Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bahrain: Protesters, IFEX members mark uprising anniversary

Source: IFEX

Bahrain spent the week preparing for Tuesday's one-year anniversary of its uprising by deploying thousands of security forces to confront anti-government protesters, rejecting journalists' applications for entry visas, and arresting and deporting two international observers from the U.S. IFEX and its members are calling for support on 14 February to help avoid further violence.

On 13 February, security forces in Bahrain fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters trying to retake Pearl Square, the epicentre of last year's protests, reports the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

According to news reports, BCHR president Nabeel Rajab was among those attacked, and rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of jailed human rights defender Abdulahdi al-Khawaja, was arrested. Already, BCHR has received numerous reports of other injuries and arrests, as well as eyewitness accounts that Saudi troops were being sent into Bahrain.

In a warning to activists on the eve of the anniversary, public security chief Major General Tariq al-Hassan cautioned Bahrainis "against responding to incitement through social media channels and calling for illegal processions or other activities that created general disorder."

In a statement published on the official BNA news agency, Hassan said the security forces would not hesitate to respond to those "who insist on exploiting the freedom and democratic atmosphere of Bahrain to promote irresponsible, violent and illegal behaviour."

Thousands of people are expected to defy the zero tolerance warnings and take part in the protests today and tomorrow. Emergency rule was lifted in June, but protests have become an almost daily occurrence, triggering clashes with security forces who have routinely used excessive force to quell them.

"We will not back down," protester Nader Abdulimam told news reporters. Abdulimam had taken refuge in a house just outside of Manama with other protesters overcome by tear gas. "This has gone on for one year and it will go for another year or more."

IFEX members who took part in an international mission last November say that Bahrain has failed to deliver on promises of human rights reform recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). According to the mission, at least 50 people have been killed during months of unprecedented political unrest, some while in police custody.

IFEX members have also called on Bahrain to lift all travel restrictions on foreign journalists and international human rights organisations, many who had been planning to travel to Bahrain to cover the anniversary.

U.S. citizens Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath were arrested by Bahraini security forces in the capital on 11 February and deported the next day for their role in current protests, reports Index on Censorship. They were part of the Witness Bahrain initiative, which arrived in Bahrain in response to a call by Bahraini democracy activists for international observers.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Index on Censorship, Bahrain has rejected at least six journalists' applications for entry visas ahead of the anniversary. CPJ says the journalists were told the rejections are due to a "high volume of requests," but that they are welcome to reapply after February.

"The denial of visas is clearly part of an attempt by the authorities to impose a media blackout… in order to restrict the number of unwanted observers of the expected demonstrations and the crackdown they will probably trigger," said RSF.