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FIDH Deputy Secretary General Abused by the Police

20 March 2011

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is extremely worried at the security condition of its deputy Secretary General, Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. On Sunday, March 20th 2011, after they visited his father’s house, around 20 plain clothes policemen, armed with guns and wearing masks, entered Nabeel Rajab’s house at 2:00 am and started to search the house, as Nabeel, his wife and their young children were standing in the bedroom. After a search of 45 minutes, the police confiscated the computers and took some bags, books and CDs.

Nabeel Rajab was then tightly handcuffed in front of his family and taken into the back of a 4x4 car, where he was blindfolded. For more than one hour, the police kept him in the car and started to insult him and to force him to praise the Bahraini highest authorities, by saying « Long live the Prime Minister, I love the Prime Minister ». As he refused to obey the orders, Rajab was insulted once more and kicked in the face by one of the policemen, while another one was threatening to rape him.

After more than one hour of physical and psychological abuse, Nabeel Rajab was transferred to another car, taken to some premices belonging to the Ministry of Interior for interrogation. There, he was told by an officer that the police were following what he was saying on Twitter and troublemakers like him should leave the country. He was finally sent back home at 4 am.

Mr. Rajab says his wallet is still missing and part of his body is still in pain, especially his ear is sore because of the beating he received last night.

FIDH urges the Bahraini Authorities to :

− guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Rajab as well as all members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and all human rights defenders in the country;

− Put an end to any kinds of harassment against members of the human rights community in Bahrain

− Conform with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998 and in particular:

• its 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”;

• Article 5 (b), which states that “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels [...] to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups”;

• 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”.


HRW: Bahrain: New Arrests Target Doctors, Rights Activists

In Widening Crackdown on Critics, Four Doctors Among 15 Recently Arrested

March 20, 2011

(Manama) - Bahrain should end its campaign of arrests of doctors and human rights activists, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 19-20, 2011, state security forces, often masked and in civilian dress, arrested four medical doctors, and two human rights activists, and sought the arrest of a third. Human Rights Watch also remains concerned about the whereabouts of those doctors and rights advocates still in detention. The arrests, some of which occurred during pre-dawn hours, appear part of a broader government crackdown involving nighttime raids on the homes of those viewed as supporting pro-democracy protesters, Human Rights Watch said.

"Nighttime raids by masked men accompanied by uniformed security personnel have become disturbingly familiar in Bahrain," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The state is now unabashedly terrorizing anyone including doctors who dared to support pro-democracy protesters during the past several weeks."

A credible source who asked not to be identified for security reasons told Human Rights Watch that on March 19, security forces arrested four doctors who had been publicly critical of the government. Dr. Ghassan Dhaif and his wife, Dr. Zahra al-Sammak, were stopped at Bahrain International Airport as they attempted to leave the country. While al-Sammak was released, at the time of this writing Ghassan Dhaif remains in custody. Sources also told Human Rights Watch that security forces also arrested Ghassan's brother, Dr. Bassam Dhaif, who worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex.

At around 2:45 a.m. the same day, security forces raided the home of Dr. Nada Dhaif, who had appeared on an Al Jazeera broadcast speaking about events in Bahrain, and arrested her. Earlier the security forces had gone to her parent's home. Nada Dhaif's whereabouts, like those of the Dhaif brothers, who are her cousins, remain unknown.

Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), told Human Rights Watch that at about 1:30 a.m. on March 20, 20 to 25 men, some armed with rifles and their faces covered, along with dozens of uniformed riot police, came to his house. They broke down the door, detained him and confiscated his files and a computer. Rajab said security personnel hooded and handcuffed him in the back of a vehicle, where they verbally abused, kicked, and punched him, and in one instance threatened to sexually assault him. They eventually took him to a detention facility run by the Ministry of Interior in Adliya, a suburb of the capital, Manama, where an officer questioned him about a man being sought whom Rajab did not know. After some further questioning, the officers released him without bringing any charges. Rajab is a member of the Middle East advisory committee of Human Rights Watch.

About an hour later, at around 2:30 a.m., a group of plainclothes masked men and riot police went to the home of Sayid Yousif al-Muhafdah, another BCHR staffer, but he was at another location. According to al-Muhafdah, his family told him that about 25 men entered and searched their home. On departing, security officers warned the family to "tell Sayid Yousif to come to the police station or we will come back every night."

