13 Apr, 2009

The New York Times : Bahrain King Pardons Shiite Political Prisoners

April 13, 2009 Bahrain King Pardons Shiite Political Prisoners By MONA EL-NAGGAR CAIRO — The king of Bahrain has pardoned 178 Bahraini detainees charged with security offenses, including two prominent Shiite opposition leaders whose arrest set off regular protests that often ended in violent clashes between Shiite demonstrators and the police.

Under the royal pardon, issued Saturday, the release of the detainees, all Shiites, began Sunday.

Bahrain, a relatively small country of about one million residents, is located between Saudi Arabia and Iran and has a majority Shiite population ruled by Sunni leadership.

“This comes as an embodiment of his majesty’s sound vision and his method of sensible rule in the framework of his majesty’s reform project, which firmly establishes the principles of justice, equality and transparency,” said a statement on the Bahrain News Agency Web site, announcing the pardon issued by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Shiites in Bahrain complain that they are discriminated against and are politically repressed by the ruling Sunni elite. Young Shiite men, who have taken to the streets almost daily, burning tires as a show of defiance, say that they are not offered equal opportunities in education and employment and that the government is changing the demographic composition of the population by naturalizing as many Sunnis as possible. Bahraini officials say that is not true and deny there is any intention to meddle with the nation’s demographic balance.

“The whole village is celebrating the release of its sons, but our demands were not limited to their release,” Salman Hassan, a 20-year-old from Malkiya, a Shiite village outside the capital of Manama, said as he waited to greet four neighbors and friends after their release on Sunday. “They make the pardon sound like a noble act so that they can stop people from making their demands.”

The two prominent Shiite figures pardoned Saturday, Hassan Mushaima’a, leader of the Haq opposition movement, and the cleric Sheikh Mohammed Habib al-Moqdad, had been accused, along with 21 other opposition organizers, of trying to destabilize the government and planning terrorist attacks. Their arrest this year caused an uproar among their Shiite followers and intensified the demonstrations.

While the pardon is expected to ease some of the anger within Shiite communities in Bahrain, it does not address underlying sectarian issues, which led to the arrests in the first place.

“The question now is, will this pardon end the political and human rights crisis that this country suffers?” said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who added that he believed the pardon was designed to contain the situation and bring stability at a time of economic crisis by improving the government’s image abroad. “If it is not followed with real political solutions, then the problem will return once again.”

12 Apr, 2009

Reuters: Bahrain pardons opposition leaders after protests

Bahrain pardons opposition leaders after protests Sun Apr 12, 2009 6:19am EDT * Pardon follows increased international attention

* Move eases political tensions to focus on economy

* Shi'ite scholars negotiated release

(Adds reaction from Al-Wefaq opposition, background)

By Frederik Richter

MANAMA, April 12 (Reuters) - Bahrain's king has pardoned 178 people charged with breaching state security, including two Shi'ite opposition leaders whose arrest sparked violent protests and whose trial has drawn international scrutiny.

A government source, who declined to be named, said on Sunday those pardoned included Hassan Mushaima, leader of the mainly Shi'ite opposition movement Haq, Shi'ite cleric Mohammed Maqdad and 33 other defendants on trial with them.

"You are now obliged to cooperate for the security of this country," Bahrain's news agency quoted Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa as telling the prisoners.

Regular night time battles between police with teargas and youths with bottles and burning barricades have contrasted sharply with efforts by the Gulf Arab kingdom to present itself as a stable place for international investors.

Jalila Sayed, a lawyer for the defendants, said this was not the first time Bahrain had pardoned opposition figures.

"We have this kind of play from time to time, except this time the magnitude is bigger, there are more people involved and the accusations are more serious," Sayed said.

Mushaima had been in custody for a few hours in 2007, but was pardoned before his trial started, she said.

Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, said the pardon followed unprecedented international pressure on Bahrain, whose government had underestimated the degree of popular opposition to Mushaima's arrest.

"This will help ease the tension for the coming weeks," Rajab said. "But if this is not followed by measures to end the ... political and human rights crisis, which is the discrimination against the Shia, (this kind of) situation will come back."

The Shi'ite opposition has attributed the unrest to grievances such as their marginalisation in jobs and services, a charge government officials deny.

INVESTOR SIGNAL

Jasim Husain, member of parliament for the Shi'ite opposition party Al-Wefaq, said the pardon would send a much needed signal to investors that Bahrain is able to solve its problems during the ongoing financial crisis.

Bahrain, a regional banking centre and small oil producer, is competing with other Gulf Arab states, particularly regional commercial hub Dubai, over investments in banking, infrastructure and logistics to diversify its economy.

