Report on today’s Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights Hearing

A hearing on the state of progress on the BICI recommendations for the Kingdom of Bahrain was held on Capitol Hill this afternoon by the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights.  The last time the Commission met was 14 months ago.

Who Was There

Witnesses included co-chairs Representative Jim McGovern (D, MA) and Representative Dan Burton (R, IN) and Senator Ron Wyden (D, OR).  Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, was present to testify on behalf of the U.S. State Department and the Administration.

After a brief adjournment for a congressional vote, witnesses Matar Ebrahim Matar, former Member of Bahrain’s Parliament, Leslie Campbell, Senior Associate and Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa Programs, National Democratic Institute, Tom Malinowski, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch, and Richard Sollom, Deputy Director, Physicians for Human Rights prepared to give testimony, however, I had to leave so I did not personally hear their testimonies.

Representative James Moran (D, VA) and Representative Lynn Woolsey (D, CA) were present to provide their views and ask questions of the witnesses.

The room was completely filled to capacity – standing room only — with journalists, activists, legislators, and others.  In the audience, I recognized Bahraini journalist Nada al-Wadi, Cole Beckenfeld from POMED, and Bahrain Ambassador Houda Nonoo, among others.

Testimony and video will be available on the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights website

Husain Abdulla of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) was not present but he entered testimony into the record and provided handouts, as did Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, and several others.  Representative McGovern also entered today’s New York Times article on excessive tear gas in Bahrain into the record.   Those submissions will be up on the Tom Lantos Commission website in a few days. A source at the meeting also told me that the video of the meeting will also be posted on the website within a few days.

What Was Said in the First Half of the Meeting

Representative McGovern stated views that were most sympathetic to the opposition.  He said he “firmly believed” U.S. arms sales and services to Bahrain should cease until significant reforms took place.  Among many improvements, he called for greater access to Bahrain for NGOs.  He was most disappointed that Nabeel Rajab had been imprisoned and called for all detainees who had not demonstrated violence to be released immediately.

Representative Burton’s views could not be more different.  He claimed that he knew the real story about Bahrain and cautioned the audience against putting too much stock in what he called “reports.”  Citing his visits to Bahrain and meetings with the Crown Prince, U.S. intelligence officers, and the Commander of the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy stationed in Bahrain, he said that Bahrain had made significant progress toward reforms and that 18 of the 26 BICI recommendations had been complied with.  He also alleged that there were people from Iran who were fomenting discord in Bahrain.  Noting that he saw a number of activists in the audience, Mr. Burton said, “I think it would be a tragic mistake to predetermine if the Bahrain government has complied with the recommendations.”

Representative Woolsey was next to speak.  She stated that she too had visited Bahrain but her impressions appeared very different.  She said “I came away from that trip with a greater sense of urgency than I expected.”  Problems she cited were the trial of the medics, the use of tear gas, and the use of rubber bullets.  She stated that she opposed arms sales until real reforms had taken place: “The Government of Bahrain has started to take steps but as a passionate human rights advocate, I expect there to be real, lasting, and meaningful reform.”  She also called for increased efforts by the Bahrain government.

Senator Wyden accused the government of Bahrain of “foot dragging” and cited human rights abuses, the targeting of children, the use of tear gas, and the imprisonment of Nabeel Rajab and other political activists, and the prohibition against peaceful protests and assembly as troubling practices that had to stop.

Deputy Secretary Posner‘s remarks focused on human rights, the need for dialogue, and increased progress on the BICI recommendations.  As Representative Wolf commented, his views were moderate but basically echoed what he has stated many times before at press briefings.  He called on both the opposition and the government to take steps toward dialogue and reiterated his previous comments that human rights was a problem for Bahrain to solve.

He did claim that the violence had abated somewhat “this summer” while “nightly confrontations” between young people and the police were still taking place.  When questioned about the freedom of the press in Bahrain by Representative Moran, Mr. Posner stated that Bahrainis had access to a number of news sources, including satellite television, and were not restricted to accessing only state-run media.

Representative Woolsey asked him to clarify what he meant when he said his department “encouraged” dialogue in Bahrain and by what means, and to this, he replied that the Administration simply reiterated its commitment to both the government of Bahrain and the people of Bahrain.  “We’ve made it clear that we have some concerns about human rights and the lack of progress toward dialogue,” stated Deputy Secretary Posner.

