THE OBSERVATORY FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS : Arbitrary arrest of human rights activists in Bahrain

THE OBSERVATORY FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS (OMCT-FIDH) OPEN LETTER TO MR. W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Geneva - Paris, January 9, 2008 Re: Arbitrary arrest of human rights activists in Bahrain Dear Mr. Bush, In view of your upcoming visit to Bahrain, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), would like to convey to you its deepest concern over the recent arrests of human rights activists in Bahrain. A violent wave of arrest began after the death, on December 17, 2007, of Mr. Ali Jassim Meki[1], due to the excessive use of force by the authorities of Bahrain as he was taking part in a peaceful demonstration in the Sanabis area, at the occasion of the Martyrs’ Day - aiming at paying tribute to past victims of torture. At around 5 p.m., the demonstration was dispersed by members of the riot police and of the special security force, who heavily resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets. Some participants were chased through narrow streets and beaten on the spot. According to the information received, between December 21 and 28, 2007, members of the Special Security Forces began a wave a arrests that targeted more than 60 activists. As of January 8, 2007, 28 remained in detention, including 11 human rights defenders. Allegedly, all human rights defenders who were arrested had been involved in public protests during the last few years that related to economic and social rights and restrictions on freedoms.

As of January 8, 2007, Mr. Shaker Mohammed Abdul-Hussein Abdul-Aal, Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Am-Sheikh, Mr. Majid Salman Ibrahim Al-Haddad, Mr. Hassan Abdulnabi, Mr. Nader Ali Ahmad Al-Salatna, Mr. Hassan Abdelnabi Hassan, Mr. Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh, Mr. Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, members of the Unemployment Committee, Mr. Naji Al Fateel, member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), Mr. Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais, Head of the Committee to Combat High Prices, and Mr. Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab, founding member of the Martyrs and Victims Committee, remained in detention. Some of these human rights defenders have had access to their lawyers and family. None of the lawyers were given access to their clients’ files.

Besides, the Observatory received allegations of use of ill-treatments and torture against the detainees, including the use of electrical shocks.

Furthermore, on December 26, 2007, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights’ President, Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, was subjected to verbal insults and beating as he had headed to the Public Prosecutors Office after having received news that family members of the detainees were being beaten as they refused to leave the Office.

The Observatory is highly preoccupied by these arrests which seem to aim at muzzling civil society, and human rights defenders in particular, and consequently considers that these detentions are arbitrary. Additionally, it fears the resurgence of a systematic practice of torture in Bahrain.

Therefore, the Observatory urges you, President Bush, to request the Bahraini authorities to :

* guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of the 28 prisoners;

* ensure that the rights of the defence and, should they be brought before a court, their right to a fair and impartial trial are guaranteed;

* release immediately and unconditionally Mr. Shaker Mohammed Abdul-Hussein Abdul-Aal, Mr. Maytham Bader Jassim Am-Sheikh, Mr. Majid Salman Ibrahim Al-Haddad, Mr. Hassan Abdulnabi, Mr. Nader Ali Ahmad Al-Salatna, Mr. Hassan Abdelnabi Hassan, Mr. Naji Al Fateel, Mr. Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais, Mr. Ebrahim Mohamed Amin Al-Arab, Mr. Abdullah Mohsen Abdulah Saleh, and Mr. Ahmad Jaffar Mohammed Ali, as well as all the other persons arrested in the framework of this wave of repression;

* Put an end to any acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

* Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

* Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Kingdom of Bahrain.

In the hope that you will take these considerations into account,

Yours sincerely,

Souhayr Belhassen Eric SOTTAS

FIDH President OMCT Director

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[1] For further details, see the Observatory Press Release of December 21, 2007.

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