"Bahrain cannot afford social and political problems at this moment," Husain said.

Bahrain's parliament, in which Al-Wefaq has 17 out of 40 seats, only approved the government's 2009-2010 budget in March after tussling for months over government social spending.

The delay threatened to slow outlays and delayed the issuance of government bonds to finance the country's fiscal deficit and spending on housing projects.

In 1995, Shi'ites led a series of violent protests to demand reforms. The disturbances abated in 1998 after King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa launched landmark political and economic reforms, including pardoning political prisoners and activists in exile.

Unlike most other Gulf Arab states, Bahrain has a lively parliament, consisting of an elected lower house and an upper house whose members are appointed by the king. (Reporting by Frederik Richter and writing by Inal Ersan; Editing by Thomas Atkins and Sophie Hares)

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11 Apr, 2009

Release of human rights defender Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh while others remain in prison

Bahrain: Release of human rights defender Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh while others remain in prison By jimloughran Created 2009/04/09 - 10:15 Front Line welcomes the release of human rights defender,Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, from prison on April 3, 2009 after he received a pardon from King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa because of serious deterioration in Maytham's health conditions while in prison.He had been detained among eleven human rights defenders arrested by the Special Security Forces (SFF) between 21 and 28 December 2007, following demonstrations in Manama on 17 December 2007.

Further Information Front Line is deeply concerned in relation to the allegations of torture and ill-treatment inflicted on Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh while in detention, and call on the the Bahraini authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into these allegations .

Front Line remains concerned about the ongoing imprisonment of other human rights defenders in the same case, Hassan Abdelnabi Hassan, Naji Ali Fateel, and Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais, who have all been victim of either ill-treatment or torture while being detained in the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB).

Front Line reiterates its grave concern that the conviction and sentencing of the aforementioned four human rights defenders is directly related to their legitimate and peaceful activities in defence of human rights in Bahrain.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Source URL: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1878

9 Apr, 2009

Reuters- Bahrain opposition wants EU, UN monitors at "show trial

* EU, U.N. asked to attend trial of government opponents

* British lawmaker: protesters face "merciless onslaught"

* Bahrain minister says trial is not politically motivated

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON, April 8 (Reuters) - International monitors should attend the trial in Bahrain of opposition figures accused of plotting to overthrow the Gulf state's government to ensure they receive a fair hearing, their supporters said on Wednesday.

British lawmaker Eric Lubbock, vice chairman of the human rights group in the upper house of parliament, called the trial "an iniquitous act of persecution against those who stand up for human rights".

After weeks of violent anti-government protests, he said, Bahrain's Sunni Arab leaders had grown "increasingly ruthless" and observers from the European Union and United Nations were needed at the trial in the island kingdom.

He told a London news conference he feared the fate of Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Shi'ite opposition group Haq, would be sealed in a political "show trial" manipulated by the ruling family in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain strongly denies those claims. It says Mushaima and others will receive a fair trial and rejects claims the hearings are politically motivated.

"Potentially very serious terrorist attacks were uncovered and prevented in December, and the government has a duty to investigate and prosecute individuals against whom there is evidence," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

Saeed Shehabi, of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, an opposition group, told the news conference: "The presence of EU observers in the forthcoming trials will be crucial."

Lubbock said some anti-government protesters had been injured by police and some of those arrested were tortured.

EU representatives attended the last hearing and should attend the next court date on April 28, and the U.N. torture envoy should also try to go, Lubbock said. (Additional reporting by Frederik Richter in Manama)

8 Apr, 2009

The Committee to Protect Journalists: concerned about Bahrain Web crackdown

CPJ concerned about Bahrain Web crackdown April 7, 2009

His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa King of Bahrain C/o The Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain International Drive, NW Washington, D.C. 20008

Via facsimile: 202-362-2192

Your Majesty, ‎

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to protest the ‎recent deterioration of press freedom in Bahrain and your government's ‎ongoing campaign against critical or ‎opposition Web sites and blogs. The crackdown against those sites has resulted ‎in dozens of them ‎being blocked inside the kingdom, according to local and international human rights and ‎press ‎freedom watchdogs. ‎

CPJ is concerned about a campaign targeting independent or critical Web sites that discuss ‎social, political, and human rights issues, especially with the backdrop of an escalating crackdown on Shi'a activists, opposition figures, and human rights defenders. In January, local media outlets published ministerial order ‎‎1/2009, issued by Culture and Information Minister Sheikha Mai ‎bint Muhammad Al Khalifa, ‎ordering ‎telecommunications companies to block specific Web sites without warning or providing specific reasons when ordered to by the ‎ministry. Dozens of blogs, discussion forums, and sites of local and regional human rights groups have been blocked since.

