29 September 2010
Brutal repression of human rights defenders in historic crackdown
Hundreds of Bahraini political activists, human rights defenders and Shiite religious figures have been arrested in recent months - many of them tortured in detention - in the worst crackdown on free expression the country has ever seen, report the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Human Rights Watch. Authorities have blocked numerous websites, shut down independent rights groups and threatened rights defenders who have criticised the torture of prominent activists.
The international community's silence about repressive measures in Bahrain only gives tacit support to authorities to continue stifling dissident voices who are potential monitors to parliamentary elections on 23 October, say 26 rights groups, including BCHR, CIHRS, ANHRI and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). It is widely expected that there will be elections abuses as part of a long-held pattern of political marginalisation of Shiite and opposition communities.
To prevent independent and critical information from being published, the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority has censored the website of Al-Wefaq Society, the largest political society in the country. The Society had recently announced plans to launch a visual and audio service on its website, as well as plans to participate in the elections.
There has been a systematic campaign to create a complete media blackout, says BCHR. Among the blocked websites is BahraniNet.net, known for its rapid media coverage and photos of protests. Most of the blocked websites are discussion forums that belong to Shiite villages that continue to deal with unrest and arrests of protesters.
The Information Affairs Authority has also banned the publication of information about detained activists and has ordered all civil society organisations to support the regime or face harassment. As a result of this intense repression, BCHR and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) have been forced to temporarily relocate to Europe. Some human rights activists have been prevented from travelling, including Nabeel Rajab of BCHR, and Laila Dashti of BYSHR, who was supposed to attend the 15th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, where CIHRS was organising events on Bahrain, including delivering an oral intervention before the Council.
The minister of development and social solidarity issued a decree to dissolve the managing board of the Bahraini Association for Human Rights and replace the elected chairman with a government official - guaranteeing the government's control over the organisation. This decision came after the organisation expressed solidarity with victims of the crackdown. The society has made several statements affirming the basic rights of detainees, including access to lawyers and family members and their right to a fair trial.
BCHR and other local human rights groups have also strongly criticised the government's treatment of detainees and published reports saying that security forces have carried out torture.
Human Rights Watch has called on King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to conduct an independent investigation into recent allegations of torture and ill-treatment of prominent opposition leaders and demonstrators by security forces. Recent arrests of high-profile opposition leaders and activists are linked to their criticism of government policies.
In response to the crackdown, rights organisation Front Line went on a mission to Bahrain that was completed on 29 September. The mission focussed on the case of imprisoned blogger and human rights activist Ali Abdulemam, who has been held incommunicado for the last three weeks, denied so much as a phone call.