Bahraini footballer's wife calls on Thailand to release him


In open letter to Thai PM, Hakeem al-Araibi's wife says he will face torture and possible death if deported to Bahrain.

The wife of a jailed Bahraini football player, who has refugee status in Australia, has pleaded with Thailand's prime minister to not allow his extradition to his native country, as international pressure against his detention and extradition grows. 
In an open letter on Wednesday to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Hakeem al-Araibi's wife said her husband, who has been held for more than two months on an extradition request, faces torture in Bahrain and should be sent back to asylum in Australia.
"He would go back to face imprisonment, torture and possible death. Please help my husband. I don't want to lose him," she wrote, asking for her name not to be published out of fear of her safety. 
Al-Araibi, 25, fled the country in 2014, saying he had been tortured in Bahrain after his arrest in 2012. Australia granted him political asylum in 2017 and he played for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club before his detention.
He was arrested in November by Thai police, who said they were acting on an international arrest warrant - known as an Interpol "Red Notice" - issued by Bahrain, when the footballer arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon.
court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days pending the completion of an extradition request by Bahrain.
Bahrain wants its former national team player returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence that was handed down in absentia after he was accused of vandalising a police station - a charge he denies.
Thailand officially received an extradition request from Bahrain, which was forwarded to Thai prosecutors, the foreign ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said on Tuesday. 
Thailand's attorney general is expected to decide al-Araibi's case within a week, said Chatchom Akapin, director general for the Attorney General's International Affairs Department.

Calls for release

Al-Araibi's wife said in her letter the newly-wed couple travelled from Australia to Thailand "because we thought it would be the perfect country to have our honeymoon" but instead found themselves in a nightmare of arrest and detention.
She asked Prayuth to show the same concern for those fleeing torture as Thailand did in the case of 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who fled what she said was family abuse to Thailand and was quickly resettled to Canada earlier this month.
Prime Minister Prayuth told reporters on Tuesday al-Araibi's case was a matter for Thailand's courts.
He acknowledged the concerns of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who wrote to Prayuth this week urging that al-Araibi not be extradited, but also said Thailand had good relations with Bahrain.
"We are good friends with everyone. We have to figure out the solution. I know that everybody is concerned about this," Prayuth said.
Al-Araibi's detention has caught the attention of human rights groups, football's governing bodies and activists, who have stepped up calls for his immediate release and safe return back to his adopted homeland. They believe he risks being tortured if he is sent back to Bahrain.
Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, said Thailand would make a "huge mistake" if it extradites al-Araibi because "global opinion and international law are clearly opposed to this rights-violating move."
On Tuesday, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) followed FIFA, world football's governing body, and the International Olympic Committee in asking for al-Araibi's release.
The player claims he is being targeted by Bahrain over his criticism of AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of the ruling family.
Bahrain's government said on Monday that extradition proceedings were under way "so that he can serve his sentence".
Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

In first, woman to head Bahrain Journalist Association


Fierce competition as Ahmad edged out competitor by only four votes

Ahdeya AhmadPublished:  January 27, 

Manama: Ahdeya Ahmad, a seasoned media figure, was on Saturday elected the first woman president of the Bahrain Journalists Association (BJA).
Ahdeya, the deputy editor-in-chief of Daily Tribune, said she was pleased to make history in a country that has been actively elevating the status of women and motivating them to hold advanced positions.
She obtained 71 votes, only four more than her only rival, Yousuf Albinkhalil, the editor-in-Chief of Al Watan, one of the four dailies published in Arabic in Bahrain.
Acknowledging her victory, she told journalists that she would be seeking to improve the conditions of the profession.
Members of the association also elected the eight members of the board from the 12 contestants who had signed up their names.
Ahdeya started her career in the media in 1991 as one of the early female journalists in an English news, the Gulf Daily News.
In 1997, she joined Bahrain Tribune, the only other daily newspaper published in English in the kingdom. She oversaw the local news desk and contributed columns, mainly on the local developments at a time when Bahrain witnessed deep political and social changes. The newspaper was later renamed Daily Tribune.
Ahdeya also worked for Bahrain Television in English as a news reader and later as the head of the station.
She gained international media experience as she worked as correspondent and point of contact in Bahrain.
As member of the BJA board, she was the head of the women’s section and of the international and cultural relations.
Albinkhalil is well known for his political columns and investigations and for the books he authored.
Prior to his current position in Al Watan, he was a senior public relations and media executive at Bahrain Institute of Public Administration.
Bahrain last month scored a first in the Arab world when Fawzia Zainal was elected Speaker of the Council of Representatives, the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament.
Her election was this week hailed as a breakthrough that should be emulated internationally by the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Gabriela Cuevas Barron during her visit to Bahrain.
The term of the board president and members is for two years. The association was set up in 2001 as an umbrella for Bahrain-based journalists despite attempts by some members to limit its membership to Bahraini journalists only.


Bahrain's Supreme Court upholds Ali Salman's life sentence


Opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman loses appeal against his sentence on charges including spying for Qatar.

