Bahrain urged to stop targeting protesters as two more die in custody

Bahraini authorities must urgently reveal the whereabouts and legal status of more than 400 mostly Shi’a opposition activists detained in recent weeks, Amnesty International said today amid concerns about their safety after reports that at least three have died in custody.Security forces detained leading human rights defender ‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and his two sons in law in a raid on his daughter’s home, where they were staying, last Saturday. He was assaulted before being taken away barefoot and denied access to his medication.  Alkhawaja’s and his sons in law’s whereabouts remain unknown. One of Alkhawaja’s daughters has launched a hunger strike to demand her relatives’ release. “These further arrests are evidence of the mounting toll of opposition activists who have been thrown into jail because of their involvement in the protests that have rocked Bahrain since people came onto the streets in February to demand reform,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.“We are increasingly concerned for the safety of these detainees, especially after reports of two further deaths in custody last Saturday. The Bahraini authorities must immediately reveal the detainees’ whereabouts, allow them access to their lawyers and families, and protect them against torture or other abuse.”With two new deaths last Saturday, at least three detainees have now reportedly died in custody in suspicious circumstances since the beginning of the month.

According to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, detainee Ali Isa Saqer, 31, died in hospital on 9 April after security forces intervened to prevent him causing “chaos” in prison.Two other detainees – Hassan Jassim Mohammed Makki, 39, and Zakaria Rashid Al-Ashiri, aged 40 – reportedly died in custody on 3 and 9 April respectively. The authorities have attributed both deaths to sickle-cell anaemia, an inherited blood disease.“The Bahraini authorities must ensure that these three deaths are independently investigated, promptly, fully and thoroughly,” said Malcolm Smart. “It is alarming when so many deaths occur in so short a period when the great majority of detainees are being held in secret locations and there is no known independent access to them.” “These are conditions ripe for torture and other serious abuses.”From mid-February until mid-March 2011, Bahrain was gripped by popular protests inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt. Protesters, mostly members of the majority Shi’a Muslim community, complain that they are discriminated against and marginalized by the ruling Sunni Muslim minority. Some of the protesters have called for a new constitution, an elected government and greater freedoms and opportunities. Others, including many of those now detained, advocate replacing the monarchy with a republic.Bahraini security forces used overwhelming force to quell the mid-February protests, killing seven protesters and injuring hundreds. After a brief lull, and after protesters began to stage marches and sit ins outside the Pearl Roundabout, including in the Financial Harbour, in Manama security forces launched a brutal crackdown in mid-March resulting in clashes that led to further deaths and injuries. Shortly before the renewed crackdown, the King declared a state of emergency and Saudi Arabia sent a thousand troops into Bahrain to buttress the government. On Monday, the Minister of Interior reportedly announced that 86 of those arrested in relation to the protests had been released after legal procedures were taken against them.