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Twenty-four IFEX members and partners call for solidarity with human rights defenders at risk for speaking out about rights abuses

(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is a joint action led by BCHR:

A Petition of Solidarity with Human Rights Defenders in Bahrain

The undersigned organisations express their deep concern over the sustained smear campaign waged against three Bahraini activists who participated last month in a human rights event in Washington D.C., USA. They are Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Dr Abduljalil Alsingace, the head of the Human Rights Unit of the HAQ Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy in Bahrain, and Maryam Alkhawaja, a youth activist, former leader of a student organisation and a member of BCHR. BCHR is a member of IFEX.

Since their participation in the event on 15 October 2008 and their return to Bahrain, they have been exposed to a direct defamation campaign through state-controlled media and religious venues. The campaign includes inflammatory articles written by members of the elected house of representatives, columnists and editors of local Arabic newspapers, as well as statements and sermons through mosques and religious centers.

The organisations listed below are alarmed at the language, level of provocation and intimidation in these articles which are referring to the three activists as "traitors to Bahrain," while considering their human rights activities as a call for foreigners to intrude in local affairs. Moreover, these articles - as well as some state-loyal preachers - have exploited the event by calling for sectarian sedition and encouraging severe action to be taken against these activists. Such a campaign has been encouraged by the silence of the authorities and judicial establishment which should be expected to respond differently, as they would if a similar campaign was made against any officials, members of the government or the ruling family.

The three human rights defenders were officially invited by the "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission" and the "Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom" for a briefing on the "Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain". Nabeel Rajab highlighted areas of discrimination against Shia citizens of Bahrain in high governmental posts which includes banning Shia citizens from recruitment in security and police forces, underlining the many public organisations where there is no Shia presence. Dr. Alsingace discussed the different aspects of religious discrimination against the Shia in Bahrain, covering the allocation of worship premises and maintenance as well as media accessibility. Maryam Alkhawaja told the audience of her personal experience as a result of discriminatory practices against her, her family and friends including the subsequent repercussions of such exposure.

Clearly these activists are being threatened for their ongoing peaceful human rights activities and are being denied the right to free expression without fear of threat, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The undersigned organisations seek the assurance that the security and physical and psychological integrity of Nabeel Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja are not hampered in any way and that they, and other human rights defenders in Bahrain, are free to carry out their activities in the promotion and protection of human rights without any form of intimidation or reprisal.

Signed,

Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, Kazakhstan
Arab Archives Institute (AAI), Jordan
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt
ARTICLE 19, U.K
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), U.S.A.
Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), Tunisia
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Kathmandu
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
Freedom House, U.S.A.
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Index on Censorship, U.K.
Institute of Mass Information (IMI), Ukraine
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI), Indonesia
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Australia
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ghana
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Media Watch, Bangladesh
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC), Tunisia
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (SPP), Paraguay

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

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