Authorities have described their campaign as one against pornographic ‎and socially inappropriate Web sites, but CPJ research reveals that the sites of dozens of human ‎rights groups, opposition or independent bloggers, and political organizations have been blocked ‎inside Bahrain. Article 2 of the order states that "all telecommunications companies and Internet service ‎providers must block Web sites that are pornographic‎ or violate public decency," but Article 1 ‎compels those companies to block Web sites on order from the minister, presumably even if they ‎are not of a pornographic nature.

Freedom of expression advocates have argued that before this order was issued, Web ‎sites and blogs that the government deemed troublesome were blocked anyway. But multiple sources told CPJ that ‎the number of blocked sites has risen exponentially as of late. The Ministry of Culture and Information is using advanced ‎technology that can filter keywords and block sites, multiple sources inside Bahrain told CPJ. ‎Blocked sites feature a screen that reads: "This Web site has been blocked for violating regulations and laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain."

On February 11, the Ministry of Culture and Information told Reuters that some Web sites had been ‎blocked because of technical problems and that this would be resolved. But many sites blocked before February 11 are still inaccessible, local sources told CPJ.

For example, the Google Translation service has been blocked for the last three months, sources told CPJ. Abduljalil Alsingace, who blogs at alsingace.katib.org, told CPJ that his blog was blocked on February 10, after he posted a petition by an international group of intellectuals. Among the demands of the petition was the lifting of a travel ban on Alsingace. Alsingace migrated his entries to alsingace.blogspot.com. Both of his blogs remain inaccessible inside Bahrain, he told CPJ. Mahmood al-Yusef's blog, Mahmood's Den, which covers political and social issues among its topics, has been blocked for years within the country.

Most sources told CPJ that forums that discuss cultural, social, or political matters perceived as sensitive by the government are the most targeted Web sites. The political forum Multaqa al-Bahrain, the cultural ‎forum ‎Muntadayat al-Bahrain, and the cultural and political ‎forum al-Sarh al-Watani have all been blocked. In addition, the Web sites of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Arab Network for ‎‎Human Rights Information have also been blocked for long periods of time and remain ‎inaccessible inside the kingdom. ‎Dozens of sites that provide proxy ‏services are also inaccessible.

CPJ believes that Web sites and blogs must ‎‏not be blocked arbitrarily. On the rare occasions when blocking a site is justified, it is incumbent on the authorities to make clear the reasons why. Without such a mechanism in place, as is currently the case in Bahrain, authorities have arbitrarily engaged in the censorship of critical voices by simply blocking access to them under the cover of protecting decency or national unity. CPJ research reveals that many sites blocked inside the kingdom have been guilty of nothing more than addressing social, political, or human rights concerns through a critical prism. That alone must not be grounds for censorship.

These acts of censorship contradict multiple provisions of the Bahraini Constitution, which guarantees the right of freedom of expression. They are also in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain ratified in 2006, which guarantees the freedom "to seek, receive, and impart information."

CPJ also wants to draw your attention to two lawsuits that have recently been filed ‎by ‎government agencies against two independent journalists.‎

Maryam al-Shrooqi, a journalist for ‎the independent daily al-Wasat, is on trial for writing an article titled "Fake governmental ‎advertisements" on August 27, ‎‎2008. The article examines hiring discrimination at the ‎Department of Civil Services supposedly based on religious affiliation. ‎Al-Shrooqi told CPJ that ‎her article was based on interviews with ‎multiple sources. Nevertheless, ‎in December 2008, the Department of Civil Services filed a criminal lawsuit against al-‎Shrooqi ‎for "insulting" it. Initially she faced two additional ‎charges of "fabricating lies" and "defaming" ‎the Department of Civil Services, although those ‎charges have since been dropped, al-Shrooqi ‎‎told CPJ. ‎

Al-Shrooqi said that she was advised by officials close to the department to ‎apologize and reveal ‎the identity of her sources to avoid legal action, but she refused. She has appeared in court four ‎times so far and her next hearing is scheduled for April 8, she told CPJ. If convicted, al-Shrooqi could be ‎banned from writing, fined or imprisoned, she said.

