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Crackdown on rights defenders speaking out about torture and discrimination

Bahraini rights defender Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace has been imprisoned for his criticism of the regime's policies of arbitrary arrests, torture and discrimination.
Bahraini rights defender Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace has been imprisoned for his criticism of the regime's policies of arbitrary arrests, torture and discrimination.

Kristina Stockwood

Four Bahraini human rights defenders are among those recently jailed incommunicado, charged with inciting violence and terrorism, report the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and other IFEX members. Twenty-six human rights groups, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and BCHR, say the counter-terrorism law is being deployed to criminalise free expression and to crush dissent in the lead up to elections on 23 October.

Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace was arrested on 13 August after returning from London where he spoke to the House of Lords about an increase in human rights violations and environmental degradation in Bahrain. He has criticised the systematic use of torture in prisons and discrimination against the country's Shiite population. Al-Singace, a blogger, is the head of the human rights office of the Haq Movement for Rights and Liberties (which has advocated boycotting elections), and an academic at the University of Bahrain. He has difficulty getting around without a wheelchair or crutches and is on medications he was not able to take with him to jail.

Abdul-Ghani Al-Khanjjar was arrested on 15 August after taking part in the same seminar in London as Al-Singace. Al-Khanjjar heads the National Committee of Martyrs and Torture Victims, which documents violations of torture. He is also the spokesperson of the Bahraini Coalition for Truth and Equity, made up of 11 Bahraini political and human rights groups.

On 17 August, BCHR reports that Board member Dr. Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahlawi and another rights activist, Jaffar Ahmed Jassim Al-Hisabi, were arrested. Al-Sahlawi has been arrested and imprisoned in the past for demanding political change. Al-Hisabi has lived in the United Kingdom for the past 15 years and was arrested at Bahrain airport, as he returned from a trip to Iran; he is known for his participation in protests in the UK demanding the release of detainees.

During this period, four religious and political activists were also arrested: Sheikh Mohammed Al-Moqdad, Sheikh Saeed Al-Nori, Sheikh Mirza Al-Mahroos and Sheikh Abdulhadi Al-Mukhuder.

All the activists are being held in unknown places and their families and lawyers have been barred from visiting them. "We fear they are at risk of maltreatment or torture inside detention facilities," say the 26 rights groups. The Bahraini Authority is moving towards charging the activists according to the Bahraini Anti-Terrorism Law, which has been condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Promoting and Protecting Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the context of counter-terrorism.

The arbitrary arrests sparked a wave of protests which have been brutally suppressed with sound bombs, tear gas, rubber bullets and physical violence. Members of Al-Singace's family were forcibly removed from the Bahrain airport after declaring a sit-in to protest his arrest. The same day, security forces violently dispersed a peaceful assembly of dozens of people, among them rights advocates, expressing their solidarity with Al-Singace in front of his home. Al-Singace's sister was injured by a rubber bullet. Several communities in the country demonstrated against the regime's policies of arbitrary arrests, torture, discrimination and raids on villages by security forces.

Meanwhile, state-owned media have launched a smear campaign against the activists. As well, Human Rights Watch reports that, on 15 August, the state-run Bahrain News Agency cited a source at the National Security Agency as saying Al-Khanjjar, Al-Nori and Al-Moqdad were arrested for activities that intended to "undermine security and stability in the country."

The state is tightening control over the electoral process in the parliamentary and municipal elections scheduled for late October 2010, says the joint action, in a step toward the political marginalisation of the Shiite majority. All of the activists being targeted are Shiite.

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