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Where Is Bahrain’s Prominent Human Rights Lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer?

Human rights lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer

Mohammed al-Tajer is one of Bahrain’s best-known defense lawyers. He was the leading defense attorney defending 25 opposition activists who were tried between October 2010 and February 2011 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government using “terrorism” and other means.

Today, April 25, marks ten days since Mohammed al-Tajer was arrested at his house in Bahrain’s capital, Manama. On the night of April 15, according to his wife, more than 20 security officers entered their house in the middle of the night. She says some were in uniforms, some were in plain clothes and all except one were wearing masks. They searched all the bedrooms and confiscated personal items, such as mobile phones, laptops and papers. Then Mohammad al-Tajer was arrested without explanation. No arrest order was shown to him or his family, she says.

Then came two days of silence. Finally, he phoned his family for two minutes on April 17 to let them know he was in the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Manama’s al-‘Adliya district, and wanted them to bring him clothes. When the family asked him what the charges against him were he replied that he did not know.

They still don’t know because nothing has been heard from or about al-Tajer since then, Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch told The Public Record. Like hundreds of his fellow prisoners, he has been “disappeared.”

This prominent attorney, who has defended many cases of opposition and human rights activism, is but one of the more than 500 Bahraini’s who have been arrested and imprisoned by the country’s Security Forces since March. In addition, according to Maryam Al-Khawaja, Head of Foreign Relations Office for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, “More than 800 detainees were ‘disappeared’ within days of the imposition of a state of ‘national safety,’ (martial law) including 39 women.”

According to local human rights groups, those who have been detained since March include opposition and human rights activists, teachers, doctors and nurses. They have been arrested for their participation in the February and March protests calling for far-reaching political and other reform in Bahrain. The government’s most recent concerted campaign has been against physicians, with the arrest and detention of an estimated three-dozen medical practitioners, including a number of one-of-a-kind specialists. The government’s reported motive is to prevent the treatment of people injured in the anti-government demonstrations, to silence their testimony to the horrendous wounds they treated, and to make Bahraini’s so suspicious of hospitals that they will avoid them rather than risk an encounter with law enforcement.

According to human rights groups, the whereabouts of the great majority of detainees remains unknown; many are believed to be held by the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF). If prosecuted, they may face unfair trials before the National Safety Court of First Instance and a National Safety Appeal Court, established under the State of National Safety (SNS) –martial law — declared by the King of Bahrain on 15 March.

The US government has for the most part given King Hamid’s violent crackdown on demonstrators a ‘get out of jail free’ card. The White House and the State Department have used words such as “unfortunate” to lament the sporadic violence that has wracked this tiny island nation since January. And they have generally backed the King’s calls for a “national dialogue.”

Anti-government forces have rejected such a dialogue, believing that the King would only use it as a way of slowing the pace of protest. But, according to The Wall Street Journal, US President Barack Obama has said dialogue was an “opportunity for meaningful reform.”

The Obama administration has repeatedly appealed to the Bahraini government for restraint, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week called for apolitical process that “advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain.” But the administration has neither recalled its ambassador to Manama nor threatened the kinds of sanctions it imposed on Libya — a striking disparity that is fueling ­anti-U.S. sentiment among Bahraini opposition groups.

“Even though the American administration’s words are all about freedom and democracy and change, in Bahrain, the reality is that they’re basically a  protection for the dictatorship,” said Zainab al-Khawaja, a prominent  human-rights activist who began a hunger strike after her father, husband and brother-in-law were arrested at her apartment over the weekend. U.S. officials privately acknowledge that the administration has been  understated in its criticism of Bahrain, in part to avoid further strain in  relations with Saudi Arabia, a vital U.S. ally and neighbor to the tiny island
kingdom.

Why? Why when US and allied military forces are bombing Gaddafi’s Libya, and Obama Administration officials are regularly excoriating Syria’s Assad, is the US being so cautiously conciliatory concerning Bahrain?

There are five main reasons. First, Bahrain hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and is therefore of strategic importance for the US. Secondly, Bahrain is an important center for international finance and oil production. Instability here would be – and is — felt in financial markets word-wide.

