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Three rights defenders arrested during siege on Bahraini village

Bahraini rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja being arrested at AlEker village
Bahraini rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja being arrested at AlEker village

Mahmood Alshaikh

UPDATE: Human rights defenders Zainab Al-Khawaja, Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah, and Naji Fateel have since been released.

(BCHR/IFEX) - 21 October 2012 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) issued an urgent appeal regarding an ongoing siege on the village of Al-Eker that has now lasted for more than two days. Bahraini rights defender and president of BYSHR Mohammed Al-Maskati was able to get into the village to investigate despite the siege.

Human rights defenders Zainab Al-Khawaja, BCHR's Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah and BYSHR's Naji Fateel were arrested after peacefully walking towards Al-Eker holding symbolic amounts of food and medical supplies to break the siege. According to their lawyer, they are being charged with obstructing traffic despite walking on the pavement. (Video shows that they were peacefully walking not obstructing the traffic.) According to an eye-witness Zainab Al-Khawaja was dragged by security forces.

The siege on Al-Eker was placed after the government of Bahrain announced that a policeman, Omran Mohammed Ahmed, died on the morning of 19 October as a result of a bomb explosion that took place in the village. As a form of collective punishment, a lock down was immediately imposed on the whole village of Al-Eker.

On the day of the rights defenders' arrests, a gathering of support of more than 100 people took place outside the entrance of Al-Eker and included medics, members of political societies, and activists. Using sonic bombs and tear gas, the Bahraini authorities were able to disperse the crowd quickly. Another gathering of Al-Eker residents inside the village was also attacked with excessive force.

According to Al-Maskati's testimony of what he witnessed, all entrances to Al-Eker are blocked. When people are allowed to leave (only from the main entrance), they are harassed and verbally attacked, in addition to getting thoroughly searched. Al-Maskati stated that during the past two days, security forces have imposed an ongoing curfew, informing residents through loud speakers that they are not allowed to leave their homes. Security forces also used loud speakers to threaten the residents and to insult them using sectarian derogatory terms.

Security forces have reportedly forbidden mosque caretakers from opening mosques for prayers for the past two days, and in one instance they raided a mosque breaking furniture inside. In addition, the village's elementary school was closed on 21 October, and it was surrounded by security forces that refused to allow students into the school. The residents of Al-Eker are suffering from a food shortage, as the usual food deliveries from outside the village were prohibited from entering. Some residents have been attempting to bring food into the village on foot from other areas.

Residents of Al-Eker confirmed to Al-Maskati that more than 36 of their homes had been subject to arbitrary house raids without warrants. The raids were reportedly very violent, breaking people's furniture and confiscating electronic belongings. People inside the homes were subjected to physical and verbal assault demanding they disclose whereabouts of relatives.

Residents who were in constant need of access to medical care were prohibited from exiting Al-Eker to go to the hospital. Ambulances have not been allowed into the area either. Two people were arrested and later released after reporting ill treatment and torture. The parents of one of the individuals arbitrarily arrested, Aqeel Hassan Jassim, informed Al-Maskati that their son has epilepsy and constantly needs medical care to avoid seizures.

BYSHR and BCHR call on the international community to put pressure on the government of Bahrain to respect and guarantee human rights for all people under all conditions. They call on the authorities to stop subjecting the citizens of Bahrain to acts of ill-treatment and collective punishment during the process of investigation into the death of policeman Omar Ahmed.

BYSHR and BCHR believe that an independent, fair and transparent investigation has to be carried out to look into the causes behind the death of the policeman as well as the death of dozens of civilians.

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