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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Bahrain

BAHRAIN: After rounding up activists, doctors, authorities now target soccer stars

Aala-Hubail First they came for the street activists and opposition leaders. Then they rounded up medical doctors whom they suspected sympathized with protesters.

Now they allegedly torture their sports stars.

Bahraini authorities appear to leave no stone -- or soccer field for that matter -- unturned in their sectarian campaign against the Shiite political opposition and those suspected of siding with it.

According to a report published in the Australian Saturday via the Times of London, several Bahraini soccer players including stars of the country's national team, were tortured while held in detainment after their arrest by security forces for participating in a protest against Bahrain's ruling Al-Khalifa family in March.

They include striker Alaa Hubail and his brother Mohammed as well as goalkeeper Ali Saeed -- all three members of the Bahrain's national soccer team.

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-- The Foreign Staff of the Los Angeles Times

BAHRAIN: Formula 1 boss says Grand Prix canceled

Lkmz3pnc Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone says October's reinstated Bahrain Grand Prix is canceled this year as the Persian Gulf nation continues to grapple with reports of human rights violations a week after the king lifted martial law imposed to quell a pro-democracy uprising.

The race was due to open the season in March but was called off after anti-government protests erupted in February, leaving more than 20 people dead. Last week, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) restored it to the calendar despite complaints by human rights organizations of an ongoing crackdown by the gulf monarchy against dissidents.

"Hopefully we can return in the future, but of course it's not on," Ecclestone told BBC Sport's Dan Roan on Wednesday. "The schedule cannot be rescheduled without the agreement of the participants -- they're the facts."

In voting Friday to reinstate the race, FIA's World Council apparently overlooked its own sporting code, which says no changes can be made to a championship after entries open without the agreement of all the competitors.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

Technically, the vote stands and FIA should vote again to cancel it. But sports anaylsts said Wednesday that the teams will most likely ignore the vote, since it cannot take effect without their agreement.

Teams scheduled to participate in the Bahrain race wrote to the FIA on Tuesday, expressing their opposition on logistical grounds and calling what would be the 20th race of the season "unbearable to our staff," according to BBC Sport.

The letter did not list any moral or ethical objections to holding the race in Bahrain, but sources told the BBC that the teams are also concerned about the unrest in Bahrain.

Lkd49gnc The decision to reinstate the Bahrain race and reorganize the 2011 Formula 1 season -- in which six races have already been completed -- had provoked an outcry from former FIA chairman Max Mosley, Red Bull driver Mark Webber and human rights activists.

"In my personal opinion, the sport should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year rather than constantly delaying its decision in the hope of being able to reschedule it in 2011," Webber, 34, wrote on his personal website. "It would have sent a very clear message about F1's position on something as fundamental as human rights and how it deals with moral issues."

Avaaz, an international activist group, immediately issued a statement condeming the Formula 1 leaders' decision.

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BAHRAIN: Unions fight discrimination, firings even after martial law lifted


Bahrain’s monarchy lifted its martial law June 1, but human rights activists and union leaders say they continue to struggle with workplace discrimination in the gulf state as those who protest are targeted and fired for being traitors.

Babylon & Beyond spoke with Shawna Bader-Blau, regional program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Washington-based Solidarity Center, a workers' rights group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, about her trip to meet with workers in Bahrain last month.

Q: Why did you go to Bahrain?

A: We’ve been following the situation in Bahrain where our close colleagues and friends in the general federation of Bahraini trade unions have been under vicious attacks in the media and by employers because of the role they played in the protest movement. So we went to gather information from the unions.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

Q:  What role did the unions play in the antigovernment demonstrations we saw earlier this year in Bahrain?

A: In February and March, the trade unions were calling (along with other civil society groups), for very straightforward democratic reforms, nothing very extreme, just the right to elect a parliament and constitutional reforms. They support the monarchy, but they have some longstanding economic grievances about poverty and unemployment. So they were calling for a dialogue.

Q: What did you find when you visited May 10?

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BAHRAIN: Human rights activists decry return of Formula 1 Grand Prix


Human rights activists said Friday’s decision by Formula 1 authorities to reschedule a Grand Prix race in Bahrain in October "damages the push for human rights in the country."