Third, Saudi Arabia is Bahrain’s neighbor – just 26 km away over a causeway connecting the two countries. The Saudis fear the rise of a pro-Iranian Shiite state on its eastern frontier and have urged Bahrain to deal firmly with the throng of protesters that occupied a central square and blocked access to Manama’s main business district.  Saudi fear of the protests spreading is one reason that Saudi and UAE military units were sent over that causeway on last month. Their mission is to help the King put down the demonstrations and maintain order while holding onto his power.

Fourth, while Bahrain’s rulers are Sunni Muslims, the vast majority of its population is Shia. Bahrainis, Saudis and Americans all worry that the Bahrain’s Shias will feel an allegiance that could be exploited by Shia Iran.

Finally, with Saudi Arabia already annoyed at the Americans for throwing Hosni Murarak under the bus too soon, the US seems willing to search for ways to avoid further upsetting its longtime ally and oil-supplier.

Siras Abi Ali, an analyst on the Persian Gulf region, says, “There is no good outcome from this for Saudi Arabia. If Bahrain offers concessions, the Saudi Shia will demand similar concessions. If they crack down, they risk an uprising. These people do not want to live under the House of Saud.”

Sheikh Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad, a cleric who was among political prisoners freed due to pressure from protesters, told AFP on March 1: “Dialogue is only an option once the regime steps down.”

The Bahraini elite has raised fears about the “sectarian” nature of the protests. Most of the anti-government protesters are Shia Muslims, while Bahrain’s monarchy and elite consists of Sunni Muslims.

“Without Washington’s support, Bahraini officials told the Americans, the kingdom risked slipping into a ‘sectarian divide,’ pitting a Shiite majority against ruling Sunnis,” the WSJ reported.

“Bahraini officials also warned the US that Iran would be the big winner should the ruling family fall.” This refers to speculation that a potential Shia-based Bahraini government might have closer relations with Shia-led Iran.

Ali Abdulemam, an activist and blogger recently released from prison, told Almasryalyoum.com on March 1: “The situation here is the same as in other places in the Arab world. There is similar anger and disillusionment. The ruling strata enjoy the same unjust advantages in distribution of wealth in the country. We have no freedom of expression or belief.

“We have the same anger as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. We also all share a desire to live in freedom and dignity. All of these are causes for the revolution.

“[The rulers] hate anyone who is opposition, it doesn’t have as much to do with sectarianism. It is known that the majority of Shia are opposition, but there are Shia loyalists, and there are Sunni opposition. They hate whoever opposes the system.”

Jawad Fairooz, a senior member of al-Wefaq, the largest Shia party, told the Financial Times.com on February 28: “The government is just inciting fear. We don’t want a Shia prime minister or a Shia state. We just want equal rights and an end to injustice.”

The US using weasel words to soften the reality of the police state Bahrain has become will be seen by ordinary people as the US waiting to see who wins before choosing sides. Those unfamiliar with the nuances and subtleties of foreign diplomacy will condemn American action – or inaction, in this case – as cowardice. They will wonder what’s become of the much-vaunted American principles of equality, tolerance and the rule of law.

And they will try to figure out how the world’s self-described human rights champion finds it possible to stand on the sidelines as a brutal police state does all the unspeakable things that brutal police states do.

I know making foreign policy isn’t easy. I know there are competing equities. I know that sometimes there simply are no good choices. I know about realpolitik.

Well, even knowing a bit about all those issues doesn’t really help me. Maybe I’m simplistic. I want my country to stand up – and speak out — for what it believes. I want it to cry out to condemn the cruelty, the brutality, the mindless quest for power, going on in Bahrain today.

But I find my words ineloquent. So let me use those of Richard Sollom, of Physicians for Human Rights. Here’s what he said on his return from Bahrain:

“In two decades of conducting human rights investigations in more than 20  countries, I have never seen such widespread and systematic violations of  medical neutrality as I did in Bahrain. Bahrain’s ambulances, hospitals and medical clinics as well as its physicians, nurses, and medical staff are all being targeted. It’s pervasive and ongoing.

