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RELEASE HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS, SAY 55 RIGHTS GROUPS

Twenty-one IFEX members are among 55 rights groups worldwide calling on the Bahraini authorities to immediately release the dozens of human rights activists and demonstrators who were "unjustly" detained following protests in December.

"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," say the rights groups.

The arrests were triggered by demonstrations on 17 December in Sanabis, near the capital Manama, organised to pay tribute to victims of torture. Riot police and special security forces violently dispersed the protests. Ali Jassim Meki, an activist involved in the Movement of Liberties and Democracy (HAQ), was killed, allegedly after excessive use of force by the authorities.

Protests were waged in the days following Jassim's funeral that again resulted in violent clashes with the armed Special Forces.

Using the protests as a pretext, the Bahraini security forces detained up to 50 people, including leaders of popular human rights and civil society groups, such as the Unemployed Committee, the Committee to Combat High Prices, and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. Some were charged with rioting, illegal assembly, and illegal possession of a weapon and ammunition.

According to BCHR, the detainees have been tortured while in custody, including being sexually assaulted or electrocuted. Allegedly, the most prominent activists have been placed in cells with prisoners suffering from communicable diseases.

The police have also ransacked houses and carried out dawn raids on the detainees, and confiscated their computers and some of their personal belongings.

Daily popular protests calling for the release of the detainees have also been broken up with tear gas and rubber bullets and are leading to more arrests.

The IFEX members and rights groups have condemned the arbitrary arrests and call for the immediate and unconditional release of the detainees, as well as an end to the torture.

According to BCHR, the Bahraini authorities have recently taken severe measures against activists to prevent them from communicating with the public by blocking access to websites, banning films and books and even doling out media bans. On 6 February, a union activist was suspended for 10 days without pay for disclosing "job secrets" in a media interview. At least 20 websites have been banned, including BCHR's.

Visit these links:
- Joint action: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91069/
- IFEX Bahrain page: http://tinyurl.com/ytqq7w
- BCHR: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en
- HRInfo: http://tinyurl.com/yp3b5m
- Bahrain Eve blog: http://bahrain-eve.blogspot.com/
(26 February 2008)

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