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Bahrain: Arbitrary Arrests Escalate

Ex-Members of Parliament, Physicians Held Without Charge; Activist Reported Tortured


At approximately 10 p.m. on May 4, 2011, Bahraini authorities released Dr. Nedhal al-Khalifa and two of her associates from CID headquarters in `Adlyia, where they were being detained. The condition and whereabouts of al-Khalifa's husband, Dr. Sadiq Abdulla, remain unknown, as well as the reason for his detention.

(Washington, DC) - Security forces arrested two former members of parliament from Bahrain's largest opposition group, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrests were the first targeting elected representatives of the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, which won the popular vote in October 2010 elections, since the large-scale crackdown against protesters and opposition members began in mid-March.

Security forces in civilian clothes and masks arrested Matar Ebrahim Matar and Jawad Fairuz on the evening of May 2, 2011, and took them to unknown locations. The reasons for their arrests are not currently known. Both had won seats in the October 2010 elections in the Majlis al-Nawab (Assembly of Deputies), Bahrain's lower house. They resigned along with 16 other al-Wefaq members after security forces attacked the Pearl Roundabout protesters during the early morning hours of February 17. Four protesters died as a result. Since their resignation, many al-Wefaq members have spoken out publicly against the government's handling of the February protests and the security crackdown launched since mid-March.

Authorities have also intensified their campaign against medical professionals in recent days, arresting at least seven more doctors, including the former head of the Bahrain Medical Society.

"It seems that Bahrain's ruling family intends to punish any and everyone who criticizes the government," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The aim of this vicious full-scale crackdown seems to be to intimidate everyone into silence."

A source close to Fairuz's family told Human Rights Watch that at around 8 p.m. on May 2, about 30 security officers, some masked and in civilian clothes, surrounded and entered Fairuz's home with weapons drawn. He was upstairs, but came downstairs and was arrested after they threatened to harm his wife and daughter.

According to Al Jazeera English, the same evening armed men in civilian clothes accosted Matar on the street and forced him into an unmarked car at gunpoint.

These arrests follow several weeks of sustained attacks in state-owned and pro-government media accusing al-Wefaq members of treachery and urging authorities to shut down the party and criminally prosecute individual members. On April 28 state-owned Bahrain TV aired a program with film footage in which a defendant accused of murdering two security officers named Matar as one of the people who directed them to target and kill police officers.

Human Rights Watch spoke with Matar after the program was broadcast. He confirmed that the person who named him on BTV was Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer, who had died in custody in early April, apparently as a result of torture, and told Human Rights Watch that he believed authorities were planning to arrest him.

"I feel they are preparing something for me," Matar said. "I don't know when and what."

The BTV program aired after Matar gave several interviews to foreign news outlets in which he spoke out against recent arbitrary arrests of opposition activists and doctors. On April 26 Al Jazeera English aired a program in which Matar condemned a police raid that day against medical professionals at the A'ali and Isa Town health centers in which 14 health professionals, including at least six doctors, had been arrested. The day before his arrest, Matar gave an interview to the BBC in which he called for establishment of a secular democracy in Bahrain.

Human Rights Watch also learned that authorities had arrested two more doctors - Dr. Ahmad Jamal, the head of the Bahrain Medical Society, and Dr. Nedhal Khalifa. Human Rights Watch learned that security forces arrested Jamal on May 3. Late the night before, at around 11p.m., the Interior Ministry's Criminal Investigation Directorate summoned Khalifa, 42. She went to the directorate's headquarters at the ministry and never returned home, Human Rights Watch learned. Khalifa is the wife of Dr. Sadiq Abdulla, also 42, who has not been heard from since he was detained on April 14. They are the parents of four children, ages 8 to 15.

On May 3, the justice minister, Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, and the social development and acting health minister, Dr. Fatima bint Mohammed Al Balooshi, announced criminal charges against 23 doctors and 24 nurses detained since March 17.The state-run Bahrain News Agency reported that the charges against them included "refusal to extend assistance to a person in need, embezzlement of public funds, assault that resulted in death, unauthorized possession of weapons and ammunition ... illegal detention ... attempt to occupy buildings by force, incitement to the forceful overthrow of a political regime, incitement to the hatred of a regime, incitement to the hatred of a segment of society, dissemination of false news and malicious rumors ... and participation in unauthorized rallies and meetings."

Earlier, on April 27, the head of the Information Affairs Authority, Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, announced that authorities had referred 405 detainees to the special military court. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the 47 medical professionals are among those to be tried in Bahrain's special military courts.

Also on May 3 Human Rights Watch received credible reports that a human rights and opposition activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was arrested on April 9 and whose whereabouts and well-being were unknown, had been admitted to Bahrain Defense Force hospital for six days for treatment of injuries, including to his jaw and head. One person who saw him said he was unrecognizable as a result of apparent beatings in detention.

The authorities should immediately release information on the whereabouts and well-being of Matar, Fairuz, Khalifa, and Jamal, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and the hundreds of others arbitrarily detained, and allow them immediate access to medical care, lawyers, and families, Human Rights Watch said.

"The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other governments that have security and military relationships with Bahrain need to declare publicly that these relationships are all suspended until the torture and other horrific abuses by the Bahrain authorities come to an end," Stork said.

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