1. An Asian Worker Loses his Life in the Worst Deterioration of Ethnic Tension Yet 2. A growing sense of hatred towards all foreigners, due to the Bahraini authorities employment of foreign mercenaries to suppress protests and attack protestors. 3. The Bahraini authorities instigate 'clashes' with protestors, and later use 'clashes' as an excuse to increase repression, justify further repression, and as part of a smear campaign against opposition activists

BCHR 29/03/2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights note with great sorrow the news published in the local press on March 22 regarding the death of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, a Pakistani national (58 years old). Mr. Riyad died on March 21 at Salmaniya hospital as a result of burns, which according to the Ministry of Interior, he suffered after the car he was driving was attacked with a Molotov cocktail on Maameer road on March 7.

Background The assault that took the life of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad is part of a series of incidents of violence and clashes between the Special Security Forces - and an increasing number of young youth who operate at the entrances of the Shiite villages in various areas of Bahrain, where they burn tires and garbage containers, and some of them throw stones or sometimes Molotov cocktails at the Special Security Forces. This happens within the tension of the political and security conditions in Bahrain, and the increasing decline of rights and liberties, and an escalation in the systematic sectarian discrimination by the country against the Shiite sect.

The BCHR believes that Sheikh Mohammed Riyad may not have been targeted as an individual, but rather, was a victim of the security clashes, and the increased suspicion and hatred against foreigners - especially of the Pakistani nationality - who are used widely in the National Security apparatus and the Special Security Forces. The Special Forces have been in charge of besieging and suppressing Shiite villages and areas - which witness acts of protest - and which are intensively and arbitrarily attacked with massive quantities of tear gas, rubber bullets. Special Security Forces also regularly carry out the random pursuit of individuals inside the villages, often assaulting and beating them.

In the last four years these activities have led to the death of one protestor, Ali Jassim Mohammed, the serious injury of scores of people, as well as the general exposure to tear gas of families, including the elderly and children, residing in villages. The BCHR released a report last month that reveals that 64% of the National Security Service are non-Bahrainis, with the majority of them are of Asian nationalities. Photographic and video evidence from 'clashes' show the employment of foreigners - in particular, Pakistanis - both in the Special Security Forces, and also as plainclothes intelligence officers operating in areas where there are protests.

It is in the context of the above-described situation, that Mr Riyad's car was attacked. It is important that his tragic and inexcusable killing sheds lights upon an increasingly dangerous situation in Bahrain, of violent ethnic tension, which is being created and stoked by the actions of the government.

Procedural Issues

The security services have announced the arrest of five suspects, and stated that a search is underway for others. Lawyers have already spoken against the practice of detaining and questioning the accused in the absence of their lawyers.

The process of arrest also raises concern. As is the case with the arrest of those suspected of attacking Mr Riyad's car, it is rare that the individuals accused are arrested red-handed at the scene of the incident. Instead, in the days following any given incident a campaign of arrests is launched based on lists in the possession of the National Security Service. 'Suspects' are then held in custody, and questioned over periods of up to two or three weeks. They are then brought before courts that do not even consider the improper legal proceedings, or the allegations of maltreatment in custody. The court sentencing is generally based on pre-obtained confessions which are usually extracted under duress during custody, and denied by detainees deny in court. The testimonies of security personnel, whose statements are inconsistent and who often fail to identify the detainees are also used as evidence - while the defense witnesses' statements are not considered.

Guilty before Proven

These skewed legal proceedings tend to take place alongside a politically motivated smear campaign in the local pro-government press or international news agencies, where the incident used to damage the reputation of legitimate opponents to the regime, and human rights defenders. This media campaign has the effect of creating a 'conviction' or consensus of guilt before the detainees' actually go through court proceedings. It also works to discourage and taint the lawful demands for rights of the detainees, including the right to not be to arbitrarily arrested, the right to protection from maltreatment or torture in custody, and the right to a fair trial.

