May 13, 2012
Posted: 809 GMT
A Casablanca court on Friday sentenced a Moroccan hip hop artist to one year in prison for hurting the image of the police.
Mouad Belghouat, better known as "Al Haqed" (could be translated as "The Sullen One," "The Engraged One," or "The Contemptuous One") has been in custody since late March when he was arrested for his song "Kilab Al Dawla" or "Dogs of the State" where he criticizes the police for corruption and an online music video set to his lyrics that shows a policeman with a donkey's head (he says he didn't make the video.)
“You are paid to protect the citizens, not to steal their money,” say the lyrics. “Did your commander order you to take money from the poor?” The song asks the police to arrest the wealthy businessmen who he says have divided the country up for themselves.
The 24-year-old Al Haqed (often spelled L7a9ed in the alphanumeric interpretation of the Arabic letters) comes from a sprawling slum on the outskirts of Casabalanca and has become one of the key voices of the youth involved in the pro-reform February 20 movement.
January 20, 2012
Posted: 1727 GMT
It was slightly before midnight last Friday when Mahmoud Abu Rahma was walking home from his office at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City. But before he made it to his house he was set upon by three masked assailants. The men stabbed Abu Rahma multiple times in the leg and shoulder while screaming that he was an "atheist" and a "collaborator".
Even as the attack began Abu Rahma says he knew what it was about.
Three weeks ago, on New Year's eve, he published a scathing article on a Palestinian news website titled "The Gap Between Resistance and Governance." In it he took Palestinian political factions to task for their lack of tolerance, rampant corruption, and liberal use of torture and arrests to harass those who criticize them.
"Power and authority with a poor moral foundation are doomed to fail. They will destroy themselves and lead their people to corruption and injustice," Abu Rahma wrote in the essay.
"The people of any nation have a responsibility to criticize those who lead them. We must look in the mirror before we can see ourselves clearly. "
Mahmoud Abu Rahma
Abu Rahma also criticized armed militant groups for endangering the lives of civilians.
The unsparing critique on the powers-that-be in the West Bank and Gaza brought an immediate reaction.
Abu Rahma says he was quickly subjected to a series of threatening email and phone calls and three days after publication a group of masked men entered his building and beat him up.
During the course of the second attack Abu Rahma was able to escape his assailants and get home where family and friends got him medical attention.
The Hamas-controlled Information Ministry in Gaza said in a statement the government was investigating the circumstances of the attack on Abu Rahma and called it a violation of human rights. It also said Gaza authorities respected the right of political expression as long as it conformed with "national responsibility."
But international rights organizations like Human Rights Watch say the governments in both Gaza and the West Bank are complicit in the abuse and harassment of Palestinian critics using both detention and torture as a means of repression.
"Hamas's failure to protect Abu Rahma, who has been a leading voice for human rights in Gaza, sends a chilling message to other human rights defenders," says Human Rights Watch's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.
"Hamas needs to investigate the attacks against him promptly and thoroughly and to appropriately punish those found responsible."
Speaking on the phone from Gaza, Abu Rahma says he does not know who is behind the "cowardly attack" but says the attempt to silence those looking to improve Palestinian society will not work.
He remains unbowed and said the tremendous outpouring of support following his article and subsequent attacks has only stiffened his resolve.
"I am confident that the Palestinian people will stand together for human rights and self freedom of expression"
August 5, 2011
Posted: 1511 GMT
This week, Israel's Defense Ministry agreed to make an extraordinary payment – an award of almost $150,000 to a Palestinian family in Gaza.
It is the first pay-out to any party claiming harm during the course of Operation Cast Lead – Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza that began at the end of 2008, according to the Ministry and human rights organizations
The settlement was negotiated by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) on behalf of the family of a mother and daughter killed by Israeli soldiers during Cast Lead. The payment is to be made to the family in return for their dropping the claim against the Israeli military.
The family of Riyeh and Majda Abu Hajjaj filed their claim against the Israeli military two years ago – with the help of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem The family claimed that on January 4th, 2009 the mother and daughter were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers as they and other civilians evacuated a house in a Gaza city neighbourhood while carrying white flags. The family said they were not able to retrieve the bodies from the scene until two weeks later because of continued fighting in the area.
