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FIDH: EU/GCC Joint Co-operation Council - Confirming human rights at the centre of EU-GCC relations

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)


EU/GCC Joint Co-operation Council

Confirming human rights at the centre of EU-GCC relations


On the eve of the ministerial meeting of the European Union-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Joint Co-operation Council to be held on the 28th of April 2009, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) calls upon the EU and GCC ministers to put human rights at the centre of their relations in all fields.

FIDH takes note of the recent public declarations by GCC Governments on the resuming of EU-GCC talks on a free-trade agreement (FTA). In this context, FIDH calls both parties to guarantee that these negotiations will reinforce, and not diminish, their international obligations and joint commitments to promote and protect human rights by finally agreeing on the essential inclusion of a human rights clause in the negotiated Free Trade Agreement.

FIDH strongly regrets that the legitimate inclusion of a human rights clause in the negotiated Free Trade Agreement was one of the reason justifying the suspension of the talks by GCC member States in December 2008 and reminds that this inclusion is absolutely essential since the 1989 EU-GCC Cooperation agreement does not contain a human rights clause.

On several occasions, both parties “reaffirmed that they share the universal values of respect for human rights and democratic principles, which form an essential element of their relations.(...) [and] reiterated their continued commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Therefore, FIDH urges both parties to comply with their previous commitments and adopt a human rights clause that should be implemented at all stages of the EU-GCC political dialogue. As a first step, the parties should set up a common strategy for the practical implementation of their joint commitments in this field.

In a note released today, FIDH particularly urges both sides to give specific attention and answers to the following priorities:

Including a Human rights clause in the negotiated Free Trade Agreements Adopting concrete tools to assess the impact of Free Trade Agreements on human rights Taking effective measures aiming at improving the enjoyment of the freedom of association and the situation of Human Rights Defenders in GCC countries Committing to improve the general situation of human rights in GCC countries. The note is available on FIDH Website : http://www.fidh.org/Confirming-human-rights-at-the

Press contact : Karine Appy + 33 1 43 55 14 12 / + 33 1 43 55 25 18

-- Karine Appy Attachée de presse Press Officer FIDH 17 passage de la main d'or 75011 Paris France Tél : 00 33 1 43 55 14 12 / 00 33 6 48 05 91 57 Fax : 00 33 1 43 55 18 80 http://www.fidh.org

Bahraini Prisoners neglected in the Saudi Jails without Any Rights to a Fair Trial

22/4/2009 Doubts about the Complicity of the Bahraini Authorities

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses deep concern regarding the Bahraini government's failure to address repeated humanitarian appeals regarding Bahraini citizens Abdullah Al-Nuaimi and Abdul-Rahim Al-Murbati, who are being held in solitary confinement, without trial, in Saudi Arabia.