In a separate though equally alarming case, Lamees Dhaif, a columnist with the private daily al-‎Waqt paper, is on trial for ‎‎"insulting the judiciary" in a series of five investigative articles published in February. Titled "The ‎dossier of ‎‎great shame‎," the series was meant to expose alleged judiciary corruption, she told CPJ. Dhaif said that an official asked her to write an apology or an article praising the judiciary to ‎avoid being sued; she refused. On February 26, the Supreme Judiciary Council, the branch's highest administrative organ, filed a criminal lawsuit against her. In ‎early March, the public prosecutor's office summoned Dhaif to appear in court as "an ordinary ‎citizen," to try her under ‎Bahrain's penal code instead of the press law, under which she would be less harshly penalized, she said. She protested the decision and demanded that she should ‎be charged under the press law. The ‎prosecution office accepted her demand. The case is still pending and no court ‎date has been set.‎

CPJ believes that both legal proceedings contradict the spirit of an October ‎‎2008 speech by Prime Minister ‎‎Sheikh Khalifa‎‏‎ bin Salman Al Khalifa in which he encouraged the media to "benefit from the climate of democracy and freedom available in the Kingdom of Bahrain" and "truthfully speak on behalf of Bahrain's society, mirroring the reality of its daily life and contributing with neutrality and objectivity to the search for adequate solutions to its problems."

We respectfully call on Your Majesty to direct the Ministry of Culture and Information to annul the ministerial ‎order calling for the blocking of critical Web sites. CPJ also calls on you to instruct the relevant agencies to drop the politically motivated ‎charges against al-Shrooqi ‎‎and Dhaif without delay. ‎

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

Sincerely,

Joel Simon Executive Director

April 7, 2009 2:43 PM ET

7 Apr, 2009

THE OBSERVATORY: Release / Ill-treatments and torture of Mr. Maytham Al-Sheikh

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

New information

BHR 001 / 0208 / OBS 017.2

Release / Ill-treatments and torture

Bahrain April 7, 2009

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.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) of the release of Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, member of the Unemployment and Underpaid Committee (UUC).

According to the information received, on April 3, 2009, Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh was released from Jaw Prison by a Royal decree due to the deterioration of his health condition.

The Observatory welcomes the release of Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh and wishes to thank all the persons, organisations, and institutions that intervened in his behalf. Nevertheless, the Observatory expresses its concern about the ongoing detention of other human rights defenders in Bahrain and calls upon the Bahraini authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally, when their detention aims at sanctioning their human rights activities.

The Observatory is extremely concerned by the health condition of Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, who has been diagnosed of multiple sclerosis disease. The Observatory is also highly preoccupied with allegations of torture and ill-treatments occurred against Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh while in detention, and urges the Bahraini authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into those allegations.

Background information:

On December 17, 2007, a peaceful demonstration at the occasion of the Martyrs’ Day, in the Sanabis area, aiming at paying tribute to victims of torture in the past, was violently dispersed by members of the riot police and of the special security force, who heavily resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets. Mr. Ali Jassim Meki, a human rights defender, who participated in the demonstration, died a few hours later.

Between December 21 and 28, 2007, members of the Special Security Forces began a wave of arrests that targeted more than 60 activists, including several human rights defenders. Allegedly, all human rights defenders who were arrested had been involved in public protests during the last few years that related to economic and social rights and restrictions on freedoms.

All those arrested deny the acts of violence and the possession of firearms. Several were detained in isolation, hand-cuffed and blindfolded for long periods of time. Some complained of mistreatment or torture, including acts of sexual assault, by the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) to coerce them to confess. More specifically, Mr. Al-Sheikh complained that during 45 days he had been exposed to all sorts of torture, which included electric shock in the sensitive parts and attempt of sexual assault, with a wooden rod inserted by force in his rear.

On July 14, 2008, five human rights defenders and activists, namely Messrs. Hassan Abdulnabi and Maytham Bader Jassim al-Sheikh, members of the Unemployed and Underpaid Committee (UUC), Mr. Naji al-Fateel, member of the BYSHR, Mr. Mohammed Abdullah al-Sengais, founder of the Committee to Combat High Prices (CCHP) and Mr. Isa Al-Sarh, member of the Amal Political Society, were condemned on charges of “illegal gathering” as well as “theft of a weapon and ammunition and possession of weapon and ammunition without permission” by the High Criminal Court of Bahrain to prison terms ranging from five to seven years. Mr. Al-Sheikh was sentenced to five years of prison. Appeal of this conviction was denied on December 28, 2008.

In November 2008, after three months of his request, M. Al-Sheikh was finally presented, for the first time to a neurologist to diagnose his breaking-up health condition.