A second credible source told Human Rights Watch that security forces arrested another BCHR member, Mohammed Sultan, on March 19. A BCHR board member, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahlawi, has not been heard from in several days, but Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm whether he has also been arrested or has instead gone into hiding. BCHR has long been critical of Bahrain's government. In 2004 authorities had shut down the BCHR following the arrest of its then-president, Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, after he publicly criticized the prime minister.

The recent arrests appear part of a broader government crackdown, Human Rights Watch said. Since March 17, many opposition political activists and local rights defenders have slept away from their homes or gone into hiding to avoid arrest or harassment. Several have sought to leave the country following threats against them on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

Over the past week Human Rights Watch has been able to confirm the apparent arbitrary arrests of an additional 10 people, including seven political activists, two doctors (Ali Alekry, Mahmoud Asghar) and one rights activist (Seyed Ahmed al-Wedai). Human Rights Watch believes that the actual number of those arrested may be higher, and is seeking to determine whether some of the individuals reported missing are actually being detained.

The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders urges all states to "take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action" as a result of their participation in human rights activity.

"Bahrain is rapidly reverting to the police state of the 1990s," said Stork. "The authorities should stop arresting rights activists and doctors who speak out against abuses, and release all those improperly detained."


Nabeel Rajab President of Bahrain Center for Human Rights was beaten, blindfolded and detained

To the left archived photo and to the right recent photo of the attack on Nabeel's house

March 20, 2011

(Reuters) - Bahraini security forces briefly detained the outspoken head of the country's main human rights group on Sunday, days after a crackdown that drove mainly Shi'ite protesters off the streets.

"At around 1:30 a.m., around 25 thugs wearing civilian clothes came inside the house and were running from room to room, while around 20 more in security forces' uniforms waited outside," Nabeel Rajab told Reuters by telephone.

Rajab had spoken to media about the crackdown and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights put out statements this week accusing Bahraini forces and their Saudi and Emirati allies of "massacres."

Rajab said he was blindfolded and handcuffed and put into the back of a car.

"They beat me and threatened to rape me and they kicked me when I refused to say I love the prime minister," he said.

Four protesters and three police have been confirmed killed during unrest last Wednesday. Members of Bahrain's largest Shi'ite opposition party Wefaq said on Sunday they believed over 100 people had been arrested, though Reuters could not verify the estimate.

Among recent arrests are those of opposition leaders who had called for the overthrow of the monarchy and doctors who had complained of excessive use of force against protesters.

Rajab said he was driven around for more than an hour before being taken to an investigator who questioned him for five minutes. Rajab was sent around 4 a.m.

"I asked, 'Why did you beat me and wreck my house just for those simple questions?' But the investigator said he never authorized anything like that," Rajab said.

(Reporting by Frederik Richter and Erika Solomon; editing by Andrew Roche)

Photos of the attack


RSF: More harassment of journalists covering pro-democracy demonstrations

19 March 2011

Reporters Without Borders records that the authorities continue to respond with violence to protests movement in Bahrain, Yemen and, now, the Palestinian Territories. Reporters Without Borders condemns these attempts to censor and intimidate.

With military contingents now being sent from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help contain the political agitation, men armed with clubs and knives stormed the printing press of Al-Wasat, Bahrain’s only independent daily, on 15 March and smashed equipment, thereby preventing the newspaper from publishing.

Editor Mansour al-Jamri said employees had been threatened because of Al-Wasat’s coverage of the political unrest. Printing press manager Ahmed Mahdi said police had been escorting his employees to and from their work during the three days prior to the attack because of threats from people gathered outside. The newspaper Al-Ayam agreed to print Al-Wasat’s latest issue.

Mohammed Jamjoom, a CNN correspondent based in Abu Dhabi, was deported on 16 March for unclear reasons. An information ministry official escorted him to the airport but the authorities provided no explanation for his expulsion. Wall Street Journal reporter Alex Delmar-Morgan was arrested by members of the National Guard as he walked towards Pearl Square on 16 March and was held for three hours. Al-Wasat photographer Mohammed al-Mukharaq was attacked by a score of plain-clothes security agents while taking photos of protesters on 13 March. His sustained a fracture to his left hand and his camera and mobile phone were broken.

Tension between Bahrain’s Shiite and Sunni communities is mounting and there have been calls on the Internet for the closure of the bureau of the Iranian Shiite TV station Alalam and the arrest of its correspondent, Ali Al-Mousawi.

