(Beirut) - Lebanon should reject Bahrain's politically motivated arrest notice for Bahraini opposition leader Hassan Mushaima and allow him to return home, Human Rights Watch said today. Lebanese authorities have retained Mushaima's passport since his arrival in Beirut on February 22, 2011, reportedly on the basis of an Interpol notice filed by Bahrain.
The Bahraini government in August 2010 charged Mushaima and 24 other political opposition and human rights activists with a range of national security-related offenses that were part of a broader crackdown on political dissent. He was in London at the time receiving medical treatment.
"Lebanon should dismiss a politically motivated request from Bahrain to prevent a national opposition leader from returning to his country," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "If Bahrain truly wants Hassan Mushaima, then Lebanon should let him return, not keep him in Beirut."
Twenty three of the others charged with Mushaima were arrested, detained, and put on trial in Bahrain. Mushaima and another one of those charged were tried in absentia. King Hamad Al Khalifa released the 23 in custody on February 23, before the trial concluded, following massive popular protests in Bahrain. While their legal status remains unclear, high-level Bahraini officials have told the media that Mushaima would not be arrested upon his return.
Bahraini officials had asked the United Kingdom to extradite Mushaima and the other opposition activist living in London to face charges in Bahrain. The UK asked Bahrain to provide evidence to justify the request, but none was forthcoming.
Mushaima told human Rights Watch that he believed the Bahraini authorities had asked Lebanon to delay his return to Bahrain. "They don't want me to go back to Bahrain because they don't want to negotiate with me," he said. Mushaima's lawyer in Lebanon told Human Rights Watch that Lebanese judicial authorities told him that they "needed to receive official notification that the Interpol notice had been lifted." Lebanese judicial authorities told Lebanese media that they will keep Mushaima's passport until they receive an answer from Bahrain or the Interpol on whether to allow him to travel.
Mushaima is secretary-general of the Haq Movement, an opposition party that contests the legitimacy of King Hamad's constitutional reforms. Bahraini authorities had most recently detained him in early 2009 but released him the following April. In 2010 he travelled to the UK to be treated for lung cancer.
"This Lebanon fiasco points out again the need for Bahraini authorities to clarify the legal status of the detainees released this week, including Hassan Mushaima's," Stork said.