Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Criticism of the Bahraini government in the torture and killings of Zakariya Al-Asheeri and Ali Saqer


A March 13, 2013 article from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expressed concern over  a Bahraini court's decision to acquit everyone involved in the torture and death of blogger Zakariya Rashid Hassan Al-Asheeri, who was detained by the police after a show trial that was over a year long.

On March 12, 2013, the first higher criminal court acquitted five policemen who were charged with beating 40 year old blogger Zakariya Al-Asheeri to death, who was detained by the police in April 2011. Two of the policemen were accused of torturing Al-Asheeri, causing fatal injuries; the other three policemen were charged with failing to report the crime. All five have been cleared of their charges relating to Al-Asheeri, although two of them have been convicted  for the fatal beating of another detainee, Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer.

Al-Asheeri, who was a moderator for an online forum, the now-defunct http://aldair.net, was arrested on April 2, 2011 for calling for the overthrow of the regime, promoting sectarianism, publishing false news, and inciting hatred. On April 9, 2011, he was found dead in custody. His body was given to his family, which showed extensive signs of torture. At the time, the Bahraini government denied all reports of torture, and claimed that Al-Asheeri had died of complications related to sickle cell anemia.

The same five policemen have also been accused of beating Ali Saqer to death. Two of them had been found guilty of his death by the court, and had been sentenced to jail for 10 years. They did not attend the hearing and have not been detained.

Saqer turned himself into the police on April 5, 2011, after numerous threats were made to his family. Four days later, he was pronounced dead by the Ministry of Interior. It released a statement claiming that Saqer caused trouble at the detention centre, forcing security to control the situation, and that Saqer resisted them, which led to him being injured in the process. He died later after he was taken to the hospital. The Minister of Human Rights had also claimed that detainees had died of natural causes at a press conference, and accused activists of doctoring photos to make it look like the victims had experienced torture. When Nabeel Rajab, president of the BCHR, published the photos of Saqer with evidence of torture on his body, he was accused of doctoring photos. Rajab was ordered to tried in a military court.

The trial began over a year ago on January 11, 2012. The accused policemen were not held in custody and had attended a few sessions in their uniforms, which indicated that they were still on duty at the time, and are not considered a threat to the victims remaining in custody. For more information on this story, please visit: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/5673

The deaths of Zakariya Al-Asheeri and Ali Saqer prove once again that massive human rights violations are taking place in Bahrain, and that the people who tortured them should be imprisoned for life. With the cases of government-sponsored torture increasing in Bahrain, it is clear that the need for the international community to find a practical, non-military solution to Bahrain's growing political crisis is becoming more urgent. Any claims by the Bahraini government that its own citizens are not being tortured to death are obviously false, and can be easily refuted with the following photos:

Signs of torture were found on the body of blogger Zakariya Al-Asheeri. Photos reused with
permission from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

Signs of torture were found on the 
body of Ali Saqer. Photo reused with 
permission from the Bahrain Center 
for Human Rights (BCHR).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fixing British Columbia's Mental Health Care Crisis: An Interview with Kelly Bradley

Kelly Bradley, right, stands next to her
husband, Owen Bradley, left. (Photo
reused with permission from Kelly
*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Wait lists. Being told her adopted daughter was "physically OK" even though she was experiencing an obvious mental health crisis. These were the things that Kelly Bradley had to deal with while trying to get help for her 11-year-old adopted daughter, *Jeannette. Now, Kelly Bradley is advocating for changes to British Columbia's (B.C.'s) mental health care system. (British Columbia is a province in Canada.) 

Describe Jeannette's condition. What does she experience that makes her need intensive mental health care?

Kelly: Jeannette is living with Adolescent Bipolar disorder. She was having rapid cycling episodes, which in her case and many children with Bipolar, results in very violent behaviour that can last several hours. Moreover, she was self-harming by hitting her head (hard) into walls, windows, her hands, or with her hard toys. She wanted the "angry feelings to stop." We were seriously concerned she would fatally harm herself or seriously injure one of us (her parents).

Describe your experiences at the hospital when Jeannette was having a mental health crisis.