“In Bahrain, as they treat protesters and wounded civilians, they have borne witness to incredible human suffering. Treating these patients has provided physicians with unparalleled evidence of the atrocities committed by the authorities, the security forces and riot police. Their knowledge of these atrocities has also made them targets. At least 32 healthcare professionals have been abducted over the past two months and are being held  incommunicado by security forces.

“Salmaniya, a large 821-bed hospital housing Bahrain’s leading medical  specialists, is where the most serious injuries have been treated. Doctors there have seen evidence of gas inhalation, gunshot wounds and beatings.  While in Bahrain, we documented evidence of the hospital administration at  Salmaniya calling doctors and nurses in for appointments, from which they were never seen again. Presumably they are taken to places of detention.

“One notable detention center, Criminal Investigations Directorate at Adliya, is also an infamous center of torture. Unfortunately, the doctors do not have to be taken to detention centers to suffer violent attacks. We have documented the story of six doctors beaten by security forces in a Salmaniya staff room.

“When security forces are capable of such brutality in a hospital, one can only imagine what happens in a detention center.”

Think about it.

William Fisher, a regular contributor to The Public Record, has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He reports on a wide-range of issues for numerous domestic and international newspapers and online journals. He blogs at The World According to Bill Fisher.

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11 Responses for “Where Is Bahrain’s Prominent Human Rights Lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer?”

  1. Jagan says:

    What ever Mr. Fisher says are not correct. Mr. Fisher should know the words from both sides. There is no comparison with the protests in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. Here protesters were the people who were taking help from Iran and they were protesting as per Iran’s influence.

    While Crown Prince call for dialogs, most of them were ready for dialogs, but some peoples who want to make real problem were started to attack expats, Cars and making roadblocks. and they attacked sunni peoples too. In such a condition even US or UK will say the protest was peaceful ? What action they will take against protesters ? Same action Bahrain Government also taken.

    Salmaniya Hospital was really turned to a Protest Camp. They were attacking patients, mainly expats. How many expats were badly beaten and closed in dark rooms ? Why human rights activists does not respond to this ?

    We are always supporting the government hence they are providing maximum freedom and support for the peoples who are living here. You will not get this much freedom, even in Dubai. There were no differences between bahrain’s and expats.

  2. jean says:

    What a pity! some poor shia doctors were beaten! But did you no the same doctors tortured wounded policemen, did you know about two nurses kidnapped and stoned; did you know about tongues cutten by shia because a sunni expatriate was muezzin in a sunni mosque, did you know about the fact doctors in Salmanya refused to accept sunni patients…. You are not professionnal, you are just supporting the side you prefer. You are blind and dishonnest.

  3. abu sayed redha says:

    If the Government’s claim that the protesters backed by Iran for denied loyalty Bahraini of Bahrain and objected to those who say that the Bahraini loyal to Iran, because this speech is false and if our allegiance to Iran to do our fathers by the time of the referendum is not n the situation in the past and present two sides of one coin recognition Demands of the people the government evidence that the protests are in place and were not supported from abroad, as they claim ..

  4. Mohammed says:

    Protests on Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia are all the same. People of these countries made the protests not for money! Its for justise and freedom from the dictators on their countries. Whom support protests on some countries and dont support on other countries or whom said that Bahrain is not like the other countries are racist.

    From what i know by reading several forums and asking my friends on bahrain i realised that Bahraini Dictator AlKhalifa is killing people of his country whom asking for dignity.

