Bahrain authorities must allow detainees access to lawyers

Amnesty International has called on the Bahraini authorities to allow political opposition and human rights activists arrested in an August crackdown prompt and regular access to their lawyers and family.The organization understands that as many as 250 people – including clerics, students, members of human rights organizations and charities, and opposition activists have been detained since August.Almost all are believed to be members of the Shi’a community, the majority population in Bahrain, whose rulers are mostly members of the Sunni minority.”Detainees’ access to lawyers of their choosing, and to their own families, is a fundamental human right that the Bahraini authorities are obliged by international law to respect,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.”Denying detainees contact with the outside world heightens concern for their safety; when this right is withheld, it  greatly increases the risk of torture and other ill-treatment.”The Bahraini authorities have carried out many arrests since mid-August, many in connection with protest demonstrations and rioting in predominantly Shi’a towns and villages. They have declined to disclose the true number.Many of those arrested are opposition activists and critics of Bahrain’s ruling family. They include members of Al Haq, a Shi’a political oppositon movement which is not legally authorized in BahrainIn the first wave of arrests, 21 prominent Shi’a political and human rights activists were detained and subsequently charged with terrorism and plotting to overthrow the government.  During the first few weeks the 21 were held incommunicado, although a few were allowed visits by their families. They were able to see, but not speak to, their lawyers for the first time when they were taken before the Public Prosecutor at the end of August. According to lawyers several of the detainees told the Public Prosecutor that they had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated in detention. Mohammad Habib al-Miqdad, for example, reportedly complained to the Public Prosecutor on 28 August that he had been suspended by the wrists for several hours and punched by officials. He remains in prison and, as yet, there is little sign that his allegations have been independently investigated. “There must be a thorough, independent investigation by the Bahraini authorities into allegations of torture and other ill-treament –  allegations that cast a dark shadow over Bahrain’s human rights record,” said Malcolm Smart In September, amid growing tension, the government suspended the board of the legally registered Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), accusing it of “legal and administrative irregularities” and co-operating with “illegal organizations”, after it had publicly criticized the government for violating the human rights of those arrested in August. “The Bahraini authorities must also lift restrictions and allow human rights organizations and human rights defenders to operate freely in the country,” said Malcolm Smart.The Bahraini goverment has banned publication of all information relating to the arrests and detentions in August, a ban that is enforceable with a penalty of up to one year’s imprisonment.