5 Feb, 2015

UN rights experts urge Bahrain to release arrested opposition leader

4 February 2015 – A group of United Nations human rights experts are urging the Government of Bahrain to release opposition politician and religious figure Sheikh Ali Salman who was arrested in December 2014 on charges that include inciting change of regime by non-peaceful means.

“The charges appear to stem from the Government's dissatisfaction with opinions that Sheikh Salman expressed in public speeches and televised interviews, in which he called for the establishment of a democratic regime and for Government accountability,” the human rights experts said in a press release issued earlier today.

“If this is indeed the case, his arrest and prosecution would amount to a breach of his fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion or belief,” they continued. “We have asked the Government of Bahrain to clarify the situation and to provide more information on these allegations.”

Sheikh Salman's arrest came only two days after his re-election for a fourth term as the Secretary General of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain's main opposition political party. The UN experts voiced further concern at allegations that his hearing on January 28, when he was denied bail, did not take place in accordance with due process standards as his legal representative was allegedly not allowed to examine the evidence to prepare for his defence.

The experts commenting on the matter include Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

On a number of occasions, UN experts have expressed grave concerns to the Bahraini Government concerning the harassment and arrest of human rights defenders, including the sisters Maryam Al-Khawaja and Zainab Al-Khawaja, and Ghada Jamsheer – three women human rights activists exercising their rights to free expression and free association.

In addition, the Organization's human rights experts have repeatedly urged the authorities to review Bahraini laws and practices to be compliant with the country's obligations under human rights law, especially the freedoms of expression and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.

Meanwhile, in their press release today, the UN experts said indications that peaceful demonstrations in support of Sheikh Salman had been disbanded by the authorities through the use of force were “particularly worrying,” citing reports that at least 150 people were arrested and around 90 were injured during the protests and in clashes with the police. At the same time, another 72 people had their Bahraini citizenship revoked in what the experts said was “yet another attempt by the Government of Bahrain to clamp down on opponents.”

“We urge the Government of Bahrain to promptly release all those who have been detained for peaceful expression of their views,” the UN experts declared.

UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

 

 

5 Feb, 2015

Zahra, one of the toughest ladies I have met

When we see Zahra on a T-shirt?

The lump in my stomach grows when I say goodbye to Zahra (29) from Bahrain. Is it just a matter of time before she gets arrested?

The background image of Zahra's mobile is Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, where Zahra works. But their meetings are no longer conducted in Nabeel's office. Human rights advocate is sentenced to two years in prison for encouraging "illegal gatherings" and Amnesty describes it as an "affront to freedom of expression" that Nabeel still sitting behind bars.

- I have worked with Nabeel since 2007. I miss him so much, exclaimed Zahra, and looking down on her screenpage1image9560

- I have him with me everywhere.

Zahra and I meet in Rabat, capital of Morocco. Under the auspices of Amnesty are a number of young activists from the Middle East and North Africa gathered to share experiences and learn how they can better fight for human rights in their countries. But Zahra (29) is already excessive in the game. Her job at the Human Rights Center in Bahrain is to document and follow up on cases of torture and violations of freedom of expression. In addition, she is arranging for training activists on using human expression terminologies. This is necessary for them to express themselves correctly when reporting on events, such as on Twitter.

This is not innocuous tasks in the small island state of Bahrain, where serious human rights violations sadly commonplace and government turn bones down hard on any kind of criticism. When I talk with Zahra, she says that five out of almost ten members at the center are currently in prison. Former head of the Bahrain Human Rights Centre, Danish-Bahraini Abdulhadi al- Khawaja, is serving a life sentence. Health conditions are poor. He went on hunger strike over extended periods, and has not get medical care. Amnesty works for both Rajaab and Al-Khawaja to be released immediately. Currently, there are al-Khawaja's daughter Maryam who heads the human rights center, and she fights a continuous battle to get set free from danger.

Zahra has not yet been arrested herself. But police have raided her home and keep it under surveillance when demonstrations take place nearby. Zahra just smiles when I ask her to take care of herself.

- My friends have said that "we will not see your face on a T-shirt!" Laughs 29-year-old. She knows it's dangerous to be a human rights activist in Bahrain, but she does not have any other option but to continue working for basic rights. As the freedom to send a Twitter message without fear.

- I'm not scared, says Zahra quiet, and adds: - No one in Bahrain is safe. But where does she discourage?

- We have rights, she says simply. Finished it. And then she smiles a little wryly, when she sees her new Amnesty friends have tears in her eyes, and not altogether will drop ceiling a farewell clip.

The day after Zahra went home to Bahrain, I got e-mail from her with the following conclusion: "Second, I would like to confirm that I am in my office I have not been jailed yet."

I hope it continues that way. 

https://twitter.com/ChristensenLene/status/287602264456187904

 

4 Feb, 2015

Freedom House's Annual Report on Political Rights and Civil Liberties: Freedom in the World 2015

Regional Trends
The negative pattern in 2014 held true across geographical regions, with more declines than gains in the Middle East and North Africa, Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the Americas, and an even split in Asia-Pacific.

Middle East and North Africa:  Tunisia a bright spot in troubled region Although Tunisia became the Arab world’s only Free country after holding democratic elections under a new constitution, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa was racked by negative and often tragic events. The Syrian civil war ground on, the Islamic State and other extremist militant factions dramatically extended their reach, and Libya’s tentative improvements following the downfall of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi rapidly disintegrated as the country fell into a new internal conflict. Rival armed groups also overran a fragile political process in Yemen, and the effects of the Syrian war paralyzed elected institutions in Lebanon. Egypt continued its rollback of post- Mubarak reforms and solidified its return to autocracy with sham elections and a crackdown on all forms of dissent.

Following high-profile killings of Israeli and Palestinian civilians and a campaign of rocket attacks on Israel by Gaza-based militants, the Israel Defense Forces launched a 50-day air and ground offensive in Gaza over the summer. More than 2,200 people died, mostly Gazan civilians, and tens of thousands of homes in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. Israel was criticized for responding to attacks by Hamas militants in a disproportionate way, while Hamas was criticized for entrenching rocket launchers and fighters in civilian neighborhoods.

 

Notable gains or declines:
BAHRAIN'S political rights rating declined from 6 to 7
due to grave flaws in the 2014 legislative elections
and the government’s unwillingness to address
long-standing grievances among the majority Shiite
community about the drawing of electoral districts and
the possibility of fair representation.

 

Egypt received a downward trend arrow due to the
complete marginalization of the opposition, state
surveillance of electronic communications, public
exhortations to report critics of the government to
the authorities, and the mass