Abdul-Rahim Al Murbati, a 47 year-old father of five children, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for more than 6 years. According to his family, since his arrest on 16 June 2003, Al-Merbati has been languishing in inhumane conditions, held in a dark solitary cell, where he can barely extend his body to sleep. He is taken out and exposed to the sun once every week for no more than 10 minutes. Due to these severe circumstances, Al-Murbati is suffering from a deterioration to his health, as well as a significant loss of weight. He has experienced deterioration in his vision and ability to identify objects. Until now he has not been permitted to assign a lawyer to present his case before a court and no official charges have been brought against him. Abdullah Al-Nuaimi, a 26 year-old father of two who owns an electronics store was in the final stages of completing his Masters degree when he was detained. He was previously incarcerated at the US Guantanamo Bay prison with five other Bahraini citizens for several years. During his time at Guantanamo he was exposed to all kinds of torture by the American authorities, until he was released in 5 November 2005. After his return to Bahrain, Interior Ministry officials summoned him for questioning several times, and until recently, he was banned from travel. It is worth mentioning that Mr Al-Nuaimi was released from Guantanamo Bay prison after a local, regional and international campaign, in which the BCHR played a major role in working for the release of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the secret prisons of the United States. The BCHR worked through coordinating with dozens of lawyers in the United States to defend Bahraini and other Arab detainees, and also through organized action with international organizations to put pressure on the American authorities to close down Guantanamo Bay prison. The Bahraini authorities were very slow to take action on behalf of the Bahraini detainees; however, the public pressure eventually precipitated action from the Bahraini government two years after the capture and detention of the Bahraini citizens. The Bahraini government had promised to help the Guantanamo returnees to return to their normal life through material and moral support, it has however reneged on its promises to provide rehabilitation, social and economical assistance, and thus far some returnees are still prohibited from work and cannot travel to seek a regular income due to their passports being held. Apart from routine and modest consular communications, the Bahraini authorities have not made any serious attempts to secure the release of the Bahraini prisoners in Saudi Arabia. No Bahraini official has raised this issue with the Saudi authorities, nor have they demanded from the Saudis that they cease the detention of Bahraini citizens in a way that violates International laws and standards. This is particularly disappointing, given that both countries are members of the UN Human Rights Council and seek to appear to be among countries that respect and promote the protection of human rights. Mr. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, stated, “The arbitrary arrest of Bahraini citizens and their detention in solitary confinement in Saudi Arabia violates the simplest human rights and the standards of international law of human rights is a violation of the simplest international standards, conventions and covenants of human rights. The silence of the Bahraini authorities in all this time, and their failure to take any serious measures or making direct demands, or to address public outcry against the detention of Bahraini citizens raises our suspicion regarding the complicity of the Bahraini authorities with its ruling neighbor in Saudi Arabia in this detention. Are the Bahraini government outsourcing measures which it cannot implement itself, due to public pressure? This is a very serious question we would like to see answered with some positive action on behalf of the Bahraini detainees.”

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the following: 1. The immediate release of the Bahraini citizens from Saudi prisons. 2. To provide all immediate guarantees for the detainees, such as allowing them to assign lawyers for themselves. 3. The Bahraini government should work to protect the rights of its citizens being held outside Bahrain.

Bahrain: Royal pardon of 178 activists and defenders. A strong signal for ending a latent political crisis?

International Federation for Human Rights Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS)

Press Release Bahrain: Royal pardon of 178 activists and defenders. A strong signal for ending a latent political crisis?

Paris, April 16th, 2009 - The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organizations in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) strongly welcome the royal pardon of 178 activists and human rights defenders charged with security offenses, issued by the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa, on April 12th, 2009. Our organizations ask for the release of those who were pardoned and remain detained on April 15th.

“FIDH considers this royal pardon a significant measure for a more tolerant policy towards activism and human rights activities. We reiterate our call upon the Bahraini authorities to press its efforts on and take the necessary measures to initiate a dialog with the relevant stakeholders » declared Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH who met with several high representatives of the Bahraini authorities last March 2009. « An appropriate solution remains to be found to solve the internal problems which shake Bahrain increasingly for several months. The royal pardon is an important step to move in this direction. The authorities of the Kindgdom of Bahrain should set and implement a policy of social justice and integration towards all social categories . FIDH along with its member organizations in Bahrain, remains available to support further positive steps for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms to be implemented and strengthened in the Kingdom of Bahrain. », she added.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is faced with protests and demonstrations which mainly took place in Shiite villages and denouncing discrimination they are subjected to.These regular protests often ended in violent clashes between demonstrators and the police forces. The disproportionate use of force against demonstrators by the police was regularly denounced. Furthermore, several human rights defenders arrested at these gatherings were sentenced to heavy prison sentences.

FIDH, BCHR and BHRS would also recall that the Bahraini authorities should exert the necessary efforts to guarantee that an investigation into the allegations of confessions under torture and the prosecution of those found responsible should be ensured.

Some activists and human rights defenders among those released following the royal decree were accused of charges indicated in the 2006 Counter Terrorism Law. FIDH, BCHR and BHRS warn that some tenets of the Counter-Terrorism Law nurture an environment in which impunity and violation of basic human rights is allowed to propagate. FIDH and its member organizations in Bahrain thus call upon the Bahraini authorities to amend the above-mentioned law in order to comply with the relevant international human rights standards.

