Freedom House Calls for Release of Bahraini Activists Al Khawaja and Al Sayed

Washington

Freedom House condemns the arrest of three democracy activists during a peaceful demonstration in Bahrain today and calls on authorities to immediately release the two that remain in custody, Zainab al Khawaja and Masooma al Sayed.
 
Bahraini security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of protesters today along the Budaiya highway leading into the capital, Manama. Al Kawaja and al Sayed, along with a third woman, Mariam Sarraj, were cuffed and dragged away by police after refusing to leave a sit-in in nearby roundabout after the protests were shut down.  Bahraini authorities released a statement that two women had been arrested for illegal gathering and one has been accused of assaulting a female police officer. The alleged assault is refuted by witness reports as well as photo and video documentation of the arrests. Sources close to the women state that they have been transferred to public prosecution, raising fears that they will be put in jail without a fair trial. Sarraj was released earlier today without charge.
 
“Despite its rhetoric to the contrary, today’s crackdown calls into question whether the government of Bahrain is serious about real reform,” said Daniel Calingaert, vice president for policy and external relations at Freedom House. “Bahrainis are sickof hearing that reform is on the way. They want to see tangible evidence, beginning with the ability to demonstrate peacefully without fear of prosecution.”
 
The findings of an independent inquiry commissioned by Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa into the alleged abuses that occurred in February and March of 2011 was released on November 23 confirming torture of political prisoners, extra-judicial killings and detentions, military trials of civilians, the intentional demolition of religious sites, and the use of excessive force against unarmed civilians. The Obama administration welcomed the report but is still considering an arms deal with Bahrain though is currently on hold. Meanwhile, since the report’s release Bahraini authorities have continued to crack down on daily anti-government protests.
 
“The fact that these arrests took place while U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner is visiting the country raises serious questions about the royal family’s commitment to respect human rights,” continued Calingaert. “The Obama administration should base its engagement with the Bahraini government on its actions, not the words in a report.”
 
Bahrain is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.
 
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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