Monday, June 13, 2011


By William Fisher

Ayat Al-Qormezi, a 20-year-old Bahrain poet, who recited poems critical of Bahrain's rulers, was sentenced yesterday (Sunday) to a year in prison by a special security court set up during Bahrain's crackdown on Shiite protesters calling for greater rights.

The tribunal's decision sent a message that the Sunni monarchy is not easing off on punishments linked to the unrest despite appeals for talks with Shiite groups in the strategic Gulf island kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

The official Bahrain News Agency said Ayat al-Qurmezi was convicted of anti-state charges, including inciting hatred. She can appeal.

Two former parliament members, Jawad Fairooz and Mattar Mattar, also went on trial as part of wide-ranging arrests and trials of perceived enemies of the ruling system. Both are members of the main Shiite political group, Wefaq, whose 18 lawmakers resigned to protest the harsh measures against protesters..

The U.S. has condemned the violence, but has stopped short of any tangible punishments against the rulers in one of Washington's military hubs in the Persian Gulf.

In another action of major consequence, medical personnel who treated the many Bahrainis injured in antigovernment protests during the months of unrest in this tiny but strategically important Gulf nation go on trial today (Monday) charged with taking part in efforts to overthrow the monarchy.

Legal medical, health, and human rights groups have labeled these court proceedings as “show trials” similar to those held for dissidents in the Soviet Union from 1934 to 1939. A feature of Stalin's Reign of Terror was a series of "show trials" in which political opponents were forced to plead guilty to activities designed to undermine state security.

The 47 Bahraini health professionals were arraigned in a closed hearing in a security court.

They are largely members of the country’s Shiite majority, which had been demonstrating to achieve greater freedom, equal rights and an elected government from the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain is about 70 per cent Shiite and 30 per cent Sunni Muslims. But the country is governed by a Sunni monarchy.

During the unrest, in which government security forces fired live ammunition, wounding or killing dozens of protestors, medical professionals said it was their duty to treat everyone and rejected accusations that treating protesters was the same as supporting their cause.

Those injured by government forces were frequently brought to the (name) hospital, but that unit has been under the control of the government’s security personnel. In some cases, these officers intervened in the physicians’ treatment and ordered that no further treatment be given.

Then many of the doctors, nurses and the patients were moved by the government to other hospitals in an effort to keep them from being able to prevent patients from identifying the wounds they had received at the hands of security services, Similarly, doctors and nurses were to be silent about the nature of the injuries they treated.

But most of the doctors and nurses refused, saying they had a responsibity to provide the best care they could to the wounded and injured.

Meanwhile, bloggers and other members of the press continue to the harassed by security forces and in many cases, arrested, tried before Kangaroo security courts and sentenced to substantial jail terms.

Ayat Al Cormozy, a 20 years old student and poet, was arrested last March by Bahraini security forces after she had recited poems in the Pearl Roundabout criticizing in it the Bahraini authorities. Ayat had been detained in an unknown place and without any specific charges until the Bahraini authorities had informed her family that she would be prosecuted in a martial court on Thursday 2 June as the first sitting of the court. This prosecution took place only two days after the lift of emergency law according to which these martial courts were held. The court has indicted the young poet of “touching on Bahraini King and participating in illegal demonstrations” and decided to postpone the hearing to Monday 6 June 2011.

This prosecution came after the lift of the notorious emergency law which had been imposed in 15 March 2011 and according to which 600 opponent activists were arrested and around 2000 persons were fired from their jobs because of their participation in the demonstrations that had broken out in the kingdom since last February and which had been violently suppressed by the security forces.

Ayat Al Cormozy is the second woman to be prosecuted in a martial court in the wake of the last events in Manama after that Galila Salman, an activist, had been sentenced to four years jail for possessing forbidden singing records and not obeying the orders of the police officers in the street in 12 May 2011.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said the “Human rights situation in Bahrain is in ongoing deterioration and the lift of emergency law was merely a trial from the authorities to improve their image while they are actually still following suppressive measures and holding martial courts in fighting freedom of expression”

ANHRI added “Bahraini authorities should stop attacking human rights activists and opponents and prosecuting martial courts against civilians, and should release immediately all activists and arrested demonstrators, and allow a suitable environment for freedom of opinion and expression without adopting prosecution, or arrest or jail policies. It is not logic that the Bahraini authorities calls for dialogue with different political movements while the opposition leaders are in jail.”

In the past few days, the authorities have arrested more photographers and photo-journalists who had been covering the pro-democracy demonstrations taking place in Bahrain since mid-February. The aim of these targeted arrests is to limit the dissemination of news reports, photos and video of the protests and the government crackdown.

Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of these photographers and of all the other people who have been arrested for circulating information about the protests and repression. The press freedom organization also calls on the courts to overturn the conviction of Hassan Salman Al-Ma’atooq, a photographer who has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Reporters Without Borders has learned that a military court imposed the sentence on Ma’atooq on 12 May after convicting him on four charges including two relating to his work as a photographer – fabricating photos of injured people and disseminating false photos and information. Aged 29, he has been held since 23 March.

