Bahrain: ARTICLE 19 Condemns the Targeting of Human Rights Activists and Calls for the Reform of Laws Aimed at Silencing Dissenting Voices
On 26 January 2009, three prominent Bahraini human rights activists Mr Hasan Mushaima, Secretary General of the Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy (HAQ); Mr Mohamed Habib Al-Muqdad, a scholar and social activist; and Dr Abdul-Jalil Alsingace, Head of Human Rights Unit at HAQ, were arrested. Following almost nine hours of interrogation, Mr Mushaima and Mr Al-Muqdad were held in custody for further interrogation, while Dr Alsingace was released on bail and officially banned from travel out of Bahrain. The Public Prosecutor declared that he would take the necessary measures to pursue cases against them in the courts and prosecute them on charges related to the national security of Bahrain.All three activists are heavily involved in promoting human rights in Bahrain and in documenting cases of abuse. During the interrogation they were questioned about their human rights activism including publishing electronic articles and conducting speeches, seminars and presentations about human right abuses in Bahrain. They were also questioned about their involvement in HAQ, an unregistered grassroots organisation that campaigns for genuine democratic reforms, human rights and civil liberties. The activists were charged of “forming an organisation, outside the provisions of the law, which disrupts the Constitution or prevents any of the State enterprises or public authorities from exercising their duty”, “provoking hatred of the regime” and “inciting violence and the overthrow of the political system”.The first charge is referenced in Article 6 of Bahrain’s anti-terrorism law (Protecting Society from Terror Acts no. 58 of 2006) which states that those who establish an illegal organisation likely to disrupt the Constitution and laws, or prevent any State apparatus from performing its duties, are punishable by life imprisonment. The other two charges are based on the Bahrain Penal Code; promoting the overthrow of the regime by force punishable by five years imprisonment (Article 160) as well as instigating hatred against the regime, punishable by imprisonment of up to three years as per Article 165. The three activists deny all these allegations and consider their arrest and the charges to be politically motivated. In addition to recent interrogation, Dr Abdul-Jalil Alsingace, a prominent Bahrani blogger and critic of the Bahraini regime, has also been subject to a defamation media campaign, lead by state guided media and aimed at human rights defenders. This was following his participation in a debate on religious freedom in Bahrain in the US Congress in October, 2008. “The apparent arrest of three human rights activists for legitimate and peaceful human rights activities is highly deplorable. It is an attempt to silence opposition voices and signals further deterioration for freedom of Expression in Bahrain. ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about articles in the Bahraini Penal Code and anti terrorism legislation that are used to deprive Bahrainis of the right to freedom of expression and calls for urgent legal reform” said Dr. Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.ARTICLE 19 urges the Bahraini authorities to reverse this alarming trend of harassment against human rights activists. We call upon the Bahraini authorities to immediately release Mr. Hassan Mushaima and Mr. Mohammed Habib Almuqdad, withdraw all the charges related to their legitimate and peaceful activities and lift the travel ban against Dr. Abdul-Jalil Alsingace.ARTICLE 19 reminds the authorities that Bahrain acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2006 and calls upon the government of Bahrain to reform those provisions in the Penal Code and anti-terrorism legislation that flagrantly violate Bahrain’s international human rights commitments on freedom of expression.
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