Full report on rsf.org

ICRC: Bahrain: medical personnel must have unimpeded access to the injured

17 March 2011

Geneva/Kuwait (ICRC) – Against the backdrop of recent events in Bahrain, it is especially important that all injured persons have safe and unhindered access to medical care, and that all medical facilities and personnel are spared the effects of the violence, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today. "We are very concerned about the escalation of violence, which has led to more deaths and to scores of people being injured over the past few days," said Gérard Peytrignet, who heads the ICRC's regional delegation for the Gulf countries in Kuwait. The escalation occurred while forces from Gulf Cooperation Council countries intervened under a regional common defence agreement, and a state of emergency was imposed. "Injured people, and medical personnel, vehicles and facilities, must be respected and protected by all. Security forces must apply international standards governing the use of force in their efforts to restore law and order. In addition, all people arrested and detained must at all times be treated humanely and held in decent conditions."

An ICRC staff member from the organization's regional delegation in Kuwait arrived in Bahrain yesterday to join the Bahrain Red Crescent Society in assessing needs. After street protests took place a month ago, the ICRC visited Bahrain and sent surgical supplies and first-aid kits to the Bahraini Red Crescent to be distributed to public health facilities or used by its own personnel if needed.

For more information, please contact: Fouad Bawaba, ICRC Kuwait, tel: +965 9787 9434 or +965 253 22 062 Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18


Amnesty Int: Bahrain must free detained opposition activists

18 March 2011

Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of eight prominent Bahraini opposition activists arrested following a violent dispersal of demonstrators in Manama.

The eight activists, mainly leading members of Shi’a opposition groups prominent in the ongoing protests for reform, were arrested yesterday in armed raids on their homes by a joint force of Bahraini and Saudi Arabian security forces.

The security forces did not produce arrest warrants and the authorities have not revealed where the detainees have been taken, or allowed them access to lawyers or their families.

On Wednesday, the day before the arrests, at least six people were killed in Manama when Bahraini security forces, backed by Saudi Arabian troops, forcibly dispersed protestors who had set up camp at the city’s Pearl Roundabout. At least one member of the security forces was killed but the majority were protestors.

“The Bahraini authorities’ increasing use of violence and intimidation against peaceful protesters and activists is totally unacceptable” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The authorities appear to be intent on shifting the blame to these opposition leaders for the violence meted out by the security forces. Instead, they should be conducting an immediate independent investigation into their forces use of excessive force, and bringing to justice those responsible for the serious abuses that we have seen in recent weeks.”

A relative of Shi’a opposition activist Dr ‘Abdel-Jalil al-Singace told Amnesty International that security forces smashed in the door of the house yesterday morning, stormed in and seized Dr al-Singace from his bedroom. A computer and mobile phone were also taken. The family was not given a reason for his arrest, and not told where he was taken.

The other activists arrested were Hassan Mshaima’, a prominent colleagues of Dr al-Singace in al-Haq, a Shi’a opposition political association; Ibrahim Sharif, secretary general of the secularist opposition group Wa’ad; ‘Abdel-Wahab Hussain, president of al-Wafa’ Islamic Movement; Shi’a opposition activists Sa’eed al-Nuri, ‘Abdel-Hadi al-Mukhodher and Hassan al-Haddad; and Dr ‘Ali al-‘Ekri, a physician and one of the protest organisers.

Dr ‘Ali al-‘Ekri works at al-Salmaniya hospital in Manama, which is currently surrounded by troops reportedly making access to the hospital difficult.

“These eight detainees are all prisoners of conscience and should be immediately and unconditionally released” said Malcolm Smart.

Amnesty International has grave fears for the detainees’ safety, as several of them have previously alleged torture and mistreatment when they were previously detained in 2010.

Dr al-Singace, Sa’eed al-Nuri, ‘Abdel Hadi al-Mukhodher and Hassan al-Haddad were held from August 2010 until the end of February 2011 when they were released on the orders of the King as a response to popular calls for reform.

Hassan Mshaima’ had only recently returned from exile to Bahrain.

The arrests follow rising tension and violence in Bahrain. This week at least nine people have been killed in clashes between protesters and Bahraini and Saudi Arabian security forces. Security forces have been deployed in many parts of Manama, especially in predominantly Shi’a neighbourhoods and villages close to the capital.


