Bahrain: Widespread crackdown on human rights defenders
Over the past two weeks, human rights defenders in Bahrain have been subjected to an intensifying campaign of arrests, raids, threats and harassment as the authorities have cracked down on dissent following large-scale pro-democracy protests in February 2011.
Among those detained, harassed and at risk are members of human rights organisations such as the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR); bloggers, artists, and other individuals associated with the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain as well as their family members including women and children.
Human rights defender Dr Abdujalil Al-Singace is currently in detention and reportedly faces charges of, inter alia, establishing a group which aims to violate the law, following his arrest on 17 March 2011. Abdujalil Al-Singace was among those arrested in an earlier crackdown on civil society in August 2010 and accused of “terrorism”; however, he was granted an amnesty along with all such political prisoners at the height of the pro-democracy protests in February 2011.
Other human rights defenders arrested have included Mr Ali Hassan Salman, a member of the Committee for Detainees, arrested on 27 March; Mr Mohammed Hassan Mohammed Jawad, a well-known independent human rights defender who campaigns for the rights of prisoners and detainees, arrested on 22 March; and Mr Mohammed Sultan, a member of the BCHR.
Furthermore, a number of other human rights defenders, while currently free, have been subjected to various forms of threats during the ongoing crackdown. Human rights defender Mr Nabeel Rajab, President of the BCHR and Deputy Secretary-General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) was harassed by police while giving an interview to CNN at his home on 30 March 2011.
He is also reportedly prevented from leaving the country and has had his communications interfered with. He was previously arrested and detained briefly on 20 March 2011 and, earlier in March, was subjected to numerous death threats along with human rights defenders Messrs Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a former Protection Coordinator for Front Line and former President of the BCHR, and Naji Fateel, a board member of the BYSHR (see Front Line Urgent Appeal dated 10 March 2011).
Further human rights defenders’ homes were subjected to raids, including BCHR members Mr Sayed-Yousif Al-Mahafdha and Dr Mohammed Saeed; Mr Salman Naji, a member of the Committee for the Unemployed, whose brothers were reportedly beaten as his home was raided on 28 March 2011, and Mr Abdul Ghani Khanjar, spokesperson for The National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture in Bahrain.
The crackdown on critics or opponents of the government has extended to cyber-activists, most notably bloggers, and even artists. On 1 April 2011, blogger and human rights defender Mr Mohammed Al-Maskati, was arrested and remains in detention. Mohammed Al-Maskati had previously been subjected to threats from a named member of the Bahraini Royal Family via the micro-blogging site twitter, who warned him: “I know you well and I know where you live. If you don’t stop what you are doing, I swear by God I will have your family searching for you”.
The same individual later threatened any individual in Bahrain who demonstrated support for Mohammed Al-Maskati, stating: “anyone that’s living in Bahrain and is supporting the terrorist emoodz [Al-Maskati], will have his IP address taken and will get arrested!”. The account has since been closed. It is also reported that, on 18 March 2011, armed police carried out a dawn raid at the home of human rights defender Mr Ali Abdulemam, a prominent blogger and owner of the website BahrainOnline, with the intention of arresting him. Upon discovering that Ali Abdulemam was not present, the police reportedly threatened his wife, stating that they would return to look for him every evening.
Teachers and members of the medical profession have also been targeted during the crackdown. Between 29 and 30 March 2011, members of the Teachers’ Association of Bahrain including Mr Salah Al-Bari, Ms Jaleela Al-Salman, Ms Afrah Al-Asfour and Ms Sana Abdul Razak were arrested, and remain in detention. Furthermore, the home of Mr Mahdi Abu-Deeb, head of the Teachers’ Association, was raided on 21 March 2011.
Between 17 and 19 March 2011, a number of medical doctors were arrested, reportedly as a consequence of having spoken to the media about the authorities’ actions in sealing and militarising hospitals in the wake of the crackdown on protesters. These doctors included Dr Ali Al-Ekri, Dr Bassem Dhaif and Dr Ghassan Dhaif. Another activist who had been in contact with the media, Mr Sayed Ahmed Sayed Mustafa Alwedaie, was also arrested on 15 March 2011.