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Authorities threaten to use force to prevent conference

(BCHR/IFEX) - A high Bahraini security officer informed Karbabad Matam, an events venue in Manama, that it was not allowed to hold a public conference scheduled for 25 April 2008. The security officer stated that, if necessary, the Security Special Forces (SSF) would intervene by force to prevent the event from taking place. The organisers of the event told BCHR that these threats were made by the head of the Exhibition police station on 24 April.

Political and human rights figures were supposed to take part in the event, including the head of BCHR, who was going to give a speech on human rights on a new public petition that demands the prime minister step down because of human rights violations that took place during his 27 years of service.

Restricting a peaceful gathering is a flagrant breach of Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning freedom of expression, the press and assembly, and also contradicts Article 23, concerned with freedom of expression, and Article 28, concerned with freedom of expression and the right to assembly, in the 2002 Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The SSF have previously used violence to prevent political and cultural events, such as a 2006 conference, in which there was to be a screening of video clips of the public petition sent to the United Nations and signed by 83,000 citizens, demanding the drafting of a modern constitution through an elected council. Violence was used to prevent the event despite the fact that among the participants were Members of Parliament. On another occasion, the SSF attacked protestors in the area of el Malkeyia shore, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at them when they gathered to demand the removal of fish farms owned by the cousin of King Hamad ben Essa Al Khalifa. The king's cousin owns the entire shore and prohibits the inhabitants of Malkeyia from fishing it. Another gathering was attacked by SSF in the village of Noaydarat, where political figures assembled to show their solidarity with the secretary general of Haq Movement, Mr. Hasan Moshaymea, and Abdulhadi Khawaja, the head of BCHR, who were being brought to trial after giving speeches in which they criticised the government.

BCHR urges the Bahrain authorities:
- to respect freedom of assembly, opinion and expression in accordance with international standards;
- to refrain from using, or threatening to use, force in the suppression of peaceful gatherings;
- to implement the government promises made during the periodical review of Bahrain by the Human Rights Council that took place in April, especially those relating to freedom of expression, and
- to put a timeframe on the implementation of relevant recommendations by UN bodies.

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