6 Mar, 2008

Reporters Without Borders: Bahrain -Turning promises into reality

Bahrain is at a crossroads.This small island state of less that 700 sq km has seen significant progress in respect for human rights, including press freedom, since Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa took over as emir on his father’s death in 1999, but a lot remains to be done. At the same time, the regional environment is fraught.The war in Iraq and the heightened violence between Shiites and Sunnis have had an impact on the emirate, which became a kingdom in 2001. Saudi Arabia, which allows Bahrain to pump oil from a field yielding around 140,000 barrels a day, is a powerful neighbour that could prove touchy.And the demographic balance between the state’s two largest communities, the majority Shiites and the minority Sunnis, who are in power, leads to tension. A Reporters Without Borders delegation visited Bahrain from 9 to 13 February after the authorities voiced concern about the country’s fall in the organisation’s annual press freedom index. The delegation was able to meet with everyone it wanted to see, including government officials, opposition politicians, members of both houses of parliament, journalists and civil society representatives. The delegation saw the progress that has been made in respect for free expression – no journalist has been imprisoned since 1999 – but it also heard the concerns expressed by many journalists. Seven years after Bahrainis voted massively (by more than 98 per cent) for a National Action Charter, a vast programme of social and political reforms meant to “establish the bases of a true democracy,” several independent journalists and NGO representatives spoke to Reporters Without Borders of their disappointment, referring to a “honeymoon that had ended.” The situation is also contradictory for the media themselves. There are six privately-owned dailies, several of which are critical of the government, but the state maintains its monopoly of broadcasting. The adoption of a press and publications law in October 2002 was a step forward, although journalists were disappointed that it did not take account of all their recommendations. The Internet has taken off but many sites are banned – some because they are pornographic but others for political reasons. In another paradox, the Reporters Without Borders delegation found that the source of obstacles in the path of progress towards a freer society is not necessarily to be found in the legislature’s upper house, known as the Consultative Council, whose 40 members are appointed by the king, but in the elected lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, which is largely controlled by religious groups. Plans are under way to amend the press law, under which journalists can still be imprisoned, and to open up broadcasting to the private sector.When Reporters Without Borders met the attorney general, he supported the idea that any censorship of the Internet should be a matter for the courts rather than the government, as things now stand. These were all signs that the situation is not blocked. But it is up to the authorities to turn the promises into reality. Long-awaited law Bahraini journalists were surprised and somewhat embittered by the adoption of the Press and Publications Act – Law No. 47 – in October 2002 as it did not take account of their recommendations. It included many restrictions on journalists, who are not allowed to question the official religion, Islam, the head of state or the monarchy.And they are exposed to the possibility of sentences ranging from six months to five years in prison for “inciting division, sectarianism and violence and attacking national unity.” Foreign heads of state and parliaments are also protected by the press law. The regime makes its harder for its media to criticize developments in neighbouring countries to avoid upsetting key economic partners. Journalists regard this law as a violation of the principles of the National Action Charter they supported a year earlier. No fewer than 18 press offences are punishable under this law, and are defined in terms that allow a very broad interpretation. “This law does not give our work the necessary guarantees,” journalist Sawsan Al-Shaer told Reporters Without Borders.“As well as providing for prison sentences, the law allows recourse to criminal law and any other law to prosecute journalists,” she said. “What is the point of drafting a special law for our profession if the judges can use other laws to convict journalists.” After the law took effect, the authorities agree to create a committee including journalists, representatives of the Bahrain Journalists Association and information ministry representatives in order to recommend amendments to the law.Al-Shaer, who was a member of the committee, said she did not know what had become of the recommendations. King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa has on several occasions expressed a desire to decriminalize press offences. What the king says does not have the force of law but it has reined in prosecutors. Attorney general Ali Fadhul Al Buainain said most of the complaints against journalists were brought by private individuals. And most cases are settled out of court. A total of 47 complaints were 1 Bahrain : Turning promises into reality brought before the prosecutor’s office in 2007. “We have very strong ties with the Journalists Association,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “When a complaint is filed against a journalist, we notify the association’s liaison officers, who then have two weeks to try to find a solution.” He added that he thought “attacking religion and the king” should continue to be punishable by imprisonment. The government submitted some amendments to Law No. 47 to the Chamber of Deputies in 2004, but they still have not been examined. Decriminalization is among them, but prison sentences for press offences are maintained for second and subsequent offences. The ministry suggests that the broadcast media should be included in the current press law.The proposed reform envisages keeping prior censorship for foreign publications, based on the Kuwaiti and Jordanian models. The Consultative Council has meanwhile submitted two draft laws to the information ministry, the most recent one in May 2007. But Consultative Council deputy vice-president Jamal Fakhro said: “There is no desire on the part of the government or the deputies to attach any importance to this bill.The Chamber of Deputies is controlled by religious groups who want to keep prison sentences. If the law on the criminalization of press offences did not exist, they would have invented it.” Ebrahim Mohammed Bashemi, a member of the Consultative Council and editor of the daily Al- Waqt (Time), said the bill would decriminalize press offences and keep fines. It would also protect the confidentiality of sources, ensure access to official information and end criminal responsibility for publishers. When Reporters Without Borders met the new information minister, Jehad bin Hassan Bukamal, he insisted that he intended to press ahead with the proposed reform of the press law that is currently with the cabinet.