“Giving this prestigious event to the Bahrain authorities while there are reports of peaceful protesters being shot in the streets is a formula for disaster,” said Brian Dooley of U.S.-based Human Rights First.

“Hundreds of people remain in detention after months of military rule. Show trials and attacks on human rights activists continue," Dooley said. "Pro-democracy activists are being left in the dust.  The Bahraini authorities should not have been awarded this event when they can’t even protect the basic human rights of their people.”

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

The race was canceled after a pro-democracy uprising in February against the Persian Gulf nation's monarchy that prompted a brutal crackdown and complaints of arbitrary arrests, detentions and sentences by military courts. Bahrain's king lifted the country's state of emergency Wednesday, but protests continued Friday as pro-democracy demonstrators clashed with police in the capital, Manama, and elsewhere.

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BAHRAIN: Human rights, online activists urge Formula One not to return

Formula One authorities are expected to decide Friday whether Bahrain will be allowed to host a Grand Prix event this year.

The event was postponed in February after protests erupted against the Sunni monarchy in the majority Shiite gulf state. Bahrain's royal family imposed military rule for three months and brought in Saudi and United Arab Emirates troops in mid-March to snuff out protests, detaining protesters and sentencing them in military courts.

Human Rights First, the U.S.-based nonprofit, issued a statement Thursday reminding Formula One  officials of recent reports that peaceful protesters across Bahrain have been attacked by security forces even after the king lifted a state of emergency Wednesday.

"Bahrain’s inability to ease sectarian tensions proves it is not ready to host the race," Human Rights First said in the statement.

Earlier this week, Human Rights First issued a statement urging the U.S. government to demand that Bahraini authorities protect human rights defenders after Bahrain's emergency laws were lifted.

"Continued human rights violations indicate that the Bahraini government is unable to respect and protect basic rights of freedoms of assembly and expression, and further suggest the nation is incapable of hosting a major international sporting event," the latest statement said.

"After months of violent crackdown, the Bahraini government should start protecting human rights," said Brian Dooley, who has worked with Human Rights First to document human rights abuses in Bahrain.

"Do the Formula One authorities and the brands that support them really want to be associated with a Bahraini government that seizes people in the middle of the night and tortures them? With disappearances and deaths in custody?" Dooley said. "Awarding the Grand Prix to the repressive regime will disappoint Formula One fans everywhere."

An online petition posted Thursday asking Formula One teams to boycott the Bahrain event had more than 200,000 signatures.

"We call on you to declare publicly that you won't race in Bahrain this year, because the government has killed and injured hundreds of innocent people standing up for their rights," it said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

BAHRAIN: Emergency law lifted; human rights activist summoned by military

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Bahrain lifted its emergency law Wednesday, almost three months after it called in Saudi troops to crush a largely peaceful protest movement popular among the island’s Shiite population.

What that means, though, is anyone’s guess, as many suspected demonstrators remain in jail and even in the final hours of emergency law, one of the country’s leading human rights activists was summoned to a military court.

Protests were planned for Wednesday by rights groups. It remained an open question whether the government would tolerate them.

King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa on Tuesday gave a speech calling for negotiations with the opposition in Bahrain at the start of July. But hours after he spoke, leading rights activist Nabeel Rajab was summoned to court by the military authorities.

"The military prosecutor summoned the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, to appear before the court today at 6 in the evening, and the summon was conveyed to Mr. Rajab at 4 in the afternoon the same day," his organization said in a statement. "Mr. Nabeel Rajab proceeded to go to the center where he was summoned accompanied by his lawyer, but has since been missing in action and has not made any contact up until the writing of this appeal."

For the record, 2:06 p.m., June 1: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Bahrain's king as Hamead ibn Isa Khalifa. It is Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa.

-- Ned Parker in Baghdad


BAHRAIN: Human rights group cautions against return of Formula One

International racing authorities scheduling Formula One events should consider alleged human rights violations before they reschedule a 2011 race postponed in Bahrain after a massive uprising against the Gulf state's monarchy in February, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday in a letter to the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile and the Formula One Teams Assn.

The Bahraini government canceled the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, which had been scheduled for March, due to widespread pro-democracy protests.