Press contact : Gaël Grilhot : +33-1 43 55 90 19

Authorities question critical journalist and his family, confiscate books and other materials

Urgency: Threat

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has learned that Mr. Abbas Al-Murshid, 31, a journalist and writer, was recently held with his wife and their child for almost four hours at the King Fahad Causeway port. Al-Murshid was returning from a visit to Saudi Arabia when his passports were held by the Immigration Office. He and his family were escorted by a member of National Security Apparatus (NSA, Intelligence Apparatus) to a nearby room used for inspection. His mobile telephone, as well as that of his wife, were forcibly confiscated after he tried to call a friend to advise them of his situation.

Al-Murshid's wife was meticulously questioned and his laptop was taken for inspection but Al-Murshid refused to furnish the access password without a judicial warrant. He was threatened with an all-night detention and because of the pressing situation due to the presence of his wife and child, he finally agreed to surrender his video camera and turn on his laptop, but in his presence. For an hour, the content of Al-Murshid's laptop, which included his wife and family's personal pictures, was browsed by NSA members, an act he objected to. The NSA members copied many files from Al-Murshid's laptop on a flash memory stick.

Al-Murshid's car was thoroughly inspected, resulting in the confiscation of books on the history and politics of Bahrain (third volume of "The Gulf Guide" by Lorimer, "The Portuguese Colonialism", "Models of Democracy" as well as his personal diary). He was told that he will be called up after the authorities have examined the books.

Al-Murshid is a well-known columnist commenting on many public issues considered subversive or sensitive. He writes for the "Al-Waqt" newspaper, but also publishes his articles in electronic public forums, attracting a noticeable turnout and readership. His distinguished popular publications are on what is locally dubbed the "Bandergate" documents.

On 27 January 2009, he was attacked by special forces and hit by a rubber bullet in the right eye while he was walking out of a social center close to his house.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the authorities urging them to: - stop harassing journalists and writers for expressing their views on public affairs and issues - amend or abolish all legislation which prosecutes journalists and writers who exercise their duty to document, report and analyse public issues - return the confiscated books to Al-Murshid and ensure that no reprisals are carried out against him as a result of his publications on public affairs

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

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

A Welcome of the Release of 178 Activists in Bahrain Demand to Guarantee non-repetition of State Violations

A Welcome of the Release of 178 Activists in Bahrain Demand to Guarantee non-repetition of State Violations


The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) welcome the initiative of the Bahrain authorities to release 178 activists and human rights defenders, considering it a step in the right direction and hoping that none of the detainees had been excluded. The BCHR and the BYSHR congratulate the released citizens and their parents, and would like to thank everyone who participated, since December 2007 until now, in acting to release those detainees and especially: • international and regional human rights organizations and figures, • human rights organizations and the lawyers in Bahrain who volunteered their time and effort, • political and religious figures, • media persons internet activists who breached the misinformation that the official and pro-government media carried out; • Activists in the grassroots movement that showed in various ways their peaceful protest and non-stop campaign whom the authorities confronted with further arrests, and exaggerated suppression methods, which led to worsening the security situations and the occurrence of damages and injuries. The joy for the release of the detainees should not let us forget the necessity of continuing to seek to achieve the demands that the national and international human rights bodies have filed, including:  To reveal the truth behind what happened: through having an independent and impartial investigation in the circumstances and motives behind the arrest campaign and the truth behind the accusations and charges and to look into the complaints regarding torture  To pursue the ones responsible for the violations whether bodies or individuals, and to remove them from their posts and present them before an independent court.  Reparations for victims, whether it is the detainees themselves, their parents, or whoever was effected.  To take all necessary measures to guarantee the non-reoccurrence through: • reforming the security services, prosecution and judiciary; including the dissolve of the National Security Apparatus , • reforming the legislation by alluding the terrorism law and the articles related to state security from the Penal Code and laws related to societies and gathering, • activating institutions and mechanisms monitoring government, • guaranteeing the independence and freedom of the audio and visual media in a way that prevents it from being used to support state violations and promotes its role in revealing truth and reality  To have an initiative to resolve the roots of the crisis which caused all this tension by launching a dialogue with the various actors of society.

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.”

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.


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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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

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)

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.


Joel Simon Executive Director

April 7, 2009 2:43 PM ET