9 Feb, 2010

Torture Redux

We’ll go back to the 1990s. —Ministry of Interior officer to detainee Nadr Ali Ahmad al-Salatne By the end of the 1990s, Bahrain appeared to have cast off what had been a well-deserved reputation as a country that routinely tortured detainees. The government had taken significant steps to curtail the use of torture and other ill-treatment by its security officials, and reports of such practices became a rarity. This report concludes, however, that since the end of 2007, officials again have used torture and ill-treatment, particularly during the interrogation of security suspects. Human Rights Watch’s conclusion is based on interviews with former detainees and others, as well as its review of government documents. This reversion to past practices came as political tensions rose in Bahrain. Street demonstrations involving young men from the country’s majority Shia Muslim community protesting alleged discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government deteriorated with increasing regularity into confrontations, sometimes violent, with security forces. Arrests often followed. Security officials appear to have utilized a specific repertoire of techniques against many of those arrested designed to inflict pain and elicit confessions. These techniques included the use of electro-shock devices, suspension in painful positions, beating the soles of the feet (falaka), and beatings of the head, torso, and limbs. Some detainees also reported that security officials had threatened to kill them or to rape them or members of their families. Many detainees were subjected to more than one of these practices. The use of these techniques, separately and in combination, violates Bahrain’s obligations as a state party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture) and other international treaties, as well as the prohibition of torture in Bahraini law. * * * For many years, government opponents have chosen December 16—Bahrain’s National Day—and the days leading up to it as an opportune time to mount street protests. December 2007 saw protests in a number of Shia neighborhoods and villages around the capital, Manama. When a young protestor died—opposition activists charge he was asphyxiated by security forces’ excessive use of tear gas, while officials claim he died of natural causes—the confrontations intensified. In one village, Jidhafs, protestors torched a security forces vehicle and allegedly stole from it an assault rifle and ammunition. Scores of arrests followed, and in subsequent weeks Bahraini human rights activists reported claims from detainees, relayed by family members and later by defense lawyers, that security forces had subjected those arrested to severe beatings, electro-shock devices, prolonged suspension in painful positions, and other forms of abuse that amounted to torture or otherwise illegal treatment. Officials categorically denied that security forces committed any such acts. The large-scale arrests in response to the December 2007 events led to further cycles of protest and arrest. In March 2008, security forces arrested at least eight young men from around the village of Karzakan, about 20 kilometers south of Manama, following what officials claimed was an arson attack on nearby property belonging to a member of the ruling Al Khalifa family (specifically, a former head of the National Security Agency, or NSA, the security service most directly involved in suppressing the street protests). Security forces arrested some 30 young men in the same area a month later, when clashes between protestors and security forces left an NSA vehicle in flames and a Pakistani NSA officer dead, although the circumstances of his death became the subject of some dispute. Further allegations of torture and ill-treatment were made by these detainees, followed by further government denials. December 2008 saw additional arrests, this time of approximately 35 men who, the authorities claimed, had traveled to Syria to receive training in the use of explosives and other forms of sabotage, or had been recruited by the leaders of the opposition Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy to carry out attacks on property and foment violence. These detainees too, through family members and defense lawyers, complained that they had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment. The Public Prosecution Office broadcast a program on state-run television in which 11 of these detainees made statements that purported to be confessions confirming the government’s allegations and implicating leaders of the Haq Movement as the organizers of a planned campaign to stage violent protests and destroy property. Three Haq Movement leaders were also arrested, but did not allege that they themselves had been subjected to physical abuse. At court hearings involving many of those arrested in connection with the above-described incidents, defendants raised allegations of torture. In several cases the court ordered that government doctors conduct medical examinations of those who complained of torture; in a good number of instances, the government doctors found evidence of injuries consistent with the detainees’ allegations. On April 11, 2009, government officials announced that Bahrain’s ruler, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, had granted a “pardon” to 178 persons then in custody, including many who had been detained in connection with the aforementioned incidents. Those subject to the pardon included persons already convicted and persons whose trials were ongoing. Although government officials, and the Bahraini media, referred to the king’s initiative as a pardon, it was never published in the Official Gazette and it appears to have been more of a suspension of sentences and court proceedings, which might be—and for some individuals were—subsequently reinstated. However conditional the pardon may have been, the release of these detainees presented an opportunity for Human Rights Watch to interview them regarding their treatment in detention and particularly during interrogation. Two Human Rights Watch researchers visited Bahrain from June 6 to June 15, 2009, and met with 20 former detainees: 10 from the December 2007 incidents in Jidhafs; three from February, March and April 2008 incidents in and around Karzakan; and seven who had been arrested in December 2008. A number of other former detainees indicated that they did not feel comfortable meeting with Human Rights Watch. According to Bahraini human rights and opposition activists, authorities had warned former detainees that there might be repercussions for speaking with media or outside investigators. Human Rights Watch also met with defense lawyers, local human rights activists, local journalists, and government officials. In addition, Human Rights Watch acquired medical reports written by Bahraini government doctors regarding the physical condition of detainees, court documents, and reports generated by the security services and prosecutors. Most of the former detainees who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that they had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment at the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Criminal Investigation (CID) in Adliya, a neighborhood of the capital; at the Ministry of Interior’s Short-Term Detention Unit, also known as Dry Dock because of its proximity to a ship repair yard; and/or at the offices of the NSA, also on the grounds of the Ministry of Interior. The NSA and the Ministry of Interior both report to the Supreme Defense Council, a 14-member body that is drawn entirely from the ruling family and headed by the prime minister. Several of the detainees had also been brought in front of prosecutors who failed to respond appropriately to their complaints of ill-treatment. In a number of instances prosecutors failed to record complaints, order forensic medical examinations, or launch any investigation into a detainee’s allegations. In some cases, prosecutors returned detainees to the custody of the same security officers allegedly responsible for the abuse in the first place. Other prosecutors did appropriately send detainees for medical exams when the detainees complained of torture. Officials with the Ministry of Interior and the Public Prosecution Office, in separate meetings with Human Rights Watch, denied that torture had been employed against those detained in connection with the incidents referenced above. They said the consistency in the accounts of the former detainees, as discussed below, reflected the fact that the detainees had been imprisoned together and had consulted the same defense lawyers. In the opinion of these officials, the consistency of the allegations was evidence that the allegations had been fabricated. The public prosecutor told Human Rights Watch that, as far as he could recall, he had not referred any complaints of torture to the Ministry of Interior for consideration in relation to the former detainees whose cases are described here. At this writing, in January 2010, Human Rights Watch had received no response to letters to the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior raising detailed questions about government policies with regard to torture and ill-treatment. (These letters are reproduced in the appendix to this report.) Human Rights Watch found the accounts of torture and ill-treatment documented in this report to be credible. These accounts were consistent as to the specific techniques employed by security services, which supports their credibility. Further, the accounts of abuse provided to Human Rights Watch matched those that detainees had offered earlier in court proceedings and to their defense counsel. In addition, contrary to the assertions of government officials, there is evidence that some if not all detainees had been held in solitary confinement at the time they first reported abuse, reducing the opportunities for them to fabricate accounts prior to making such reports; with respect to the December 2008 detainees, a court ordered that they be removed from solitary confinement in March 2009, after they already had complained to the court and their lawyers about abuse. The detainees also described in consistent terms various interrogation techniques that, while deceptive, did not constitute torture or ill-treatment. None alleged, moreover, that they suffered abuse continuously, and for the most part they did not allege that abuse took place other than in connection with interrogations (or in some cases at the point of arrest). Most significantly, the medical reports of government doctors, along with various court papers, provided the strongest corroboration of the former detainees’ allegations. In fact, the court in one of the Karzakan cases acquitted all defendants on all charges in part because it concluded—on the basis of medical reports—that the defendants had been physically coerced into confessing. * * * Bahrain undertook significant reforms after Shaikh Hamad succeeded his father as ruler (amir, or prince) in 1999. Not the least of these were reforms affecting the security services and the administration of justice. Shaikh Hamad freed thousands of political prisoners and invited the return of hundreds of citizens who had been forcibly exiled. Structural changes included moving the Public Prosecution Office from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior to that of the Ministry of Justice. Perhaps the most significant reform was the abolition of the State Security Court that the government had used for the previous quarter-century to imprison political opponents following closed trials that did not meet international fair trial standards. The State Security Court, which lacked any independence from the executive branch, typically relied on confessions obtained by physical coercion. Beyond these reforms, the government ratified the Convention against Torture, and invited a delegation of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions to visit the country. A more negative development was the October 2002 decree issued by Shaikh Hamad (who in the meantime had promoted himself to king) effectively granting amnesty from criminal investigation or prosecution to officials alleged to have ordered or carried out serious crimes such as torture. Nonetheless, while Bahrain had been notorious between 1975 and 1999 as a country where torture was a serious and systemic problem (as Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organizations documented), reports of torture or ill-treatment in detention were scarce after 1999. By 2005, when Bahrain belatedly presented its first report to the UN Committee against Torture (international experts who review the compliance of state parties to the Convention against Torture), it seemed that the government could legitimately claim to have ceased the practice of torture. Indeed, while Human Rights Watch did document serious abuses over the last decade, such as beatings by security forces at the point of arrest, complaints of torture in detention or during interrogation had grown quite rare—until recently. It should be noted that while Bahraini government agents began to employ torture again in late 2007, the fact that government doctors are now able to provide corroboration of torture and ill-treatment marks a major improvement from the era of routine torture that characterized Bahrain in the 1980s and 1990s. During those years, doctors were intimidated from issuing reports that corroborated allegations of abuse, if medical examinations were conducted at all. * * * Human Rights Watch urges the government of Bahrain to take prompt action to ensure that torture and ill-treatment are once again eradicated from the practices of security officials. The government should conduct prompt and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture or ill-treatment by security officials of any rank in the CID or the NSA (or other security services), and prosecute any offenders to the full extent of the law in a court meeting international fair trial standards. More specifically, such prosecutions should occur before an independent civilian court, rather than the Police Court of the Ministry of Interior, where such prosecutions—to the extent they occur at all—now take place. Human Rights Watch also urges the government to suspend immediately any security official if credible evidence exists that such official ordered, carried out, or condoned acts of torture or ill-treatment. The government should further commence investigations into whether prosecutors, including those named in this report, responded appropriately to allegations of torture or whether their actions rendered them complicit in acts of abuse. If there is credible evidence that a prosecutor or other state agent was complicit in torture or ill-treatment, the government should pursue appropriate sanctions. Human Rights Watch also calls on the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, countries with significant security links to Bahrain, to urge the government of Bahrain to take immediate and measurable steps to end the use of torture by the country’s security forces. France and the United Kingdom in particular have training and assistance arrangements with Bahrain’s NSA and the Ministry of Interior, respectively. Thus, these countries may risk being implicated in prohibited practices and violating their own legal obligations if they cooperate with law enforcement forces they know or should know are employing torture or other ill-treatment.