Previous Incidents of Note

19 people - most of who are activists and human rights defenders - are currently being held in custody and on trial for allegedly causing the death of Majid Asghar on April 9 2008. Mr Asghar was a Pakistani member of the Special Forces who was part of a security mission on that day, wearing civilian clothes and in a civilian car, near the Karzakan village where protests were being staged.

The Ministry of Interior has also recently announced that almost 40 people set fire to a civilian car by Duraz village, where two security officers inside it survived. The Bahraini authorities also announced that a number of Asian migrant workers have been assaulted and injured by Bani Jamra villagers. The local Press has also reported more than one incident where civilians of Asian origin were attacked due to suspicions that they were members of the National Security. All of these incidents show the dangers which ordinary expatriates, or even Bahraini citizens of Asian background, are being exposed to, in a climate of increasing mistrust and violence.

Some opponents have questioned the truth behind some of the allegations of arson and violence. In the case of Mr Asghar, the medical examiners testimony in court confirmed that his death was not caused by burning, as was announced through the Interior Ministry's media office and by the Public Prosecution. According to the coroner Mr Asghar was killed as a a result of collision with the ground or a solid object.

On March 16, the local Press ran a statement by security officials stating that a car was set aflame by several individuals throwing Molotov cocktails at it in Duraz village, and photos of the burnt car were published with the news piece. However, on the same day, several electronic forums published photographs of the same car showing a group of Special Security personnel from the National security apparatus standing by the above-mentioned car watching the small flame beside the car without attempting to extinguish it. Photos in the sequence show that a member of the security forces appears to be pouring a liquid on the small fire which then causes it to grow and burn the whole car. (Photos attached) The Bahraini authorities has used these incidents to justify the arrest, maltreatment and trials of numerous political opponents and human rights activists. The photos that are related to incidents of arson are used within an organized media campaign inside and outside Bahrain in order to depict incidents in Bahrain as organized acts of terror. This same campaign accuses independent human rights organizations and opposition activists of standing behind these incidents, or provoking people to carry out these acts, in order to justify a crackdown on their liberties, activities and to prosecute them in Bahrain's legal system.

The BCHR and the BYSHR stress that the attack on Sheikh Mohammed Riyad is a terrible violation of his right to life, the most fundamental human right. We emphasize that nothing justifies endangering the safety and lives of innocent people. The BCHR and the BYSHR are sad and disturbed by the escalating sense of hatred and enmity towards foreigners, particularly Asians, among the ordinarily-tolerant Bahraini society. This escalating tension and violence threatens social harmony and civil peace, and is especially worrying since foreigners form almost half of the population of Bahrain, and many of them contributed towards building this country.

The BCHR and the BYSHR holds the Bahraini authorities accountable for this dangerous increase in negativity and violence towards foreigners, and calls for public awareness of this matter.

The BCHR and the BYSHR demand the following:

A fair and independent investigation into the assault on Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, and that its perpetrators are brought to justice in a trial with fair and independent proceedings.

A guarantee that the rights of those arrested on charges related to the incident are protected in a fair trial, and a guarantee that International standards in the procedures of arrest, detention and investigation are met. This also includes the prevention of torture and maltreatment in custody, and the guarantee of the fairness and independence of the court, as well as the assurance of every individual's right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial.

A just and independent investigation into complaints regarding violations committed by Special Security Forces in the areas where protests are constantly taking place, and that security personnel involved in such breaches are held accountable presented before an unbiased and independent court.

An end to the policy of using foreigners in State Security apparatus to suppress Bahraini civilians, and an end to the practice of using foreign mercenaries as plainclothes officers in Bahraini villages, which ultimately endangers them and other foreigners who are not involved in the Security Forces.

And end to the policy of using security incidents as part of a smear campaign against human rights defenders, and as a means to hinder their legitimate work and prosecute them.

To honestly address the causes of political and security tension, and to stop the policy of the systematic sectarian discrimination and to guarantee the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all citizens.

For all Bahrainis to recognize the ultimate futility and failure of such acts of violence, and to end all acts of violence and hatred against foreigners, the vast majority of whom are here with legitimate cause and contribute greatly to the Bahraini nation.