human rights organizations in the motives and the truth behind this release and its legal form. This is because: • The text of the royal pardon has not been published yet in the Official Gazette, although 20 days have passed since the Minister of Interior's declaration of the issuance of the pardon, • The Supreme Court had continued the trial of the released persons even after the issuance of the pardon decision in the various cases. In response to the Public Prosecution's request, the court declared the suspension of trials for an unspecified period, without mentioning the pardon decision and without clarifying the legal meaning of suspension of trials. This could mean that the authority could at any time activate the same charges against the released activists, • Officials at the Ministry of Interior informed the human rights defenders who had been sentenced to imprisonment that their release does not mean dropping the rest of the term, but a stay of execution where the terms will be added to any sentences issued against them in any new case, • The continuance of the travel ban, despite the pardon decision and despite the issuance of the Court's decision to lift the ban, and • The fact that 27 of the detained activists are still held in custody due to the pretext of the need to agree on the amount of compensation to the families of two persons who lost their lives in security incidents in mysterious circumstances. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, stated, "The practices and procedures associated with the royal pardon do not reflect at all an atmosphere of ease of tension, relief of pressure or an end to targeting activists and human rights defenders. It, on the contrary, indicates another phase of pressure and targeting, but with new means where the authority keeps the charges, the remaining terms of sentences and the travel ban as a sword drawn near their neck preventing them from activity and movement". Another matter of high concern is the reliable information that was received from some of the released activists that elements of the National Security Service are contacting and harrassing them where they are warned from cooperating with any local or foreign orgenization that gathers information on what the detainees were exposed to during the period of detention. They were also offered financial assistance and other benefits in return for using them as informants. The BCHR had issued a report on 5 May 2009, where it warned of the dangerous growing role of the National Security Apparatus (NSA) on the liberties and human rights. The report published information and statistics about NSA. For more information please refer to the report: "Statistics and Dangerous Facts on The National Security Apparatus and its Role in the Escalation of Violence": http://www.bchr.net/ar/node/2781 The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights call on internal and external actors concerned with promoting rights, liberties and protecting human rights defenders to do what ever possible in order to urge the Bahraini authorities to: • lift travel ban from all human rights defenders and other activists, and not to exploit the travel ban in impeding the movement or work of these activists, • release the rest of the activists and detainees (they are not less than 26), based on the pardon decision and based on lack of evidence on the allegations of committing acts of violence, • Drop the charges and the remaining sentences off all who were included in the royal pardon, especially that there is no proof of any committed offense, and due to the absence of procedural standards according to the international standards in the arrest, investigation and trial, • Directly end the practices of the National Security Apparatus by having a neutral and impartial investigation in the complaints against it, and to present the ones involved in the human rights violation to a fair trial, and to dissolve the NSA and return its jurisdictions to the regular security and judicial services, • Guarantee the protection of human rights defenders and to provide the appropriate environment for their work; • Guarantee the independence and efficiency of the judiciary, governing of law, and to establish and activate effective mechanisms of monitoring and accountability.

Gulfnews:EU-GCC free trade talks to resume after being derailed in December

EU-GCC free trade talks to resume after being derailed in December http://archive.gulfnews.com/articles/09/04/29/10308630.html

04/29/2009 07:07 PM | By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief

Muscat: The European Union (EU) and the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) Joint Council meet today at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel to put on track the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks that were derailed by the GCC last December.

According to diplomatic sources, disagreement over human rights and democracy was a major reason behind GCC suspending the FTA talks after almost 20 years of negotiations.

While both the EU and GCC seem keen to resume the FTA talks, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has called upon the EU and GCC ministers to put human rights at the centre of their relations in all fields.

"FIDH takes note of the recent public declarations by GCC governments on the resuming of EU-GCC talks on a free-trade agreement.

"In this context, FIDH calls on both parties to guarantee that these negotiations will reinforce, and not diminish, their international obligations and joint commitments to promote and protect human rights, by finally agreeing on the essential inclusion of a human rights clause in the negotiated Free Trade Agreement," Karine Appy, Press Attache for FIDH told Gulf News from Paris.

