5 Feb, 2015

Zahra, one of the toughest ladies I have met

When we see Zahra on a T-shirt?

The lump in my stomach grows when I say goodbye to Zahra (29) from Bahrain. Is it just a matter of time before she gets arrested?

The background image of Zahra's mobile is Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, where Zahra works. But their meetings are no longer conducted in Nabeel's office. Human rights advocate is sentenced to two years in prison for encouraging "illegal gatherings" and Amnesty describes it as an "affront to freedom of expression" that Nabeel still sitting behind bars.

- I have worked with Nabeel since 2007. I miss him so much, exclaimed Zahra, and looking down on her screenpage1image9560

- I have him with me everywhere.

Zahra and I meet in Rabat, capital of Morocco. Under the auspices of Amnesty are a number of young activists from the Middle East and North Africa gathered to share experiences and learn how they can better fight for human rights in their countries. But Zahra (29) is already excessive in the game. Her job at the Human Rights Center in Bahrain is to document and follow up on cases of torture and violations of freedom of expression. In addition, she is arranging for training activists on using human expression terminologies. This is necessary for them to express themselves correctly when reporting on events, such as on Twitter.

This is not innocuous tasks in the small island state of Bahrain, where serious human rights violations sadly commonplace and government turn bones down hard on any kind of criticism. When I talk with Zahra, she says that five out of almost ten members at the center are currently in prison. Former head of the Bahrain Human Rights Centre, Danish-Bahraini Abdulhadi al- Khawaja, is serving a life sentence. Health conditions are poor. He went on hunger strike over extended periods, and has not get medical care. Amnesty works for both Rajaab and Al-Khawaja to be released immediately. Currently, there are al-Khawaja's daughter Maryam who heads the human rights center, and she fights a continuous battle to get set free from danger.

Zahra has not yet been arrested herself. But police have raided her home and keep it under surveillance when demonstrations take place nearby. Zahra just smiles when I ask her to take care of herself.

- My friends have said that "we will not see your face on a T-shirt!" Laughs 29-year-old. She knows it's dangerous to be a human rights activist in Bahrain, but she does not have any other option but to continue working for basic rights. As the freedom to send a Twitter message without fear.

- I'm not scared, says Zahra quiet, and adds: - No one in Bahrain is safe. But where does she discourage?

- We have rights, she says simply. Finished it. And then she smiles a little wryly, when she sees her new Amnesty friends have tears in her eyes, and not altogether will drop ceiling a farewell clip.

The day after Zahra went home to Bahrain, I got e-mail from her with the following conclusion: "Second, I would like to confirm that I am in my office I have not been jailed yet."

I hope it continues that way. 

https://twitter.com/ChristensenLene/status/287602264456187904

 

4 Feb, 2015

Freedom House's Annual Report on Political Rights and Civil Liberties: Freedom in the World 2015

Regional Trends
The negative pattern in 2014 held true across geographical regions, with more declines than gains in the Middle East and North Africa, Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the Americas, and an even split in Asia-Pacific.

Middle East and North Africa:  Tunisia a bright spot in troubled region Although Tunisia became the Arab world’s only Free country after holding democratic elections under a new constitution, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa was racked by negative and often tragic events. The Syrian civil war ground on, the Islamic State and other extremist militant factions dramatically extended their reach, and Libya’s tentative improvements following the downfall of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi rapidly disintegrated as the country fell into a new internal conflict. Rival armed groups also overran a fragile political process in Yemen, and the effects of the Syrian war paralyzed elected institutions in Lebanon. Egypt continued its rollback of post- Mubarak reforms and solidified its return to autocracy with sham elections and a crackdown on all forms of dissent.

Following high-profile killings of Israeli and Palestinian civilians and a campaign of rocket attacks on Israel by Gaza-based militants, the Israel Defense Forces launched a 50-day air and ground offensive in Gaza over the summer. More than 2,200 people died, mostly Gazan civilians, and tens of thousands of homes in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. Israel was criticized for responding to attacks by Hamas militants in a disproportionate way, while Hamas was criticized for entrenching rocket launchers and fighters in civilian neighborhoods.

 

Notable gains or declines:
BAHRAIN'S political rights rating declined from 6 to 7
due to grave flaws in the 2014 legislative elections
and the government’s unwillingness to address
long-standing grievances among the majority Shiite
community about the drawing of electoral districts and
the possibility of fair representation.

 

Egypt received a downward trend arrow due to the
complete marginalization of the opposition, state
surveillance of electronic communications, public
exhortations to report critics of the government to
the authorities, and the mass trials and unjustified
imprisonment of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Iraq’s political rights rating declined from 5 to 6 due to
the Islamic State’s attempts to destroy Christian, Shiite,
Yazidi, and other communities under its control, as well
as attacks on Sunnis by state-sponsored Shiite militias.

Lebanon received a downward trend arrow due to the
parliament’s repeated failure to elect a president and
its postponement of overdue legislative elections for
another two and a half years, which left the country
with a presidential void and a National Assembly
whose mandate expired in 2013.

Libya’s political rights rating declined from 4 to 6,
its civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6, and its
status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the
country’s descent into a civil war, which contributed to
a humanitarian crisis as citizens fled embattled cities,
and led to pressure on civil society and media outlets
amid the increased political polarization.

Syria received a downward trend arrow due to
worsening religious persecution, weakening of civil
society groups and rule of law, and the large-scale
starvation and torture of civilians and detainees.

Tunisia’s political rights rating improved from 3 to
1 and its status improved from Partly Free to Free
due to the adoption of a progressive constitution,
governance improvements under a consensus-based
caretaker administration, and the holding of free and
fair parliamentary and presidential elections, all with a
high degree of transparency.

Yemen received a downward trend arrow due to the
Houthi militant group’s seizure and occupation of the
capital city, its forced reconfiguration of the cabinet,
and its other demands on the president, which
paralyzed Yemen’s formal political process.

Courtesy: Freedom House - Freedom in the World 2015: Regional Trends - Middle East and North Africa/ Bahrain

Click here to view the full report

4 Feb, 2015

Human Rights Watch - World Report 2015: Events of 2014 - Bahrain

Bahrain
In 2014, the main opposition party continued to refuse to participate in the national dialogue process to protest authorities prosecuting some of its senior members and, with other opposition parties, boycotted November’s elections in protest at an unfair electoral system.

Bahrain’s courts convicted and imprisoned peaceful dissenters and failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations. The high rate of successful prosecutions on vague terrorism charges, imposition of long prison sentences, and failure to address the security forces’ use of lethal and apparently disproportionate force all reflected the weakness of the justice system and its lack of independence.

Human rights activists and members of the political opposition continued to face arrest and prosecution, and the government invested itself with further powers to arbitrarily strip critics of their citizenship and the rights that attach to it.

Judicial System
Bahraini courts sentenced more than 200 defendants to long prison sentences, including at least 70 for life, on terrorism or national security charges. The number of prosecutions, the often vague nature of the charges, the high rate of convictions, and the length of the sentences imposed raised serious due process concerns. Bahrain’s civilian criminal courts failed to provide impartial justice and frequently convicted defendants on terrorism charges for acts that amount to legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and
association.

In 2013, for example, an appeals court concluded that a lower court had been right to convict Abdul Wahab Hussain, an opposition leader, on terrorism charges and sentence him to life imprisonment because he had founded a group dedicated to establishing a republic in Bahrain. The same appeals court also upheld the terrorism convictions and life sentences for Hassan Mushaima and Abdul Jalil al-Singace, members of the unlicensed opposition group Al Haq, because they had participated in meetings of the group that Huss