Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Manama, 30 November 2010
Dear Secretary of State Clinton,
“No nation, no group, no individual should stay buried in the rubble of oppression” Hillary Clinton, January 21 2010
When the United States participates in the Bahraini government’s initiative, Manama Dialogues this week we would like you to use the opportunity to press for freedom of speech, the protection of human rights, greater freedom and democracy in Bahrain. In particular, we would like you to advice the authorities to end its routine practice of torture and ensure fair and independent trials for all detainees. Furthermore, in your historic speech of 21 January, you clearly affirmed your country’s support for online free speech and freedom of opinion, making it a cornerstone of US diplomacy. We now urge you to defend these principles in your relations with Bahrain, which has developed an elaborate mechanisms for controlling the Internet.
Ten years after King Hamad’s accession to the throne in 1999, his record on democracy and human rights is very uneven to the say the least. There were promises of political reform at the start of his reign and Bahrain was hailed as a model democracy in the region by George W Bush, but this was soon reversed and tensions continue to escalate. In August 2010, the Bahraini authorities launched one of its heaviest security crackdowns in over a decade. Currently over 350 people have been arrested including, 23 activists accused of belonging to a ‘terrorist cell’. These include academics, doctors, teachers, clerics and bloggers.
According to independent observers, the entire case of the 23 detainees rests on confessions which appear to have been coerced through physical violence (torture) or at the very least threats of violence and are therefore not credible. We urge you to call for the fair and independent trial of these activists or to release them. The plight of the blogger and cyber dissident, Ali Abdulemam in particular would be of concern to you as you have stated that you are a champion of freedom of speech and information. He has been targeted and accused of ‘spreading false information’ simply for using the tools available on the internet. The Bahraini government should not use the accusation of ‘terrorism’ as a pretext to systematically violate the rights of political activists and those who use the internet for peaceful political purposes. Thousands of websites have been blocked, including facebook pages and those of political societies.
Specifically, the detainees defense lawyers have made five requests which have not been upheld:
1. An investigation into numerous and consistent allegations of torture by all 23 detainees.
2. The formation of an independent medical committee to examine the detainees.
3. An improvement in the conditions for the detainees in prison.
4. To allow local media to report on the trial.
5. To release the detainees.
We plead with the U.S. government to secure the release all political prisoners and to ensure that they receive just trials and welfare, to end censorship and to introduce genuine democratic reforms. We also urge the U.S. government to pressure e Bahraini government to honor their commitment to the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture, to which they are a signatory.
As the US spokesman recently stated “you don’t have to make a choice between democracy and security”. Based on this, Bahrain should cease the practice of torture that has been investigated by many human rights organisations such as HRW and Amnesty and end the censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression and association.
Every effort must be made in this dialogue to avoid the outcome seen so often in the past, an outcome marked by vague statements of praise for so-called ‘reforms’ , while being used by the Bahraini authorities to claim that they are making progress on the democratic and human rights front. The opposite is the case – repression has been stepped up in recent months.
We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our requests and hope you can wield positive influence to resolve the situation.
Abdul Nabi Al-Ekri
Bahrain Transparency Society
Deputy Secretary General
Bahrain Human Rights Society
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Women's Petition Committee
Embassy of the United States, Bahrain