  5. Ali says:

    hey jean why do you involve Iran with our protest Sunni was with us as well….

    we said we want freedom why do you involve iran????

    when we started our protest you said not peaceful then you say iran and hizballah…you always say this when you have nothing to say….

    you cant say the protester was Iranian influence just because some of the protester are shia how about the Sunni are Iranian influence to???

    they was more than half the population of the country…cheap reason to kill and murder people..that sick and stupid no one believe this shit…

    just because im shia i don’t i have any right???

    we are 70% of the population …..we did not attack any Sunni don’t lie….you talk like the government talk…go lie in Bahrain TV no one believe this shit….

    i think you forget who was raising weapon with police and army in riffa and busateen ….

    we were peaceful everyone said that except you and your government ….when thugs attack protester the protester throw stone and this dose not mean its not peaceful its self defiance….

    maximum freedom looooooool which freedom are you talking about??? everyone know there is no freedom in Bahrain.. can you protest peacefully ????
    im sure you will say yes..okay so why did the government kill protester in 14 of feb and make a big mistake let people get angry…wow i dont know where are talking from are you in Bahrain??????

    About the hospital you said that there was a protest camp yes there was camp but it was small for tie and coffee for the Doctor,nurses and media…

    i was there and everything was okay..everyone goes because we had lot of injured people from the protest the hospital was full Jean of patients..there was

    three security grad in the hospital…no patient was beaten..
    i take my brother there and everything was okay don’t lies like this..sunni shia was in side the hospital…
    from where did you bring this????
    have you been there???
    i was there i didn’t see what you say and Bahrain TV say laying is not going to solve problem and give reason to killing and murdering people….

    For your information many international media was in the hospital at the time this is why no one believes your lies..

    finally Shame on you talking like this Bahraini never talk like this shit i hope you open the other ease to see what you cant see

  6. Alaa says:

    Thank you, William, for writing about the situiation in Bahrain. The ugly face of the regime can`t be hidden anymore. The most respected human rights orgnizations and free media sources (CNN, BBC, AL-Jazeerah English….) have been reporting on the brutality of the barbaric regime in Bahrain and expressed serious concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Bahrain. The regime, after realzing that Bahrainis won`t fall for bribery and false promises that Bahrainis are so fimiliar with, is playing the last card; the regime is systematically arresting the prominent figures, the lawyers, the doctors, teachers, unionists, oppsition leaders.. that have supported the rightout demands of Bahrainis.

    Bahrains have clear demands, such as a constituiton written by people for people, a free parliamient, an elected goverment, and an end to a long period of corruption and oppression.

    The answer that the Bahrainis are getting is what some pro-goverment thugs have said on this page; the reponse is the use of power against the Bahraini citizens, and the the use lies and fabrications with the international community. Just as the other regimes in Libya, Egypt, and Yamen have used allegations about foreign interventions, the regime in Bahrain is no diffrent; the regime is telling the international community that the protestors has backed by Iran which is actually laughable.. This propaganda is only pushed by the regime but no one single reporter or journlist has ever talked about such a thing because it is basically a lie.. Take for example, Robert Fisk, the British Journalist who has covered events in the middle east for over 35 years; Robert Fisk came to Bahrain and said the movement in Bahrain is a “civil rights movement” and the talk about Iran pushing protestors to take to the street is not true..

    The worst of all is that regime commit crimes and then tries to link the civil rights movement in Bahrain to it. For example, the thugs that commented on your acticle on this page, claim that Bahraini protestors have occupied the main hospital in Bahrain which is absolutely no true, and no one single reported has reported such a thing. The reality is what recently, Amber Lyon, The CNN reporter, has shown in her report that the hospital has been occupied by the regime and that the regime is punishing the patients and the medical staff that have participated in the protests.

    Once again, Bahrainis are appreciating any coverage of the situiation in Bahrain because they not only suffering the brutality of the regime but they are also suffering fabrications and meida black-out done by the regime.