Kelly: The first time we sought emergency help in January, Jeannette was admitted so the hospital could rule out any "physical reasoning" for her rapid cycling. When the testing came back, it showed that her medication needed an overhaul, and that would need to be done at Ledger House, Victoria's only psychiatric assessment hospital that has 13 beds and, at the time, had a 3-4 week waiting list. We were told that the hospital was not set up for what Jeannette needed, and we would have to take her home to wait. They also said if she had another violent episode and we were concerned for her safety, that we could bring her back to the hospital. The hospital gave us a card with the crisis line, a prescription of Ativan, and a waiting list. 

20 hours after Jeannette's first discharge, we had to call 911 to get the police to help us take her back to the hospital, because she was too violent for us to safely take her. The police took Jeannette under the Mental Health Act and had to stay with her until she was seen by an ER doctor. They wouldn't allow me into the waiting area because she was too violent. I had to leave the hospital briefly to get my son from preschool, and received a phone call from the hospital social worker saying that Jeannette will be discharged because she was "physically OK." Both myself and Jeannette begged them to admit her because we were worried she would fatally harm herself, but again they said the hospital wasn't set up for kids like her. Again, they gave us a business card for the crisis line and told us to bring her back if she has another episode. 

Two days later, Jeannette had another very violent episode and again we called 911 to help us get her to the hospital. The police came and once again took her under the Mental Health Act and brought her to the hospital. I had to find a babysitter for my other kids, so I followed shortly after. By the time we reached the hospital, she was already discharged and waiting in the "safe room" for us to take her home. It should be noted that each time we took Jeannette to the hospital, we first called the crisis line and they themselves told us to take her after hearing her in the background.

You have been petitioning B.C.'s Minister of Health, Margaret MacDiarmid, to make changes to B.C.'s mental health care system. What changes would you like to see?

Kelly: I don't want any family to be abandoned like we were when Jeannette was in a crisis. When a child comes to the ER of any hospital with a mental health emergency, there needs to be appropriate, inpatient, emergency care and stabilization for kids in crisis. There needs to be access for the child and family to be assessed by a psychiatrist, not an ER doctor, and a plan that doesn't take weeks to implement. No child or youth in crisis should be told to wait. You wouldn't ask a child with a broken arm to wait weeks to have treatment, but why is it OK for a kid fighting to stay alive to wait?

You have posted a petition on Change.org asking for changes to B.C.'s mental health care system. How do you feel about the response you have been receiving?

Kelly: We are overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received from supporters on Change.org. It's also very hard for us to read all of the heartbreaking and similar stories other families have faced trying to access emergency help for their children across B.C.

What is your response to people who believe that mental health care is not an issue?

Kelly: Mental health affects everyone either directly or indirectly. People with mental health issues face stigma every day. Just because you can't physically see the pain and suffering, doesn't mean it's not as serious. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in children and youth. I do not want my child to be another tragedy and statistic.

I would like to thank Kelly Bradley for sharing her story, and for advocating for changes to B.C.'s mental health care system.

To sign Kelly Bradley's petition, please visit: http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/b-c-needs-to-provide-emergency-mental-health-services-for-children 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Solitary confinement, denial of health care to Syrian human rights lawyer is appalling!

A March 9, 2013 news release by the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), an organization that advocates for human rights in the Middle East, reports that Khalil Matouk, a Syrian human rights lawyer is being cut off from communication and detained. He is also being prevented from receiving medical care for a lung disease. He is being detained at State Security Branch 285 in Kafr Soussa, Damascus, although the Syrian government has denied this. Matouk's lung disease decreases his lung capacity by 60%. He is also being denied medicine, which he took on a regular basis before he was detained to improve his health.

Matouk has been detained for over 149 days, even though Syrian law only allows someone to be detained for up to 60 days for investigation purposes. When Matouk's 60 day detention period has passed, a group of Syrian lawyers wrote to the Attorney General in Damascus demanding Matouk's release. The Attorney General stated that Matouk is not being detained, even though other former detainees have confirmed seeing him in State Security Branch 285 over the past month. The GCHR is concerned that Matouk is enduring a forced disappearance. Other lawyers and his own family have been barred from seeing him, and the Attorney General's recent statement that he is not being detained by the Syrian government has caused the GCHR to be concerned about Matouk's health and safety.