In a statement to CNN the Israeli Ministry of Defense said the claim was settled out of court "because the Defense Ministry believes that it was exceptional (not reflecting at all on the norm) and justifies the granting of reparation."
July 5, 2011
Posted: 1332 GMT
Indonesian domestic helper Rosnani Matsuni holds traumatic memories from her years working abroad, claiming she was beaten, threatened with her life and "treated like an animal" by her employers.
Having worked for most of the past decade in and around Saudi Arabia, she identifies with the case of fellow Indonesian migrant worker Ruyati bin Satubi, who was executed there by beheading on June 16 for killing her employer's wife, who she says abused her.
Saudi Arabia is suspending the issuance of visas to domestic workers from Indonesia starting Saturday, the latest move in a tit-for-tat game of economics and human rights. The statement came days after the Indonesian government declared it will refuse to allow its citizens to go to Saudi Arabia until human rights conditions there improve. Indonesia issued its moratorium policy, effective August 1, after the Gulf kingdom beheaded Satubi. Read more...
June 26, 2011
Posted: 951 GMT
By Jenifer Fenton
Matar Ebrahim Matar, a former MP for the opposition party Al Wefaq, was born in Bahrain on May 3, 1976 into a well-known family. He was the fifth of seven children from his father's third wife. His father, a simple farmer turned wealthy businessman, had 11 additional children with his two other wives.
Before he resigned from the Kingdom's Parliament to protest the government's crackdown, Matar represented the biggest constituency in Bahrain, approximately 16,000 people. Matar was one of 18 Al Wefaq MPs who resigned. As the youngest Member of Parliament, Matar is described as very intelligent by Khalil al Marzooq, another Al Wefaq leader who resigned. Most of Matar's family are active members of Al Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group, or the secularist Waad party. Two of Matar's brothers were detained in the 1990s, during a wave of Shiite unrest.
Now, it is Matar who is locked up. He is accused of "public incitement for regime change and deliberately spreading biased rumors, in addition to taking part in public gatherings," according to Bahrain's state run news agency. He has pleaded not guilty.
His family said he was a shy, but bright child. He went to Al Razi primary school in Daih village – the sight of protests earlier this year – where his family still lives. He continued his studies at Jedhafs intermediate school and Naim secondary school. He was always a top student, a close friend of Matar's said. He studied in Kuwait, where he obtained a Masters degree in Computer Science specializing in Artificial Intelligence. Matar left for Kuwait in 1994, the same year an uprising began in Bahrain. "Bahrain went through years of brutal crackdown on protestors just like now," Matar's friend remembers. The unrest continued until Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the King of Bahrain came to power after the death of his father. "The situation in Bahrain calmed down and went through a quiet reform period as promised by Hamad," his friend said. Matar was away during this period, but "he was so concerned about what was going on in Bahrain and decided to contribute (to) any reform process that would help improve the situation of Bahrain," his friend said.
When Matar returned to Bahrain he joined Al Wefaq and helped establish the Bahrain Youth Center, which elected him to be the center's first president. Around this time he met his wife, Dr. Amal Habib. The two were married in 2003. With Amal, "He was very polite and shy," a family member said. "Although when it comes, to politics he becomes very active and vocal." In 2010 he was elected and became an Al Wefaq MP. He was active in the society and people liked him, al Marzooq said.
Bahrain is a tiny Kingdom where a Sunni royal family rules over a majority Shiite population, who for years have complained about discrimination and called for democratic reforms. Matar was at the Pearl Roundabout during the protests that began in mid February. He also attended a couple of protests organized by Al Wefaq during the ensuing unrest. Bahrain declared Martial law on March 15, which was followed by a crackdown by the authorities. At least 1,000 people are believed to be in detention. Matar was at the protests because he just doing his duty as a politician to defend people, to call for their rights, al Marzooq said.