  7. Bahraini says:

    To Jagan, I dont know if you are a Bahraini or not because you want to convey that you are one but you are talking like you never been in Bahrain. The governmet always playing IRAN card as you do, and trying to convince the world that these protests were influenced by the devil after sees and most of there arguments was based on Shi’a loyalty, but you are now talking to the public and beleive me they are not stupid, if you want to pass this allegation at least give a proof, Sadly the government cant give one how you will “no comment”.I focused on this point because it is humiliating to those who lost their families and friends fighting for their right in freedom and justice in a sectarian regime that controls the life of the ppl with an iron fest where no democracy is in place. Till today doctors, teachers, students, lawyers, journalist and even human right activists are arrested and beaten in Bahrain and their only guilt that they fought for their freedom of speach and demanding for their rights, and up to 4 were killed in detention from torture. And lets not forget that we are in a muslim country were mosques are destroyed and burned to ground by the government with all the qurans inside why? because they are shi’a mosque which is a good reason for ppl like you.
    What a shame if you are Bahraini

  8. salma says:

    Is that crime to ask Democracy in Bahrain,

  9. free says:

    first of all I’d like to say thank you so much William Fisher, and keep going on.

    also I want to answer both (jagan and jean):

    first (Jagan):

    You talk about the following points:
    1 – the claim that the protesters were receiving support and assistance from Iran:
    first, the protesters and reffering to the Western media was more than 500000 people, equivalent to more than 65% of the Bahrain nation, are they all traitors?
    secondly that the one who get support from abroad and bring the occupying forces were the government.
    Thirdly, there is no evidence (give us only 1 evidence) of Iran’s involvement.
    forthly, what kinde of support that Iran gives? is it military???
    I think you can not respond, nither you or anybody, and please don’t talk without evidance, and you can’t give us one because all of your words are just a garbage

    2 – claimed that the protesters are attacking foreigners and blocking the roads and attacking the sunni’s people:
    closing the rods is exactly what the army do, which is attacking the Shiite areas daily, and both women and men, and steal money at checkpoints and when from the homes when they arrest people from their homes which is mostely in the late hours of the night.
    and about attacking the sunni, this is just a big lie, it’s extremely a peaceful movement, where also many of the sunnis was involved in, but you and your government are trying to show that it was a racial movement. The simplest example is what happened at the University of Bahrain stormed by the personnel of the system, led by Said johar the Bahrain team hand ball player , in turn the army arrested the staff and students (just the shiit’s) who were in the university, and in the same time they didnt take any action against the criminals who attacked those students and staff using swords and daggers and knives, and the pictures are proving it.
    With regard to cracking car, property, the whole world had seen what’s happening by the hands of the army (cracking the cars lik in sitra) so I recommend you to correct your information.

    3 – claimed that the protesters attacked the patients and staff:
    You know that you’re a liar, as evidenced by photos and video clips that depicted the doctors and they cry because of the fall of the victims, how to cry form who attacking them???!!!.
    On the other hand who attack doctors and occupies in that hospital?
    Who attacked the workers and asked them to paste images of the king and the prime minister on the walls?
    Who arrested the male and female doctors, are they protesters?

    4 – alleging that the Government provide freedom:
    Is it freedom to arrest people just because they expressed their views, and even expelled from their jobs and destroying their property?
    Is freedom of the destruction of mosques and houses and funerals in particular Shia?
    Is freedom of the closure of the forums and web pages?
    Is freedom of changing the department of theonly opposition newspaper (alwasat) ? And bring them to trial?

    I do not think that you or your government can answer any question of mine.

  10. free says:

    second (jean)

    Claimed abduction of two nurses and not to accept patients a year and some aother lies.

    I will not answer you, because these are all garbage and everybody know that.

    But I challenge the UN to operate a popular referendum involving all the people, and if people whants the government, we will all accept, are you agree? or you are racist and want to keep those who cling to power and suppress freedoms

  11. Lawyer Mohammed Altajer says:

    I am writing to extend my thanks and gratitude for your support in helping me going through the difficult times I went through in the last eight months. This was a hard experience which made me stronger by your support.
    Recently I have attended in front of a minor criminal court on Tuesday (November 22, 2011) as I was arrested within days of the national safety for 114 days. The court decided to postponed the case to February 7th, 2012.

    I would like to thank and gratitude to all who contributed to my release and improve the treatment during detention and solitary confinement especially you .
    I appreciate and valued all who had trouble of asking about me and take care of my family during my detention .
    Thank you all again for your ongoing support, it is greatly appreciated and valued.
    Sincerely,
    Lawyer Mohammed Altajer

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