“We hope to submit the amendments to parliament in the course of the next two months,” he said. “But how is the state at fault if the king and government want to amend the law but the deputies are opposed?” Latifa Mohammed Al-Qaud, a deputy who represents a coalition of independent parties, and Ebrahim Mohammed Bosandal, a deputy from the Salafist movement Al-Assala, told Reporters Without Borders they did not oppose the decriminalization of press offences but Bosandal insisted that prison sentences would have to be kept for any “insult to religion.” Self-censorship and broadcasting monopoly The Bahraini journalists that Reporters Without Borders met continue to be sceptical about the timetable and content of reforms. Some do not hesitate to talk of a “reduction in freedoms” since 2001, the year that the National Action Charter was adopted. Few of them hope for a complete decriminalization of press offences. And even if they recognise that they can be a bit more outspoken that their colleagues in other countries in the region, they say the state has other means than the law to put pressure on the media. As in neighbouring countries, Bahrain’s media owners and journalists censor themselves heavily. Mansoor Al-Jamri, the editor of Al-Wasat, a daily that supports the Shiite political movement Al- Wifaq, said the number of complaints brought against the media by the state would be much greater if journalists did not avoid certain subjects. The most recent example was the media’s very restrained coverage of demonstrations that shook the country in December and left one person dead. “There were further clashes between the security forces and the dead man’s relatives on the day of the burial,” Ahmed Al-Aradi of Al-Waqt told Reporters Without Borders. “Many people were wounded and several photographers, including myself, provided our newspapers with photos. But the next day, I did not see any of the photos in the newspapers.” The state maintains a monopoly on broadcasting despite the interest that several media owners have shown in getting broadcast licences. Foreign satellite TV stations such as Al-Jazeera and Al- Arabiya are the public’s main source of political news.The information minister says he is ready to open up broadcasting to the private sector after first establishing a legislative framework for the new industry. He voiced concern that these new media could be “manipulated at the expense of social peace.” The prime minister’s cultural affairs adviser, Mohammed Ibrahim Al-Mutawa, said care was needed. “When I ran the information ministry, I envisaged granting a licence for a privately-owned TV station but I changed my mind when I realised that this Islamist station would be financed by a foreign country,” he said, adding, “but the king has no objection to opening up broadcasting.” This fear that the broadcast media could be manipulated is shared by deputy Latifa Mohammed Al-Qaud. So far, the Bahraini authorities have only allowed a few international radio stations – Radio Sawa, BBC and RMC-MO – to broadcast on FM frequencies. Bahraini journalists complain of the difficulty of 2 Bahrain : Turning promises into reality getting access to official information. The census office, for example, refuses to provide them with social and economic statistics. Tension between the Shiite and Sunni communities underlies the lack of transparency on the part of the government, which is accused of carrying out a policy of naturalising Sunni Arabs in order to bring about a proportional increase in the size of the Sunni community. A report by a British adviser to the government, Salah Al-Bandar, about alleged secret plans to marginalise the Shiite community before the 2006 legislative elections caused a great stir. Shortly thereafter, the judicial authorities banned publication of any of the information in the report. An Internet censorship bureau The Internet then replaced the traditional media in disseminating information about this alleged conspiracy, called “Bandargate.” Journalists with privately-owned dailies told Reporters Without Borders that they turned to the Internet to publish the articles they wrote that were censored by their editors. Several sites were blocked by the information ministry’s censorship bureau. The ministry says the censorship bureau does not touch political or human rights websites and that only porn sites, sites that incite violence or sectarian hatred, or sites used for recruitment by terrorist groups are subject to administrative censorship orders. But Reporters Without Borders identified 22 discussion forums and political websites in October 2007 that had been censored by the information ministry. The site operated by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (www.bahrainrights.org) has not been accessible since October 2006. BCHR vicepresident Nabeel Rajab said this censorship was linked to their Bandargate coverage and their statements on other sensitive issues such as conditions for immigrant workers in Bahrain. Asked about this, the information ministry said the BCHR’s site was closed down because the organisation had “lost its licence.” The website of the Egypt-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which posts the BCHR’s releases, is also inaccessible in Bahrain. Rajab estimates that access to around 500 websites and blogs is currently blocked. The Consultative Council supports the adoption of an Internet law. Fakhro, its first deputy vice-president, says Internet users are not really free to post what they want online. “Right now, many websites are closed, some of them porn sites, others political or opinion sites,” he said. “We think there should be an Internet law, but in the meantime we urge everyone to be responsible.We do not accept administrative censorship.” Conclusions and recommendations The coming parliamentary debate on the reform of the press law will be decisive for Bahrain’s journalists. If the amendments are adopted, Bahrain will become the second country in the Gulf, after Kuwait, to decriminalize press offences. It seems that other legislative reforms are also essential to limit the abuses to which journalists and website editors are exposed in Bahrain. Using judges specialised in press cases and familiar with the way journalists work would help to ensure appropriate and fair sentences. Similarly, the courts, and not an information ministry official, should be in charge of regulating the Internet. Reporters Without Borders suggested this during its meeting with the attorney general, who supported the idea. Finally, the new information law must guarantee better access to government information and protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. An improvement in the press freedom situation in Bahrain requires not only concrete legislative progress but also an end to the state’s monopoly of broadcasting and an end to censorship of news websites. The adoption of a code of journalism ethics and the creation of a self-regulatory body to ensure that it is respected would be useful accompaniments to the decriminalization of press offences and the opening-up of broadcasting.

