President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Baroness Catherine Ashton
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Director-General of UNESCO
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP
Dear President Obama, Baroness Ashton and Director-General Bokova,
We, the undersigned freedom of expression organisations, members and partners of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), ask for your immediate attention to human rights violations and free expression abuses taking place in Bahrain on a daily basis. While we welcome recent condemnation of death sentences passed on four detainees without due process, we would like to highlight the death in detention of two journalists, as well as the ongoing detention, torture and threats to journalists and free expression activists.
Rights organisations have documented hundreds of detainees, including a number of journalists, bloggers and rights activists. Many others have fled the country, been deported or gone into hiding to protect themselves.
Two days after being arrested Karim Fakhrawy, a founding member of "Al Wasat" newspaper, and owner of a library was declared dead under mysterious circumstances on 12 April, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Zakariya Al Aushayri, online activist, founder and manager of Al Dair online forum, also died on 9 April under mysterious circumstances while in government custody.
Bahraini authorities have also charged Mansoor Al-Jamri, chief editor of "Al Wasat", and two other editors "with publishing fabricated news and made up stories . . . that may harm public safety and national interests," according to Human Rights Watch. Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority suspended "Al Wasat" on 2 April 2011 and allowed it to resume publishing on April 4, only after Al-Jamri resigned, along with the managing editor and local news editor.
Reporters Faisal Hayyat, Hayder Mohammad, and Ali Jawad, and other bloggers and e-activists have been arrested. Many other journalists have been fired, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). Others who are foreign nationals have been deported, and international journalists are restricted in their movements. A CNN news team was briefly detained and threatened in April by the government's security forces as they were visiting the house of BCHR President Nabeel Rajab, reports Index on Censorship. Dozens of journalists have been subjected to lay-offs, arrests and threats because of their work, says BCHR. ANHRI says 30 journalists from "Al Watan", "Al Ayam" and "Al Bilad" newspapers have been laid off. BCHR and other groups have recorded numerous cases of online censorship and website blocking.
After a brief few weeks of freedom in February and March of this year, where political prisoners were released and demonstrators were allowed to freely gather, the Bahraini authorities cracked down on all dissent in a brutal and aggressive manner, assisted by soldiers from Saudi Arabia.
Nabeel Rajab made history as the first person prosecuted in the Arab world for a tweet, according to ANHRI. He was accused of alerting readers through Twitter to "fabricated" pictures of the tortured body of Ali Isa Saqer, alleged to have died at the hands of security forces in a Bahraini prison. On 10 April, Bahrain's Interior Ministry issued a statement accusing Rajab of distributing fabricated images of Saqer and declared that he will be prosecuted by the military. There are serious concerns for his liberty and his safety, particularly after he found out he is still banned from leaving the country on 5 May.
On 9 April, activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, former president of BCHR, was beaten unconscious when 15 masked men raided his daughter's home. She was also beaten. Al-Khawaja was dragged away bleeding and barefoot by authorities, along with two of his sons-in-law, their whereabouts unknown. On 3 May, Human Rights Watch received credible reports that Al-Khawaja has been badly beaten while in detention, to the point of being unrecognisable. As well, blogger and activist Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace remains in detention after being brutally dragged away from his home one night in March, according to PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee. He was one of the political prisoners initially freed in February.
We are dismayed at the silence of governments across the world in the face of ongoing violations, which seem particularly difficult to comprehend given the widespread condemnation of human rights abuses in Libya, in the face of pro-democracy demonstrations. Citizens of Bahrain have been peacefully gathering to call for democratic reform. People from all professions have been arrested for expressing dissent, from journalists to athletes to professors – others have been arrested for aiding protestors, including lawyers and doctors.
The undersigned organisations call upon you to urge the Bahraini authorities to:
- investigate the suspicious deaths in detention of journalists Karim Fakhrawy and Zakariya Al Aushayri;
- immediately and unconditionally release rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and blogger and activist Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace as well as all those arrested for peacefully demonstrating;
- drop the politically-motivated charges against Mansoor Al-Jamri, chief editor of "Al Wasat";
- immediately lift the travel ban against Nabeel Rajab;
- allow journalists, whether local or international, to freely carry out their professions;
- cease all measures targeting the media, as well as activists and human rights defenders, and conform with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Bahrain.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Arab Archives Institute
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Centre for Independent Journalism
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Committee to Protect Journalists
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Fundamedios - Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study
Greek Helsinki Monitor
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Independent Journalism Center
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
National Press Association
National Union of Somali Journalists
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
Public Association "Journalists"
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International
Non-IFEX member signatories:
Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights - Yemen
Association for Human Rights Legal Aid - Egypt
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
Front Line - The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Human Rights First - Saudi Arabia
International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Center
Iraqi Association for Defending the Rights of Journalists
Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria, "Alrased"
Land Center for Human Rights - Egypt
Legal Aid Society for Human Rights – Egypt
School of Democracy - Yemen
Tunisian Observatory for the Rights and Freedoms of Trade Unions
Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms