15 January 2008


Human rights defenders in Bahrain have been subject to a fresh wave of arrests, abuse and possibly torture following protests last month in which an activist was killed, report the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) and other rights groups.

Between 21 and 28 December, members of the special security forces arrested more than 50 people, including at least 11 human rights defenders who are still in detention, say the rights groups. According to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the 11 rights defenders were targeted for being involved in "illegal" public protests over the past few years that related to economic and social rights and restrictions on freedoms.

HRInfo and the Observatory say the prisoners may have been tortured while in custody, including by electrocution.

The arrests were triggered by demonstrations on 17 December in Sanabis, near the capital Manama, organised to pay tribute to victims of torture. Riot police and special security forces violently dispersed the protests. Ali Jassim Meki, an activist involved in the Movement of Liberties and Democracy (HAQ), was killed, allegedly from excessive use of force by the authorities.

Family members of the detainees who staged a sit-in on 25 December at the public prosecutor's office demanding permission to visit the detainees were verbally and physically abused - including a female reporter for Afaque website, Rabab Marhoon.

BCHR reports that journalists trying to cover the incident were harassed and had their mobile phones confiscated. The president of BCHR, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was himself verbally abused and assaulted while trying to gain access to the building.

BCHR, HRInfo, the Observatory and other rights groups have condemned the "arbitrary" arrests which appear to be aimed at muzzling civil society, and human rights defenders in particular, and call for the immediate and unconditional release of the detainees. The Observatory fears a resurgence of the systematic practice of torture in Bahrain.

Despite appeals to U.S. President George W. Bush, who visited Bahrain over the weekend, and the Bahraini government, the Bahraini authorities continue to prevent human rights defenders from accessing the media. The government suspended a live interview arranged by Egyptian News Satellite with al-Khawaja, who was due to cover Bush's visit on 12 January.

In another recent case, security forces trailed Abduljalil Alsingace, the director of HAQ and a well-known activist, academic and blogger, who was touring a delegation of visitors around Bahrain, and tapped his phone.

These acts "could only be understood as being part of the systematic media blockade imposed on human rights defenders who may portray an image about the situation in Bahrain, different than that broadcasted by the governmental media bodies to the regional and international communities," says BCHR.

Visit these links:
- BCHR: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en- HRInfo: http://tinyurl.com/yp3b5m- The Observatory: http://tinyurl.com/ytjt8d- HAQ: http://www.haaq.org/- Front Line Defenders: http://tinyurl.com/3996jl- Bahrain Eve blog: http://bahrain-eve.blogspot.com/(15 January 2008)

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