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Twenty-one IFEX members, 34 other groups call for end to jailing and torture of demonstrators and human rights activists in Bahrain

(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is a joint appeal from BCHR, 20 other IFEX members and 34 other groups to the king of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa:

Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa
King of Bahrain
Riffa, Bahrain
Fax: +973 176 64 587

Your Royal Highness,

We the undersigned national and international human rights organisations and other groups defending freedom of expression urge the Bahraini authorities to immediately release those human rights activists and demonstrators who were unjustly detained following protests in December, and to immediately desist from torturing the detainees. We believe the charges against the activists, for violent actions which they did not commit, are a pretext to silence them as a reprisal for their outspoken and peaceful human rights work.

As in past years, on 17 December 2007, the Bahraini National Committee for Victims of Torture (NCVT) organised its annual march. On that day in 1994 two young Bahrainis were killed by Special Forces snipers from a helicopter shooting with live ammunition on a peaceful demonstration in Sanabis village calling for political reforms and democratisation.

On 17 December 2007, heavily armed members of the Bahraini Special Security Forces (SSF) were deployed to head off the march, which was prevented from kicking off in Manama. Confrontations quickly spread to nearby villages. In Sanabis village, some protestors were attacked by the SSF and armed militia who besieged the area and showered it with tear gas and rubber bullets. Ali Jassem Makki was allegedly attacked and fatally beaten by the SSF. Protests erupted in many other villages, resulting in many wounded.

Protests were waged in Jidhafs on the days surrounding Ali Jassem's funeral, resulting in fierce confrontations with the heavily armed Special Forces who used tear gas and rubber bullets on the protestors. Protestors responded by hurling stones and setting ablaze rubber tires and trash containers. One patrol vehicle was set afire by the protestors and a weapon inside it was allegedly reported to be missing, resulting in a series of arrests a few days later of well known activists and human rights defenders.

The Bahraini security authorities detained up to 50 people, some of them leaders of popular human rights and civil society such as the Unemployed Committee, Committee to Combat High Prices and Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). Local human rights groups claim that the crackdown was used as a pretext to clamp down on these organisations and round up these activists, who were then unjustly blamed for the incidents during the protests. They have since been subjected to all forms of ill-treatment and torture.

The Security Authorities ransacked houses and carried out dawn raids on those detainees, and confiscated their computers and some of their personal belongings. Out of those detained in the aftermath of the death of Ali Jassem, 14 detainees were falsely charged with rioting, illegal assembly, illegal possession of a weapon and ammunition as well as setting afire a patrol vehicle. Ibrahim Ameen Al Arab, a member of NCVT was also later arrested and charged with possession of the allegedly missing weapon. These 15 people were summoned to court on 3 February 2008, but because of the sudden change made by the judge to hold the hearing after official hours, the defendants' lawyers decided to boycott that session. The court session was postponed until 24 February.

These 15 detainees include the well-known activists Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh and Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, members of the Unemployment Committee, Naji Al-Fateel, member of the BYSHR, Mohammed Abdullah Al-Singace, head of the Committee to Combat High Prices, and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab, founding member of the Martyrs and Victims Committee. They have been subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment which has included being held incommunicado, beatings, electrocution, malnutrition, deprivation from sleep, being held in unclean conditions, and sexual assault. The latest form of torture was to put the most prominent of those activists in cells with prisoners apparently suffering from communicable diseases.

Popular protests calling for the release of those detainees have been taking place in Bahrain on a daily basis, with some resulting in collective punishment such as showering the areas where these protests emanate with tear gas and rubber bullets as well as beatings of residents by SSF. This has lead to widening unrest.

We, the undersigned, express our deep concerns about the deterioration of the situation and the endangerment of the life of the human rights defenders in Bahrain. The initial incident and its repercussions could have been avoided should the Bahraini authorities have respected and protected the right of the individuals and groups for freedom of expression and assembly. An attack on freedom of expression has repeatedly proven to be a trigger for confrontation between people and local authorities.

We call on the Bahraini Authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all the political, human rights and other activists unjustly detained in the aftermath of events on 17 December 2007. Releasing all the aforementioned detainees would help suppress the unrest situation in Bahrain, and restore tranquility.

We also take this opportunity to remind the local authorities to reconsider legislation and other practices which threaten all forms of freedom of expression and ensure conformance with international standards and covenants.
Signed by the following organisations:

Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society (ATIS-HK), Hong Kong
Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF), Kenya
Alliance of Filipino Migrants Communities and Association in Korea (KASAMMAKO), Korea
Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia
Arab Archives Institute, Jordan
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (, Egypt
Armanshahr Foundation, Afghanistan
Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), Hong Kong
Association of Filipino Migrant Workers, Korea
Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers (AIMW)-Hong Kong
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Society of Human Rights (BSHR), Bahrain
Bahrain Youth Society of Human Rights (BYSHR), Bahrain
Bicol Association, Korea
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
CARAM ASIA, Malaysia
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Centre algérien pour la défense et la promotion de la liberté de la presse (CALP), Algeria
Conseil National pour les Libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), Tunisia
Cordillera Alliance (CORALL-HK), Hong Kong
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Federation of Filipino Workers in Korea
Filipino Migrant Workers' Union (FMWU-HK), Hong Kong
Filipino Women's Organization in Quebec (PINAY), Canada
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
Freedom House, United States
Front Line International, Ireland
Gabriela Australia, Australia
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan
International Justice Network, United States
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria
Media Watch, Bangladesh
Migrant Forum of Asia, Philippines
MIGRANTE International, Philippines
Migrante Melbourne, Australia
Movement of Liberties and Democracy (HAQ), Bahrain
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Mogadishu
New Era Foundation, Korea
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC), Tunisia
Palestinian Women's Committees, Palestine
Philippine Australia Solidarity Association (PASA), Australia
Philippine Caucus for Peace, Australia
Society of Supporting Freedoms and Democracy, Bahrain
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand
Thai Regional Alliance in Hong Kong
United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK)
United Pangasinan Hong Kong (UPHK)
Women on the Move (WEMOVE), Korea
Women Petition Committee, Bahrain
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States

cc. Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: [email protected]

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

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