Bahraini Authorities Must Guarantee Right to Peaceful Protest and Cease Violent Crackdown against Opposition

Press Release
July 12, 2012

Bahraini Authorities Must Guarantee Right to Peaceful Protest and Cease Violent Crackdown against Opposition

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) -- Amnesty International said today Bahraini authorities must allow citizens the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, after the country's Chief of Public Security barred a gathering organized by an opposition group.

The Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society was denied permission to hold the gathering deemed "Our Demands are Legitimate," planned for this evening in the town of Jablat Hibshi.

In recent weeks, Bahrain has banned all other rallies and gatherings organized by opposition groups. Previous rallies have been met with excessive use of force by security forces.

"Despite recent promises of reform and the guarantee of basic human rights, the authorities continue to violate the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy program director.

Major General Tariq Al-Hassan, chief of public security, said upon reviewing the security plans and the law on public assemblies, the decision was made to prohibit Al Wefaq’s rally request. He said the location and timing of the proposed rally would have meant that traffic may be hindered and the public would be exposed to risks, though these were not identified.

In addition, the security chief clarified that it was illegal to take part in the rally and that legal action would be taken against violators.

"Instead of continuing to arbitrarily deny the right to peaceful assembly on the grounds that traffic might be disturbed, the authorities must offer alternatives to allow political societies and the general population to peacefully exercise their rights," Hadj Sahraoui said.

On June 22, a gathering organized by the five main opposition political groups took place despite a similar government ban. The gathering was attacked by security forces and several people were wounded.

A young man, Ali al-Mowali, was wounded after a tear gas canister hit his head causing severe injuries. He was immediately transferred to intensive care where he still remains after reportedly undergoing an operation on July 9.

Other Bahraini human rights groups reported dozens of protester arrests in June. Several of those arrested were accused of taking part in an illegal gathering. Dozens more were reportedly injured as a result of excessive use of force during protests.

"The fact that a peaceful protest has not been granted an official permit does not justify arbitrary arrest or the unnecessary use of disproportionate force by police against protesters," Hadj Sahraoui said. "The Bahraini authorities should act immediately to ensure that this does not happen and that the law on gathering is brought in line with international law."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.