Monday, September 6, 2010

Bahrain cracks down on pro-democracy activists

 In the blogosphere there is much to do about recent arrests in Bahrain, one of the lastest of which was of Ali Abdulemam (handcuffed on photo) , a 27-year old blogger and pro-democracy acivist. Abdulemam, father of three young kinds, was arrested on Saturday 4 September. It was nit his first time, though, also in 2005 he spent time in Bahraini detention.
The Bahraini press agency on Monday released a statement that Abdulemam  was part of a foreign inpired plot to overthrow the monarchy. But by that time it began to tranpire that over the weekend alone some 23 other people had been arrested in what now clearly seems to be a much wider crackdown. According to a human rights organization in Bahrain, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, a wide variiety of people have been rounded up these past weeks, ranging from taxidrivers to professors. The organization estimated their number to be in the order of 250.
The arrests seem to be related to the upcoming elections, which are going to take place on the 23 October. Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy, where the Sunni family Al-Khalifa rules over a Shiite majority. It has a two chamber parliament, of which the Second chamber is elected and the Senate, which has the power to stop bills, is appointed by the emir. From time to time there are tensions caused by calls for more 'real' democracy, in which particularly Shiítes are vocal. That periodically causes troubles. This time the problem seems to be that the Shiites have 17 of the 40 seats in the lower House and that the government is afraid that  they might obtain a majority in October. What also plays a role in these fears is the fact that Bahrain is quite near to Iran with its Shiite theocracy, and that its big neighbour Saudi-Arabia, which is the strongest of the six Gulf countries, is also very much concerned about its own Shite minority in the East of the country.  
The wave of arrests started on 13 August when Abdul-Jalil al-Singace (lower picture) , a well-known member of al-Haq, an unauthorized political organization with supports the Shi’a community, was hold at Bahraini International Airport  when he returned with his family from a visit to the United Kingdom. Singace, also a blogger, had given lectures in the UK where he had spoken in favour of more democracy in  Bahrain. His arrest sparked protests, some of which became violent, by supporters of al-Haq and was followed, within days, by the arrests of at least 11 other prominent members or supporters of al-Haq and other Shi’a political and religious people. Also they were, at the end of August, formally charged with “forming an illegal organization” aiming to “overthrow the government and dissolve the constitution”, inciting people to “overthrow and change the political system of the country”, fundraising and planning terrorist acts, and other offences.
Amnesty International reported that several detainees complained that they were tortured when taken before the Public Prosecutor for questioning. On 28 August 2010 Mohammad Habib al-Miqdad, a Shi’a cleric who had been held since 15 August, told the Public Prosecutor that he had been suspended by the wrists for several hours and punched by security officials. His lawyer, who was allowed to observe but not participate directly when Mohammad Habib al-Miqdad appeared before the Public Prosecutor, has told Amnesty that his client had visible marks on his body. Other detainees who have been held since mid-August are also reported to have alleged torture, including ‘Abdul-Jalil al-Singace, ‘Abdul-Ghani ‘Ali ‘Issa al-Khanjar and ‘Abdul-Hadi al-Mokhoder.

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