21 Jan, 2010

HRW:World Report Chapter: Bahrain

Human Rights Watch Bahrain World Report Chapter: Bahrain

Events of 2009 Bahrain's government in 2009 continued to subject freedom of expression, assembly, and association to arbitrary restrictions. The year saw increased confrontations between security forces and demonstrators protesting alleged discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government against the country's majority Shia population. Local rights groups accused authorities of using excessive force against protestors and subjecting detained opposition activists to torture and ill-treatment. In March and April clashes led to the deaths of a Pakistani worker (whose car was hit by a Molotov cocktail) and a Pakistani member of the security forces.

On April 11, Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, Bahrain's king, pardoned 178 opposition activists charged with and in some cases convicted of security-related offenses. However, the decree never appeared in the official gazette, leaving it unclear whether charges and prison terms might be revived.

On November 10, in line with a pledge it had made to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Bahrain established a National Institution for Human Rights, a government body charged with reviewing and developing legislation to comply with international human rights instruments.

Freedom of Expression and the Media

Authorities continue to use the press law (Law 47/2002) to restrict coverage of controversial matters, including official corruption. In May 2008 the government announced a new draft press law that would remove criminal penalties for most journalistic infractions but appeared to retain the option of criminal penalties for certain types of written or spoken comment, including those found to "harm national unity." The draft still awaits approval by the National Assembly at this writing. Several journalists faced criminal prosecution under the current law for articles alleging favoritism and corruption by government agencies.

Several journalists told Human Rights Watch that Ministry of Interior officials contacted them to complain after they published articles that were even mildly critical of government policies, and in some cases intervened to prevent publication of information. In April 2009 authorities ordered the closure of the daily Akhbar al-Khaleej, citing violations of the press law, but lifted the ban after 24 hours.

The country's sole residential internet service provider, Batelco, is government-owned. The independent Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) reported that in 2009 authorities blocked over 1,000 websites, including sites of political forums, blogs, newspapers, and human rights organizations such as the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.

In June 2009 the University of Bahrain, the country's sole public university, punished business student Noor Abbas by revoking one year of her academic record after she circulated a statement criticizing university policies and facilities. The university later reduced Abbas's punishment to "three warnings," meaning one more infraction would result in her expulsion. Abbas consequently ceased her student activism.

In November 2008, after several Bahraini rights and opposition activists held meetings in Washington, DC, Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa threatened them with prosecution for violating article 134 of the penal code, which states that citizens who fail to obtain government permission to attend meetings abroad to discuss Bahraini domestic affairs may be subject to prison terms and fines.

Freedom of Assembly

Law 32/2006 requires the organizers of any public meeting to notify the head of Public Security at least three days in advance, and authorizes that official to determine whether a meeting warrants police presence on the basis of "its subject ... or any other circumstance." The law stipulates that meeting organizers are responsible for "forbidding any speech or discussion infringing on public order or morals," but leaves "public order or morals" undefined.

The BCHR reported that authorities forced the Al-Attar Center to cancel an August 2009 event at which several opposition leaders were scheduled to speak. Interior Ministry officials informed the center's president that they would deploy security forces to stop the event, and pressured the administrator to sign a statement taking personal responsibility if the event was held. On the day of the event, security forces prevented anyone from approaching the center.

Civil Society and Freedom of Association

The government continues to deny legal status to the BCHR, which it ordered to be dissolved in 2004 after its then-president accused the prime minister of corruption and human rights violations. Several other groups, including the National Committee for the Unemployed and the Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society (BYHRS), attempted in 2005 to register with the Ministry of Social Development, as required by law, but at this writing have received no response to their applications. As of October 2009, Muhammad al-Maskati, president of the BYHRS, was facing up to six months in jail and/or a fine on charges related to working for an unrecognized association.

In 2007 the Ministry of Social Development drafted new legislation on civil society organizations, but at this writing the ministry has not yet submitted the draft to parliament. The draft law contains some improvements over the existing Law 21/1989, but includes numerous provisions incompatible with international standards. A version of the draft law circulated in November 2007 authorizes the Ministry of Social Development to close any organization for up to 60 days without a court order if it deems the organization to have violated any Bahraini law, including the associations law.

Bahrain has ratified some International Labour Organization conventions, but neither of the two core conventions governing freedom of association. Law 33/2002 permits workers to form and join trade unions.Contrary to recommendations of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, a November 2006 edict by the prime minister remains in force prohibiting strikes in numerous sectors of the economy on the grounds that they provide essential services.

