Bahrain: Open Letter to UN Special Rapporteur on situation of HR defenders

20 August 2010

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders,
Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Palais Wilson
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH 1211 Geneva 10
Dear Mrs. Sekaggya,
Re: Arrest and detention of human rights defender Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Dr Abdul Jalil Al-Singace, the Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Haq Movement, which promotes human rights and democracy in Bahrain, was arrested at Manama Airport on the morning of 13 August, as he and his family returned to the country from London.

According to reports we have received, Dr. Al-Singace – who is severely disabled and confined to a wheelchair – was roughly handled during his arrest.  His wife and daughters were arrested with him, and only released after several hours.  Mr Mohammad Al Tajir, Dr. Al-Singace’s lawyer, has reportedly been unable to locate him or meet with him to ensure his welfare. We are equally concerned about the subsequent arrests of other Human rights defenders in Bahrain since Dr. Al-Singace’s arrest, including Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar, the spokesman of the Committee of Martyrs and Victims of Torture, Sheikh Saeed Al Nouri and Sheikh Mohammad Habib Al Miqdad, Mr. Jaffar Al-Hessabi, Dr. Mohammed Saeed, Mr. Mirza Al-Mahroos, and Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Mukhuder. All these activists were involved in activities to demand the release of detainees and the promotion of democracy and freedoms in Bahrain.

Shortly after Al-Singace’s arrest, the IHRC contacted Sheikh Hamad Abdullah Bin Khalifa, Head of Security in Bahrain, who confirmed that Al-Singace was being held but refused to give any further information.  The following day, on 14 August, the Bahraini News Agency reported an “official security source” as saying that Al Singace had been arrested on national security grounds. The Bahraini authorities accused Dr Al-Singace and the other arrested of incitement to violence, terrorism and distorting the country’s image locally and abroad. The campaign of arrest of human rights defenders was preceded by strongly-worded speeches from the Executive Authority (the King, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior) against what was called “agitators against the State”, and they all indicated that the Executive Authority will take legal action against anyone who is proven to be involved in the incitement to use violence.

The Bahraini authorities did not state under what laws exactly Dr. Al-Singace was charged under. Dr Al-Singace’s work naturally entails communicating with international human rights bodies. While in London, he had addressed a seminar on Bahrain in the British House of Lords on 5 August, during which he spoke about the systematic torture in Bahrain, the increase of systematic discrimination, and the decline of public liberties and deterioration of the environmental situation which threatens the life of thousands of citizens in some of the areas of the country.  One day before his departure from London he met the Bahrain Desk officer at Amnesty International to discuss the human rights abuses of Bahraini detainees. It is very likely that he is being charged under the Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Law, which include the following provisions:

Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code criminalizes and punishes with imprisonment or a fine or both any who deliberately releases abroad, news or statements about domestic conditions in the State, so as to undermine financial confidence in the State and adversely affect its prestige or position. This includes any citizen who has gone abroad in whatever capacity and without authorization from the Government, attended any conference, public meeting or seminar, or has participated in any manner whatsoever in the deliberations thereof with the intent of discussing political, social or economic conditions in the State of Bahrain or in any other state, so as to weaken the financial confidence in the State of Bahrain or undermine its prestige or standing, or worsen the political relations between Bahrain and these countries.

The Anti-Terrorism Law Article (1) includes the expression “threat to national unity“ among the acts considered as terrorist. Article (6) of the law considers any political organization that opposes the Bahraini constitution as a terrorist institution. Such broad definitions of terrorism can be taken to include the normal activities of political opposition and even human rights defenders. Article (27), it permits extended detention without judicial review. It also grants the power of extending the detention to the Public Prosecutor, and who does not represent a judicial authority and lacks the independence to provide protection from arbitrary arrest. In addition, Article (28) allows the security institutions to extend the detention without charge based on secret evidence which the detainee cannot refute. The arrest for a period of 15 days without a judicial review makes the detainee vulnerable to torture and mistreatment.

The law also grants the courts the right to impose the death penalty, while failing to provide those who could face such sentences essential mechanisms to defend themselves.    The sever penalties permitted in Article (3) of the law are particularly dangerous considering the broad definition of the crimes addressed by the law.

The arrest of Dr. Al-Singace led to a number of protests against it.  Members of his family who were returning with him from London were themselves arrested. Special Forces later used force to disperse a peaceful gathering of a number of his family and about a dozen human right figures as they stood in solidarity in front of Dr. Al-Singace’s house in the Karbabad area.  Teargas, sound bombs and rubber bullets were used to disperse the protestors, and which several injuries resulted.  Dr. Al-Singace’s sister was shot in the head with a rubber bullet, while his elderly mother almost fell off her wheelchair. Later that evening, similar tactics, as well as physical attacks, were used against a small group of relatives and human rights figures who had gathered in the evening in front of the Public Prosecution building. Dr. Al-Singace’s sister was again among those assaulted.

The arrest of Dr Al-Singace and the government’s violence against peaceful protests against the arrest have sparked widespread anger in Bahrain, and a broader government crackdown against civil society activists, and human rights defenders in particular.  The Islamic Human Rights Commission, which has long been concerned about the Bahraini government’s treatment of human rights defenders in the country, calls on the Special Rapporteur to look into this case as a matter of urgency, and to confront the Bahraini state regarding its pursuit these human rights defenders subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrest and wholly baseless accusations of serious criminal activity.

Yours sincerely,

Massoud Shadjareh
Chair, Islamic Human Rights Commission.