Call for Urgent Debate on the human rights situation in Bahrain at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

18 March, 2011


As human rights non-governmental organizations we express our deep concern over the current human rights emergency in Bahrain and request the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) to hold an Urgent Debate on that situation during the Council’s current 16th Session (28 February – 25 March, 2011). The systematic use of excessive force by Bahraini security forces constitutes a human rights emergency, and the Human Rights Council has a solemn duty to react promptly to it. In mid-February 2011, Bahraini security forces used excessive force, including lethal force, against peaceful protesters calling for political reforms. Seven protesters died as a result and scores were injured. Clearly identified medical workers were targeted by police while trying to help protesters wounded by the security forces. After a respite in the use of violence against peaceful protesters by the authorities, on March 15, in response to continuing largely peaceful protests and following the arrival in Bahrain of Saudi Arabian troops and Emirati police to bolster the government, the King of Bahrain declared a three month State of Emergency, thereby giving Bahrain military forces wide powers to suppress protests.

The same day, security forces used excessive force against protestors in Sitra using shotguns, tear gas and rubber bullets, killing two protestors and wounding scores of others, some of whom were then barred from accessing medical treatment at Sitra’s medical centre. Ambulance and medical staff were also again subjected to attack and assault by security forces and prevented in some cases from assisting the wounded.

On March 16, military and police forces launched a further operation to clear protestors who had set up camp in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout area again using excessive, including lethal force. A further six people were killed on 16 March, including protestors and members of the security forces as what had started out as peaceful protests became violent clashes between security forces and protestors and spread to predominantly Shi’a neighborhoods and villages in and around Manama. The security forces used shotguns, tear gas and are reported to have fired at peaceful protestors using live ammunition. State media reported that Pearl Square was being “cleansed.”

On 16 March, Bahrain security forces also blockaded Manama’s main al-Sulaymania hospital preventing access by the wounded and are alleged to have fired tear gas into the hospital, prevented the entry or exit of medical staff, and cut off the hospital’s electricity supply. Ambulances were impeded from transferring the injured. Doctors and nurses report that many of the injuries they have treated resulted from the use of live ammunition. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called these acts “shocking and a blatant violation of international law” in a press release issued on 17 March 2011.

The escalating use of excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protestors, including the use of live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas and beatings, since the current round of protests began on 14 February, 2011, has resulted in at least a dozen deaths and hundreds of injured. The targeting of medical facilities and attacks on medical personnel by state security forces which began shortly after February 14, has intensified as part of the current crackdown, hindering the ability of the wounded to obtain treatment. It has also made it difficult for journalists and human rights defenders to gather information on the precise numbers of killed and wounded.

Human rights defenders have come under increasing attack over the last week. On 10 March, text messages were circulated in Bahrain calling for three prominent human rights defenders to be killed. The message included the addresses and other details of the human rights defenders and copies of their ID cards; it is suspected that internal security agents in Bahrain were involved in this act of incitement. On March 17, seven leading political opposition activists calling for political reform were arrested and have been arbitrarily detained; their whereabouts are currently unknown.

The grave human rights violations being carried out by the government of Bahrain against pro-democracy protestors violates contravenes many universal human rights standards and Bahrain’s obligations under the ICCPR and the ICESR, including the right to life, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of movement, and the right to health. It is incumbent on the members of the Council to ensure that the Council fulfills its duty to respond promptly to this human rights emergency by urgently examining the allegations of grave human rights violations being carried out by the government of Bahrain, and taking steps to prevent violations from continuing. We urge the Council to hold without delay an Urgent Debate on the human rights situation in Bahrain.

Signatories: 1. Amnesty International 2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) 3. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 4. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales- Argentina (CELS) 5. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 6. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative 7. Conectas Direitos Humanos 8. Corporacion Humanas-Chile 9. Democracy Coalition Project 10. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) 11. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) 12. Human Rights Watch 13. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) 14. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 15. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 16. Partnership for Justice and Human Rights Agenda Nigeria 17. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) 18. The African Democracy Forum (ADF) 19. The Asian Legal Resource Centre 20. West African Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN)


BCHR: Bahraini Security Personnel are Instigating and Inciting Civil Violence

Security Forces are engaging in rogue practices which inflame the current situation in Bahrain and endanger innocent civilians even further

18 March 2011

The BCHR strongly condemns the recently reported attack with a Molotov cocktail on the house of journalist and commentator Lamees Dhaif, who has recently been outspoken in her opposition to government policies.

The BCHR notes that shocking evidence has surfaced showing that members of security forces are encouraging the targeting of opposition figures. The BCHR have seen broadcast messages issued by security personnel listing the telephone numbers of Ms Dhaif along with former Health Minister Dr Nizar Al Baharna, former MP Jalal Fairouz, the Iranian ambassador to Bahrain as well as others, urging contacts to harass the individuals.