Migrant Worker Rights

There are an estimated 462,139 migrant workers in Bahrain, primarily from South Asia. In May 2009 Minister of Labor Majeed al-Alawi announced a proposed revision to Bahrain's kafala (sponsorship) system designed to reduce the risk of exploitation and abuse of migrant workers. The former system tied migrants' work visas and immigration status to their employers, enabling employer abuses and preventing workers from changing jobs or leaving the country. Under the amended law, which was adopted on August 1, the government officially sponsors each worker, allowing him or her to more easily change employers. At this writing it remains unclear whether the reform has been fully implemented. Bahrain's business community strongly opposed the changes, and workers still need the de facto sponsorship of an individual or company in order to remain in the country legally. Migrant workers complain that some employers illegally withhold passports and fail to pay wages.

The amended law excludes migrant domestic workers, who are at especially high risk of abuse due to their isolation in private homes. In 2009 prominent cases involved physical abuse, forced confinement, and the death of domestic workers.

Women's Rights

In May 2009 Bahrain passed its first written personal status law (Law 19/2009), but it applies only to Sunnis. Shia religious scholars demand a constitutional guarantee that the personal status law cannot be amended, while women's groups are pressing for a unified personal status law for all citizens. The government said that it is working toward social consensus in order to pass a personal status law applicable to Shia as well.

Sharia court judges-generally conservative religious scholars with limited formal legal training-decide marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance cases according to their individual reading of Islamic jurisprudence and without reference to codified law. They consistently favor men in their rulings and are unapologetically adverse to women's equality. It remains unclear whether codification has alleviated these problems for Sunni women.

In July 2009 the semi-official Supreme Council for Women launched a campaign calling for equal nationality rights. Article 4 of the Citizenship Law of 1963 does not allow Bahraini women married to non-Bahraini men to pass on their nationality to their children, discriminating against more than 2,000 families in Bahrain. The king endorsed Law 35/2009, which mandates that children of Bahraini women married to non-Bahrainis pay the same fees as citizens for government services such as health, education, and accommodation.

Counterterrorism Measures

In August 2006 the king signed into law the "Protecting Society from Terrorist Acts" bill, despite concerns expressed by the UN special rapporteur on human rights while countering terrorism that it contained excessively broad definitions of terrorism and terrorist acts. The law also allows for extended periods of detention without charge or judicial review.

In February 2009 judicial authorities charged several high-profile opposition figures under the counterterrorism law. They were among those freed as a result of the king's April pardon.

Torture and Ill-Treatment

Local rights groups reported numerous allegations of due process violations, including 11 televised confessions that appeared to have been coerced. The government denied that officials had subjected any detainees to torture or inhumane treatment. In its submission to the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review mechanism in April 2008, Bahrain stated that "there are no cases of torture in the kingdom."

Decree 56/2002, which confers immunity from investigation or prosecution on government officials alleged to be responsible for torture and other serious human rights abuses committed prior to 2001, remains on the books.

Key International Actors

Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet and provides logistical support for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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21 Jan, 2010

Authorities block human rights page on Twitter website

Alert - Bahrain 20 January 2010 Authorities block human rights page on Twitter website SOURCE: Bahrain Center for Human Rights

(BCHR/IFEX) - 10 January 2010 - The authorities have blocked a personal webpage operated by a Bahraini resident on the global social website Twitter, justifying the move by claiming that the owner of the webpage is breaking the country's law regulating printing, publishing and the press.

The webpage on Twitter, which became known as "Free Bahrain" ( http://twitter.com/FreeBahrain ), posted human rights links, statements and local news quoted from the websites of human rights organisations or published in local and international newspapers about human rights in Bahrain, including statements and reports by the BCHR. The webpage has a large network of friends on Twitter. Twitter is a social networking site usually used by youths, activists and human rights defenders to inform people of their movements, activities and other news which they would like others to read.

The blocking of the webpage was confirmed by the assistant undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Information, Dr. Abdullah Yateem, one day after the "Al-Wasat" newspaper reported on the closure. Yateem claimed that the webpage had contravened the laws of Bahrain concerning printing and publication, yet he did not specifically indicate what the violation was or which articles of law it was inconsistent with. Ever since Sheikha Mai Al-Khalifa, who is a member of the ruling family, became the minister of information, the authorities have arbitrarily blocked hundreds of websites, using the fight against pornography and sites that harm national unity as their justification. However, many of the closed sites are dialogue and chat forums, political websites, or blogs of human rights defenders or human rights organisations, including the BCHR and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

The BCHR considers the blocking of the Twitter webpage to be yet another attempt to obstruct the expression of people's opinions and restrict the available peaceful means of expression. At the same time, the BCHR believes that this action confirms that, with the rapid development of technology, it has become difficult for governments to block all the websites they would like to target. The BCHR views the government's policy regarding websites as a strengthening of its position on the black list of tyrannical and undemocratic states.

The blocking of websites by the authorities contradicts Bahrain's commitments as a member in the Human Rights Council and as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In particular, Article 19 of the ICCPR states that, "Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference" and "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

The BCHR demands that the Bahraini authorities stop targeting websites and dialogue and social forums which criticise government policy. Instead, the government should take the criticism in a positive spirit and use it as a tool towards finding solutions.

For more information: Bahrain Center for Human Rights Manama Bahrain info (@) bahrainrights.org Phone: +97 33 9633399 Fax: +97 31 7795170 Bahrain Center for Human Rights http://www.bahrainrights.org

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13 Jan, 2010

Freedom in the World 2010 Survey Release

Bahrain’s political rights rating declined from 5 to 6 and its status from Partly Free to Not Free due to arrests of prominent members of the Haq political society, an increase in systematic harassment of opposition political figures, and worsening sectarian discrimination

On January 12, Freedom House released its findings from the latest edition of Freedom in the World, the annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties. According to the survey’s findings, 2009 marked the fourth consecutive year in which global freedom suffered a decline—the longest consecutive period of setbacks for freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report. These declines were most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, although they also occurred in most other regions of the world. Furthermore, the erosion in freedom took place during a year marked by intensified repression against human rights defenders and democracy activists by many of the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes, including Russia and China.

Freedom in the World 2010 reflects developments that took place in the calendar year 2009. The full survey, including the individual country reports, will be available in late spring 2010.

http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=505

Fewer free countries in 2009: Freedom House Daniel Trotta NEW YORK Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:36am ESTNEW YORK (Reuters) - Civil freedoms around the world lost ground for the fourth straight year in 2009 with Iraq improving, Afghanistan falling back and China acting as if it were under siege by its own citizens, Freedom House said on Tuesday.

World | China

Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Yemen moved into "not free" category, raising the total to 47 from 42 in 2008. The number of electoral democracies fell from 119 to 116, the lowest since 1995.

Eighty-nine countries were designated "free" and 58 "partly free" in the report issued by the U.S.-based advocate for democracy and human rights.

The four-year deterioration marked the longest decline since Freedom House began its annual survey in 1972.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, saw political rights deteriorate in the face of rapidly worsening security and the "increased marginalization of the parliament and other political institutions," the report said.

The report cited also "growing paranoia of even the largest and most headstrong" of the world's authoritarian powers.

"No country can compete in this respect with China, which -- despite its waxing economic and military prowess -- behaves as if it were under siege by its own citizens," the report said.

China's growing economic influence abroad helped repressive countries by providing investment free of the conditions often imposed by the West, the report's lead researcher said.

"As long as China can get strategic minerals or some kind of economic gain, they will invest in those countries," said Arch Puddington, director of research for Freedom House.

"It's a problem, especially in Africa. Some of these authoritarian countries have an option -- they don't have to carry out reforms that the United States or Europe might be demanding," he said.