When asked about outside influences in Bahrain, such as Iran, Posner stated “What is clear to me is that there are issues in Bahrain that have nothing at all to do with anyone outside the country and what they’re doing.”

The meeting adjourned briefly for a vote called elsewhere.

I regret that I was unable to attend the rest of the meeting, but I will post a link to the video as soon as it appears on the Tom Lantos Commission website.

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Congressional Hearing on BICI to take place Wednesday, August 1

Public Congressional hearing on Bahrain

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing this Wednesday in Washington, DC to hear witnesses report on the extent to which the government of Bahrain has implemented the human rights protections recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011.

The hearing is open to the public and will take place in Room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building (second floor) on Wednesday, August 1, from 1 pm to 3 pm.

The Rayburn Office Building occupies a site southwest of the Capitol bounded by Independence Avenue, South Capitol Street, C Street S.W., and First Street S.W. (View map) in Washington, DC.

Witnesses will appear in three panels.

The witness for the first panel will be Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator for Oregon.  Senator Wyden was one of 24 senators and congressional representatives to oppose the sale of arms to Bahrain.

The witness for the second panel will be Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  Mr. Posner has visited Bahrain five times in the past two years, the most recently on June 12 of this year, when he spoke to the press at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain.

Four witnesses will testify on the third and final panel.  They will be

Matar Ebrahim Matar, former member of Bahrain’s parliament and leading member of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political party in Bahrain.  Mr. Matar recently appeared on Al Jazeera’s television news program, The Stream (video link) to opine about the state of reforms in Bahrain.

Leslie Campbell, Senior Associate Director and Regional Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, National Democratic Institute.  Headquartered in Washington, DC, the National Democratic Institute was formed by the U.S. government to foster movements toward democracy in foreign nations, and is funded both by taxpayers (through the State Department and other agencies) and by contributions from foreign governments (including, notably, the Kingdom of Bahrain) and donations from others.  The organization’s work in Bahrain has focused on encouraging citizen participation in elections.

Tom Walinowski, Director of Human Rights Watch.  Human Rights Watch is a New York-based nonprofit organization that has advocated for human rights in Bahrain.

Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights.  This organization has advocated for dismissal of charges against the Bahraini medics and has called for a cease of the indiscriminate and excessive use of tear gas in Bahrain, which has been linked to fatalities and miscarriages.  The nonprofit is based in Massachusetts.

Directions from Metro

From Union Station:

Start off going around Columbus Circle and joining 1st Street Northeast, going south. Take a left onto D Street, and shortly afterward a right onto 2nd Street Northeast.  Follow 2nd Street South until it becomes 2nd Street Southeast, then take a right onto C Street Southeast.  Follow C Street down the hill.  The Rayburn House Office Building will be the fourth large building on your right, at the bottom of the hill.

From Capitol South Station:

Start off walking north on 1st Street, and cross C Street. Take a left and walk down the hill, following C Street. The Rayburn House Office Building will be the third large building on your right, at the bottom of the hill.

From Federal Center Southwest Station:

Start off walking north on 3rd Street, and take a right at C Street.  Follow C Street to 2nd Street, then cross the road and the park. Stay on C Street across the roads, and you will see the Rayburn House Office Building on your left.

The Tom Lantos Commission is co-chaired by James P. McGovern and Frank R. Wolf.

Bahrain Watch detects spy operation against activist organizations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: bill@bahrainwatch.org
Twitter: @bhwatch

July 25, 2012

UK COMPANY HELPS BAHRAIN GOVT SPY ON ACTIVISTS
Malicious E-Mail Attachments Sent to Activists Steal Passwords, Record Skype Calls

Bahrain’s government is spying on Bahraini activists with a malicious computer program apparently supplied by a UK firm.

Bahrain Watch founding member Bill Marczak, and Citizen Lab security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire analyzed a string of suspicious e-mails sent to activists over the past two months.  The e-mails promised exclusive images or documents about the political situation in Bahrain.  Upon closer examination, the e-mails were found to contain attachments that installed a malicious program on a victim’s computer.  Some of these e-mails impersonated Al Jazeera English reporter Melissa Chan.

The malicious program was found to record keystrokes, take screenshots, record Skype calls, and steal passwords saved in web browsers, e-mail programs, and instant messaging programs.  The malicious program sent this data to an internet address in Bahrain.