Actions requested :

Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to :

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh and of all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

ii. Release all human rights activists immediately and unconditionally, where their detention aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iii.Guarantee unconditional access to their lawyers, families and any medical treatment they may require;

iv. Order an immediate, effective, thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of torture and ill-treatments against Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent, independent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided by the law;

v. Ensure that adequate, effective and prompt reparation, including adequate compensation, proper medical care and rehabilitation, is granted to Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh;

vi. Put an end to all forms of harassment against human rights defenders in Bahrain;

vii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, Article 11, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to the lawful exercise of his or her occupation or profession”, as well as Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”;

viii. 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

***

Paris-Geneva, April 7, 2009

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

-----------------------------------------------------------

7 Apr, 2009

Reuters: Bahrain trial aims to silence government critics: Lawyer

Shiite defendants accused of planning to oust regime, which denies that trial is political

By Frederik Richter, ReutersApril 6, 2009 4:02 PM

Tires burn in front of a local mall in Budaiya, some five kilometres from the capital Manama on Thursday,, after protesters closed the streets to demand for the government to release members of opposition who have been detained. Photograph by: Hamad I Mohammed, ReutersMANAMA - A trial of 35 Shiite Muslims that has fuelled weeks of violent protests in Bahrain, the island kingdom that is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, is an effort to silence government critics, the defendants' lawyer said.

Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Shiite opposition movement Haq, and some of the other defendants are accused of planning to overthrow the government by violent means, amongst other charges, said Jalila Sayed, one of the defendants' lawyers.

"It's his right of expression which is meant to be stopped, because of the ideas and the beliefs he has, that's the trial, nothing but that," Sayed told Reuters.

Nighttime battles between police with teargas and youths with bottles and burning barricades contrast with efforts by Gulf Arab state Bahrain, a U.S. ally and regional banking hub, to present itself as a stable place for international investors.

Dissent began to stir in December after officials arrested a group of protesters, saying they planned violent acts ahead of Bahrain's national celebration on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17.

Bahrain, an island country of 500,000 nationals, has a history of political tension between its Sunni-Muslim al-Khalifa rulers and its Shiite Muslim majority.

Periodic unrest has erupted with the Shiite opposition attributing them to immediate grievances such as marginalization in jobs and services, a charge government officials deny.

Abdulaziz Mubarak Al-Khalifa, undersecretary of Bahrain's Foreign Ministry, said claims the trial is of political nature were untrue.

"Potentially very serious terrorist attacks were uncovered and prevented in December, and the government has a duty to investigate and prosecute individuals against whom there is evidence," he said in a written statement to Reuters.

Mushaima, previously a member of the main Shi'te opposition party Al-Wefaq, was arrested in January, along with the head of Haq's human rights section, Abduljalil al-Singace, and a prominent Shiite cleric.

"Our case is part of a series of measures to stifle all forms of freedom of expression," Singace told Reuters.

He said the case involving Mushaima, the cleric and himself was tied to the earlier arrests in December to hide the political nature of the trial to the outside world.

"It is shown to the world as a campaign against terrorists or the use of violent means," Singace said. "This way others will say what you're doing is OK."

New-York based rights group Human Rights Watch said in a recent statement the trial was based on coerced testimonies and violated the defendants' right to fair trial.

Al-Khalifa denied these claims.

"Procedures are in place to prevent abuses or coercion of those in custody, and all testimonies and evidence are fully investigated during the trial, including being subject to challenge from defence lawyers," he said.

Bahrain's king recently pardoned jailed opposition activist Maitham Bader al-Sheikh 15 months into his five-year sentence because of his ill health.

Unlike most other Gulf Arab states, Bahrain has a lively parliament, consisting of an elected lower house and an upper house for which delegates are appointed by the King. Bahrain in particular serves as a banking and logistics hub to the Arab world's largest economy Saudi Arabia, to which it is connected via a causeway and which has a minority Shiite population in its Eastern province.

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet patrols the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of water between Oman and Iran, through which around 40 per cent of globally traded oil leaves the world's largest oil exporting region. The trial is scheduled to resume on April 28.

Four years of Shiite-led violent protests gripped Bahrain in 1995 to demand reforms by the government. The disturbances abated in 1998 after King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa launched landmark political and economic reforms, including pardoning all political prisoners as well as activists in exiles.

© Copyright (c) Reuters

3 Apr, 2009

BBC NEWS: Police 'use guns' at Bahrain protests

By Bill Law BBC Radio 4, Crossing Continents http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7976480.stm On 13 March at about 1530, unemployed dustman Muhammad says he stepped out into the street to join a peaceful demonstration to protest against brutality by the police forces.

Five minutes, later along with about 50 others, he says he was fired upon by members of the Bahraini security forces. He was hit in the legs with a shotgun blast.

Asked if he or the others had done anything to provoke or threaten the security police Muhammad (not his real name) replied "Absolutely not!"