28 Feb, 2008

URGENT APPEAL Bahrain: Arbitrary detention / Judicial proceedings / Ill-treatments / Tortur

Bahrain ,February 28, 2008 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 reliable sources about new developments concerning the trial of 18 persons in Bahrain, including Messrs. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh and Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, members of the Unemployment Committee, Naji Al-Fateel, member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), Mohammed Abdullah Al-Sengais, Head of the Committee to Combat High Prices, and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab, founding member of the Martyrs and Victims Committee.

According to the information received, on February 24, 2008, a new hearing took place regarding 18 persons involved in the December demonstration, including the above-mentioned defenders. The latter were only given 15 minutes to talk to their lawyers before the hearing. Although the hearing was due to be open, the police only allowed a few people to get into the judicial “complex”[1].

In the course of the session, Messrs. Al-Sheikh, Abdelnabi, Abdulah Saleh, Mohammed Ali, Al-Fateel, Al-Sengais and Al-Arab pleaded not guilty on charges of “illegal gathering” as well as “theft of a weapon and ammunition and possession of weapon and ammunition without permission” that had been brought against them in relation to the demonstration held on December 17, 2007 (See background information). The defendants further complained about the acts of torture and ill-treatment they have been enduring while in detention, such as being prevented from sleeping, tied up for long periods and refusal of medical attention. Some of them reiterated that they have been sexually abused.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the men urged the court to release them on bail or at least to grant them access to a doctor and medical check-up, but Judge Shaikh Mohammed bin Ali Al Khalifa dismissed these requests.

A new hearing was set to March 17, 2008 to allow defence lawyers time to get prepared. After the hearing, the defendants were allowed to meet their relatives briefly, before being transferred to the Dry Dock Detention Centre, in Muharraq.

The Observatory is highly preoccupied with these allegations of torture and ill-treatments, which seem to aim at discouraging the Bahraini society to get involved in human rights activities, and urges the Bahraini authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of these human rights defenders and release them immediately as their detention is arbitrary.

The Observatory further deplores the decision of the Judge to refuse them access to medical examination or to release them on bail, and recalls that despite several denunciations of these arbitrary detentions and allegations of torture and ill-treatments, the situation of the above-mentioned human rights defenders has not improved. The Observatory will continue to follow-up the situation closely, and particularly the recent commitment made by Bahrain to allow a United Nations visit to review the record of the country on torture, as well as to train official to human rights standards.

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 close to the HAQ Movement of Liberties and Democracy, 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. As of January 8, 2008, 28 remained in detention, including 11 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. As of January 9, some of these human rights defenders have had access to their lawyers and family, but none of the lawyers were given access to their clients’ files.

The trial of Messrs. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh, Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, Naji Al Fateel, Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab was scheduled to start before the High Criminal Court on February 3, 2008, and later adjourned to February 24, 2008.

On February 3 and 11, the prisoners were allowed to talk briefly to their families, and reported that they had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including sexual assault, in the framework of their detention.

Actions requested :

Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to :

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh, Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, Naji Al Fateel, Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab;

ii. Release them immediately and unconditionally, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to merely aim at sanctioning their human rights activities;

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

iv. Order a thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of torture and ill-treatments, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law;

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

vi. 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”;

vii. 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, tél : +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, February 28, 2008

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

25 Feb, 2008

55 organizations join call for end to jailing and torture of demonstrators and human raightsactivists in Bahrain

55 Local, regional and international organizations join call for end to jailing and torture of demonstrators and human rights activists in Bahrain

SOURCE: Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Manama The following is a joint appeal to the King of Bahrain from BCHR and 54 other rights groups:

Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa , King of Bahrain, Riffa, Bahrain Fax : +973 176 64 587

Your Royal Highness,

We the undersigned national and international human rights organisations and other groups defending freedom of expression urge the Bahraini authorities to immediately release those human rights activists and demonstrators who were unjustly detained following protests in December, and to immediately desist from torturing the detainees. We believe the charges against the activists, for violent actions which they did not commit, are a pretext to silence them as a reprisal for their outspoken and peaceful human rights work. As in past years, on 17 December 2007, the Bahraini National Committee for Victims of Torture (NCVT) organised its annual march. On that day in 1994 two young Bahrainis were killed by Special Forces snipers from a helicopter shooting with live ammunition on a peaceful demonstration in Sanabis village calling for political reforms and democratisation.

