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Twenty-six organisations express grave concern for persecution of human rights defenders

(CIHRS/IFEX) - August 19, 2010 - The undersigned organizations wish to express their grave concern for the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain. Just a few days ago, the King himself, joined by the prime minister and interior minister, issued a sternly worded threat against political activists and human rights defenders, who have been accused of inciting against the government abroad and harming the country. In his statement, the King advocated bringing the full force of the law to bear against these so-called "provocateurs" who are endangering civic peace.

Following these royal directives, on August 13 the security apparatus arrested prominent human rights defender Abduljalil Alsingace, the chair of the human rights office of the Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy (HAQ). Alsingace was detained upon returning from London after taking part in a conference at the House of Lords that addressed deteriorating public liberties in Bahrain, the systematic discrimination against the Shiite population, and the institutional spread of torture in Bahrain.

Members of Alsingace's family were forcibly removed from the Bahrain airport after declaring a sit-in to protest his arrest. The same day, the security apparatus responded with force against a peaceful assembly of dozens of people, among them rights advocates, expressing their solidarity with Alsingace in front of his home. Alsingace's sister was injured after being struck in the head by a rubber bullet. Security also used tear gas, percussion grenades, and physical violence to disperse another peaceful assembly organized in front of the Public Prosecutor's Office to express solidarity with Alsingace.

On August 15, the authorities arrested three other political and rights activists: Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad, a cleric and activist in the defense of social and religious rights; Said al-Nuri, a member of the Islamist Wafa group; and Abd al-Ghani Khanjar, the chair of the National Committee for Victims of Torture and the official spokesman for the Bahraini Coalition for Justice and Reconciliation.

The undersigned organizations are especially concerned that the authorities have not officially revealed the whereabouts of the four detainees, all of them Shiite activists who have been struggling against the systematic discrimination against the Shiite majority. We fear they are at risk of maltreatment or torture inside detention facilities. There are also fears that provisions of the counterterrorism law will be deployed to deprive them of their legal rights and criminalize their peaceful activities. Some articles in the law may be construed to penalize persons for exercising their freedom of opinion and expression and undermine individual rights to association and peaceful assembly.

These fears are supported by news reports that the four detainees have been charged with inciting violence and terrorism. Official security sources have also stated that the four activists are members of an organized network that aims to undermine stability in Bahrain.

The undersigned organizations see these grave developments as intimidation of political and rights activists and a denial of freedom of expression, including of opinions critical of the government. This turn of events is also a significant milestone on the path to the total political marginalization of the Shiite majority and will tighten state control over the electoral process in the parliamentary and municipal elections scheduled for the last week of October 2010.

The undersigned organizations urge the Bahraini authorities to take immediate measures to secure the unconditional release of Dr. Abduljalil Alsingace and his colleagues and warn that the crackdown on political activists and human rights defenders will only further stoke the rising political and sectarian tension of the last few years and increase the risk of civil sectarian conflict.

The undersigned organizations believe that ensuring stability and civic peace, strengthening the political stature of the state, and improving its image requires making a fundamental break with the policy and practice of systematic discrimination against the majority of Bahrain's population. It requires the adoption of a set of legislative reforms and efforts to bring Bahrain's penal provisions and counterterrorism measures in line with international conventions and human rights norms.

Effective measures must also be taken to prevent criminal impunity for crimes of torture and police brutality and provide legal protections for human rights organizations and those involved in them in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, issued by the UN General Assembly in December 1998.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Non-IFEX signatories:

al-Shaqaiq al-Arabi Forum for Human Rights
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Arab Penal Reform Organization
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services
Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of the Status of Children
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Group for Human Rights Legal Aid
Hisham Mubarak Law Center
Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners
Human Rights First-Saudi Arabia
Land Center for Human Rights
Musawah for Human Rights Education and Civil Culture
Nadim Center for the Treatment and Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
New Woman Research Center
Palestinian Center for Human Rights
Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights
Yemeni Organization for the Defense of Rights and Democratic Freedoms

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