The FIDH has asked both parties to commit to improving the general situation of human rights in the GCC countries when they sign the FTA.

Recently, British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson admitted during his trip to the Gulf region that there were fewer barriers to securing an FTA between the EU and the six GCC states than in the past.

"I think the remaining barriers are few, and with political will we will be able to climb over them," he said in a statement to the media in Bahrain earlier this month.

Although the FTA talks have stalled for over two decades, the EU remains the biggest trading partner of the GCC.

Ironically, while the FTA talks with the EU dragged on for 20 years, it took some of the GCC states not more than five years to seal bilateral FTA negotiations such as those with the US.

While the EU has powerful economic interests in liberalising investment rules in the Gulf states, political issues are believed to be blocking the agreement. These include demands by the EU concerning meeting standards of democracy and human rights.

Human rights groups such as the FIDH have urged the EU to insist on respect for freedom of the press, women's rights and labour rights of migrant workers in the Gulf countries in return for any trade concessions granted through the FTA.

Bahrain: More websites and blogs blocked by authorities

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahraini authorities have widened their campaign against all Internet outlets, inside and outside Bahrain, which covers all aspects of public affairs in the country. The lastest victims of the site-blocking campaign, led by Mai Al-Khalifa, the Minister of Culture and Information, are http://www.aafaq.org , a Washington-based news site, and http://www.Bahrain-eve.blogspot.com , the blog of female activist Ghada Jamsheer. The authorities have also blocked the alerts site http://www.bahrainblogs.org that lists reports about any posting or updates made by bloggers in Bahrain and includes alerts from the BCHR site: http://www.bahrainrights.org . All sites were blocked on the morning of 21 April 2009.

The Aafaq site is a webpage of news, views and reports covering many countries. It is managed by an independent US-based owner and focuses on political and other developments in Bahrain and the Arab region. Bahrain-eve, on the other hand, is a personal blog owned by Jamsheer, who is well-known for her views on women and other human rights issues.

The campaign is managed by a special branch reporting directly to the minister, who explicitly stated in her resolution that the decision to impose or lift a block on a particular site is under her discretion. This contradicts the cause of the campaign which is said to focus on pornography-related sites. Since its launch on January, the attack on Internet sites has included personal blogs, public forums, NGOs' and human rights webpages, political, religious, cultural, and other sites which reflect dissident views, news and reports on public issues.

As per a report by a project launched by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, up to this moment there are "598 reports of inaccessible sites in Bahrain, 159 of which are unique". The enormity of the figure is a result of the spectrum of sites blocked based on certain tags and keywords which include the word "proxy", something which users have used to bypass the block.

Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, responded to this latest move: "One can see that the State is going hysterical and (is not acting rationally) in the way it is treating dissident views and issues of relation to public affairs". He added: "They want to control every in and out byte of information. We all know this is impossible and the state advisors should voice that this is a lost war against freedom of expression and exchange of information in the high tech world we are living in".

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to authorities asking them to: - lift the ban and blockage on the Aafaq news site and the Bahrain-eve blog, as well as all public affairs sites - put an end to the campaign against all forms of freedom of expression and lift the ban on dissident voices on the web - repeal all administrative resolutions targeting web accessibility and restricting freedom of expression, and constrain the Minister of Information's involvement in media censorship - amend the Press Code of 2002, ensuring its conformity to international conventions

APPEALS TO: His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa King of Bahrain

Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

Updates alert on the recent online crackdown: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102205

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information contact Nabeel Rajab, President, BCHR, Manama, Bahrain, tel: +973 3963 3399 / 3940 0720, fax: +973 1779 5170, e-mail: nabeel.rajab@bahrainrights.org, info@bahrainrights.org, Internet: http://www.bahrainrights.org; Facebook: English Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=44138766349, Arabic Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=50727622539

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- CPJ concerned about crackdown on websites and blogs