On 17 December 2007, heavily armed members of the Bahraini Special Security Forces (SSF) were deployed to head off the march, which was prevented from kicking off in Manama. Confrontations quickly spread to nearby villages. In Sanabis village, some protestors were attacked by the SSF and armed militia who besieged the area and showered it with tear gas and rubber bullets. Ali Jassem Makki was allegedly attacked and fatally beaten by the SSF. Protests erupted in many other villages, resulting in many wounded.

Protests were waged in Jidhafs on the days surrounding Ali Jassem's funeral, resulting in fierce confrontations with the heavily armed Special Forces who used tear gas and rubber bullets on the protestors. Protestors responded by hurling stones and setting ablaze rubber tires and trash containers. One patrol vehicle was set afire by the protestors and a weapon inside it was allegedly reported to be missing, resulting in a series of arrests a few days later of well known activists and human rights defenders.

The Bahraini security authorities detained up to 50 people, some of them leaders of popular human rights and civil society such as the Unemployed Committee, Committee to Combat High Prices, Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). Local human rights groups claim that the crackdown was used as a pretext to clamp down on these organisations and round up these activists, who were then unjustly blamed for the incidents during the protests. They have since been subjected to all forms of ill-treatment and torture.

The Security Authorities ransacked houses and carried out dawn raids on those detainees, and confiscated their computers and some of their personal belongings. Out of those detained in the aftermath of the death of Ali Jassem, 14 detainees were falsely charged with rioting, illegal assembly, illegal possession of a weapon and ammunition as well as setting afire a patrol vehicle. Ibrahim Ameen Al Arab, a member of NCVT was also later arrested and charged with possession of the allegedly missing weapon. These 15 people were summoned to court on 3 February 2008, but because of the sudden change made by the judge to hold the hearing after official hours, the defendants’ lawyers decided to boycott that session. The court session was postponed until 24 February.

These 15 detainees include the well-known activists Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh and Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, members of the Unemployment Committee, Naji Al-Fateel, member of the BYSHR, Mohammed Abdullah Al-Singace, head of the Committee to Combat High Prices, and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab, founding member of the Martyrs and Victims Committee. They have been subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment which has included being held incommunicado, beatings, electrocution, malnutrition, deprivation from sleep, being held in unclean conditions, and sexual assault. The latest form of torture was to put the most prominent of those activists in cells with prisoners apparently suffering from communicable diseases.

Popular protests calling for the release of those detainees have been taking place in Bahrain on a daily basis, with some resulting in collective punishment such as showering the areas where these protests emanate with tear gas and rubber bullets as well as beatings of residents by SSF. This has lead to widening unrest.

We, the undersigned, express our deep concerns about the deterioration of the situation and the endangerment of the life of the human rights defenders in Bahrain. The initial incident and its repercussions could have been avoided should the Bahraini authorities have respected and protected the right of the individuals and groups for freedom of expression and assembly. An attack on freedom of expression has repeatedly proven to be a trigger for confrontation between people and local authorities.

We call on the Bahraini Authorities to immediately and unconditionally release of all the political, human rights and other activists unjustly detained in the aftermath of events on 17 December 2007. Releasing all the aforementioned detainees would help suppress the unrest situation in Bahrain, and restore tranquility.

We also take this opportunity to remind the local authorities to reconsider legislation and other practices which threaten all forms of freedom of expression and ensure conformance with international standards and covenants.

Signed by the following organisations:

1. Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society (ATIS-HK), Hong Kong 2. Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF), Kenya 3. Alliance of Filipino Migrants Communities and Association in Korea (KASAMMAKO), Korea 4. Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia 5. Arab Archives Institute, Jordan 6. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo), Egypt 7. Armanshahr Foundation, Afghanistan 8. Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), Hong Kong 9. Association of Filipino Migrant Workers, Korea 10. Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers (AIMW)- Hong Kong 11. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) 12. Bahrain Society of Human Rights (BSHR), Bahrain 13. Bahrain Youth Society of Human Rights (BYSHR), Bahrain 14. Bicol Association, Korea 15. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt 16. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada 17. CARAM ASIA, Malaysia 18. Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) 19. Centre algérien pour la défense et la promotion de la liberté de la presse (CALP), 20. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines 21. Conseil National pour les Libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), Tunisia 22. Cordillera Alliance (CORALL-HK), Hong Kong 23. Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt 24. Federation of Filipino of Workers in Korea 25. Filipino Migrant Workers' Union (FMWU-HK), Hong Kong 26. Filipino Women's Organization in Quebec (PINAY), Canada 27. Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka 28. Freedom House, United States 29. Front Line International, Ireland 30. Gabriela Australia, Australia 31. Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova 32. Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan 33. International Justice Network, United States 34. Maharat Foundation, Lebanon 35. Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria 36. Media Watch, Bangladesh 37. Migrant Forum of Asia, Philippines 38. MIGRANTE International, Philippines 39. Migrante Melbourne, Australia 40. Movement of Liberties and Democracy (HAQ), Bahrain 41. National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Somalia 42. New Era Foundation, Korea 43. Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC) Tunisia 44. OPEN ASIA, France 45. Palestinian Women's Committees, Palestine 46. Philippine Australia Solidarity Association (PASA), Australia 47. Philippine Caucus for Peace, Australia 48. Society of Supporting Freedoms and Democracy, Bahrain 49. Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand 50. Thai Regional Alliance in Hong Kong 51. United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK) 52. United Pangasinan Hong Kong (UPHK) 53. Women on the Move (WEMOVE), Korea 54. Women Petition Committee, Bahrain 55. World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States

16 Feb, 2008

Human Rights Watch: Bahrain: New Allegations of Detainee Abuse

Rights Group Denied Permission to Visit Detainees with Independent Doctors (New York, February 16, 2008) – Bahrain should investigate allegations that security personnel have repeatedly abused detained opposition political activists, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to allow independent physicians to examine detainees who have alleged abuse including torture and sexual assault.

The detained activists were among dozens arrested following clashes between protesters and security forces in and around the capital, Manama, in December. In one incident, protesters set fire to a police vehicle. Several detainees now face charges including possession of weapons allegedly stolen from the vehicle. In January, relatives of detainees – and also men who had been detained in connection with the clashes and then released – said that interrogators had tortured several detainees and sexually assaulted at least one.

“The silence of Bahraini authorities in the face of multiple complaints of detainee abuse casts doubt on their commitment to the rule of law,” said Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain should immediately allow independent physicians to examine detainees who are alleging abuse.”

The Bahrain Human Rights Society, an independent group which has official permission to operate, said on January 27 that it had asked the public prosecutor for permission to visit the detainees but the authorities refused to allow physicians to take part in the visits.

A relative of detainee Mohammed Singace told Human Rights Watch that during a February 11 family visit to the Adliyeh detention facility, Singace recounted a beating that he had received the previous day from two guards at the facility after he had requested to be taken to a hospital for treatment of back injuries.

“He had new bruises and cuts on his face,” Singace’s relative said. “He said he had been handcuffed, dragged out of his cell and beaten with a metal rod.”

Relatives of Singace and of two other detainees, Naji al-Fateel and Hasan Abdelnabi, told Human Rights Watch that these detainees had reported being placed in cells with prisoners suffering from contagious diseases. Relatives of Naji al-Fateel and Hasan Abdelnabi said that these two detainees had recounted, during a family visit on February 11, that guards had beaten them when they protested after hearing Singace scream from a nearby cell.

A relative of Hasan Abdelnabi said he had stated he had been put in a cell with another prisoner who was spitting blood. Abdelnabi said the other prisoner told him, “Stay back and don’t touch any of my things, I have hepatitis.” A relative of one of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that interrogators threatened him that his wife might be assaulted if he refused to confess to involvement in burning the police vehicle.

The three detainees visited by family members on February 11 are affiliated with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) aligned with opposition political movements.

A senior interior ministry official said on January 17 that all those alleging abuse had been examined by a forensic physician who found no evidence of mistreatment. On January 21, Human Rights Watch urged the authorities to allow independent physicians to investigate allegations that several detainees had been subjected to electric shocks, beatings, and in one case sexual assault by interrogators and jailers.

Lawyers representing several of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that they received no response to requests to provide their clients with medical examinations. A lawyer coordinating the defense of several detainees said he had filed a new request for independent medical examinations ahead of meetings between detainees and their lawyers scheduled to take place next week. Lawyers representing the detainees say they have faced lengthy delays in gaining access to their clients.

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Related Material

Bahrain: Investigate Alleged Torture of Activists Press Release, January 21, 2008

14 Feb, 2008

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY: Arbitrary detention / Ill-treatments / Torture

February 13, 2008 The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), 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 Center for Human Rights (BCHR) about the ongoing arbitrary detention of Messrs. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh and Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, members of the Unemployment Committee, Naji Al-Fateel, member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), Mohammed Abdullah Al-Sengais, Head of the Committee to Combat High Prices, and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab, founding member of the Martyrs and Victims Committee and acts of torture and ill-treatments.