While Asia was cited as a region of modest improvements, the report cited diminished freedom in Afghanistan, where a "deeply flawed presidential poll exacerbated an already unstable security situation and exposed the prevalence of corruption within the government."

Iraq, by contrast, showed improvement as the rest of the Middle East and North Africa region "suffered a number of significant setbacks."

"Iraq's political rights rating improved in light of provincial elections, which were generally regarded as fair and competitive, and due to the government's enhanced autonomy as the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops got under way," the report said.

(Editing by Alan Elsner http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60B34120100112

10 Jan, 2010

Chasing minor suspects of corruption while senior officials enjoy impunity

The One-Eyed War against Corruption in Bahrain: Chasing minor suspects of corruption while senior officials enjoy impunity

The Elected Members in the Council of Representatives and Municipality have to carry out their Responsibilities and not withhold any Information related to Corruption cases, Otherwise they are Associates in It

The Role of Media and Civil Society Institutions has to be activated to Fight Corruption

10 January 2010

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is observing with grave concern and worry the double standards with which the Authority is dealing with corruption cases, and the apparent discrimination in the methods of dealing with the suspects in those cases. At a time where the smaller suspects in cases related to corruption are imprisoned and exposed both in the local newspapers and government media before even issuing any court ruling against them, and contrary to the principles that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, and imprisoning some of them in an arbitrary manner contrary to the reasonable period of detention for interrogation, and the ambiguity surrounding the charges brought against them or the laws they are based upon; yet on the other hand – and contrary to the rights of the individuals that they are equal before the law and their right to equal protection without any distinction or discrimination – on the other hand the leading officials accused in cases of corruption who received bribes or have taken over public lands remain not only on the loose but are clinging to their posts in complete impunity from monitoring or legal questioning, as they are either members of the ruling family or they are closely allied to one of the pillars of the regime.

In an unannounced campaign launched by the Deputy King and Crown Prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al- Khalifa to fight corruption by making a group of subsequent press releases that are against corruption, and threatening the corruptors of the justice that will reach them, and the statements which were accompanied with some arrests of a group of officials in several government institutions or state-owned companies, and some of those arrests and detention processes were carried out in an arbitrary and exaggerated manner just to prove the credibility of this campaign against corruption and against the manipulation of public funds; however, all these cases and claims that were investigated only targeted by interrogation or detention of the middle and junior officials only, and it did not dare to reach the main people who remained on the loose all the time, maintaining their high posts in the state. These double standards in dealing with the cases of corruption and corruptors weakened the credibility and seriousness of this campaign led by the Crown Prince against corruption, as it did not reach the main deficiency and it did not exceed the red lines, and they are the untouchables and are immune individuals who are the main ones responsible for all these cases.

The claims and cases related to corruption and which were raised in the last couple of years in Alba Company[1] can be an example of this double standard approach in executing these laws. Some of the Bahraini newspapers[2][2] published a news piece that was sent by the Public Prosecution to the Bahraini newspapers stating that it had issued orders to arrest the officials in the marketing department in Aluminium Bahrain (Alba), on the charges of receiving commissions from a foreign company in exchange for reducing the sales price of the company’s products[3][3]. The Public Prosecution initiated the investigation with the defendants and they are two of the small officials in the company, the two defendants were kept in detention and undergone investigation for a period exceeding 8 months, and they were not informed of the nature of the charges against them or what the laws that these charges are based on. They were released on 5th June, 2008, after their health had deteriorated because they got infected with the dangerous tuberculosis disease[4][4] due to them mixing with one of the infected inmates[5][5]. Since their arrest, all their bank accounts and members of families’, including the minors’ bank accounts as well were frozen; their monthly salaries were suspended and their freedom to dispose of their properties was restricted. The arrest and detention campaign was followed with a smear campaign against them before issuing any court ruling that condemns them, and this campaign started since their moment of arrest and even before the interrogation started, either through the statements sent by the Public Prosecution which did not include their names, or through the leakages that were instigated here and there, and the intention of conveying it to the public opinion from various sources including the alleging company. It was apparent that some of the government bodies were working on convincing the public opinion at that time of the seriousness and firmness of the authority in this campaign to eliminate corruption, as well as to fulfill some of the requirement that is needed for some free trade agreements that was sign or to be signed like the one Bahrain did with the US government.

Most of the investigation with the suspects revolves around doubts that they received commissions from a mediating foreign company in exchange for reducing the sales price of the company’s products, and the institution accused of paying those commissions is the Swiss Glencore International AG[6][6] a global commodity trader[7][7]. What is surprising is the company’s contradicting performance in this file, as the Bahrain Aluminium Company (Alba) had struck a deal with this company that is accused of paying those commissions, and that deal states that Glencore International AG becomes the exclusive marketing agent to sell the company’s ( Alba ) products in the Asian countries. At a time where the company rewards the accused company ( Glencore International AG ) by striking this deal, those suspects in Bahrain face trial with the above mentioned charges.

In another case related to corruption in the same state-owned Bahrain Aluminium company (Alba) run by a called Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding company, the Wall Street Journal[8][8] published in several stories at different times, a news piece that states that the Aluminium Bahrain Company (Alba) filed a civil lawsuit to the specialized Federal Court in the United States against the ALCOA American Company[9][9] regarding immense corruption processes represented in that the company and for 15 years specified supply contracts to a group of companies founded by a consultant that holds the Canadian passport, and he is a partner of (Alcoa) as a secret way to pay the illegal commissions in order to get the tenders of providing (Alba) with the alumina substance, and that (Alba) paid two billion dollars more than the price in the market, in return for transferring that money as commission to the former Bahraini official, who is the former Minister of Oil and member of the King’s family Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al-Khalifa[10][10]. Despite the magnitude of this case, no investigation or lawsuit was initiated against this official, and that Alba company or the Mumtalakat that runs it, who had presented other people to court on charges relating to corruption and receiving money as commissions, had totally overlooked its responsibility in filing a criminal lawsuit in Bahrain against the above mentioned minister as he is a member of the ruling family. Yet, his work as a advisor for the Prime Minister in a rank of minister was not stopped, especially that this case exceeds a hundred times the former one in the magnitude of presented amounts of money and the clarity of charges, and even the Public Prosecution which is considered a branch of the judiciary did not carry out the role it is assigned to as an impartial judiciary body, and it did not initiate any lawsuit although this case is considered one of the largest corruption cases in the history of Bahrain. This civil case was accompanied with several lawsuits or criminal investigations that reached the same issue outside Bahrain and specifically in the United States and Europe, but the government of Bahrain who was the main loser turned a blind eye to all that as if the matter did not concern it.

Since the current King of Bahrain came to the throne, the process of appointing members of the ruling family occupy high executive ranks in the government or owned or run by the State institutions, companies and administrative boards accelerated. Those posts are given to them as privileges enjoyed by the ruling family away from their academic or professional background, or ability to hold those posts. For the first time, since the independence of Bahrain, the percentage of the members of the ruling family exceeds the total number of Sunni and Shiite citizens in the Council of Ministers[11][11] and around 50% of the board of directors of those companies that belong to government. This policy contributed in the spread of favoritism, tribal and accessibility factor in the government institutions and bodies on the expense of proficiency, professionalism and perfection at work which is no longer considered the standards used for the gradual growth of career in these institutions, and this had a large impact in flaccidity and poor performance and production of many of the government institutions. What is worrying in this matter as well is that those individuals, as they are members of the ruling family, are not subjected to monitoring or questioning usually, and there are no records that any of them was presented to court on any charges relating to corruption or bad administration, Bahrain is even considered one of the few countries in the GCC that has not presented any of the members of its ruling families to court, in a time where it is considered the most one which has members of the ruling family dominating the vital posts in the country, as well as its executive, economic and judicial bodies. The policy of Khalfana[12][12] that is happening to the vital posts in the state has led to that the majority of these government institutions, run by them, become in full impunity from questioning, monitoring and financial and administrative accountability.

While Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, King Deputy, Crown Prince, and President of the Economic Development Board and who is the first economic official in the governing body and who is responsible for initiating the campaign against corruption, had stated at an earlier time, ‘The campaign against corruption will not exclude anyone, and the hands of accountability and justice will reach any minister or official if he is proven to be involved in any case of corruption’[13][13]. However, the Bahraini authorities or the property institutions did not commit to these statements and dealt in apparent double standards in this case as opposed to the former ones and where the suspects were minor employees, in order to immune the above mentioned official from the hands of justice.

It became known today that the eminent officials in the country, and members of the ruling family, are participating in large investment projects that depend on taking over wide areas of public lands, and especially in the lands buried from the Bahraini beaches in what is estimated to have a value of billions of dollars, while the general budget and the states potentials are used to provide infrastructure to those privately-owned enterprises. Note that the Bahraini constitution prevents combining the public job with the private investment work.

While the Council of Representatives formed a investigation committee in the buried lands, and several MPs presented the case of overtaking state lands by influential figures, and the members of the municipal councils disclosing a large quantity of information relating to that, neither the Council of Representatives nor the members of municipal councils announced until now the information they have or the results they reached, and none of the officials have been questioned yet. They believe that the dominance of the influential figures in the state institutions, and the fear of the MPs and municipal councils from their influence, the publishing of any of that information or taking any procedure against those figures will be banned.

In light of the failure of the elected representatives of the people in treating the case of corruption or even exposing it, the media and civil society institutions specialized with human rights and transparency remain either pursued or prohibited from work, activity and expression or they are subjected to the influence and power of the influential figures themselves which makes their role marginal in treating corruption.

At a time where the Bahrain Center for Human Rights welcomes any course to eliminate corruption which includes the campaign of the Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, it yet believes that dealing with cases of corruption with double standards will weaken the credibility of this campaign, and any intention to fight corruption has to begin from the top by stopping the senior heads from depleting the state funds and it capabilities, this course if taken will give more public support and credibility in front of the local and international public opinion. The BCHR recalls the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states, ‘All people are born free and are equal in dignity and rights’.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands that the principle that all individuals are equal before the law should be respected and promoted, as was stated in the first paragraph of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that states, ‘All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.’ At a time where the BCHR believes in the necessity of eliminating corruption, it calls for the caution from exaggeration or arbitrariness with the suspects of minor employees or exposing them in the media in aim of convincing the media of the gravity of this campaign. The first paragraph of Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.’

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands that public liberties should be released and especially the ones related to the press and the non-governmental bodies that should play a major role in fighting corruption or stopping the restrictions against them by trials or indirect punishments. It also demands the members of the municipal councils and Council of Representatives to take the responsibility and trust granted to them by the people to reveal, disclose and fight the corruption process otherwise they are associates in the corruption if they are proven to be negligent in carrying out their legislative and monitoring responsibilities in fighting corruption or if they were proved to cover up information relating to corruption.

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[1][1] Aluminium Company owned by the government of Bahrain

[2][2] Alwasat, Issue number: 1839 | Wednesday 19 September 2007

[3][3] Alwasat Newspaper http://www.alwasatnews.com/1838/news/read/253045/1.htm

[4][4] http://www.alwasatnews.com/2068/news/read/292891/1.html

[5][5] Alwasat Newspaper http://www.alwasatnews.com/2100/news/read/298746/1.html

[6][6] Glencore International AG http://www.glencore.com

[7][7] Alwasat Newspaper http://www.alwasatnews.com/2375/news/read/40975/1.html

[8][8] The Wall Street Journal – Role-Reversal: Bahraini Firm Sues Alcoa, Alleging Corruption – February 28, 2008

[9][9] ALCOA American Company is the largest alumina producer in the world and the third largest producer of aluminium, and it used to provide Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) with the alumna substance, and it is the main substance used in making aluminium, since the establishment of the company in 1971 http://www.alcoa.com/global/en/home.asp

[10][10] The Wall Street Journal – Alcoa Faces Bribery Probe After Bahrain Suit – Published March 21, 2008

[11][11] http://www.bahraninet.net/showthread.php?t=39489

[12][12] The sons of Al-Khalifa, and which is the ruling family in Bahrain, taking over the place of the Bahraini citizens

The Wall Street Journal, page B6 - Alleged Kickbacks at Glencore Probed - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123639633890259917.html

[13][13] Alwasat Newspaper http://www.alwasatnews.com/1849/news/read/254985/1.html

8 Jan, 2010

Smear campaign against free expression

Smear campaign against free expression

2 Dec 2010 A large number of fake human rights and civil society organisations have sprung to life in Bahrain, when in reality they are fronts for greater government control, says a new report by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).

These mock rights institutions are extensions of the Royal Court, the Prime Minister's Court or the Interior Ministry, among other branches of state, says BCHR. As far back as 2006, 100 legitimate human rights groups, as well as political and professional figures, sent a letter to the King of Bahrain expressing concern about this secret network.

"One of the aims of this network is smearing the reputation of the independent human rights defenders and opposition's political activists, and creating fictitious and fake civil society institutions and attempting to penetrate the independent ones," says the report.

In fact, BCHR explains, this scheme of false rights groups was a reaction to an acceleration of human rights violations being documented - sectarian discrimination, torture, violations of freedom of expression, human trafficking - and passed on to international rights groups.

In parallel to this phenomenon, legitimate rights defenders have been harassed and slandered, including through the use of the government media. Recently, Nabeel Rajab, President of BCHR, has been targeted in the media after he was elected as a Board member of a regional network in Asia, the Gulf and the Middle East.

For more information, please see the full report: Presenting documents that reveal the "GONGOs" organisations in Bahrain

http://www.ifex.org/bahrain/2009/12/02/fake_rights_groups/

28 Dec, 2009

Authorities prevent an annual demonstration in commemoration of martyrs and torture victims

On National Day, Bahrain turns into a security quagmire

Authorities prevent an annual demonstration in commemoration of martyrs and torture victims

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights expresses its grave concern over the Bahraini authority’s decision to prevent a scheduled demonstration on 17 December 2009 in commemoration of martyrs and victims of torture. The Committee of Martyrs and victims of torture calls for this demonstration on an annual basis and followed the usual procedures and laws required to carry out a peaceful demonstration. Despite this the authorities refused to allow the demonstration to go ahead on this day which coincides with the coronation celebrations in what the state terms National Day.

Since the nineties, the Committee for martyrs and victims of torture has used 17 December to remember and pray for their loved ones. 17 December 1994 was the day in which the first two martyrs of the popular uprising were killed. Hani Ahmed Alwasti (22 years) and Hani Abbas Khamis (24 years) were shot dead in protests calling for the return of the parliament and the constitution. On the same day in 2007, another martyr was also killed, Ali Jassim, when participating in a demonstration to mark this annual event.

Bahrain witnessed severe unrest and a popular uprising between 1994-1997 demanding political reform, the return of parliamentary life and constitution which was abandoned by the previous Emir, as well as demanding an end to sectarian discrimination against the shia and the release of political prisoners. During this period, around 40 citizens were shot dead by special security forces, consisting mostly of foreign mercenaries, or as a result of severe torture whilst under police arrest.

The Committee for martyrs and victims of torture marks this day to demand from the authorities an investigation into these cases in order to ascertain and punish those responsible for death and abuse and to bring them to trial in a fair court so that the victims and their families can gain justice and compensation. The authorities have thus far refused to acknowledge or cooperate with the committee. In fact a royal decree (law 56) has given immunity to all those in the security forces who may have committed any crime prior to 2002, and in some cases has given officials implicated in these crimes promotion to higher position, as well as medals and gifts.