"There was no violence," he insisted. "It was a peaceful demonstration. The police opened fire without provocation."

Video footage of the incident - supplied to the BBC by a Bahraini human rights organisation - would appear to corroborate Muhammad's account.

It shows a line of police standing near from a group of protesters carrying Bahraini flags. Suddenly and without any apparent cause, the police open fire.

Members of this island nation's Shia community say they had joined the protest against alleged police brutality.

Divisions in society

The tiny island kingdom of Bahrain is unique in the Arabian Peninsula in that it has a Shia majority, thought to be about 65% of the population.

But like the other Arab Gulf states the ruling elite is Sunni. And with the Shia Muslim-led Iran just across the Gulf and tensions growing between Islam's two largest sects, Shia here find themselves under suspicion.

Members of the ruling family and its Sunni supporters in parliament have long accused Iran of fomenting unrest in Bahrain. Bahraini Shia organisations say Iran has nothing to do with it. They say Shia have long been victims of discrimination. “ There is an increasing level of force being used and all that is doing is creating anger and more violence ” Khalil al Marzok, MP

They accuse members of the royal family of seizing Shia land, and point to poor housing, high unemployment and employment discrimination as the root causes of what is now becoming almost nightly rioting in their villages.

Tear gas, rubber bullets and stun bombs are used to quell disturbances, but the alleged use of live ammunition signals a trend that is disturbing many people in Bahrain.

Khalil al-Marzok MP, a member of a Shia political party and a leading activist, says excessive use of force is making a volatile situation ever more dangerous, particularly for young Shia men.

"There is an increasing level of force being used and all that is doing is creating anger and more violence."

Government response

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Interior Minister's office told the BBC that the use of shotguns against ordinary citizens is not permitted as a general policy.

"Their use is allowed only in rare cases under the law, such as when people's lives are in danger or when the use of force becomes the only means for the security forces to perform their duty," the statement says.

It says all security personnel are aware of this policy and obey it.

But evidence of the use of live fire has continued to emerge. On 27 March, three children aged of 11 to 14 were reportedly hit by shotgun pellets, including one who was badly injured.

"We want a dialogue and we are trying to persuade the authorities that the opportunity to talk is still there," says another Shia MP, Jasim Husain.

But he says the political will to make that happen is not coming from either the ruling family or the government.

"Without dialogue," he says "I'm not sure where this country is going."

Bill Law is a reporter for BBC Radio 4's foreign affairs documentary series, . You can also listen to Crossing Continents on the or subscribe to the .

Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/7976480.stm

Published: 2009/04/03 01:27:06 GMT

© BBC MMIX

31 Mar, 2009

THE OBSERVATORY FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS: Call for the acquittal of Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati

PRESS RELEASE

Paris-Geneva, March 30, 2009. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, call for the acquittal of Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, Director of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), which organises training workshops, monitors and documents human rights violations and participates in forming a regional network for young human rights activists in eight Arab countries.

Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati will be tried on March 31, 2009 upon charges of “activating an unregistered association before issuing the declaration of registration”, in the follow-up of a hearing that had taken place on November 27, 2007 before the Fourth Degree Minor Criminal Court.

These charges are linked to the fact that BYSHR failed to get registered because of the restricting procedures included in the Bahraini 1976 Criminal Code and 1989 Law on Associations, which pose conditions to the registration of NGOs, among which the approval by the authorities, the forbidding of handling political issues and the fact that all members should be older than 18 years old. According to these laws, the sentence incurred by Mr. Al-Maskati is six months' imprisonment and a 5,000 dinars fine.

The Observatory recalls that the Kingdom of Bahrain presented its candidacy to the Human Rights Council in 2006, and has accepted in this respect to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, in line with the General Assembly resolution creating the Council (A/RES/60/251). The Observatory points out in that regard that the grounds invoked by the authorities of Bahrain against BYSHR's Director are inconsistent with a number of international human rights standards.

First, the Observatory underlines that BYSHR had filed for registration in June 2005, and has never received any answer from the authorities since then.

According to the United Nations (UN) former Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, "registration should not be compulsory” and “NGOs should be allowed to exist and carry out collective activities without having to register if they so wish"[1].

Ms. Hina Jilani also recommended that when registration was required, States should adopt regimes of “declaration” or “notification” rather than “authorisation”, and that the law must set short time limits for the State to respond to the applications. Additionally, the decision to deny registration should be fully argued and cannot be politically motivated. Failure to provide a response should result in the NGO being considered as legally operative[2].

The Observatory therefore points out that according to international standards, approbation by the authorities should not be a pre-requisite for the creation of an association, and that any denial of registration should be adequately motivated, which never happened in the present case.