According to the information received, on February 3, 2008, the trial of Messrs. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh, Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, Naji Al Fateel, Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab was scheduled to start before the High Criminal Court. Nevertheless, on the morning of that day, while the defendants were not present, the presiding judge informed their lawyers that the session would be postponed to the afternoon. At 3 p.m., without the presence of the defendants’ lawyers, the session was adjourned to February 24, 2008. The judge also indicated that the trial could be held any time. They had been charged of “illegal gathering” as well as “theft of a weapon and ammunition and possession of weapon and ammunition without permission”, after a demonstration held on December 17, 2007, at the occasion of the Martyrs’ Day[1].

On February 3, after the Court session, the prisoners were allowed to talk to their families for a few minutes. Some of them, including Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, informed them that they had been victims of sexual assaults by investigators of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), where they were being detained.

On February 6, 2008, Mr. Al-Sheikh was taken from the CIB to the Dry Dock Detention Centre (DDDC), where the legal general attorney doctor visited him and confirmed that he showed clear signs of sexual assault. However, the general attorney office later denied in a press statement that abuses had been observed on the detainees.

As of February 13, 2008, Mr. Al-Sheikh was still detained at the DDDC, while Messrs. Mohammed Al Sengais, Naji Al Fateel, Hasan Abdelnabi and Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali remained detained in the premises of the CIB. Messrs. Al Sengais, Abdelnabi and Ali are presently held in solitary confinement, in a 1x2 meter filthy dark cells filled with insects with their eyes-blinded and hands-cuffed. No further information could be obtained regarding the place of detention of Messrs. Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh et Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab.

On February 11, 2008, the relatives of Messrs. Al-Sengais, Al-Fateel and Abdelnabi were able to visit them. Mr. Al Sengais’ relatives reported that he was bearing signs of a scar on the head and that he was complaining of strong headache. They further asserted that on February 10, Mr. Al-Sengais had been dragged, handcuffed behind his back, to the outside of his cell, beaten in the yard by a metallic piece and further tortured by two men. On February 7, 2008, he had been taken to Bahrain Defence Force Hospital for treatment, where the physician had recommended that he be taken to psychiatric hospital for treatment due to the abuse he was enduring. An appointment was set with the psychiatrist for February 24, but later postponed to February 28 because of the adjourned court session.

On the same day, Messrs. Fateel and Abdelnabi told their family members that they were subjected to beatings when they protested against what happened to Mohammed Al-Sengais and demanded that he be transferred to the hospital. Mr. Al-Fateel further asserted that he was increasingly suffering from the consequences of the ill-treatment he had been subjected to, and that he had been placed with other detainees charged with criminal offences and infected with communicable diseases.

Mr. Abdelnabi told his family members that he has been under pressure and threats of sexual abuse aiming at pushing him to reveal plans and future activities of the Detainees’ Committee in which his wife is involved.

The Observatory is highly preoccupied with these allegations of torture and ill-treatment, which seem to aim at discouraging the Bahraini society to get involved in human rights activities, and urges the Bahraini authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of these human rights defenders and release them immediately, as their detention is arbitrary.

The Observatory also recalls that despite that it has already denounced on several occasions these arbitrary detentions and allegations of torture and ill-treatments, the situation of the above-mentioned human rights defenders has not improved.

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 close to the HAQ Movement of Liberties and Democracy, who participated in the demonstration, died a few hours later[2].

Between December 21 and 28, 2007, members of the Special Security Forces began a wave of arrests that targeted more than 60 activists. As of January 8, 2007, 28 remained in detention, including 11 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. As of January 9, some of these human rights defenders have had access to their lawyers and family, but none of the lawyers were given access to their clients’ files.

Messrs. Shaker Mohammed Abdul-Hussein Abdul-Al, Majid Salman Ibrahim Al-Haddad and Nader Ali Ahmad Al-Salatna were released on January 10, 2008 and have since then reported that they had been submitted to acts of torture and ill-treatments (beatings, verbal abuse, threats sleep and food deprivation as well as solitary confinement and prolonged use of handcuffs and eye blindfolds). The three men were released with no explanation and they remain charged of “illegal gathering” as well as “theft of a weapon and ammunition and possession of weapon and ammunition without permission”.

Indeed, some of the detainees claimed that they were handcuffed for one or two weeks and beaten and kicked in order to prevent them from sleeping. They were also prevented to speak with each other, although being detained in the same room, and were blindfolded most of the time. Some detainees were forced to stand up for more than three days. They were submitted to psychological torture, being insulted verbally and threatened, in one case with a gun. Some of the detainees were taken out of their cell at night for interrogation ; meanwhile the other detainees could hear cries and screams.

Furthermore, Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Am-Sheikh was visited by his father and told him that he had been subjected to sexual abuse, including rectal penetration with a stick.