Broadcasts also include incitement to sectarian hatred, describing the individuals as 'children of muta'a' (meaning temporary marriages, a practice accepted within Shia Islam). Inflammatory broadcasts also claim that the 'Baharna' (meaning Shia Bahraini) are gathering in Hamad Town to declare 'jihad' (religious war) on Sunni Bahrainis, and urges them (Sunni Bahrainis) to move out of neighborhoods inhabited by Shia Bahrainis.

Floating footage show riot police armed and wearing protective clothing kicking an unarmed civilian who is sprawled on the road in a residential area, captioned as being in Sitra, where the army incursion on Tuesday took place (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNH1OGUcaBM&feature=player_embedded). Likewise, police have been captured on camera smashing cars (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukpriV35efo). The image on top, also being broadcast by security personnel show a boot aimed at the Pearl roundabout, where the protest camp was established, and the text "disperse people, we will trample on you".

"The current civil violence in Bahrain is not only caused by the sudden disappearance of police from ordinary duties, which has allowed the rise of mob rule and 'baltajiyya' (armed thugs) policing the streets," BCHR president Nabeel Rajab said.

"But it is clearly also caused by certain units of the police itself."

The BCHR calls for: - An immediate end to the continual excessive use of violence and rogue practices of security personnel in Bahrain - A top down reform of the Interior Minsitry which is already notorious for its culture of brutality and corruption - Independent and transparent investigations into all acts of violence, including crimes committed by members of the security forces

The BCHR notes that the dangerous effect of the rogue actions of security personnel, many of whom are Asian, has lead to targeted attacks on ordinary Asian civilian residents in Bahrain in recent days (see previous release).

Statement of the Bar Human Rights Committee on events in Bahrain

17 March 2011


The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales expresses deep concern regarding the imposition of martial law, and the use of foreign troops in Bahrain. In particular, the Committee abhors the use of violence against protestors which has reportedly left several dead and hundreds injured, and the arrest of opposition leaders. The Bar Human Rights Committee has been engaged in missions to Bahrain over many years and has been vocal in its support for reforms which have seen the Kingdom establish written laws which uphold the rights of citizens. But equally the Committee has been forthright in highlighting alleged human rights violations. In particular, the Committee has been concerned at allegations of mistreatment of political detainees and fair trial guarantees, and the misuse of ‘anti-terror’ laws against opposition groups.

Mark Muller QC states that “the Bar Human Rights Committee is extremely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Bahrain and the seemingly apparent excessive use of force by state agents against unarmed peaceful protesters.

In 2006, Bahrain was rightly applauded for ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We urge the government to respect the basic fundamental human rights set out in the Covenant.

Bahrain’s declaration of martial law under Article 36b of the Constitution does not override its obligation to respect fundamental human rights under international law. Although the Covenant permits a state to impose restrictions on certain rights during a publicly declared state of emergency that ‘threaten the life of the nation’, those restrictions must be in ‘limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.’ We remind the Bahrain government that a state of emergency should not be used as a pretext to simply deal with peaceful protest and the expression of political opinion or to arbitrarily deprive peaceful protester of their liberty and their right to a fair trial, including their right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before an impartial tribunal. We also remind the government that the right to life and the right not to be tortured or ill-treated must be adhered to even in a state of emergency.

In its work in Bahrain the Committee has established close links with members of the Government, civil society and human rights groups, lawyers, and members of the business community.

The Committee urges all sides to engage in dialogue and to adhere to the rule of law and respect human rights. Dialogue can only be achieved if the violence is ended and the rights of the people are upheld; particularly the right to assemble and protest.”



The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales is the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales. It is an independent body concerned with defending the rule of law and internationally recognised legal standards relating to human rights and the right to a fair trial.

The reports of recent Bar Human Rights Committee missions to Bahrain can be seen at; [http://www.barhumanrights.org.uk/wherewework/middle_east.php#Bahrain]

For more information please contact BHRC in London, UK, on email: bhrc[at]compuserve.com

HRW: Bahrain: Protest Leaders Arbitrarily Detained

At Least Eight People Arrested Under Martial Law Decree

March 18, 2011

(Manama) - Bahraini authorities should immediately release seven prominent opposition activists and a surgeon arrested on March 17, 2011, or charge them with a recognizable criminal offense and bring them immediately before an independent judicial authority, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should also reveal their whereabouts and provide them with immediate access to counsel and their families. The official Bahrain News Agency announced on March 17 that the Bahraini Defense Force had arrested "several leaders of the sedition ring who had called for the downfall of the regime and had intelligence contacts with foreign countries." The statement accused the seven of inciting violence that led to the "killing of citizens and the destruction of public and private property." On March 15 King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa decreed a three-month state of emergency to quell continuing peaceful anti-government street protests.