Matar is being held with Jawad Fairooz, another former opposition MP, and others while he awaits his third court appearance scheduled for July 5. Matar was not at his second hearing on Tuesday June 21 for reasons that remain unclear. Guards at the court initially would not allow the family in, saying that Matar's name was not on their court list. The guards later confirmed to his family that Matar's trial would go ahead despite the fact that Matar was not there, a family member said. His lawyer asked to postpone the hearing, but according to his lawyer, the judge decided to proceed. The judge said Matar's case was a minor case so there was no need for him to be there, al Marzooq said. If it is a minor case then "why is there (a) need for him to be in custody for now two months?" Bahrain has not responded to a query about why Matar was not at his own hearing.
Armed men took Matar from his car on May 2, according to his family. His wife was with him at the time. He was in solitary confinement for at least two months from May 2 to June 12. His wife Amal, who works in the ophthalmology department at Salmaniya Medical Complex, was allowed to see him on Wednesday June 22 in accordance with a judge's order, a family member said. She did not take his children, Ahmed, 4, and Sarah, 3, to see him. She "thought it is better for them not to see their father in this condition," a family member said.
Matar told his wife he has not been tortured. A family member said Amal checked Matar's body to see if there were any signs of abuse. There were not. Matar also reportedly said that he had not been harmed. But a family member says they will not be comfortable unless they "see him released and given the freedom to express his opinion and views." Just because Matar said he is fine "does not eliminate the possibility of him being subjected to other kinds of mistreatment, like psychological abuse...We can't be sure that he is not threatened not to mention any mistreatment he might be facing," a family member said.
A human rights activist said that Matar was beaten on the same day he saw his wife. Matar’s visit with his wife was at court on Wednesday June 22, the same day 21 people were convicted on terrorism-related charges in connection with anti-government protests. The trial was denounced by rights groups. The 21 were forcibly removed from the court and taken to a side room where they were beaten by Bahraini security forces, according to Nabeel Rajab, president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Matar happened to be in that side room following the visit with his wife and he was also beaten, Rajab said. The extent of his injuries is unknown. Bahrain has not responded to a query about the alleged incident.
There have been credible allegations of abuse in Bahrain's prisons. Richard Sollom, Deputy Director for Physicians for Human Rights told CNN previously, that his group could "attest to violent assault and defensive wounds on...detainees who have died in custody. We have analyzed photographic evidence of two such deaths in custody that are highly probably the result of severe abuse including blows to the face, torso, arms, and legs." Bahraini officials have said that they are investigating several security personnel alleged to have mistreated detainees.
The police also questioned Amal for six hours on June 19, according to her family. The authorities asked her about Salmaniya Medical Complex, which was a focal point during the protests. Government officials allege that some of the staff helped turn the hospital into a base for the opposition and denied some patients treatment. Human rights groups believe that the medical workers are being targeted because they treated protesters and witnessed gross violations of human rights by Bahrain security forces.
When Matar resigned from parliament earlier this year, a family member asked if he was fearful about not finding work. Matar said no. "‘The last thing I think about is money,'" the family member recalls him saying. "'People elected me to represent them and to defend them." It is unclear if Matar will have another opportunity to serve as an elected official again.
June 19, 2011
Posted: 829 GMT
By Jenifer Fenton
The Sunni “National Unity Assembly” demonstration planned for Saturday afternoon in Bahrain was cancelled.
A twitter statement from the group said the Kingdom’s leadership requested the cancellation.
The cancellation follows a large demonstration by the main opposition group Al Wefaq on Friday, which was attended by an estimated 30,000 people. It was the second such gathering by the opposition since the end of the state of emergency.
The Sunni gathering had called for people to meet on Saturday afternoon at the National Stadium and walk toward the Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa’s palace which is about one kilometer away. The group supports the national dialogue, but is against an elected Prime Minister.
Also Saturday Bahrain’s Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry issued a statement saying steps are underway to lift the ban on the secular Waad political party. The party was closed down earlier this year. Its leader Ibrahim Sharif is jailed.
May 26, 2011
Posted: 1502 GMT
By Jenifer Fenton, CNN
Bahrain plans to lift its state of emergency on June 1. Two days later, the country will learn if it can reschedule its Formula 1 Grand Prix, which was cancelled due to the unrest.
The Gulf Kingdom is hoping for a return to business as usual, but the county’s trials and continued detentions are cause for concern to many.
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Wednesday.