The GCHR is concerned that Matouk is being cut off from communication and detained because of his work as a human rights activist and lawyer, and asks the Syrian government to release him immediately.

As the human rights disaster in Syria continues to unfold, the latest report of Khalil Matouk's forced disappearance is even more of a reason for the international community to pressure the Syrian government to release all innocent victims from prison, and bring the Syrian government to justice for war crimes. The evidence of human rights violations in Syria is there, and one does not need to look hard to find it. The longer Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is allowed to remain in power, the longer Syrians will be trapped in a political crisis. Instead of arming the rebels and creating more violence and displacement, take president Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and have him tried for human rights violations. Once he is there, keep him imprisoned for life. Any country that continues to support Bashar al-Assad should also be punished for supporting human rights violations. The Syrians have suffered more than enough--don't prolong their suffering by sending in more weapons and fueling more violence and displacement!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Criticism of the Bahraini authorities withholding the body of Mahmood Al-Jazeeri, deceased man, from his family

Photo of Mahmood Al-Jazeeri.  
Used with permission from the 
Bahrain Center for Human 
Rights (BCHR).
On March 1, 2013, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), an organization that advocates for human rights in Bahrain, expressed its concern over the Bahraini government controlling the funeral and burial of Mahmood Al-Jazeeri, who died a week ago from injuries caused by a teargas canister fired at his head on February 14th. The BCHR had received information that his body is being withheld by the government, and that his family is not allowed to claim the body for the funeral and burial in the location of their choice.

The government is also controlling the location of Mahmood's funeral. The family wants to hold the funeral in the village of Al Daih, as this is where his family descends from, and where most of Mahmood's family is living today. However, the authorities want the funeral to be held in Nabih Saleh village to keep funeral attendance low, as only one entrance to the village exists. Nabih Saleh is also far away from where protests in Bahrain have been taking place (the Pearl Roundabout). Bahraini law does not specify where a funeral should be held. The reason given by the government for withholding the body is because it would contradict local social and religious traditions, although it has nothing to do with the country's legal code. The BCHR stated that withholding Mahmood's body from his family violates their human rights, and is illegal.

Mahmood's brother, Hasan Al-Jazeeri, went on hunger strike on February 26th to protest the government's actions. Hasan is being detained and imprisoned for a year, convicted in an unfair trial of illegal assembly and rioting, a common charge in Bahrain. Mahmood's mother is challenging the government's decision, so she and her family can bury Mahmood.

The BCHR notes that controlling the funeral of people killed by police is not new in Bahrain. During the 1990s, the government forced some families to bury their murdered sons without any formal funeral, and only in front of a few family members. The government has systematically harassed the mourners of the victims who were killed by the police. Since February 14, 2011, all funerals of the victims have been disrupted by the police. The BCHR also notes that it is common for mourners at funerals to be attacked with teargas by the police. Injuries and deaths have been documented as a result of police raids on funerals, including the murder of Fadhel Al-Matrook, who was shot on February 15th, 2011.

The BCHR has asked the Bahraini government to stop dictating the burial rituals of the dead and to focus on punishing the killers of Al-Jazeeri. So far, no official has been brought to justice for human rights abuses committed against the victims.

Mahmood Al-Jazeeri has already died a needless, violent death, and the Bahraini government withholding his body from his own family adds insult to injury! His family has the right to bury Mahmood in Al Daih, and the Bahraini government has no right to meddle in their affairs just to serve the interests of their own regime! By withholding Mahmood's body from his own family, the Bahraini government is only fueling outrage against the state by disrespecting human rights.

Anyone who has attacked a peaceful protester in Bahrain should be tried for human rights abuses, and the Bahraini government should be brought to justice for endorsing political repression! The international community also has a responsibility to intervene in Bahrain through non-military means, and bring the Bahraini government to justice for crimes against humanity! Non-intervention would only allow a disaster to unfold! INNOCENT CITIZENS OF BAHRAIN NEED JUSTICE!!!

For more information on this story, please visit: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/5662