The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International is shocked by the life sentence handed down to academic and human rights activist Dr Abdul-Jalil Alsingace on 22 June 2011 for his peaceful opposition activities. He is among twenty-one activists convicted this morning of ‘plotting to overthrow the government' after a violent crackdown on peaceful opposition protestors in the capital, Manama. PEN calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Bahrain for the peaceful exercise of their opinions, including Dr Alsingace, and seeks immediate guarantees of their safety. It reminds the Bahraini authorities of their obligations to protect the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory, and is alarmed at the apparent use of excessive force to suppress peaceful dissent.
According to PEN's information, Dr Alsingace, head of the human rights office of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy, was among twenty-one opposition activists to be convicted by a special security court on 22 June 2011 of ‘plotting to overthrow the government' following a wave of protests which swept the country in February and March this year. Eight of those convicted received life sentences, including Dr Alsingace. A further ten were sentenced to fifteen years in prison, two received five-year terms and one a two-year prison sentence.
Dr Alsingace was arrested at Bahrain International Airport on his return from London on 13 August 2010, where he had been attending a conference at the House of Lords during which he had criticised Bahrain's human rights practices. He was initially accused of ‘inciting violence and terrorist acts', before being formally charged under national security and counter-terrorism legislation. Dr Alsingace was held incommunicado and in solitary confinement for six months, during which he was reportedly ill-treated. He and all those on trial with him were freed in February 2011 following widespread calls by anti-government protestors for political reform and the release of political prisoners. He was re-arrested on 16 March 2011 after publicising the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, and was later placed under house arrest. His current whereabouts are unknown. Dr Alsingace is disabled, and relies on a wheel-chair for his mobility. Concerns for his welfare are mounting.
Dr Alsingace taught engineering at the University of Bahrain and authors his own blog (http://alsingace.blogspot.com/). He was previously detained in 2009 and held for several months on charges of plotting to overthrow the government before being given a royal pardon.
Protests led by Bahrain's majority Shia community against the government's policies have been underway since mid-February 2011. The Bahraini security forces have responded with excessive force, using tear gas and live bullets to disperse demonstrators. Dozens of civilians have reportedly been killed and many more wounded. The Bahraini government declared a State of Emergency on 15 March 2011 and brought in troops from neighbouring Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia to help suppress dissent. The State of Emergency was lifted on 3 June 2011 but those arrested and charged under that law have not been released. Opposition sources estimate that some four hundred people are currently on trial for their support of the protests, and further demonstrations are now expected.
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