The Bahrain Human Rights Society has written twice to the Public Prosecutor requesting authorisation to visit the detainees but so far they received only negative responses.

Actions requested :

Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to :

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh, Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, Naji Al Fateel, Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab;

ii. Release them immediately and unconditionally, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to merely aim at sanctioning their human rights activities;

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

iv. Order a thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of torture and ill-treatments, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law;

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

vi. 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”;

vii. 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, tél : +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, February 13, 2008

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

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

[1] See Background information as well as Observatory Open Letter to the authorities of January 10, 2008 and Observatory Press Releases of December 21, 2007 and January 18, 2008.

[2] Mr. Meki had actively taken part in human rights protests over the past years. He had been arbitrarily detained in 1996, in the framework of protests calling for the restoration of democracy and the release of detainees. He had also been briefly detained in 2005, for taking part in a demonstration to protest against sexual and physical assaults that had been perpetrated against Mr. Mussa Abd-Ali, an activist from the Committee of Unemployed People.

13 Feb, 2008

Female Postal Unionist Suspended for Voicing out Official Harassments

Female Postal Unionist Suspended for Voicing out Official Harassments

Date: 13 February 2008

Person(s): Najeya Abdulghaffar Target(s): human rights worker(s) The latest episode of punishing unionists for expressing themselves was two days ago by the Bahraini Postal Directorate of the Ministry of Transport which suspended postal unionist Mrs Najeya Abdulghaffar for ten days without pay, on the allegations that she disclosed "job secrets". Mrs Abdulghaffar, vice- president of the "unauthorized" Postal Union (PU), approached the General Federation of Workers Trade Unions in Bahrain (GFWTUB) and made an official complaint regarding "harassing her, marginalizing her duties and set-up plots to dismiss her on the grounds that she disclosed Governmental Secrets". The Postal Directorate considers the communication of Mrs Abdulghaffar with the media as being disclosure, without permission, of official secret information. This is not the first suspension for Mrs Abdulghaffar or other public sector unionists. In January 2007, she was suspended for similar charges. Mr Jamal Ateeq, President of PU, was suspended last December for five days, while in 2005, he was suspended for three days, for the same reason; communicating with media. Other unionists, Kathom Ebrahim Al-Mushkab and Juma Abdulla Abdul-latif, were exposed to similar treatment by the Postal Directorate Authorities in the past period. Making statements to media about violations of labour rights was considered defaming to the employer and its officials, as stated in the penalty measure statement issued by the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) to Mr Ateeq. The punishment considered against Mrs Abdulghaffar is based on administrative order by the CSB banning the formation of Governmental unions, in direct violation to Decree Code no 33 of 2002, and thus considering PU unauthorized and illegal. The BCHR expresses its concern about the suspension of Mrs Najeya Abdulghaffar which appears to be to silence her and daunt other unionist and rights activists. Penalizing Mrs Abdulghaffar and other unionists for expressing themselves violates Article 19 of ICCPR as well as to local legislatures, and affirms the systematic attack on all forms of expression in Bahrain. RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the Bahraini Authorities: - calling for an end to Mrs Najeya Abdulghaffar's suspension - urging that no further measures be taken against her in reprisal for expressing her views - requesting legislative changes to guarantee the right of public employees to freely express their views APPEAL and TAKE ACTION TO: · His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-khalifa- King of Bahrain Riffa – Bahrain · His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Manama- Bahrain

Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363 Please copy appeals to the source if possible. MORE INFORMATION:

For further information contact Nabeel Rajab, Vice-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

12 Feb, 2008

More reports of physical and sexual abuses against detained activists

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) – 12 February 2008

Three detainees held in the Criminal Investigation Bureau told family members who visited them yesterday that they had been subjected to beating on February 10, as a punishment for protesting against ill-treatment and prison conditions. These detainees were

Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais, Aged 40, the head of the Committee to Combat High Prices Naji Ali Hassan Fateel, aged 31, member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) Hassan Abdulnabi Hassan, aged 26, member of the Unemployment Committee The BCHR has no recent reports from Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, aged 28 who is the fourth detainee at the same detention centre.

The Bahrain Centre for Human rights was informed by Family members of Mohamed Alsingace, that they met him yesterday at 12:30pm local time. They reported that signs of fresh scars were visible on his head. He told his family (Mother, wife and two sisters) that on February 10, he was handcuffed form the back and dragged outside of his cell and was beaten using a metallic piece in the yard by a two security men called Moftah (a Bahraini) and Parvis (a non-Bahraini) in front of Sergrent Adnan Bahar. The more he screamed he was beaten more and verbally insulted. The two police figures further molested him sexually in front of Sergent Bahar.

Prior to this event, Mohamed Al-Singace was complaining of severe headache. The physician of the military hospital recommended that Mohamed is to be taken to psychiatric hospital for treatment. An appointment was set for the psychiatrist on 24th February, but later postponed to 28th because of the adjourned court session. Physically, he is suffering from backache due to earlier beating by the security members. Last Thursday, he was taken to Bahrain Defence Force Hospital for treatment. He had been kept hand-cuffed and left incommunicado in a dark filthy 1x2 meter room.