Secondly, the Observatory underlines that BYSHR carries out human rights, not political, activities. Hence the provision forbidding the handling of political issues cannot be retained against Mr. Al-Maskati.

The Observatory argues in the end that the provisions of the Bahraini legislation requesting that members of associations be over 18 years-old violate Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the Kingdom of Bahrain acceded on February 13, 1992, and which reads that “States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly”.

For all these reasons, the Observatory calls for the acquittal of Mr. Al-Maskati, in particular as the judicial proceedings against him seem to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities.

More generally, the Observatory urges the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to ensure that acts of harassment against human rights defenders in the country be stopped, in conformity with the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

For further information, please contact:

FIDH : Gael Grilhot / Karine Appy, + 33 1 43 55 25 18

OMCT : Delphine Reculeau, + 41 22 809 49 39

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[1] See recommendations in the Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, 2004, at III, 54, Good practices and recommendations in conformity with the Declaration.

[2] Idem, at III, 82.

29 Mar, 2009

An Asian Worker Loses his Life in the Worst Deterioration of Ethnic Tension Yet,

1. An Asian Worker Loses his Life in the Worst Deterioration of Ethnic Tension Yet 2. A growing sense of hatred towards all foreigners, due to the Bahraini authorities employment of foreign mercenaries to suppress protests and attack protestors. 3. The Bahraini authorities instigate 'clashes' with protestors, and later use 'clashes' as an excuse to increase repression, justify further repression, and as part of a smear campaign against opposition activists

BCHR 29/03/2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights note with great sorrow the news published in the local press on March 22 regarding the death of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, a Pakistani national (58 years old). Mr. Riyad died on March 21 at Salmaniya hospital as a result of burns, which according to the Ministry of Interior, he suffered after the car he was driving was attacked with a Molotov cocktail on Maameer road on March 7.

Background The assault that took the life of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad is part of a series of incidents of violence and clashes between the Special Security Forces - and an increasing number of young youth who operate at the entrances of the Shiite villages in various areas of Bahrain, where they burn tires and garbage containers, and some of them throw stones or sometimes Molotov cocktails at the Special Security Forces. This happens within the tension of the political and security conditions in Bahrain, and the increasing decline of rights and liberties, and an escalation in the systematic sectarian discrimination by the country against the Shiite sect.

The BCHR believes that Sheikh Mohammed Riyad may not have been targeted as an individual, but rather, was a victim of the security clashes, and the increased suspicion and hatred against foreigners - especially of the Pakistani nationality - who are used widely in the National Security apparatus and the Special Security Forces. The Special Forces have been in charge of besieging and suppressing Shiite villages and areas - which witness acts of protest - and which are intensively and arbitrarily attacked with massive quantities of tear gas, rubber bullets. Special Security Forces also regularly carry out the random pursuit of individuals inside the villages, often assaulting and beating them.

In the last four years these activities have led to the death of one protestor, Ali Jassim Mohammed, the serious injury of scores of people, as well as the general exposure to tear gas of families, including the elderly and children, residing in villages. The BCHR released a report last month that reveals that 64% of the National Security Service are non-Bahrainis, with the majority of them are of Asian nationalities. Photographic and video evidence from 'clashes' show the employment of foreigners - in particular, Pakistanis - both in the Special Security Forces, and also as plainclothes intelligence officers operating in areas where there are protests.

It is in the context of the above-described situation, that Mr Riyad's car was attacked. It is important that his tragic and inexcusable killing sheds lights upon an increasingly dangerous situation in Bahrain, of violent ethnic tension, which is being created and stoked by the actions of the government.

Procedural Issues

The security services have announced the arrest of five suspects, and stated that a search is underway for others. Lawyers have already spoken against the practice of detaining and questioning the accused in the absence of their lawyers.

The process of arrest also raises concern. As is the case with the arrest of those suspected of attacking Mr Riyad's car, it is rare that the individuals accused are arrested red-handed at the scene of the incident. Instead, in the days following any given incident a campaign of arrests is launched based on lists in the possession of the National Security Service. 'Suspects' are then held in custody, and questioned over periods of up to two or three weeks. They are then brought before courts that do not even consider the improper legal proceedings, or the allegations of maltreatment in custody. The court sentencing is generally based on pre-obtained confessions which are usually extracted under duress during custody, and denied by detainees deny in court. The testimonies of security personnel, whose statements are inconsistent and who often fail to identify the detainees are also used as evidence - while the defense witnesses' statements are not considered.

