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Q&A: Government weighs in on Bahrain protests

By Nicole Dow, CNN
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Fri August 24, 2012
Bahraini Shiites mourn teen Hussam al-Haddad, said to have been killed by security forces, in Muharreq on August 18.
Bahraini Shiites mourn teen Hussam al-Haddad, said to have been killed by security forces, in Muharreq on August 18.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bahrain spokesman defends controversial case of imprisoned activist
  • Spokesman: There have been numerous "illegal rallies and protests and demonstrations"
  • Anti-government protests have raged for more than a year in Bahrain
  • Spokesman: "Misconceptions" persist about case of jailed 11-year-old boy

(CNN) -- For more than a year, Bahrain has been the site of anti-government protests. What does the government say about the demonstrations and rights groups' accusations of a crackdown?

Spokesman Fahad AlBinali offers this take:

CNN: A Bahrain court sentenced activist Nabeel Rajab to three years in prison, a government spokesman said Thursday, and this week, the Court of Appeals acquitted him of defamation. Amnesty International has said the sentence questions the independence of the judiciary. How do you respond?

AlBinali: Nabeel Rajab had a number of cases against him. The one you mentioned, the defamation case, the Court of Appeals cleared Nabeel Rajab of that charge. However, he is in prison for other cases, for active incitements and indirect participation in illegal demonstrations and rallies, and through the use of petrol bombs and improvised weapons. There have also been numerous cases of assault against police officers. The minister of state for media affairs gave a press conference a few days ago detailing the decision in that case of inciting illegal rallies and marches in very busy areas and in the commercial district of the capital.

CNN: Najeeb Rajab is still in prison, correct?

AlBinali: Yes.

CNN: And there's another sentence for which he's in prison?

Bahrain: Jailed doctor, official speak

AlBinali: No. The minister of information -- the minister of state media affairs -- she pointed out that there were three specific incidents that took place earlier this year: the first on January 12, the second on February 14, and the third incident was on March 31. This is a form of behavior that has been engaged in regardless of numerous warnings and cautions regarding the illegal state of crowd incitement and detrimental effect it has on safety and public order.

As I said earlier, they have often led to violence through use petrol bombs, Molotov cocktails and also improvised weapons. Such violent activity and conduct has led to deaths in cases of those engaged in the violent activity as well as bystanders who happen to be in the area at the time or good Samaritans. There was a case of death of a person who tried to clear burning tires off the road. There are real consequences to such conduct and behavior.

CNN: How would you describe or characterize the large gatherings happening there for the past year?

AlBinali: It has always been the government's position that it guarantees the right of freedom of expression; however, it does draw distinction between legitimate freedom of expression, one that falls within the restrictions in the right itself, found in the international treaty of obligations as well as within the constitution. Acts of violence, vandalism and destruction do not fall within the scope of legitimate expression. Where there is a problem is not whether the right is exercised or not, it's the mode of exercise. We have legitimate protests and demonstrations that have been a regular occurrence over the past 18 months. On the other hand, there have been numerous illegal rallies and protests and demonstrations that have resulted in violence and vandalism, blockage of highways and commercial areas or impeded on other rights of citizens. That is where there is an issue.

CNN: How do you respond to accusations that some activists are arrested to prevent them from protesting?

AlBinali: That doesn't really follow reason and logic. You see, some opposition parties among others have adhered to the laws and procedures placed there to guarantee safety and public order but also ensure that opinion is split. Many of them have held critical views of the government; however, they have continued to express that right or opinion in television, social media or the press.

Political expression has been exercised and guaranteed in Bahrain over the past 18 months. You have a lot of political societies including opposition parties who have exercised that right. They have held rallies and demonstrations that draw thousands, expressing views critical of the government. They are allowed to hold these rallies because they are following the appropriate procedures and measures.

... As I said earlier, the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed, but it's not absolute. There are many examples of people exercising that right here in Bahrain without consequence but there are other examples of rallies that result in violence. The chief of police released a statement saying that over 700 police officers have been injured over the past 18 months.

Boy, 11, acquitted over Bahrain protest

CNN: What is your take on the Ali Hasan case? (Hasan is an 11-year-old boy who rights groups said was detained in Bahrain. He was later released.)

AlBinali: There are a lot of misconceptions relating to Ali Hasan's case. The first is relating to the circumstances under he was brought under police custody. The idea or notion that he has been jailed or detained is false.

Because his case was controversial, there were serious allegations against the police, (so) the chief of police and security formed an investigation on June 13.

... The result(s) of the investigation were publicized a week later, and the results of the investigation found that Ali Hasan was taken into police custody for involvement in blocking a busy road on three separate occasions on the same afternoon.

He was warned twice, but he persisted. As a result, Ali was taken into police custody for six hours. He was then taken home to his mother on the agreement that his mother would bring him to juvenile court the next day.

A social worker from the juvenile protection of the public prosecution interviewed Ali with both his mother and his lawyer present. She looked into his academic standing and school attendance and recent conduct and deemed Ali to be a youth at risk.

So Ali was housed in a juvenile care center for the next four weeks, where he received social services, tutoring and health care if he needed it. The juvenile care center in Bahrain has been deemed by international experts as one of high standards and quality. And so there was no question of him being mistreated or denied in any way.

... Ali was allowed to return home after the court verdict on July 6. But it's ordered that he be monitored by a social worker once every six months for one year to ensure his well-being.

The second misconception regarding this case is not regarding his crime or his time at the juvenile center, but it relates to the fact that he might face criminal charges or prison time. It's important to note there was no criminal trial in this instance. A judge makes a decision after hearing from the child, his lawyer, a social worker and the prosecuting attorney. The judge then makes a decision on what is best for the child. The notion of punishment doesn't enter the equation.

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