“Bahrain’s recent unrest is distinct in that the protests ultimately divided and polarised society rather than uniting it,” Prince Salman said in a statement released by his office. “Undoubtedly, mistakes have been made by all sides during the recent period, but lessons are being learnt.”
Also Wednesday, four were sentenced in a Bahraini national military court to one year in prison for taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations that began in mid-February, according to Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.
In a speech addressing the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama said that “mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.” Calling for dialogue, he added, “You can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”
This week, Bahrain said it had released 515 detainees since the state of emergency went into effect. It is unclear how many are still being held in custody.
A prominent Bahrain human rights activist said he doubts the government’s figures. At least 1,100 are still believed to be in detention, Nabeel Rajab said. He believes the true number is much higher. The arrests have also continued, Rajab added.
Among those still detained are 46 medical employees, including six women, according to Information Affairs Authority President Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa. Twenty-nine are facing criminal charges and 17 are accused of committing misdemeanours, Al-Khalifa said on the state news agency's website this week.
Hassan Ali Mushaima, the leader of the hard-line Shiite opposition group Haq, Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of the secular Waad party and Abdulhadi al Khawaja, a leading human rights activist, are also among those on trial accused of attempting “to topple the regime forcibly in collaboration with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country,” according to Bahrain’s news agency.
Others have disappeared. At least two senior members of Al Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group are missing. Matar Ebrahim Matar, 35, a former Al Wefaq MP, was taken from his car by armed men in mask on May 2, according to a family member. He has not been heard from him since. Bahrain has not responded to queries about Matar from his family or from CNN. His family is not aware of any charges against Matar. Matar represented the biggest constituency in Bahrain, approximately 16,000 people.
According to Human Rights Watch Jawad Fairuz was also taken on May 2. Matar and Fairuz won seats in Bahrain’s lower house of Parliament in October 2010. The two, along with 16 other Al Wefaq members resigned their position in protest of the government’s crackdown.
On Sunday, Bahrain upheld the death sentences of two men in connection with the killing of two police officers during anti-government protests. Two other men had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Approximately 30 people have been killed since the protest began on February 14.
Bahrain is a key ally of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf and the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet
What will change when Bahrain’s state of emergency is lifted on June 1 remains to be seen. “It is more a decision to attract back businesses that left the country and attract Formula 1.” Rajab said. “I don’t think that it is going to change anything on the ground, it is more cosmetic.”
May 22, 2011
Posted: 1414 GMT
Bahrain upheld the death sentences Sunday of two men in connection with the killing of two police officers during anti-government protests earlier this year.
The National Court of Appeal confirmed the sentences of Ali Abdullah Hassan Alsingace and Abdul Aziz Abdul Redha Ibrahim Hussein, according to the Bahrain News Agency, which did not mention when the executions will be carried out. The defendants have another opportunity to appeal the decision.
Two other men who had been sentenced to death have had their sentenced commuted to life in prison. They are Qassim Hassan Mattar and Ahmad Saeed Abdul Jalil Said.
May 4, 2011
Posted: 1053 GMT
By Jenifer Fenton
The justice ministry in Bahrain said 47 medical professionals will be tried for crimes that include incitement to overthrow the regime, deadly assault and refusal to help persons in need.
Twenty-four doctors and 23 nurses and paramedics have been charged.
During the protests in the Gulf kingdom, witnesses say security forces in Bahrain stormed the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama beating doctors and demonstrators. Bahraini officials deny those accounts.
Activists and human rights groups have alleged that medical personnel have been targeted by Bahraini officials for treating protestors.
“We found doctors were simply providing ethical and life-saving medical care to patients whom Bahraini security forces had shot, detained and tortured,” wrote Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, in an email to CNN.
“We documented a systematic attack on medical staff in Bahrain including the beatings, torture and disappearances of more than 30 physicians,” Sollom wrote.
Approximately 30 people have been killed since the protest began on February 14. Hundreds have been detained.
January 27, 2011
Posted: 724 GMT
We did this interview with the Quartet's envoy Tony Blair the day after Al-Jazeera released new leaked documents detailing British involvement in supporting the development of Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank, some of which have been involved in human rights abuses including torture of prisoners according to various human rights organizations. Blair also takes aim at the Qatar-based news network for the way the documents have been released.