FIA officials are expected to decide whether to reschedule the event during a meeting in Barcelona on June 3.

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BAHRAIN: Student details, speaks out against government pledge

Pledgephoto Students at the state-funded University of Bahrain say they have been forced this week to either sign a pledge of allegaiance to the government promising not to speak out against the Persian Gulf kingdom's monarchy or face expulsion.

The pledge was apparently distributed to students by campus police and security officials as they returned to classes Sunday. It comes after anti-government protests in February, mass arrests and charges against opposition activists. At least four activists have been sentenced to death for killing two officers during the protests, while others were sentenced earlier this week to one- to three-year terms in connection with the demonstrations. Many of those who oppose the Sunni-led monarchy, including those in detention, belong to the Shiite majority.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

Bahraini government spokesmen did not return calls concerning the pledge Wednesday. The Bahrain News Agency previously reported that hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis allegedly volunteered to sign similar pledges to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa earlier this year.

Babylon & Beyond spoke with a student at the university and obtained a copy of the pledge distributed by this week in Arabic, which says:

"In accordance to this document I, the signatory below, confirm that I am a student attending the University of Bahrain, that my full allegiance is with the leadership of the Kingdom of Bahrain represented in His Majesty The King Hamad Bin Essa Al Khalifa, the King of the country may God guard and bless him and the wise government.

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BAHRAIN: U.S. diplomats call for dialogue as authorities allege protester mowed down policemen


A protester drove his car into a group of policemen during demonstrations Tuesday, injuring nine, four seriously, according to Bahrain News Agency and state television reports.

"Nine police officers were run over in a heinous act carried out by criminal rioters this evening in Nuwaidrat area," the director general of the Police Directorate of the Central Governorate of Bahrain told the news agency.

The director told the news agency that the police officers were on duty at the time they were injured in the Nuwaidrat area, "dealing with a group rioters attempting to provoke riots and acts of vandalism."

The news agency said one of the "rioters" also suffered a head injury.

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BAHRAIN: Report alleges torture, calls for Obama, U.S. leaders to help


More than 800 people have been arrested in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain since mid-February. Most of the detainees have been Shiite Muslims who protested against the Sunni monarchy of King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa. 

According to a report Tuesday by New York based nonprofit Human Rights First, most of those detained since anti-government demonstrations began in Bahrain have been arrested without warrants and held at unknown locations, without access to lawyers or relatives.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

Those who have been released from detention, or family members who witnessed their arrest, told  Human Rights First staffer Brian Dooley about how they or their relatives were snatched late at night by teams of masked men who ransacked their homes and robbed them. Released detainees said they were blindfolded for days, handcuffed and beaten, forced to sing the Bahraini national anthem or to chant pro-government slogans. Several said they had been forced to sign something they were not permitted to see.

Doctors and other healthcare providers have been particularly targeted by security forces, with dozens detained, human rights activists say, in part because medicine is a common career for Bahraini Shiites.

One female physician, who asked not to be named, was among those who spoke to Human Rights First, detailing her experience in detention:

"I was taken from the hospital where I was working during the middle of the day. Four masked men came and took me for an interrogation. They blindfolded me and took me to the investigations office. They were verbally abusing me, saying the doctors at the hospital were sectarian, only treating Shiite patients.

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IRAN: Tensions increase as second Iranian flotilla to Bahrain is blocked


Iranian supporters of Shiite dissidents in Bahrain saw their second flotilla in less than a month turned back from the Persian Gulf kingdom Monday. 

The 120 people aboard the two-ship "flotilla of solidarity" included a mix of workers, athletes, lawmakers, physicians and nurses, according to the semi-official Iranian Mehr News Agency. They had left the Iranian port of Bushehr, traveled a dozen nautical miles and were approaching international waters when they were forced to return to port by the Iranian coast guard, according to Mehr News.

There was speculation that the ships, including one named Ayat al-Ghermezi after the late Bahraini dissident poet allegedly raped and murdered by security forces, were barred from entering Bahraini waters after being intercepted by Gulf warships. 

Shaykh Fawwaz Bin-Muhammad Al-Khalifah, president of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, told Al Arabiya satellite network that the Persian Gulf states had responded to what he believed was "Iranian interference."

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