"The government is depriving them of their liberty in a completely arbitrary manner, apparently for their leading roles in peaceful protests demanding democracy," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "At this point the lawyers and families of the people who have been arrested don't even know who is holding them or where."

Security forces arrested the seven activists between 2 and 5 a.m. on March 17. The surgeon, Dr. Ali Alekry, was detained later the same day. The arrested activists are Ebrahim Sharif, leader of the National Democratic Action Society; Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Haq Movement of Liberties and Democracy; Abd al-Wahab Hussein, leader of the al-Wefa Islamic Movement; Abdul-Jalil al-Singace, a leading member of the Haq Movement; Shaikh Saeed al-Nuri, a cleric and political activist; Shaikh Abd al-Hadi al-Mukhuther, also a cleric and political activist; and Hassan al-Haddad, a member of the Committee of the Unemployed.

Dr. Alekry was arrested at Salmaniya Medical Complex, the country's largest public health facility, after security forces surrounded the hospital. The whereabouts of another cleric and political activist, Shaikh Muhammed Habib al-Moqdad, are currently unknown. Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm reports that he has been arrested.

Sharif, al-Singace, Mushaima, and Hussein are leading members of political societies that formed a loose coalition demanding democratic reforms. Sharif's secular leftist National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad), along with the main Shia opposition group (al-Wifaq), has called for Bahrain's transformation to a constitutional monarchy. Mushaima, al-Singace, and Hussein's groups formed the "Coalition for a Republic," which called for abolishing the monarchy altogether. Sheikh al-Nuri, Sheikh al-Mukhuther, and Sheikh al-Moqdad were generally regarded as being more closely aligned with those seeking more radical changes in the power structure.

Dr. Alekry has been an outspoken critic of the government's actions following the attack on protesters at the Pearl Roundabout during the early morning hours of February 17 that led to the deaths of four Bahrainis, and has more recently been a leading voice in exposing restrictions on providing medical care to injured protesters.

Farida Qolam, Sharif's wife, released a statement on March 17 describing her husband's arrest. She said that their doorbell rang at about 1:50 a.m. When the couple opened the door they saw a large group of men wearing masks behind the entry gate, most of them wearing black civilian clothes. One pointed a gun toward Sharif, who gently asked him to put it down.

The couple repeatedly asked the men who they were, Qolam said, and one finally replied that they were "state security" (amn el dawla) and demanded that Sharif open the gate. Sharif did and went out to speak with them. In her statement, Qolam said there were 35 to 40 people in all, about 6 carrying guns. They took Sharif away to an undisclosed location.

Two of the lawyers handling the activists' cases told Human Rights Watch that several hours after security forces arrested their clients, the lawyers had filed requests to visit the arrested men with both the civil Public Prosecution Office and the office of the military prosecutor. The lawyers said the offices refused to accept their request or provide any information regarding the circumstances of the activists' detention.

The lawyers also told Human Rights Watch that Bahraini law does not provide any regulations limiting Bahraini Defense Force actions under a martial law decree. The explanatory memorandum to Article 36(b) of the Bahraini constitution says only that the "state of national safety" authorizes the government to restrict peoples' rights and freedoms to the extent required to preserve the national security.

Under international law, a state may not invoke a public emergency to justify arbitrary deprivations of liberty or unacknowledged detentions, nor may it deviate from fundamental principles of fair trial, including the presumption of innocence. People held as administrative detainees under a lawful state of emergency should, at a minimum, have the right to be brought before a judicial authority promptly after their arrest, be informed of the reasons for their detention, and have prompt access to legal counsel and family. They also should be allowed to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in a fair hearing, and to seek a remedy for mistreatment and arbitrary detention.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain ratified in 2006, permits some restrictions on certain rights during an officially proclaimed public emergency that "threatens the life of the nation." According to the Human Rights Committee, the international body of experts that monitors state compliance with the treaty, any derogation of rights during a public emergency must be of an exceptional and temporary nature, and must be "limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation." Certain fundamental rights - such as the right to life and the right to be secure from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment - must always be respected, even during a public emergency.

"To the best of our knowledge Bahraini authorities have not made public any rules or regulations under the so-called national safety law," Stork said. "The authorities apparently think they can do as they wish, but they are wrong."