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Union members Rola Al-Saffar and Ibrahim Al-Demistani face defamation charges

(BCHR/IFEX) - The High Criminal Court, presided over by Sheikh Mohammed Al-Khalifa, a member of the ruling family, has said that it will come to a decision on 24 March 2009 regarding the case brought by officials from the Bahrain Ministry of Health against Rola Al-Saffar, the president of the Bahrain Nursing Association (BNA), and Ibrahim Al-Demistani, the BNA's secretary.

The Public Prosecutor's Office accused the two union members of publicly defaming officials from the Salmaneyya Medical Complex, the main public hospital in Bahrain, in articles published in local newspapers. Al-Saffar and A-Demistani have denied the charges against them before the court. According to Osama Al-Osfoor, the director of the Public Prosecutor's Office, a complaint was received from some senior members of the medical complex's staff against Al-Saffar and Al-Demistani, claiming that they had published articles in the local press containing a smear campaign and defamatory language against them.

The BNA is known for its work in striving for improvements in the status and financial position of nurses in the past few years, but has faced harsh treatment from the authorities. The Social Affairs Ministry has led the reprisals against the BNA by administratively dissolving it and appointing its own manager, a move that was rejected and ignored by Al-Saffar and Al-Demistani, who represent the position of the general assembly of their association.

The BCHR expresses its concerns over this move by the authorities to silence union members when they are forced to resort to using the media in order to inform the general public about the issues they are confronting.

In 2008, the BCHR reported on the similar treatment of a number of union members, including members of the Postal Union and others, who were also prosecuted on charges of defaming governmental institutions and "addressing the public."

Nabeel Rajab, the president of the BCHR, said: "These types of actions are becoming daily occurrences in Bahrain. Any activist, journalist or human rights defender who expresses views that are critical of the authorities is likely to be prosecuted." He added:" The High Criminal Court is clogged with cases prosecuting dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists, union members, members of non-government organisations and others for expressing themselves. This is, no doubt, an alarming situation."

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