Index Index – international free speech round up 15/02/13

At least 17 prisoners of conscience are on hunger strike in Oman. They began the strike on 9 February at Muscat’s Samayel prison, and other detainees have since joined them, making the total number of hunger strikers 23. Six who were reported to be in a critical condition were taken to hospitals around the capital on 13 February. Yaqoob Al-Harith, a lawyer to seven of the original 17 refusing to eat said they are protesting against the time it is taking to transfer their cases to the supreme court to appeal their jail sentences. The have all been imprisoned for between six and 18 months. The free speech defenders, political activists and civil society representatives were jailed under charges of cyber crimes, illegal assembly, violating communications regulations and insulting ruler Sultan Qaboos on online social networks. Relatives of those imprisoned wrote to the National Human Rights Commission on 10 February and have appealed to the Omani authorities to have the detained released.

anonymousiran - Demotix

 Iranian opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi has been under house arrest for two years

Two daughters of a former presidential candidate held under house arrest for nearly two years have been arrested in Iran. Zahra and Narges Mousavi, daughters of Mirhossein Mousavi, Iranian prime minister in the 1980s, were arrested by security forces on February 11. Along with Mousavi’s third daughter, they had written in a statement that authorities had denied Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard access to their children for weeks. Mousavi and Rahnavard were placed under house arrest along with opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi and his wife Fatemeh, after they called for demonstrations to support the Arab uprisings across the region in February 2011. The Islamic Republic is facing a presidential vote in June, and hardliners have accused opposition leaders of plotting a second sedition after the last protests were crushed by security forces. They have also called for the execution of both men, but the government are choosing to keep them in solitary confinement.

Saudia Arabia’s minister for media and culture has confirmed that a range of government bodies have been censoring Twitter, reports on 13 February said. Abdel Aziz Khoga called on Saudi citizens to ”raise their awareness” and monitor their social media activity more carefully, as it was proving increasingly difficult to monitor the three million Twitter subscribers around the kingdom. Under the Sunni monarchy, writer Turki Al-Hamad is one of many journalists in prison under blasphemy charges. He was arrested for insulting Islam in January, after he accused radical Islamists of corrupting Prophet Mohammad’s “message of love” in a Tweet in December 2o12. Online activist Raif Badawi was arrested in June 2012 and was charged with apostasy for his tweet, a sentence which carries the death penalty.

On 14 February, two Nigerian journalists appeared in court for criticising the government’s polio campaign. Yakubu Fagge and Mubarak Sani were charged with criminal conspiracy, abetment, defamation of character, obstruction of a public officer carrying out his duty, intentional insult, and incitement to violence. They plead guilty before judge Ibrahim Bello during their appearance before a senior magistrate court in Gyadi Gyadi, Kano. The pair were arrested after hosting a radio show on Wazobia FM on 6 February, where they alleged the government had forced parents to immunise their children against polio, claiming officials were abusing their power. Fagge and Sani have been granted bail with two sureties each at NGN 100, 000, on the condition the surities are community leaders or heads of department of government organisations. The case was adjourned until 13 March.

Tunisian journalist ends hunger strike

Journalist and activist Ramzi Bettaieb ended a 15-day hunger strike yesterday.

Three other activists and bloggers, Azyz Amami, Houcem Hajlaoui and Emine M’tiraoui, who went on hunger strike in solidarity with Bettaieb have also ended their action.

Bettaieb, who works for the blogger’s collective Nawaat, went on hunger strike to highlight the lack of transparency in a crucial case being tried in front of a military court. On 21 May, the military authorities confiscated two of Bettaieb’s cameras as he tried to cover trials at the Military Tribunal of El Kef in the investigation of the murder of protesters during the 2011 Tunisian revolution

Tunisian journalists’ video coverage of court hearings is currently restricted to three minutes inside court rooms and Bettaieb accuses the military of deliberately preventing journalists from documenting what Nawaat has described as “the most important trials of Tunisia’s modern history”.

Bettaieb has now his cameras back, and the support of Tunisia’s constituent assembly, which pledged to look into his demands of lifting the restrictions on journalists and activists seeking to cover the court hearings in the martyrs’ case.

Bettaieb has also demanded the case be tried instead by an independent judicial structure instead of miltary judges.

“Our bodies’ powers are limited, but our determination is unlimited,” Bettaieb said at a press conference.


Bahrain: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja ends hunger strike

Prominent Bahraini rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja ended his hunger strike yesterday (28 May), according to his lawyer, Mohammad Al-Jishi. Alkhawaja, who was on hunger strike for 110 days, started his hunger strike on 8 February saying that he would strike until “freedom or death”.  The former head of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) was brought to a hearing last Tuesday in a wheelchair, where he told the court about being force-fed during his hunger strike. He is currently serving a life sentence for his involvement in anti-government protests last year. Al-Jishi used the social networking site Twitter to announce the end of the strike, saying that it had “generally achieved its results to shed the light on the case of the detainees in Bahrain”.

Hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja to be retried in civilian court

Bahrain’s Court of Cassation yesterday ordered a retrial in a civilian court for activist and hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and twenty other activists. Alkhawaja was originally sentenced to life in prison by a military tribunal in June 2011 for his involvement in last year’s anti-government protests.

Despite ordering a re-trial, the court decided to keep Alkhawaja and the other activists in custody while their cases are reviewed.

The Bahraini government claim the trial will be revisited as an entirely different case, which falls in line with the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission for Inquiry (BICI) report released last November. According to recommendation 1720, all cases tried by the military court should be re-reviewed by a civilian court.

In a press conference yesterday, Alkhawaja’s wife Khadija al-Moussawi expressed her disappointment that her husband has not been freed. She told reporters that her spouse is being tied to a bed and force fed, even though the activist has been on hunger strike for more than 80 days. al-Moussawi does not believe her husband can get a fair trial saying: “It’s the same system, same court in different clothes, same people running the show”.

Twenty medics jailed for treating injured protesters were also granted retrials despite international pressure on the Kingdom to void their convictions. Said Yousif, of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) expressed doubt that the 20 can ever find justice.

“The Minister of Justice was involved in charging the doctors before their trials were complete, yet he is a senior official in implementing the BICI report’s recommendations, which is not fair” said Yousif, echoing the words of al-Moussawi.

Wafi al-Majed, Alkhawaja’s son-in-law said the opposition would have positively greeted the development if prisoners were released to await trial. He expressed concern that retrial could “go on for a long time”.

Reports of the activist’s deteriorating health have led many to believe that he is already nearing death, and his continued detention only increases the likelihood that he might die in prison.

Yousif said the continued detention means its hard for the protesters to build faith in the Bahraini government’s claims of reform. “Officials guilty of torture should be held accountable, and political detainees should also be freed. This would shed a positive light on any reform process” he told Index.

Meanwhile, Alkhawaja’s daughter Zainab Alkhawaja who blogs as Angry Arabia, remains in prison after she was arrested on 21 April, while protesting the Bahrain Grand Prix. Information is limited but according to her husband, she faces four charges.

In the past Alkhawaja has been arrested and released but her mother fears that this time her daughter, who she describes as a “headache for the government”, may be kept in prison long-term.