Amnesty International has expressed concern that the Bahraini authorities will use violence to quash planned demonstrations today (14 February), when thousands are expected to take to the streets to mark the third anniversary of the country’s uprising in 2011.
In the three years since the authorities crushed the 2011 mass demonstrations, the human rights situation in Bahrain has further deteriorated, with numerous opposition activists rounded up, in many cases merely for calling for peaceful anti-government protests. Last July, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa issued a draconian decree indefinitely banning all demonstrations, sit-ins and public gatherings in the capital Manama.
Among several children who have been detained for participating in demonstrations in the past year, are ten-year-old Jehad Nabeel al-Samee’ and 13-year-old ‘Abdullah Yousif al-Bahrani, who were arrested by riot police during a rally outside Manama in December. They were charged with “illegal gathering and rioting” and “attacking a police patrol with stones”. ‘Abdullah said that he was beaten, threatened with electric shocks and forced to sign a “confession”. He denied taking part in the march or throwing stones at the police. The boys have been released but will remain under supervision until a verdict is issued in their case.
Meanwhile, many others – including journalists and human rights activists – have also been targeted. On 26 December, Ahmad Fardan, a Bahraini photojournalist, was arrested and charged with “participating in a public gathering” after attempting to cover a demonstration in the village of Abu Saiba’. He was slapped on the face and beaten – including on his genitals – while in custody. Medical examinations have revealed he also sustained two broken ribs.
Last week, a two-year prison sentenced was upheld against the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab for his participation in “illegal gatherings” and for “disturbing public order” between February and March 2012. Another activist – Zainab Al-Khawaja – was sentenced to four months in prison last month for “destroying government property” after she ripped up a picture of the Bahraini king. She has been in prison serving different sentences for different court cases since last February.
Amnesty believes that both Rajab and Al-Khawaja are prisoners of conscience who have been targeted for their human rights work and is calling for them to be immediately and unconditionally released.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Said Boumedouha said: “The authorities’ relentless repression of dissent continues unabated – with security forces repeatedly using excessive force to quash anti-government protests.
“The anniversary’s protests are a test for the authorities to demonstrate internationally that they are committed to protecting human rights. They must allow the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, association and assembly and release all prisoners of conscience.
“Scores of people, including dozens of children have been detained for participating in peaceful protests over the last year. Many of them alleged that they were tortured in detention. Protesters must be allowed to take part in peaceful demonstrations without the fear of reprisal or attack.”