Whilst the state television channel was airing continuously the coronation celebrations organized and staged by the government, the contrasting reality was the image of many villages and suburbs of Manama turning into a battle field, surrounded by security forces ready to attack protestors who chose to defy the ban. This build up of security had begun up to a month earlier. On the day, all routes into the area where the demonstration was planned to take place were blocked, and helicopters were monitoring the villages from the sky. As a result, many confrontations occurred between people living in the villages and the security forces. Arrests of protestors took place, some of them children. The BCHR is aware of the following arrested persons:

AbdAlrasool Alsafi[1] (16 years), who suffers from mental problems and is under the care of the Centre for the Rehabilitation of those with Special Needs

Yousif Ahmed (14 years)

Hasan Ali Asghar (17 years)

Ali Hasan Saleh (15 years)

Abdullah Jaffar Abdulwahab (19 years)

Most of those arrested seem to be from Sitra and surrounding areas. Confounding the situation is the security force’s use of tear gas, live ammunition and rubber bullets against protestors and passersby in the village. The protests around National Day have engulfed many areas in Bahrain, sparing few. Abdali Mohammed Hasan, an MP, was also hit by rubber bullets as he stood outside his home in Nuwaidrat on 18 December.

The BCHR is concerned that the prevention of peaceful and legal demonstrations is driving the frustration and anger of a few who resort to violent means of protest. The BCHR also believes that preventing channels of expression and peaceful gatherings is a glaring violation of human rights and freedom of expression. Article 20 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Based on the above, the BCHR calls on the authorities to stop preventing peaceful protests that respect the law - a right enshrined in international treaties ratified by Bahrain. The BCHR also demands that the Bahraini government begins an open and effective dialogue to discuss past crimes of torture and death in the nineties as part of truth and reconciliation process to allow the families of the victims to gain justice and move on.

20 Dec, 2009

Bahrain 10 years on

Bahrain 10 years on From Deena Jawhar, Middle East International www.meionline.com Deena Jawhar recalls the radical change of course that was promised when King Hamad assumed power and how it quickly veered away from expectations

Bahrain has been bracing itself for the celebration of King Hamad’s 10th anniversary on the throne. Greater pomp and ceremony than ever were planned for this year’s 17 December festivities, with a huge and diverse array of events lined up to mark the occasion, all held under a specially produced official logo proclaiming “Ten Bright Years”.

The opposition has meanwhile been preparing for an annual commemoration of its own – that of ‘Martyr’s Day’, which is held in remembrance of lives lost during the so-called ‘black chapter’ of the 1990s. Rain was forecast to be the guest of honour at both parties, but no downpour can temper the political heatwave on the island that is generated by the friction between the two each year.

The official celebrations and opposition commemorations may offer very different verdicts on King Hamad’s decade in power, but none would deny that Bahrain has changed. Upon the death of his father, Sheikh Issa, in 1999, the country was nursing itself from a sporadic popular uprising that had lasted for the most part of a decade, and was suffocating under the shackles of a police state whose jails were crowded with political detainees. Issa had sternly rejected the path of political participation in 1975 when he dissolved the elected parliament, abandoned the democratic clauses of the constitution and introduced draconian state security legislation. By the time Hamad took over as emir, 25 years of despotic rule had taken its toll on people and there was a growing sense in high places that the situation had become unsustainable.

Soon afterwards, Hamad, a well-groomed Sandhurst-educated courtier, initiated a project that was intended to herald a radical shift in the political management of the country. Bahrain was to become a “modern, democratic, constitutional monarchy” akin to the UK and other European countries. The new emir took a series of courageous measures, releasing all political prisoners overnight and declaring an amnesty for all exiles who had fled or been banished from the country over the years. He toured the downtrodden villages for the first time, places where his predecessors had rarely set foot and would have been unwelcome. Hamad was elevated by his people – literally: the convoy he was in was lifted by the hordes of people who greeted him, an unprecedented sight. This outreach set high expectations and was reciprocated with goodwill by the opposition. Even the sternest sceptics who may have thought this too good to be true could only stand back and observe. In a national referendum, 98.4% of Bahrainis voted in favour of political change and the restoration of the 1973 constitution.

A year later, the emir announced that henceforth this tiny state was to be a ‘kingdom’ and crowned himself ‘king’. The new title was supposed to be better suited to the head of a modern constitutional monarchy. But it proved to be apt in a quite different sense: for the Arabic root of the word for king, malik, denotes not only the status of a sovereign but also the concepts of control and ownership. Hamad went on to promulgate a constitution, written up behind closed doors, which contained major amendments to the original 1973 constitution. The most important of these were provisions to curb the powers of the elected parliament by giving equal authority to a hand-picked shoura council, and requiring two-thirds of the combined votes of both bodies to pass any law, making that almost impossible if they are not in agreement. This was the first major blow to expectations of reform, and was considered a fundamental reversal. It remains the opposition’s major grievance.

The process of overcoming the legacy of the recent past remains unfinished business in other respects too. As part of the opposition’s counter events, a South African-styled Truth and Reconciliation Committee was inaugurated on 14 December with the objective of documenting human rights abuses in the 1990s, bringing perpetrators to justice and securing compensation for victims of torture. King Hamad had sought to draw a line under that period with a royal decree issued in 2002 granting security officers and state officials impunity from prosecution for violations allegedly committed prior to 2001. Yet it has become a custom on National Day for the families and supporters of those who were killed during the 1990s to visit their grave sites on what has come to be dubbed ‘Martyr’s Day’. The challenge remains of addressing that legacy to unite the country in celebration of the king’s accession to power.

Old habits Squaring tribalism with democracy can be like squeezing an elephant down a plughole. King Hamad has in the ensuing years been criticised for running Bahrain less like a state than as an ‘estate’. This features a patrimonial style of leadership in which the king bestows bounty on his people through the device of the royal makrama (personal favour), out of a contrived benevolence rather than from a sense of rights or of responsibilities of the state. These gifts to the people are paid for by public money. The king’s makrama outlays have stretched from housing loans to a water fountain, and are normally initiated by individuals or groups who pay visits to his majlis to make such requests, hardly a modern and impartial approach to national reform.

The blurring of the distinction between public and private funds has also been evident elsewhere. Under King Hamad’s reign, enormous personal royal wealth is believed to have been amassed: on the back of the oil boom (the 2007 national budget was based on $40/barrel when the actual price averaged $53/barrel); from sales of unregulated and unregistered land (including an estimated 100 square kilometres reclaimed from the sea); or from the stakes held in the majority of the big commercial real estate developments. The Royal Court alone has an estimated annual budget of over $300 million (equivalent to that of the Ministry of Health), according to private sources, and is not subject to parliamentary accountability. Yet any criticism of the king is an offence. This endemic corruption and obscuring of property rights are serious questions not yet addressed in the king’s reform project.

Under Hamad’s reign, his family members have occupied increasing numbers of key decision making-posts in government, prompting the opposition to accuse him of “Khalifising the state apparatus.” He assigned his son with the task of managing the country’s economy. The number of cabinet ministers has been increased to 23, including only five Shi’i ministers and 11 from the ruling family (in the past the cabinet consisted of five Sunnis, five Shi’a and five Al Khalifa ministers). In the most sensitive departments such as the defence forces, domestic security or interior, Shi’a are absent from key posts and seriously under-represented at all levels. Yet the government denies any sectarian discrimination. Tied within this is the accusation, which has become a perceived reality, that the government has been manipulating Bahrain’s demographic make-up through the politically motivated naturalisation of foreign nationals and extended voting rights to citizens of Saudi Arabia during the last elections.

