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Bahrain: Must Rein in Security Forces Ahead of Fourth Anniversary of Uprising

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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC STATEMENT

13 February 2015

Index: MDE 11/008/2015

The Bahraini authorities must uphold the rights to freedom of peaceful expression and assembly and rein in security forces as thousands of protesters are taking to the streets ahead of the fourth anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain, Amnesty International said today.

The organization’s call came after the Minister of Interior said in a statement, broadcast by Bahrain TV on 12 February, that the Ministry will not hesitate to enforce the law and urged parents to supervise their children, as protests are being organized in the lead-up to the anniversary of the 14 February 2011 anti-government popular protests.

Small demonstrations have been taking place on a regular basis since 2011 to protest against the authorities’ continuing clamp down on fundamental freedoms, and have grown in number ahead of the anniversary. The authorities considered these protests illegal and repeatedly sought to prevent them, often excessively using teargas and shotgun pellets to disperse the crowds, which in some instances has led to death or serious injury.

A number of videos and photos of young protesters being shot or injured by security forces were circulated on social media websites in recent days and weeks. In some cases the authorities appear to have used extreme excessive force to deal with protesters. This included a video showing a policeman aiming at and shooting a young protester carrying a photo of detained opposition leader, Sheikh Ali Salman. Another video shows security officers firing birdshots at four masked youth as they were chasing them. Those injured during the protests do not go to hospital to be treated for their injuries for fear of being arrested and charged with illegal gathering.

Four years after the uprising, fundamental freedoms have increasingly been curtailed with the authorities banning protests and assemblies, restricting the activities of civil and political associations and stifling the right to peaceful freedom of expression.

In recent months, the authorities have targeted those who called for genuine political reforms, and put on trial others for “insulting” the King, official institutions or “a brotherly Arab country” on social media.

On 12 February, the Public Prosecution referred to court nine individuals, all currently under arrest, on charges of “defaming a foreign country publically and misusing means of communication,” allegedly for statements they have made on social media considered defamatory to late King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia. Their trial before a lower criminal court is scheduled to open on 16 February. If convicted solely for the peaceful expression of their views, Amnesty International would consider them prisoners of conscience and would call for their immediate and unconditional release.

Several leading opposition and human rights activists are standing trial for peacefully expressing their views. Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of al-Wefaq Islamic Society, the largest opposition political association, was arrested on 28 December 2014 and is standing trial. Despite his known anti-violence position, he has been charged with, among other things, “incitement to promote the change of the political system by force, threats and other illegal means” on the basis of statements he made during his public speeches. Another hearing of the trial, which opened on 28 January and was attended by Amnesty International, is scheduled for 25 February. Leading human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, was sentenced to six months in prison for tweets deemed “insulting” to the Ministries of Interior and Defence. His appeal trial will resume on 4 March. Activist Zainab al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting the king” when she tore a picture of King Hamad and is awaiting her appeal scheduled for 15 June 2015. Ahmad Mshaima’ was sentenced to one year in prison for reading a poem considered “insulting” to the King. Another session of his appeal trial is to be held on 15 February.

In addition to reining in their security forces, the authorities should seize the opportunity of the fourth anniversary of the uprising to announce genuine and long overdue reforms in order to placate popular frustration with the lack of tangible reforms. As first steps, the authorities must:

- Release all those held solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights;

- Lift the ban on demonstrations and review all legislation criminalizing freedom of expression, association and assembly;

- Reform the judicial system with a view to ensuring its independence and hold to account all those responsible for human rights abuses, including by carrying out independent, thorough and impartial investigations into allegations of torture at the Criminal Investigations Directorate and the killing of protesters.

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