The analysis suggests that the malicious program is “FinSpy,” a product of UK firm Gamma International.  FinSpy belongs to the FinFisher suite for “Governmental IT Intrusion and Remote Monitoring Solutions.”  Gamma International was criticized for apparently selling the same product to Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. Before technology giant Apple closed the security gap, FinSpy would infect computers by tricking users into thinking that it was an iTunes update.  London-based NGO Privacy International has threatened to take the UK government to court for failing to control the export of surveillance technology to repressive foreign regimes.

During the analysis of FinSpy, a stolen GMail password was later used in an attempt to access the GMail account, suggesting that the Bahraini government is actively monitoring and exploiting the information captured by FinSpy.

A detailed report of the technical analysis of the program can be read at: https://citizenlab.org/2012/07/from-bahrain-with-love-finfishers-spy-kit-exposed/3/.  A non-technical report of the analysis by Bloomberg News can be read at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-25/cyber-attacks-on-activists-traced-to-finfisher-spyware-of-gamma.html.  Bahrain Watch would like to extend its gratitude to all of the activists, researchers, and journalists, including those at Bloomberg News, who contributed to this story.

Have I been infected?

The malicious e-mails analyzed were sent from the following addresses:

The malicious e-mails analyzed had the following subject lines:

  •     Existence of a new dialogue – Al-Wefaq & Government authority
  •     Torture reports on Nabeel Rajab
  •     King Hamad planning
  •     Breaking News from Bahrain – 5 Suspects Arrested

The malicious attachments display images or documents when opened.  If you have received e-mails with these subject lines or from these addresses, DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENTS.  If you opened one of the attachments, your computer may be infected.  STOP USING THE INFECTED COMPUTER IMMEDIATELY.

If you have received these e-mails, or any other suspicious e-mail about Bahrain with an attachment, please contact bill@bahrainwatch.org with details.

Tips for safe internet usage

Do not open unsolicited attachments received via email, Skype or any other communications mechanism.  If you believe that you are being targeted, be especially cautious when downloading files over the Internet, even from links that are purportedly sent by friends.

Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based activism.  About Bahrain Watch: http://bahrainwatch.org/about.html

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Contact: bill@bahrainwatch.org
Twitter: @bhwatch

Bahrain is putting the cart before the horse with its latest attempts at so-called social reconciliation

The government of Bahrain announced last week that they would provide the equivalent of $500,000 US to non-governmental organizations that develop ” social reconciliation” programs.  The Orwellian twist is that this latest effort joins previous initiatives aimed at Bahrainis — primarily at children and young people in school and camp settings — to attempt to influence them to “forgive and forget” past abuses and transgressions by the regime.  This, while Bahraini forces continue to tear gas and shoot birdshot pellets at its citizens, and people who have been tortured, innocent of wrongdoing, still languish in Bahraini prisons, including Abdulhadi Alkhawaja.

In addition to the the deaths and injuries related to police brutality, dozens of women in Bahrain have miscarried their unborn children because of excessive exposure to tear gas.

Perhaps this money might be better spent on reforming the regime’s security and police forces.  Oh, right, they tried that.  Efforts in that direction seem to be fruitless.  The regime’s forces are as vicious as ever.

Royalists in Bahrain label any person who supports the opposition, democracy, and human rights as a “terrorist” and anyone who attempts to bring light to these injustices as an instigator of violence.  The lion’s share of violence, however, is coming from the regime, as numerous, reputable journalists, human rights organizations, and witnesses have reported again and again.

Evidently “social reconciliation” in Bahrain does not involve protecting the human right freedom of speech.  At time of this announcement, the government banned all demonstrations and marches and imprisoned one of the nation’s foremost civil rights leaders, Nabeel Rajab, for speaking his mind on Twitter.

While Bahrain continues to imprison political prisoners…arrest, beat, and torture citizens for speaking their mind…tear-gassing villages…blinding and maiming children and adults with birdshot….any discussion of “reconciliation” is premature.

After all, we are not talking about a parking ticket here.  There have been hundreds of documented cases of human rights abuses, including torture and loss of life.  People have disappeared who are still not accounted for.  People have lost their jobs because of their beliefs.  Mosques, hundreds of years old, have been destroyed.

What kind of reconciliation was Bahrain seeking when they shot a tear gas canister into Zainab Alkhawaja’s leg at close range on June 27?  What kind of reconciliation were they seeking when they shot four-year-old Ahmed Alneham with buckshot, maiming him for life, while his father begged them to stop?