One of the major achievements most often hailed of the king’s reform project is the relative freedom of expression that is now permitted. Yet there are more than 1,000 censored websites (including those of the political opposition), and the ruling family’s influence and control of the press through ownership, funding and soft coercion on newspaper editors has led to increasing levels of self-censorship by journalists. In a recent case, the publication of journalist Ali Saleh’s articles in al-Bilad newspaper was suspended after he criticised the king’s reform project. Other journalists received verbal warnings not to do the same.

So, the press has, for the most part, been gushing with praise for the king and his achievements in the build-up to the 10th anniversary, with a conspicuous absence of constructive self-reflection on Hamad’s political and economic progress to date, or how closely today’s Bahrain resembles the constitutional monarchy he promised decade ago.

20 Dec, 2009

In Escape from and not as a Solution to the Human Rights Files

Bahrain: An Escalation of Arrests and New Claims of Torture with the Approach of the Week of Martyrs and Torture Victims

December 2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is observing the deteriorating security status with great concern, and fears that the situation gets out of hand and the impact of that on the overall stability of the country, and the further decline in the human rights conditions, due to the return of the security grip policy to the surface, by the start of a new arrest campaign in many of the Shiite-dominated areas and villages of Bahrain, as well as receiving reports about many of the detainees who are facing physical and mental torture in the interrogation and detention centers. The BCHR learnt that the Security Forces who are made up of Special Forces and Intelligence Men (National Security), at different timings most of them before sunset, broke into several homes in the various areas and arrested at least 15 of the villages youngsters, and led them to the security centers without committing to any of detainees and families' rights during the arrest and search process and without considering the local laws and the international conventions that Bahrain sanctioned. The arrest campaign comes against the backdrop of the growing protest activities and demonstrations witnessed in the various Bahraini villages and areas, which are becoming almost daily in response to the governments continuous policy in sectarian discrimination at all levels against the indigenous residents of the country from the Shiite community; and the sectarian and political naturalization tended by the governing institution; and the marginalization of the opposition with all its diversity inside and outside the parliamentary institution; and keeping dozens of detainees in prison; and the increasing claims of being subjected to torture, as well as neglecting the torture victims' issue by the authorities, which aggravates those tensions that are causing those protests and demonstrations, especially with the approach of the week of victims of torture. The protests were penetrated with the reciprocal violence between the parties and the use of excessive force and live ammunition by the Special Security men, and which is faced with stones and Molotov, setting fire to tires and garbage containers to close down the streets in the protest areas. What increases the severity of the tension that is causing those protest acts is the practice of collective punishment against some Shiite villages and areas, and surrounding them and showering them with teargas, and using live ammo against the demonstrators, as well as rubber bullets by the Security Forces which is made up of foreign mercenary forces brought in by the authorities and nationalized and granted the Bahraini citizenship in order to carry out these tasks. Usually these forces are accompanied by civilian cars with individuals wearing civilian clothes. Noteworthy, the villages of Der, Karana, Sihla, Sitra, Ma'ameer, Abu-Saibaa, Duraz, Sanabes, Deh, Jidhafs and Mugshaa – and some other villages – were the scene of the nonstop and escalating confrontations. The majority of detainees faced torture and abuse according to the statements filed by the lawyers working in defense of the detainees or by the statements of the families of detainees who had the opportunity to visit their children in prison.

Due to the deteriorating security, caused by the prevailing state of tension owing to the governing authority's disability to set down solutions or to end its policy that is causing this continuous and ever-growing crisis in the country, the BCHR fears that the apparent disability might lead the official institutions to cook up any security incidents or an imaginary terrorist act, following it with more arrests as it had done during the month of December in the last years.

Based on all of the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the governing the following:

To start an actual, and not a superficial dialogue to solve all the outstanding and controversial human rights files, instead of the security solutions which have and never will be an ideal solution to any of the crisis, it will yet raise them apart and make them far more complex. On top of these files, the vile systematic sectarian discrimination practiced against the Shiite, and which has apparently found care, adoption and support by the ruling elites; To stop the political naturalization and manipulating the social fabric which is targeting both the Shiite and Sunni; and clearing the prisons from the protest detainees and releasing them and to put an end to the systematic torture as a means of extracting confessions from the detainees in disrespect to the magnitude of their crime; and to present the ones responsible for torture to court and to redress their victims; and to dissolve the National Security Apparatus and return its jurisdictions to the regular security bodies; and to return the mercenaries working in the security apparatuses to their countries, and to present any one of them who committed a crime to a public and fair trial. The BCHR also demands that the Public Prosecution institution to be reformed in a manner that ensures its independence and integrity, and to distance it from the executive and security institutions in the country. The BCHR also emphasizes the rights of individuals, affected and victims in the peaceful protest and demonstration, and which is a permissible and legal right guaranteed by the international covenants of human rights. However, the BCHR, at the same time demands that these protests are marked by peace and clarity in demands, and to stay away from violence and counter-violence, and to not give the authority the excuse to its abuse and to its excessive use of force against the demonstrators or the villages and areas they live in.

Background

After protests that lasted more than a week, the village of Der witnessed violent confrontations where the Security Forces intensely used teargas, rubber bullets and live ammo which resulted in the injury of some of them[i][i], and some of the villages cars were damaged by the security forces as part of the collective punishment, and those confrontations were followed by an arrest campaign in the early hours of dawn on Wednesday 18 November, and which included 9 juveniles and youngsters of those villages, the known ones are:

1. Kumail Hasan Al-Ghanami (16 years old)

2. Sayed Ali Sayed Saeed (22 years old)

3. Hasan Ali Hasan (26 years old)

4. Hussein Ali Ahmed Al-Umr (23 years old)

5. Mohammed Faisal Al-Umr (19 years old)

6. Hussein Faisal Al-Umr (17 years old)

7. Ahmed Atyat Al-Umr (18 years old)

8. Ahmed Abd-Ul-Mutalib Al-Umr (16 years old)

9. Ridha Rajab Al-Umr (15 years old)

The reports that were documented by the BCHR indicate that the majority of those youngsters were arrested from their homes, except for Hussein Faisal who was arrested from the streets, and that the arrests took place without presenting any official orders of the arrest or its reasons. Their families were prevented from knowing anything about them until three days elapsed from their arrest, as well as in the Prosecution, which ordered that they be held in custody for 15 days on the charges of crowding, riot, arson and damaging public property. They were interrogated and subjected to torture and inhumane treatment during the questioning without the presence of a lawyer or any legal representation.

In Sihla village, a peaceful protest ended in heated confrontation between the Special Security Forces and protestors, which – as stated by the Ministry of Interior – resulted in the suffering of one of the Special Forces from burns due to a protestor throwing a Molotov cocktail on him, and some protestors were injured, but they were treated at home in fear of being arrested. Those clashes were followed with arrests, which included:

10. Abdul-Aziz Abdul-Ridh Ibrahim (23 years old), Hamad Town, and who was arrested in the morning of Sunday 22nd November from his place of work. The campaign also included:

11. Sayed Sadiq Sayed Ali Mahdi (17 years old), a student in secondary school, a Hamad Town resident, arrested on 23rd November.

12. Sayed Isa Sayed Abbas (22 years old), a Hamad Town resident, arrested on 23rd November, were reports documented by the BCHR stated that the doors to the homes of both Sayed Isa and Sayed Sadiq were damaged, and the contents of their houses were messed and destroyed by the intruding forces.

All the detainees of the Sihla events spoke to their lawyers or members of their families when they met them about the torture they faced since the moment of their arrest and during the interrogation and detention. Yet, the lawyer Mohammed Al-Jishi demanded that his client Sayed Isa be presented to the forensic doctor to confirm the torture wounds which were clearly evident on the body of his client, and based on that the Prosecution referred him to the forensic doctor.

