Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bahrain: Security forces resort to night-time raids of terror to quell dissent

Source: IFEX

Nabeel Rajab, the head of IFEX member Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was briefly held and beaten by security forces on 20 March, days after Bahraini security forces killed at least four protesters and arrested opposition figures. The arrest appears part of a broader government offensive involving pre-dawn raids of terror on the homes of those viewed as supporting pro-democracy protesters, according to BCHR, Human Rights Watch and other IFEX members. Rajab says he is the only human rights defender in Bahrain currently not in hiding or detention.

A pattern of these arrests is that dozens of security forces come in the middle of the night and break down the door with guns, terrorising the families, including small children. "At 1:30 in the morning, around 25 masked men in civilian clothes came inside the house while we were sleeping and were running from room to room, while around 20 more in security forces' uniforms waited outside," said Rajab. They left with several boxes of information.

Rajab said he was blindfolded, handcuffed and put into the back of a car."They beat me and threatened to rape me and they kicked me when I refused to say I love the prime minister," he told Reuters. He was driven around for more than an hour before being taken to an investigator who questioned him for five minutes.

A similar raid happened at the house of another BCHR staffer, Sayid Yousif al-Muhafdah, on the same night, but he was not there, reports Human Rights Watch. When leaving, security officers warned the family to "tell Sayid Yousif to come to the police station or we will come back every night." Like other human rights defenders, he remains in hiding.

Just last month, Bahrain made some major concessions to protesters, such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and open calls for citizens to protest freely. But with the pro-democracy movement showing no signs of abating, Bahrain has done an about-face, calling a state of emergency on 15 March and even enlisting military contingents from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help contain political unrest in the kingdom.

BCHR put out statements last week accusing Bahraini forces and their Saudi and Emirati allies of "massacres." Rajab had been giving interviews to international news media about the government's use of violence to disperse protests and indiscriminate killings by the armed forces.

According to Human Rights Watch, four protesters and three police have been confirmed killed during unrest on 15 and 16 March and more than 10 have been confirmed arrested over the past week. Among recent arrests are those of opposition leaders who had called for the overthrow of the monarchy and doctors who had complained of excessive use of force against protesters. Members of Bahrain's largest Shi'ite opposition party Wefaq said on 20 March they believed more than 100 people had been arrested.

"The government is depriving them of their liberty in a completely arbitrary manner, apparently for their leading roles in peaceful protests demanding democracy," said Human Rights Watch. "At this point the lawyers and families of the people who have been arrested don't even know who is holding them or where."

Abdeljalil Alsingace, a blogger and head of the human rights office of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy, a pro-democracy and civil liberties group, was picked up on 16 March, reports the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International, which is urging people to send letters to demand his release.

A family member of Alsingace told the IFEX Clearing House that Alsingace was basically kidnapped: he was dragged away in the night without proper clothes, his glasses, or a means to walk since he needs crutches or a wheelchair. His daughters woke up with several guns pointed at their heads, and feared he would be shot dead in front of them.

Alsingace was arrested in a sweep of suspected dissidents in August last year. Along with 22 others, he was charged with financing and directing "a terror network "One of the allegations was that he had contacts with foreign groups, including IFEX members. That time, it took the family two months to find out where he was being held. Last month, in the midst of their trial, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah freed the men.

According to Human Rights Watch, the official Bahrain News Agency said the Bahraini Defense Force this time arrested "several leaders of the sedition ring who had called for the downfall of the regime and had intelligence contacts with foreign countries." Unconfirmed TV reports say they were taken to Saudia Arabia.

Since 17 March, many opposition political activists, journalists and local rights defenders have slept away from their homes or gone into hiding to avoid arrest or harassment, reports Human Rights Watch. Several have sought to leave the country following threats against them on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Some are missing and it is unknown if they are in hiding or being detained, including journalist Lamees Dhaif, who "has recently been outspoken in her opposition to government policies," said BCHR.

Hearing of the arrests, well-known blogger Ali Abdulemam, known by his nickname "the blog-father" for setting up the first free uncensored online forum in Bahrain for political and social debate, left his home a few minutes before it was raided and has gone into hiding, report Index on Censorship sources and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The BBC said his wife, who was very outspoken during his months in detention, is now refusing to give interviews for fear of reprisals.

"Bahrain is rapidly reverting to the police state of the 1990s," said Human Rights Watch. "The authorities should stop arresting rights activists and doctors who speak out against abuses, and release all those improperly detained."

For real time updates on developments in Bahrain, follow the BCHR team on Twitter here.