Both Naji Fateel and Hassan Abdelnabi told visiting family members yesterday that they were subjected to beating when they protested against what happened to Mohamed Al-Singace demanding that he should be transferred to the hospital.

On the other hand, Naji Al Fateel said that his suffering of ill-treatment had increased as he had been placed with arrestees charged with criminal offences who are infected with communicable diseases such as hepatitis. According to Mr. Fateel, the administration of the detention centre took that measure as a reaction against the detainees who complained to the judge at the court session on February 3, that they are in solitary cell.

Hassan Abdelnabi, told family members that he has been under pressure and threats of sexual abuse in order to use his wife as source of information about plans and future activities of the Detainees’ Committee in which his wife is involved.

Furthermore, the BCHR has been informed about sexual abuse against two more of the detainees namely Mahmood Hassan Saleh and Mohemmed Makki Ahmed. Both detainees are held in Dry-Dock detention centre together with Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh who had been subjected to sexual abuse according to earlier reports.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) urges all concerned to do what ever possible to secure the rights and safety of the aforementioned detainees.

3 Feb, 2008

AP: Bahrainis demonstrate in front of the Manama police headquarters,

Bahrainis demonstrate in front of the Manama police headquarters, Bahrain, Friday, Feb. 1, 2008, for the release of detained activists they allege have been tortured. A new Human Rights Watch report puts Bahrain among nations getting away with human rights violations due to alleged manipulation of elections. The Bahraini government is to submit a human rights report to the U.N. in Geneva later this month.

, Bahrain, Friday, Feb. 1, 2008, for the release of detained activists they allege have been tortured. A new Human Rights Watch report puts Bahrain among nations getting away with human rights violations due to alleged manipulation of elections. The Bahraini government is to submit a human rights report to the U.N. in Geneva later this month.

29 Jan, 2008

BCHR: Labour Minister using migrant workers as scapegoat for government's economic failures

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights strongly condemns recent comments made by the Labour Minister(http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/gulfimmigrationlabour), in which he warns that Gulf countries face danger of an "Asian tsunami" because of the high numbers of migrant workers upon which Gulf countries are reliant. Minister Majid al-Alawi allegedly said the migrant workers presented "a danger worse than the atomic bomb or an Israeli attack". "It is an irresponsible statement to suggest that migrant workers, who leave their families and homes behind to work and provide us essential services, and build our countries, are a danger to the citizens here," BCHR vice president Nabeel Rajab said.

"This kind of statement promotes racial hatred - and puts the blame for the government's own failure to deal with unemployment on the shoulders of the most vulnerable community in our country.

"We call on the Minister to retract this statement. We would hope a member of a government which sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council would demonstrate greater respect towards the dignity and rights of migrant workers to live and work among us in peace."

26 Jan, 2008

BCHR-IFEX ALERT: Novel banned for allegedly defaming historic religious figure

23 January 2008

(BCHR/IFEX) - BCHR has recently learned that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MIA) has once again refused to approve distribution of the novel "Omar . . . A Martyr" by Bahraini novelist Abdulla Khalifa. Omar Ibn Al-Khattab was the second Islamic Caliph after the prophet Mohammed and is regarded by Muslims as one of the "four righteously guided Caliphs".

The Ministry of Information (MI) asked the MIA to evaluate the novel from a Sharia' (religious) point of view. MIA did not approve the novel, alleging that it defames a religious figure in a manner "fomenting sectarianism" in the society. This is very much disputed by those who have managed to read the novel.

BCHR's source indicated that the MIA's recommendation to ban distribution of the novel was based on a sentence reading that "Ibn Al-Khattab wobbled", which was considered libel to the second Caliph.

This is the second novel by Khalifa banned in Bahrain. His earlier novel, "Husain's Head", was put forward for publication inside Bahrain, but the MI responded by prohibiting its publication. This attitude has forced writers to seek publication outside Bahrain, as Khalifa did for his latest novel.

BCHR expresses concern over persistent censorship of all forms of freedom of expression in Bahrain, including the publication of books and novels. An earlier campaign by the international and local communities sought approval for publication of a history book, "Memory Exploitations: In a Pluralistic Society, Saddled with History", by Dr Nader Kathem. It is a collection of a series of historical articles published by the author in the local press.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to authorities: - calling on them to lift restrictions on all forms of freedom of expression by academics, researchers, novelists and journalists - noting that this will require amendments to Press and Publication Decree code no 47 of 2002 to ensure its compliance with international declarations and covenants

APPEALS TO:

His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa King of Bahrain Riffa, Bahrain

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

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

For further information contact Nabeel Rajab, Vice-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

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of BCHR. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit BCHR.