55 Local, regional and international organizations join call for end to jailing and torture of demonstrators and human rights activists in Bahrain

SOURCE: Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Manama The following is a joint appeal to the King of Bahrain from BCHR and 54 other rights groups:

Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa , King of Bahrain, Riffa, Bahrain Fax : +973 176 64 587

Your Royal Highness,

We the undersigned national and international human rights organisations and other groups defending freedom of expression urge the Bahraini authorities to immediately release those human rights activists and demonstrators who were unjustly detained following protests in December, and to immediately desist from torturing the detainees. We believe the charges against the activists, for violent actions which they did not commit, are a pretext to silence them as a reprisal for their outspoken and peaceful human rights work. As in past years, on 17 December 2007, the Bahraini National Committee for Victims of Torture (NCVT) organised its annual march. On that day in 1994 two young Bahrainis were killed by Special Forces snipers from a helicopter shooting with live ammunition on a peaceful demonstration in Sanabis village calling for political reforms and democratisation.

On 17 December 2007, heavily armed members of the Bahraini Special Security Forces (SSF) were deployed to head off the march, which was prevented from kicking off in Manama. Confrontations quickly spread to nearby villages. In Sanabis village, some protestors were attacked by the SSF and armed militia who besieged the area and showered it with tear gas and rubber bullets. Ali Jassem Makki was allegedly attacked and fatally beaten by the SSF. Protests erupted in many other villages, resulting in many wounded.

Protests were waged in Jidhafs on the days surrounding Ali Jassem's funeral, resulting in fierce confrontations with the heavily armed Special Forces who used tear gas and rubber bullets on the protestors. Protestors responded by hurling stones and setting ablaze rubber tires and trash containers. One patrol vehicle was set afire by the protestors and a weapon inside it was allegedly reported to be missing, resulting in a series of arrests a few days later of well known activists and human rights defenders.

The Bahraini security authorities detained up to 50 people, some of them leaders of popular human rights and civil society such as the Unemployed Committee, Committee to Combat High Prices, Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). Local human rights groups claim that the crackdown was used as a pretext to clamp down on these organisations and round up these activists, who were then unjustly blamed for the incidents during the protests. They have since been subjected to all forms of ill-treatment and torture.

The Security Authorities ransacked houses and carried out dawn raids on those detainees, and confiscated their computers and some of their personal belongings. Out of those detained in the aftermath of the death of Ali Jassem, 14 detainees were falsely charged with rioting, illegal assembly, illegal possession of a weapon and ammunition as well as setting afire a patrol vehicle. Ibrahim Ameen Al Arab, a member of NCVT was also later arrested and charged with possession of the allegedly missing weapon. These 15 people were summoned to court on 3 February 2008, but because of the sudden change made by the judge to hold the hearing after official hours, the defendants’ lawyers decided to boycott that session. The court session was postponed until 24 February.

These 15 detainees include the well-known activists Maytham Bader Jassim Al-Sheikh, Hassan Abdelnabi, Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh and Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, members of the Unemployment Committee, Naji Al-Fateel, member of the BYSHR, Mohammed Abdullah Al-Singace, head of the Committee to Combat High Prices, and Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab, founding member of the Martyrs and Victims Committee. They have been subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment which has included being held incommunicado, beatings, electrocution, malnutrition, deprivation from sleep, being held in unclean conditions, and sexual assault. The latest form of torture was to put the most prominent of those activists in cells with prisoners apparently suffering from communicable diseases.

Popular protests calling for the release of those detainees have been taking place in Bahrain on a daily basis, with some resulting in collective punishment such as showering the areas where these protests emanate with tear gas and rubber bullets as well as beatings of residents by SSF. This has lead to widening unrest.

We, the undersigned, express our deep concerns about the deterioration of the situation and the endangerment of the life of the human rights defenders in Bahrain. The initial incident and its repercussions could have been avoided should the Bahraini authorities have respected and protected the right of the individuals and groups for freedom of expression and assembly. An attack on freedom of expression has repeatedly proven to be a trigger for confrontation between people and local authorities.

We call on the Bahraini Authorities to immediately and unconditionally release of all the political, human rights and other activists unjustly detained in the aftermath of events on 17 December 2007. Releasing all the aforementioned detainees would help suppress the unrest situation in Bahrain, and restore tranquility.

We also take this opportunity to remind the local authorities to reconsider legislation and other practices which threaten all forms of freedom of expression and ensure conformance with international standards and covenants.

Signed by the following organisations:

1. Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society (ATIS-HK), Hong Kong 2. Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF), Kenya 3. Alliance of Filipino Migrants Communities and Association in Korea (KASAMMAKO), Korea 4. Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia 5. Arab Archives Institute, Jordan 6. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo), Egypt 7. Armanshahr Foundation, Afghanistan 8. Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), Hong Kong 9. Association of Filipino Migrant Workers, Korea 10. Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers (AIMW)- Hong Kong 11. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) 12. Bahrain Society of Human Rights (BSHR), Bahrain 13. Bahrain Youth Society of Human Rights (BYSHR), Bahrain 14. Bicol Association, Korea 15. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt 16. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada 17. CARAM ASIA, Malaysia 18. Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) 19. Centre algérien pour la défense et la promotion de la liberté de la presse (CALP), 20. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines 21. Conseil National pour les Libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), Tunisia 22. Cordillera Alliance (CORALL-HK), Hong Kong 23. Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt 24. Federation of Filipino of Workers in Korea 25. Filipino Migrant Workers' Union (FMWU-HK), Hong Kong 26. Filipino Women's Organization in Quebec (PINAY), Canada 27. Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka 28. Freedom House, United States 29. Front Line International, Ireland 30. Gabriela Australia, Australia 31. Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova 32. Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan 33. International Justice Network, United States 34. Maharat Foundation, Lebanon 35. Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria 36. Media Watch, Bangladesh 37. Migrant Forum of Asia, Philippines 38. MIGRANTE International, Philippines 39. Migrante Melbourne, Australia 40. Movement of Liberties and Democracy (HAQ), Bahrain 41. National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Somalia 42. New Era Foundation, Korea 43. Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC) Tunisia 44. OPEN ASIA, France 45. Palestinian Women's Committees, Palestine 46. Philippine Australia Solidarity Association (PASA), Australia 47. Philippine Caucus for Peace, Australia 48. Society of Supporting Freedoms and Democracy, Bahrain 49. Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand 50. Thai Regional Alliance in Hong Kong 51. United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK) 52. United Pangasinan Hong Kong (UPHK) 53. Women on the Move (WEMOVE), Korea 54. Women Petition Committee, Bahrain 55. World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States