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Twenty IFEX members around the globe denounce jailing of activists for expressing their views

(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is a joint action by 20 IFEX members:

We, the undersigned freedom of expression organisations, are gravely concerned for the deterioration of human rights exemplified by the aggressive measures taken by the Bahraini authorities to silence three well-known activists from expressing their views and addressing public issues.

Mr. Hasan Mushaima, Secretary General of the Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy (HAQ), Mr. Mohamed Habib Al-Muqdad, a scholar and social activist, and Dr. Abduljalil Alsingace, head of HAQ's human rights unit, were arrested around 2:30 a.m. (local time) on Monday 26 January 2009 and were kept in solitary confinement for three hours until they were transferred to the Public Prosecution (PP). Following almost nine hours of interrogation, Mr. Mushaima and Mr. Al-Muqdad were held in custody for further interrogation, while Dr. Alsingace was released on bail and officially banned from travel out of Bahrain. The PP declared that it will take the necessary measures to pursue cases against the human rights defenders in the courts.

During the interrogations, the three activists were questioned about their speeches and articles concerning public issues, which authorities considered to be "provoking hatred of the regime" and "inciting violence and the overthrow of the political system". These two charges are referenced in the Bahrain Penal code of 1976 and are punishable by imprisonment of up to eight years. This penal code does not meet international standards of human rights and has been denounced in the past by human rights organisations around the globe.

The activists also received a third charge under the Bahraini counter terrorism law, which has also been condemned by many international organisations, including the UN. Under this law, the activists face possible life imprisonment for "forming an organisation, outside the provisions of the law, which disrupts the provisions of the Constitution or prevents any of the State enterprises or public authorities from exercising their duty."

The three activists categorically deny all these allegations and consider their arrest and the charges brought against them to be malicious and politically motivated.

Based on the hostile attitude of the authorities toward the three well-known activists, it is believed that their arrest and detention are related to the practice of their right to free expression, namely by carrying out legitimate and peaceful public activities such as publishing electronic articles and conducting speeches, seminars and presentations. The atrocious charges brought against them are baseless and meant to silence and prevent Mr. Mushaima, Mr. Al-Muqdad and Dr. Alsingace from expressing their thoughts and performing any activity related to democratic reforms and promotion of human rights and civil liberties, particularly freedom of expression and the right to free assembly and association.

The undersigned organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to:

- immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Hassan Mushaima and Mr. Mohamed Habib Al-Muqdad
- quash all the charges related to their legitimate and peaceful activities
- lift the travel ban against Dr. Abduljalil Alsingace
- abolish the Bahraini Counter Terrorism Law, which curtails freedom of expression and allows for criminal prosecution on the basis of intentions and, amend the Penal Code so that it conforms to international human rights conventions
- cease all measures targeting political and human rights defenders

Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, Kazakhstan
Algerian Centre for the Defence and Promotion of Press Freedom (CALP), Algeria
Arab Archives Institute (AAI), Jordan
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt
Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), Serbia
Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI), Brazil
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Manama
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network, International (CRNI), U.S.A.
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), Liberia
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
Freedom House, U.S.A.
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
Media Watch, Bangladesh
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC), Tunisia

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

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