Guilty before Proven

These skewed legal proceedings tend to take place alongside a politically motivated smear campaign in the local pro-government press or international news agencies, where the incident used to damage the reputation of legitimate opponents to the regime, and human rights defenders. This media campaign has the effect of creating a 'conviction' or consensus of guilt before the detainees' actually go through court proceedings. It also works to discourage and taint the lawful demands for rights of the detainees, including the right to not be to arbitrarily arrested, the right to protection from maltreatment or torture in custody, and the right to a fair trial.

Previous Incidents of Note

19 people - most of who are activists and human rights defenders - are currently being held in custody and on trial for allegedly causing the death of Majid Asghar on April 9 2008. Mr Asghar was a Pakistani member of the Special Forces who was part of a security mission on that day, wearing civilian clothes and in a civilian car, near the Karzakan village where protests were being staged.

The Ministry of Interior has also recently announced that almost 40 people set fire to a civilian car by Duraz village, where two security officers inside it survived. The Bahraini authorities also announced that a number of Asian migrant workers have been assaulted and injured by Bani Jamra villagers. The local Press has also reported more than one incident where civilians of Asian origin were attacked due to suspicions that they were members of the National Security. All of these incidents show the dangers which ordinary expatriates, or even Bahraini citizens of Asian background, are being exposed to, in a climate of increasing mistrust and violence.

Some opponents have questioned the truth behind some of the allegations of arson and violence. In the case of Mr Asghar, the medical examiners testimony in court confirmed that his death was not caused by burning, as was announced through the Interior Ministry's media office and by the Public Prosecution. According to the coroner Mr Asghar was killed as a a result of collision with the ground or a solid object.

On March 16, the local Press ran a statement by security officials stating that a car was set aflame by several individuals throwing Molotov cocktails at it in Duraz village, and photos of the burnt car were published with the news piece. However, on the same day, several electronic forums published photographs of the same car showing a group of Special Security personnel from the National security apparatus standing by the above-mentioned car watching the small flame beside the car without attempting to extinguish it. Photos in the sequence show that a member of the security forces appears to be pouring a liquid on the small fire which then causes it to grow and burn the whole car. (Photos attached) The Bahraini authorities has used these incidents to justify the arrest, maltreatment and trials of numerous political opponents and human rights activists. The photos that are related to incidents of arson are used within an organized media campaign inside and outside Bahrain in order to depict incidents in Bahrain as organized acts of terror. This same campaign accuses independent human rights organizations and opposition activists of standing behind these incidents, or provoking people to carry out these acts, in order to justify a crackdown on their liberties, activities and to prosecute them in Bahrain's legal system.

The BCHR and the BYSHR stress that the attack on Sheikh Mohammed Riyad is a terrible violation of his right to life, the most fundamental human right. We emphasize that nothing justifies endangering the safety and lives of innocent people. The BCHR and the BYSHR are sad and disturbed by the escalating sense of hatred and enmity towards foreigners, particularly Asians, among the ordinarily-tolerant Bahraini society. This escalating tension and violence threatens social harmony and civil peace, and is especially worrying since foreigners form almost half of the population of Bahrain, and many of them contributed towards building this country.

The BCHR and the BYSHR holds the Bahraini authorities accountable for this dangerous increase in negativity and violence towards foreigners, and calls for public awareness of this matter.

The BCHR and the BYSHR demand the following:

A fair and independent investigation into the assault on Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, and that its perpetrators are brought to justice in a trial with fair and independent proceedings.

A guarantee that the rights of those arrested on charges related to the incident are protected in a fair trial, and a guarantee that International standards in the procedures of arrest, detention and investigation are met. This also includes the prevention of torture and maltreatment in custody, and the guarantee of the fairness and independence of the court, as well as the assurance of every individual's right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial.

A just and independent investigation into complaints regarding violations committed by Special Security Forces in the areas where protests are constantly taking place, and that security personnel involved in such breaches are held accountable presented before an unbiased and independent court.

An end to the policy of using foreigners in State Security apparatus to suppress Bahraini civilians, and an end to the practice of using foreign mercenaries as plainclothes officers in Bahraini villages, which ultimately endangers them and other foreigners who are not involved in the Security Forces.

And end to the policy of using security incidents as part of a smear campaign against human rights defenders, and as a means to hinder their legitimate work and prosecute them.

To honestly address the causes of political and security tension, and to stop the policy of the systematic sectarian discrimination and to guarantee the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all citizens.

For all Bahrainis to recognize the ultimate futility and failure of such acts of violence, and to end all acts of violence and hatred against foreigners, the vast majority of whom are here with legitimate cause and contribute greatly to the Bahraini nation.