28 February 2007
BCHR president and other government critics facing security charges and possible prison terms
(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is an abridged statement from BCHR, an interim member of IFEX:
As a part of a campaign against a one-week visit by the BCHR to the United States, Anwar Abdulrahman, the editor-in-chief of "Akhbar Al-Khaleej" and "Gulf Daily News", wrote an editorial on 18 February 2007, entitled "Globalization conspiracy", which criticized a meeting organized by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington. [The article, which was hailed on the following day by the Bahraini Prime Minster, was sharply critical of BCHR's visit, and accused the participants - BCHR president Abdulhandi Al-Khawaja and HAQ movement general secretary Hassan Mushaima - of conspiracy and treason.](. . .)
On 19 February, "Akhbar Al-Khaleej" published as a headline story a statement by the Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, commending the aforementioned editorial. The prime minister also said: "Forums, TV Satellites and external activities should be used to exhibit the achievements that have been acquired in the Kingdom of Bahrain . . . not to undermine it." The Prime Minister stressed [the importance of] "exploiting openness to serve the country and its stability, and discouraging those who attempt to abuse this openness and use the mosques and religious places to achieve their objectives". This statement is understood to be pointing to Al-Khawaja, the President of the BCHR, and Mushaima, the general secretary of the HAQ Movement, who were arrested on 2 February for delivering speeches criticizing government human rights violations including the scandal which was revealed in the Al-Bandar report.
Worth noting is that the release of Al-Khawaja, Mushaima and Shaker Mohamed took place on the same date of their arrest. They were released on bail. (. . . ) The release took place after the spread of protests in different places in the country, after which the two semi-governmental newspapers - "Akhbar Al-Khaleej" and "Al-Watan" - started campaigns to defame the charged activists, demanding that the government punish them. The two newspapers did not publish the speeches based on which they were accused, nor information about a press conference that was organized by both Al-Khawaja and Mushaima following their release.
Al-Khawaja revealed at the press conference that the real reason behind the arrests, defamation and prosecution is because both the BCHR and the HAQ Movement had been actively engaged in revealing the government's human rights violations, sectarian discrimination, (. . .) and the ransacking of public wealth and lands, and because of the active role of the two organizations in publicizing the Al-Bandar Report, the scandal that clearly shows the involvement of high authorities in a secret conspiracy to monopolize the elections, implement sectarian exclusion and penetrate civil society.
The Public Prosecutor's Office announced that it will bring the following charges against Al-Khawaja, Mushaima and Shaker Mohamed: promoting change in the political system of the state; public incitement of hatred against the regime; announcement of false news and rumors; propagation of inflammatory propaganda that could damage public order and seriously harm the public interest; public incitement to disobey the law; and praising actions that are considered crimes. These charges could lead to imprisonment of more than 15 years based on articles 160, 165, 168, 173 under "crimes related to the State's Internal Security" of the Penal Code that was issued by decree no. 15 of 1976 after dissolving the National Assembly, then was amended to be more stringent by decree law no. 9 for the year 1982. International human rights bodies and organizations have repeatedly denounced the security measures in the Bahraini Penal Code. Recent international reports revealed that Bahraini judicial laws lack impartiality and integrity, which will reduce the opportunity for the accused to receive a fair trial.
BCHR urges the international community to appeal to the Bahrainian authorities:
- asking them to maintain freedom of expression and to stop harassing and prosecuting human rights defenders and political activists for expressing their views and opinions
- asking them to amend the Penal Code in conformity with the international human rights standards and to stop using restrictive laws that limit freedoms
- asking them to drop the charges against Al-Khawaja, Mushaima and Shaker and to stop the media campaign against them
- asking them to lift the ban on publicizing and using information related to the Al-Bandar scandal and to promptly and impartially investigate and reveal the truth about it