(BCHR/IFEX) - 25 August 2010 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is greatly concerned over news of the deteriorating security situation and increase of arrests of human rights activists and defenders. These arrests appear to be part of an organised campaign to suppress free expression in Bahrain. The King himself, the Prime Minister, and Interior Minister have exacerbated the situation by delivering public speeches which implicate the human rights activists in alleged crimes. As well, the state-owned media have published articles provoking fear in the country's population and smearing the reputation of the detainees, incriminating them before they are brought to the Public Prosecution and Court.
The campaign started on 13 August 2010 with the arrest of Dr. Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, who is head of the human rights office of Haq Movement for Rights and Liberties, an academic at the University of Bahrain, and the author of an online blog ( http://alsingace.blogspot.com/ ). He was arrested upon his return from London, after participating in a seminar in the British House of Lords regarding the increase in human rights violations, and the deteriorating environmental situation in Bahrain (see: http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/3207 ). Al-Singace is also physically disabled and suffers from a number of physical ailments.
Two days later Abdul-Ghani Al-Khanjjar was arrested, on 15 August, after taking part in the same seminar in London. Al-Khanjjar heads the National Committee of Martyrs and Torture Victims and is also the spokesperson of the Bahraini Coalition for Truth and Equity.
The arrests continued on 17 August when BCHR member Dr. Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahlawi and activist Jaffar Ahmed Jassim Al-Hisabi were both arrested. Dr. Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahlawi, a dentist and human rights activist, was arrested previously in November 2006 on the charge of distributing publications that demanded political and peaceful reformation. He was imprisoned for one year and was released with a royal pardon before completing his sentence. He was also arrested in 1997 on the charge of contacting the opposition and international organisations abroad. He was administratively detained without trial for a year and a half.
Jaffar Ahmed Jassim Al-Hisabi was arrested at Bahrain International Airport. He is an activist who has been living in the UK for 15 years, and is known for his ongoing participation in protests in the British capital demanding liberties and human rights and the release of detainees.
During the same crackdown on dissent, four religious and political activists have also been arrested: Sheikh Mohammed Al-Moqdad, Sheikh Saeed Al-Nori, Sheikh Mirza Al-Mahroos and Sheikh Abdulhadi Al-Mukhuder.
To date, all these activists are being held in custody in unknown places, and their families or lawyers are prohibited from visiting them. It seems that the Bahraini Authority is heading towards charging the activists under the Bahraini Anti-Terrorism Law, which has been internationally condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Promoting and Protecting Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the context of counter-terrorism. This law has also been condemned as being contrary to international legal standards by the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations.
Furthermore, contrary to the principle that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, all the detainees' reputations have been smeared by the State-owned media, foremost by the state newspaper "Al-Watan", which has published their photographs and disgraced their reputation in an organised and fabricated media campaign.
The arrests have sparked a wave of demonstrations in several Shiite-dominated villages, mostly peaceful, which have been suppressed violently by the Special Forces.
It is clear that there is no evidence to support the claims being made against these activists in the media, and BCHR strongly believes that these arrests are connected to their engagement in peaceful and legitimate activities related to democratic reform and promotion of human rights. It is not the first time some of them have been arrested for their human rights work. The rights to freedom of expression, assembly and forming societies are guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bahrain is a signatory.
Based on the above, BCHR demands that the political leadership, represented by the country's King and his uncle, the Prime Minister:
1. Release all the detainees and make clear what charges they were held under;
2. Ensure the rights of the detainees during detention, including the immediate rights to phone calls, family visits, legal advice and appropriate health care;
3. Annul the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2006 and amend the Penal Code of 1976 and other laws related to public liberties, and make them compatible with the UDHR and the ICCPR, especially those related to practicing fundamental human rights such as the right to expression, organising, assembling and defending human rights;
4. Put an end to targeting human rights defenders and take legislative and practical measures to provide protection for them;
5. Engage in a serious dialogue with the active forces in the community and look into the crisis related to policies of systematic sectarian discrimination, and guarantee civil, political, economic and social rights for all, instead of resorting to violence and arrests.
Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa
King of Bahrain
Fax: +973 176 64 587
Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa
Fax: +973 1753 2839
Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Tel: +973 172 27 555
Fax : +973 172 12 603
Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa
Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs
Tel: +973 175 31 333
Fax: +973 175 31 284
Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva
1 chemin Jacques-Attenville
CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland
Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50.
Email: [email protected]
Please also write to diplomatic representations of Bahrain in your respective countries.