Actions speak louder than words.  Peace is impossible without freedom.  Reforms first — then reconciliation.

 

Pictures from the crackdown on today’s demonstrations around Bahrain

Opposition groups called for protests in ten areas around Bahrain to take place today, Friday, July 13th.  The protests were set to start at 5pm Bahrain time.  The Ministry of Interior announced yesterday that all demonstrations would be considered illegal, and anyone participating in today’s events would be breaking the law.

Today, riot police were on the scene early.  Many streets were closed, and some towns were partly sealed off, preventing people from getting in.  Checkpoints were installed in other areas.

Despite the intense security measures and attempts to prevent protesters from joining the demonstrations, people went out anyway.  The crackdown started even before even the demonstrations commenced.  Tear gas and flashbang grenades were fired in every town that attempted to protest.

Riot police raided many private homes, in some cases firing at the occupants.  In Karzakan, a 16 year old girl was shot with a flashbang grenade, and at the same house a 40 year old woman was forced out of the shower naked.  Police also directly targeted protesters.  A 13 year old from Al Dair was shot in her ankle with a tear gas canister.

The Bahrain Coordinating Committee has not yet been able to establish the exact number of injuries, but the pictures below tell the story.

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Nabeel Rajab: imprisoned for tweets, paying the price for the struggle for freedom

Witness Bahrain interviewed human rights activist and Bahrain Center for Human Rights President Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain yesterday (July 9) just before he was taken to jail for a three-month sentence related to an update he posted on Twitter.

In the video, Rajab states: “I will not stop and I’m teaching people not to stop. If everybody will keep quiet after putting them in jail, then it’s a disaster. We should challenge that. We should be willing to pay the price for the struggle for the freedom that we fight for. And this is the price.”

Read the entire Witness for Bahrain blog post here.

Turning point for dozens of policemen in Bahrain

As tiny as Bahrain is, 24 hours a day are not enough to cover all the stories we want. There are so many invisible soldiers and so many moving stories that the world doesn’t know about.

A few days ago we talked to about 15 men, who worked at the ministry of interior. They all had put in between seven and 27 years of dedicated services as policemen or similar positions. Most of them have families and children depending on them.

When we asked them, what’s their situation now, they all said we’re on hold, waiting. The ministry of interior didn’t officially dismiss them, they don’t have a letter that sets them free, but they won’t take them back either. They can’t work elsewhere because they’re caught in the middle.

In the beginning they were all hesitant to talk on camera, they were worried that the government will come after them or punish them, as some are still waiting their appeals in court. Some didn’t mind showing their faces, others wanted to tell us their stories anonymously.

While we’re working on their individual stories and we’ll post them for you to read, we thought it’s still important to give you a quick highlight on what these policemen went through since the uprising.

Some of them were called in for interrogation during working hours then arrested, others just decided to not show up because of the injustice and inhumane approached they’ve witnessed. Most of them were forced to stand in their uniform under the sun facing the wall for hours.

Without mentioning their names here, one of the policemen said his turning point was the events that took place at the University of Bahrain. He claims he saw with his own eyes riot police protecting thugs and siding with them, because those masked thugs were well known officers, and sons of ministers. He specifically mentioned the son of the foreign minister wearing a mask and joining the thugs in beating people and harassing women. After that he decided not to go to work after what he had seen.

Another man saw what happened when police evacuated the lulu roundabout, saying the theft, burning, and stealing policemen committed was shocking. They take anything and everything as they go.  He says when he saw what they did to the people, and one man after another falls, he couldn’t continue because he couldn’t do this to his own people.

When protesters blocked the road at the financial harbor, one of the policemen told me the riot police and the protesters were on good terms. They were talking and no violence erupted until thugs and other riot police showed up and started hitting the front row of protesters with their batons. The ones at the back started throwing rocks, and protesters in front rows tried to calm them down. He overheard police saying that one of them should try and get hit to reverse the pressure. He said he saw a policeman getting hit; he picked him up and sent him with a Syrian policeman, with a minor injury. Then a rumor came out that this officer had died. He told us, after this incident he realized the dirty game the government is playing, and the lack of transparency in their approaches, as well as the continuous planning to frame the revolution and the protesters in a violent manner. That was his turning point.

Police told us that when Peninsula Shield Forces entered Bahrain, they were given the same uniforms as Bahraini riot police.  Several police further said that a member of the Peninsula Shield Forces shot martyr Ahmad Farhan in the head.

