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IFEX members appeal to world leaders to take action against rights abuses

BCHR president Nabeel Rajab is under threat of arrest for alerting readers through Twitter about pictures of the tortured body of a man who died in custody. He has recently been banned from travel
BCHR president Nabeel Rajab is under threat of arrest for alerting readers through Twitter about pictures of the tortured body of a man who died in custody. He has recently been banned from travel

BCHR

Even as the King of Bahrain promises to end the state of emergency he imposed in mid-March to quell anti-government demonstrations, journalists, rights activists and opposition leaders continue to be arrested, with dozens of them hastily tried. Forty-two IFEX members and 15 partners are appealing to the international community to end their silence and demand that the Bahraini government take action against the rights abuses.

In a letter addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama, EU Vice-President Baroness Catherine Ashton and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, the members point to cases of journalists, bloggers and rights activists being arrested, tried in military courts and tortured, with some even dying in custody. The joint action was led by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which has been engaged in campaigning and trial monitoring in Bahrain.

Founding member of "Al Wasat" newspaper, Karim Fakhrawy was declared dead on 12 April under suspicious circumstances - two days after he was arrested. On 18 May, three of the paper's senior editors are to be tried for "publishing fabricated news and made up stories . . . that may harm public safety and national interests," reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Zakariya al-Aushayri, an online activist, founder and manager of the online forum Al Dair, died on 9 April under mysterious circumstances while in government custody.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) notes that four people have recently died in police custody, and 35 have been killed in the protests so far - in a country whose population is only 570,000.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, former president of BCHR, was beaten unconscious when 15 masked men raided his daughter's home on 9 April. Human Rights Watch and BCHR report that while in detention, Al-Khawaja has been beaten to the point of being unrecognisable. He and blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace, along with 13 other detainees, were suddenly brought to trial on a dozen charges, including attempting to "overthrow and change the country's constitution and Royal rule by force" and organising rallies without permission. Seven others were tried in absentia. The trial has been adjourned until 12 May. BCHR is appealing for international observers to attend.

Current president of BCHR, Nabeel Rajab, is being prosecuted for alerting readers through Twitter about pictures of the tortured body of a man who died in custody, which the government alleges are "fabricated." He recently found out he is still banned from leaving the country.

Meanwhile, dozens of journalists have been subjected to lay-offs, arrests and threats because of their work. According to ANHRI, 30 journalists from "Al Watan", "Al Ayam" and "Al Bilad" newspapers have been laid off, while numerous reporters have been arrested or gone into hiding for fear of arrest.

Foreign reporters have had restrictions placed on their movements. This week, the authorities decided to expel German journalist Frederik Richter, the Reuters correspondent in Manama since 2008, for alleged bias in his coverage of the protests, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He has been given a week to leave.

"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," the members said in the letter.

The members are asking the world leaders to urge Bahraini authorities to investigate the deaths in custody; unconditionally release political prisoners; drop the politically-motivated charges against "Al Wasat"; and allow journalists and rights workers, whether local or international, to freely carry out their work.

According to "The New York Times", the King's announcement that the state of emergency will end on 1 June is a sign that Bahrain is seeking to assure banks and foreign governments that the chaos is over and that the kingdom, which depends heavily on financial business, is trying to return to normal.

"It is also a sign that the numerous arrests and rushed trials of opposition figures in military courts could be running their course. Some leading opposition figures went on trial as the announcement was being made," the "Times" said.

"This is a cosmetic step trying to show the international community that everything is back to normal when it is not," Rajab told the "Times". "I don't see it as a real initiative that will solve problems. Otherwise they would release political prisoners. The dispute is wider now than it was one month ago between the ruling elite and the people."

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