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Bahrain: warning of possible crackdown at mass protests tomorrow

‘The people of Bahrain have the right to express their views freely and to protest peacefully without the threat of violence’ - Philip Luther

The Bahraini authorities must not crack down on mass anti-government protests scheduled for tomorrow, said Amnesty International, amid fears that new legislation introduced in Bahrain last week will be used to legitimise the use of force against peaceful protests.

Demonstrators plan to hold major rallies across Bahrain tomorrow calling for an end to repression and for genuine political reforms. Yesterday Bahrain’s Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, accused anti-government protesters of seeking to topple the government and warned that attempts to destabilise the country will be dealt with harshly.

In the past two weeks a series of draconian decrees ordered by the King of Bahrain have been introduced in a bid to suppress dissent. The measures included a ban on all public gatherings and demonstrations in the capital Manama, and a new stipulation that means that the parents of protesters below the age of 16 could themselves face jail.

Meanwhile, the Bahraini authorities have recently arrested journalists, photographers, bloggers and others active on social media networks. For example, Hussain Hubail, a 20-year-old cameraman, and Mohammad Hassan Sudayf, a 26-year-old blogger and translator, were arrested separately on 31 July. They were reportedly tortured when held incommunicado in Bahrain’s Criminal Investigation Directorate. Sudayf’s lawyer - ‘Abdul-‘Aziz Moussa - later tweeted that he had seen signs of torture on his client as he revealed the charges against both detainees. Because of that, he too has been detained.

Amnesty also fears that international journalists could be barred from accessing the country to cover tomorrow’s demonstrations. A journalist working for Al-Jazeera was prevented from entering Bahrain from Qatar on 7 August.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“The people of Bahrain have the right to express their views freely and to protest peacefully without the threat of violence.

“These draconian new measures are disgraceful. National security must not be used as an excuse to sanction the repression of peaceful protests.
“For years the authorities in Bahrain have shamelessly sought to stifle freedom of expression, taking increasingly drastic steps to stamp out dissent with complete disregard for international law.”

Sporadic opposition protests have continued in Bahrain in recent weeks. Security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas to deter demonstrators and conducted mass arrests of activists. Since February 2011, when mass anti-government protests began in Bahrain, the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated sharply. The security forces have repeatedly used excessive force against protesters and scores of opposition activists have been arrested and tried before military courts. Many have been tortured in detention and human rights activists have also been jailed for their work.

Note to editors:
On 28 July Bahrain’s parliament submitted 22 recommendations to King Shaikh Hamad Bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa to toughen punishments set out in the country’s 2006 anti-terrorism law. The King issued two emergency decrees on 6 August. One amends the 1973 Law on Public gatherings and Demonstrations to outlaw all sit-ins, protests and gatherings in the capital city of Manama. Bahrain’s 1976 Juvenile Law was also modified to state that the parents of anyone under 16 years of age who takes part in a demonstration will receive a written warning from the Ministry of Interior and could face a prison term or be fined in the event of a repeat offence.

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