Reporters Without Borders has also learned that Mohamed Ali Al-Aradi, who works for the newspaper Al-Bilad, was arrested on 8 May, and that, Abdullah Hassan, who was recently fired from the newspaper Al-Watan, was arrested on 14 May. He had been injured on 13 March while covering clashes between demonstrators and the security forces. Mohamed Salman Al-Sheikh, a photographer who heads the Bahrain Society of Photography, is meanwhile still being held. He was arrested at his home in Sanabis, a village west of Manama, on 11 May. Photographer Nedhal Nooh, a member of the Bahrain Society of Photography, was summoned for interrogation on 18 May in West Riffa (a city to the south of the capital). He has been held ever since.

Fadel Habib, a columnist who writes mainly about educational issues for Al-Wasat, was arrested at a check-point on 20 May and was released last night.
Naziha Saeed, a journalist who works for Radio Monte-Carlo and France24, was summoned and interrogated for nearly 12 hours on 22 May. She has often talked about the government-orchestrated repression in the foreign media in recent months.

The photo-journalist Mazen Mahdi was summoned and questioned for two hours on 22 May, mainly about is Twitter activities during demonstrations, his work for DPA and his alleged links with Lebanese and Iranian media. He was handcuffed and blindfolded, beaten several times and threatened with torture. Mahdi was previously detained briefly in March for taking photos of thugs smashing shop windows.

Reporters Without Borders has learned that Ali Abdulkarim Al-Kufi, a member of the Bahrain Society of Photography, and Hassan Al-Nasheet were released on 20 May after being held for five days. Al-Wasat journalist Haydar Mohamed was released on 22 May.

The trial of three of the opposition newspaper Al-Wasat’s most senior journalists – editor Mansour Al-Jamari, managing editor Walid Nouihid and local news editor Aqil Mirza – began before a criminal court on 18 May. They are accused of disseminating false information that undermined the country’s international image and reputation ( Jamari told Reuters that the prosecutors have added the charge of intending to cause instability in Bahrain, which carries a two-year sentence.

Jamari acknowledged to Reuters that six articles with false information did appear in Al-Wasat but he said all six were emailed to the newspaper together with bogus phone numbers from the same IP address in what appeared to be a deliberate plot to get the newspaper to publish wrong information.

Founded in 2002, Al-Wasat was banned on 3 April, one day after the national television programme “Media Watch” accused it of trying to harm Bahrain’s stability and security. The Information Affairs Authority, a government agency that regulates the media, reversed this decision and gave Al-Wasat permission to resume publishing on 4 April under new editors. The newspaper’s board initially announced that the newspaper would close, but subsequently said it would continue operating.

Another hearing was held on May 22 in the trial of 21 human rights activists and opposition members. After witnesses gave evidence, the court adjourned until 25 May. The defendants present in court included the blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace. Fellow blogger Ali Abdulemam, regarded as one of the country’s Internet pioneers, is also a defendant but he is being tried in absentia. Despite the judge’s instructions to the contrary, it seems that most of the detainees have been in solitary confinement.

The following are still detained: Faysal Hayyat,Ali Jawad, Abdullah Alawi and Jasem Al-Sabbagh, who were arrested after being forced to resign from the newspaper Al-Bilad. Ali Omid, Hani Al-Tayf, Fadel Al-Marzouk, Hossein Abdalsjad Abdul Hossein Al-Abbas, Jaffar Abdalsjad Abdul Hossein Al-Abbas, Hamza Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairi and Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairi, who are all online forum administrator or moderators.
Photographer Hossein Abbas Salem, and Abbas Al-Murshid, a freelance journalist and writer who contributes to several online forums. He was arrested on 16 May.

All of this activity took place against a background of a demonsration by more than 10,000 pro-democracy activists, during which the leader of the Gulf nation's main Shiite political party urged backers to press ahead with peaceful protests for greater political rights after fierce crackdowns by security forces.

TIME Magazine wrote, “The event carried twin messages in a nation wracked by unrest since February when protesters took to the streets, inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

“The Sunni monarchy controlling Bahrain allowed the rally in a bid to ease
tensions and open dialogue with Shiite-led groups. For opposition forces, the
gathering was a chance to voice their demands and show resolve after facing
relentless pressure from the Western-backed government, including martial
law-style rules removed earlier this month,” TIME wrote.

“The strategic island kingdom — home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet — has been in lockdown mode for months as Sunni rulers launched massive arrest sweeps and military patrols to quell the protests. The crackdown included bringing in a 1,500-story Saudi-led military force to back up Bahrain's embattled leadership, which claims that Shiite power Iran seeks to make gains by the unrest.” TIME reported.

At least 31 people have died in the unrest since February.