Those policemen are sentenced to between one and eight years in prison, as well as the dismissal from their jobs. Some have already served their sentences, and others are awaiting their appeals. Some still get 50 percent of their salaries, others get nothing at all. Like many other Bahrainis, they’re just waiting, jobless, demanding justice.

One of them told us “Even if they ask me to go back to work, there is no way I will, ever.”

** There are no exact numbers yet, but different accounts suggest more than 200 hunderd policemen defected to in support of the Bahraini uprising, not including females. **

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Wait for our video interviews with some of these policemen. We’re also working closely with Human Rights First to release a proper report.

Torture continues in Bahrain, eight months after BICI report

The BICI report was released on November 23, 2011.

Today, on July 9, 2012, protesters and anyone unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in Bahrain are still being shot, teargassed, beaten, detained, and tortured.

Eight months of promises and very little improvement on the human rights front.

Photos tell the story…

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Bahrain police attempt to run over protesters with their cars

Government troops in Bahrain clamp down on protesters, and attempt to run them down in the streets (video).

Video by Abusaiba Media

International outcry over Bahraini Prince’s potential Olympic attendance

by guest blogger Chloe Kems.  Follow Chloe on Twitter: @kems4BH

International human rights groups, Bahraini activists, and – as of Thursday – members of the British parliament are urging Britain to ban the royal head of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee from attending the London 2012 games.  Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s king, is set to attend the London Olympics this August, despite his role in the detention and alleged torture of athletes during the 2011 crackdown in Bahrain.

When protests began in mid-February 2011, athletes participated in the democracy protests and Pearl Square demonstrations along with 500,000 Bahrainis from the country’s majority Shi’ite population. When athlete support for Bahrain’s democracy uprising became public, Nasser, who serves as the Head of Bahrain’s National Futbol Association in addition to the country’s Olympic Committee, was “put in charge of effort to detain and punish athletes” who had been spotted participating or supporting the Pearl Square protests.

150 athletes were either detained or suspended after the regime alleged they participated in protests.  Prince Nasser made several controversial statements about the protesters, saying he hoped “may a wall fall down their heads,” and that they would have “nowhere to hide.”  Of the athletes, he stated that he believed the convicted should be imprisoned for life. Relatives of some of the detained athletes allege that they were tortured by Prince Nasser.

However, in late June, Fahad A al-Binali from the Bahraini President’s office issued a statement to The Guardian, in reaction to their coverage of the alleged torture and Olympic debate: “We vociferously reject the very serious allegations your newspaper has made against HH Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa … we categorically deny any involvement of HH Sheikh Nasser in any of these grave unfounded accusations of torture.”

Nasser is not subject to an EU or UN travel ban, the likes of which are currently levied against leaders in Syria, Zimbabwe, and other regimes with histories of human rights violations. A committee of representatives from Britain’s Home Office, Foreign Office, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will decide whether or not Nasser will be granted a visa to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

In May, the BBC’s sports blog reported that “Foreign Secretary William Hague says the government won’t hesitate to use its powers to extend London 2012 travel bans to individuals and officials with connections to undesirable regimes.” Secretary Hague has stated that Sheikh Nasser is among those who will be closely assessed for links to human rights violations that would render him undeserving of an Olympic invitation.

A powerful voice joined the activist coalition to prevent Nasser’s Olympic attendance on Thursday, when George Galloway, a notoriously outspoken member of the British parliament, publicly warned “so called Prince Nasser” of a citizen’s arrest should he travel to London. Galloway’s statement, which currently has over 45,000 views on YouTube, warns Nasser: “don’t come to London, because you won’t enjoy it … you torture, you supporter of murder, you thief, you usurper, you war criminal, you dirty scoundrel, you are not welcome in London. … We will hunt you, wherever you are.”

The British MP’s fierce statements against Nasser coalesce with the release of a statement from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regarding the human rights climate in Bahrain. Twenty eight countries signed the push for reform implementation as per the BICI and improved cooperation with the UNHRC.

Although neither the US nor the UK signed the UNHRC statement, the outcry over Nasser’s potential Olympic attendance is gaining international traction. Following the protests that surrounded the F1 race in May, the London Olympics builds upon a growing phenomenon in Bahrain: sports politics are bringing global attention to human rights violations in the small Gulf nation.