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20 IFEX MEMBERS CALL FOR END TO HARASSMENT OF RIGHTS ACTIVISTS

The Bahraini authorities continue to silence human rights activists by using draconian articles in the country's penal code and anti-terrorism laws. Led by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), 20 IFEX members are calling for the activists' immediate release, and the amendment of Bahrain's laws so that they conform to international human rights conventions.

Hasan Mushaima, secretary general of the Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy (HAQ), Mohamed Habib al-Muqdad, a scholar and social activist, and Abduljalil Alsingace, head of HAQ's human rights unit, were arrested on 26 January.

They were interrogated for nearly nine hours about their speeches and articles concerning human rights violations in Bahrain, and their involvement in HAQ, an unregistered grassroots organisation that campaigns for democratic reform and human rights. The authorities said their activities "provoked hatred of the regime" and "incited violence and overthrow of the government" - charges punishable by up to eight years in jail, according to Bahrain's penal code.

The activists were also charged under the Bahraini counter-terrorism law, in which they face possible life imprisonment for "forming an organisation, outside the provisions of the law, which disrupts the provisions of the Constitution or prevents any of the state enterprises or public authorities from exercising their duty."

After the nine hours, Mushaima and al-Muqdad were held in custody for further questioning, while Alsingace was released on bail and officially banned from travelling out of Bahrain. The Public Prosecutor declared that it would take the necessary measures to pursue cases against the human rights defenders in the courts on charges related to national security.

Alsingace has also been subject to a defamation media campaign, lead by state guided media and aimed at human rights defenders. This was following his participation in a debate on religious freedom in Bahrain in the US Congress in October 2008.

The three activists deny all the allegations and consider their arrest and the charges to be malicious and politically motivated.

"The atrocious charges brought against them are baseless and meant to silence and prevent Mr. Mushaima, Mr. al-Muqdad and Dr. Alsingace from expressing their thoughts and performing any activity related to democratic reforms and promotion of human rights and civil liberties," said BCHR.

The IFEX members are calling for the Bahraini authorities to immediately release Mushaima and al-Muqdad, withdraw all the charges related to their legitimate and peaceful activities and lift the travel ban against Alsingace.

They are also demanding that the government reform the provisions in the penal code and anti-terrorism legislation that violate Bahrain's international human rights commitments.

Bahrain has a history of targeting human rights defenders through the courts. Prominent women's rights activist Ghada Jamsheer has been repeatedly harassed because of her work and has been effectively banned from speaking to the media since 2007 through a court order, reports ARTICLE 19. In the latest incident, her family was accused of attacking a state security agent that has been keeping watch on Jamsheer's home and are now facing court proceedings.

The websites of BCHR and fellow IFEX member the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) have been key at monitoring the free expression situation in Bahrain. But they are both blocked in the country, as is the blog of Alsingace ( http://alsingace.katib.org ). Last month, the government took the ban a step further, calling on all telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to prevent access to banned websites. To avoid the censors, BCHR has created a Facebook group where they are uploading all of their materials.

Join the BCHR Arabic Facebook group here: http://tinyurl.com/afpa4k

And the English Facebook group here: http://tinyurl.com/bbl55v

Also visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19 on Jamsheer: http://tinyurl.com/cweeue
- IFEX Bahrain page: http://tinyurl.com/ytqq7w
- BCHR: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en

(11 February 2009)

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