Other villages witnessed several arrests, the known ones were:

13. Isa Abdul-Allah Kadhim (21 years old), from Karana village, and which is witnessing along with its neighbouring villages such as Abu-Saibaa and Mugshaa – a series of almost daily protests, and they are surrounded at night by the Special Forces for several weeks.

The village of Ma'ameer witnessed the same protests at Tuesday noon on 17th November. The Special Security Forces broke into the house of:

14. Majeed Hussein Salil (28 years). He faced severe torture after the arrest by hanging him from his hands and beating him while being hung. The detainee's family indicates that Majeed was prevented from eating for two days, and during those two days he was beaten with the Falaqa and hung in what was known as the "drawer", and which is a place that is used for hanging the detainees and subjecting them to torture, to get them to confess. Majeed was put into solitary confinement for 7 days and was prevented from showering, and he was forced to confess what the interrogators dictated him.

15. Hasan Abdul-Ameer Radhi (20 years old), from Ma'ameer village, arrested on 11th November in Belad-Al-Qadeem area. According to his family's statement to the BCHR, he was forced to confess what the interrogators dictated him. He was prevented from eating and drinking for two days, and during the interrogation he was subjected to beating and hanging in the Falaqa way or hanging in the "drawer" room. He was beaten continuously on his feet until his feet became black, and he was forced to stand for a long time while being handcuffed with metal cuffs, and he was subjected to insults and curses that touch on his sectarian beliefs and threatened to sexually abuse him before detaining him in solitary confinement for 14 days, during which he was prevented from showering.

Violations in the Arrest, Detention and Interrogation Procedures

Most of the cases documented by the BCHR indicate that the Security Apparatuses utilized Special Forces and Civil Militias affiliated with the National Security Apparatus in all the arrest processes, however they were without any official permission clarifying the organization or the reasons of arrest, as well as preventing them from calling their lawyers or their families during the first days of arrest. According to Article 61 of the Code of Criminal Procedures of 2002 which states, "No one shall be arrested nor imprisoned except by an order of the legally competent authority. He shall be treated in such a manner as to maintain his human dignity and shall not be subjected to any bodily or psychological harm. Every person who is arrested shall be informed of the reasons for his arrest. He shall have the right to contact any of his relatives to inform him of what has happened and to seek the aid of a lawyer."

All the previous cases of arrest clarified that the detainee, not only does not know what he is charged with, he is even prevented from contacting the outside world. The detainee is prevented from eating, showering or performing religious obligations, and he is forced to stand for long hours and is put in solitary confinement for long hours as a punishment to him, and to extract the confession from him, violating by that Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Bahrain sanctioned in September 2006, stating that, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." All who were arrested were not arrested during an act of offense or felony or a crime punished by law, most of them were sleeping in their homes when the Forces broke into their houses. Article 57 of the Code of Criminal Procedures states, "A judicial summary arrest officer shall immediately hear the statements of the accused following his arrest. If he fails to provide evidence of his acquittal, he shall send him to the Public Prosecution within 48 hours." The law states the presence of a warrant clarifying the "crime" the detainee is charged with and his role in it, before bringing him for interrogation, and it was stated in Article 14 – in the International Covenant on Civil Rights specified for providing the guarantees for each person charged with a crime should be entitled to, during the consideration of his case, and in full equality, the minimum guarantees, some are: "To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him; To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing; Not to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt."

In the light of the Public Prosecution lacking the standards to protect the detainees and dealing with them on the principles of the non-honourable opponent and on the basis of crime not innocence, as was indicated by the previous testimonies of detainees, the Prosecution is conspiring with the Security Apparatuses[ii][ii] according to what was stated in the BCHR previous report. Usually, the detainee returns to the place of interrogation to face the interrogators and torturers after the elapse of the first "48" hours, despite the defendant's denial to the charges before the Prosecution and sometimes in presence of his lawyer.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights

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[i] http://www.bchr.net/ar/node/2982

[ii] http://www.bchr.net/ar/node/2960

18 Dec, 2009

Expanding the red lines of criticism in the press

The unspoken rules imposed on journalist and self-censorship

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights expresses its grave concern over the recent clampdown on freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain and the expansion of issues that are effective “red lines” in the media defining the scope of the unspoken and unwritten rules of censorship that journalists must observe when discussing certain institutions and people. Often these red lines that limit any criticism are implemented through direct influence of the editors of newspapers. Based on this policy, BCHR has come to learn that the management and editorial board of Albilaad newspaper has informed its journalists and staff by telephone not to address any criticism of the following bodies: the Economic Development Board (EDB), Mumtalakat (sovereign wealth fund) and other organizations related to it, any projects and initiatives governed by the King and his son the Crown Prince.

This comes a month after the reputable journalist, Ali Saleh was stopped from writing for Albilaad newspaper by direct order from the Royal court due to a series of articles he had written discussing the so-called reform process by the King of Bahrain. This seems to have set a dangerous precedent in the newspaper whereby it has threatened to apply the rule across journalists urging them to follow a more positive tone when addressing the King and his son’s projects to appease the watchful eyes of the Royal Court and to avoid angering them in the future.

What is worrying is the increase in the number of articles and journalists that are being censored directly by officials and or are exercising self-censorship. This level of coercion and control on the media through the blocking of websites and the restriction of the press has lead to the regression of Bahrain’s position on international freedom rankings.

Besides the usual methods of restricting media freedom through legal actions and removing articles from the press and preventing journalists the opportunity to continue writing locally, it is also common practice that journalists are threatened or blackmailed directly or indirectly by members of authority in such places as the Royal Court, the Prime Minister’s Court, or the Foreign media department in the Information Ministry. Journalists that breach the red line rule often get sidelined, do not receive invitations to cover big events and occasions, or their respective newspapers are punished by reducing the government advertising that they receive.

Albilaad newspaper is one of the newest in Bahrain and is suspected to be owned by the Prime Minister, Khalifa bin Salman Alkhalifa, and the newspaper’s Chairman, Abdulnabi Al-Shi’ila, is a former minister and current advisor to the PM. The majority of newspapers in Bahrain are in some way controlled by either the King or the PM, either through direct funding or through indirect means of influencing its editorial agenda.

This policy of censorship in Bahrain is in conflict with the principles of freedom of opinion and expression of international treaties and conventions that Bahrain has signed up to, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, wherein article 19 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

As a result of these ongoing practices to repress journalistic freedom, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights demands that the red lines on journalism are removed, that all practices of authoritarian coercion and control using carrot and stick policies are stopped, and policies that support old and new media’s access to information, freedom independence are allowed and encouraged. These measures would protect the principles of a basic democratic state and their absence and use of propaganda will continue to taint the Bahraini government’s international and domestic reputation.

THE BCHR also calls for the return of Ali Saleh to his previous post in Albilaad newspaper and condemns his use as a scapegoat in the battle of influence and control by the political factions of the ruling family that seek to dominate the press. BCHR urges other journalists to stand in solidarity and support with their colleague, and hopes that the Bahrain’s Society of Journalists takes the appropriate measures necessary to ensure that basic principles of objective journalism and journalist rights are protected, and that the Society supports all cases where journalists are pressured and threatened when writing the truth or exposing corruption being perpetrated by certain political parties and individuals in Bahrain. The Society may not agree with what a journalist says, but it must support their right to say it.

BHRC also urges the government to focus on policies that build an independent and transparent free press, rather their recent attacks and criticism of human rights activists that seek to deliver their regular reports on the human rights situation in the country to international NGOs much to official disdain.

Date : 18 - 12- 2009 Bahrain Centre For Human Rights