Bahrain's top court has upheld a life sentence against Shia opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman over charges of spying for neighbouringQatar.
Salman, who headed the now-outlawed Al-Wefaq movement, was convicted in November for "acts of hostility" against Bahrain and "communicating with Qatari officials ... to overthrow constitutional order", - a ruling human rights groups have called a travesty and Qatar has repeatedly denied.
His aides Ali al-Aswad and Hassan Sultan, who had been sentenced to life in absentia, also lost their right to appeal.
The trio were initially acquitted by the country's high criminal court in June, but the decision was later overturned by an appeals court.
According to a statement released by the public prosecutor on Monday, the Supreme Court confirmed the verdict against Salman and his aides for "spying for a foreign state in order to ... overthrow the government".
The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy condemned the ruling and challenged Bahrain's allies for supporting its leadership.
"This is political revenge and an insult to justice,"Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the group's director of advocacy said.
"Punishing peaceful dissidents for leading protests against the corrupt ruling family has nothing to do with justice. This verdict shames Bahrain's rulers and their allies in traditional Western democracies, namely US and UK."
Salman, who is in his 50s, has long been targeted by Bahrain’s government. According to the United Nations, when he was first arrested in 1994, he was allegedly tortured and detained for months without trial before being deported and forced to live in exile for more than 15 years.
The prominent figure is currently serving a four-year sentence on charges of "denigrating and disparaging the interior ministry," inciting others to break the law and inciting hatred against naturalised Sunni citizens, many of whom serve in Bahrain's security forces.

'Stamp out dissent'

Human rights groups have frequently said the cases against activists in Bahrain - men and women, religious and secular - fail to meet the basic standards of fair trials.
Since the Bahraini authorities crushed street protests in 2011, demonstrators have clashed frequently with security forces who have been targeted by several bomb attacks. 
Lama Fakih, the deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, said the court ruling was part of a broad strategy employed the Bahraini government "to fight against freedom of expression in the country".

"The judiciary has been used to impose the rule of the regime and to ensure that all critics are stamped out.
"We've seen the Bahraini government not just arbitrarily detain dissidents but also abuse them in detention, in some cases strip them of their citizenship, ban them from travelling. They've also banned all opposition parties and free media in the country.
"This is part of its widespread strategy to stamp out any kind of legitimate dissent".

Gulf crisis

Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), severed all tieswith Qatar in 2017, banning their citizens from travel to or communication with the fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member.
Ruled for more than two centuries by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, Bahrain has been hit by waves of unrest since 2011, when security forces crushed Shia-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.
Bahrain's two main opposition groups - Al-Wefaq and the secular Waad - are prohibited from representation in parliament.
Bahraini authorities accuse Shia-dominated Iran of provoking unrest in the kingdom. Tehran denies the allegation.


Bahrain to sink Boeing jet for underwater theme park


Francesca Street, CNN • Updated 23rd January 2019

(CNN) — The Persian gulf country of Bahrain is hoping to attract divers from across the globe with a new "underwater theme park" -- an expansive diving site spanning 100,000 square meters with some unusual features.
The centerpiece of this underwater extravaganza? A sunken Boeing 747.
It might be of dubious taste -- but that's not putting the project managers off the concept.
The 70-meter-long plane due to be lowered in the water is a decommissioned, specially prepared aircraft.
The sub-aquatic project is the product of a partnership between the Supreme Council for Environment, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), and the private sector.
Announced via the state-run Bahrain News Agency, the diving site will apparently also feature a replica Bahraini pearl merchant's house, artificial coral reefs and art sculptures.
The site is intended to be ready for explorers by summer 2019, so plans are already in full swing.


The organizers say the new Bahrain attraction will be eco-friendly -- promoting marine life growth.
But marine specialist Adriana Humanes, who has a PhD in Marine Ecology from James Cook University, Australia and is currently based at Newcastle University in the UK, says that artificial coral reefs are not always ecologically sound.
"As corals reefs in good health state become less abundant and divers become more skilled and experienced, artificial reefs have become popular alternatives used by governments and the tourism industry to attract visitors to certain areas of interest," says Humanes.
"Wreck diving is one of the oldest methods used to construct artificial reefs by providing a structure to marine sessile organisms and fishes."
Humanes says that wreck diving provides "unique, diverse and intriguing diving experiences" -- but clarifies that there may be downsides.
"Their materials -- copper, copper alloys, aluminum, lead and steel, petroleum hydrocarbons and other potential pollutant -- can be subject to corrosion, [passing] heavy metals into the seawater and affecting the surrounding marine organisms.
Corrosion will also lead to the subsequent loss of structural integrity, potentially affecting marine life living in the area or becoming a safety threat to visitor divers."
Bahrain's proposition is not the first time an airplane's been deliberately sunk to create a diving attraction.
In the US, a Boeing 727 jet was sunk off the coast of Miami in 1993. It was later damaged during Hurricane Gordon in summer 1995.
Meanwhile at Mermet Springs in Illinois, a Boeing 727 that featured in the 1990s movie "U.S. Marshals" now lies below water and forms part of a popular diving site.
Over in Canada, divers can explore a decommissioned Boeing 737 in the Stuart Channel near Chemainus, British Columbia.
In Turkey, an Airbus was lowered into the waters off the Aegean coast a couple of years ago, intended to be an artificial reef.
The upcoming Bahrain underwater park is also part of a wider trend for underwater tourist attractions. From the Maldives' underwater hotel -- where you can enjoy the marine view without getting wet -- to America's underwater museum, located off the coast of Florida, where divers can explore striking statues and sculptures.


Eni: firma memorandum per esplorazione in offshore Bahrain


Descalzi: "Espandiamo la nostra presenza in una regione chiave del Medio Oriente"

(Teleborsa) - L'Autorità Nazionale per il petrolio e il gas del Regno del Bahrain (National Oil & Gas Authority, NOGA) e Eni hanno firmato un Memorandum d'Intesa con l'obiettivo di perseguire future attività di esplorazione nel Blocco 1, un'area offshore ancora in gran parte inesplorata situata nelle acque territoriali settentrionali del Regno del Bahrain. L'area copre una superficie di oltre 2.800 km2 con una profondita' d'acqua che va da 10 a 70 metri. Ad annunciarlo Eni in una nota.

Alla firma hanno partecipato Mohamed Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Ministro del petrolio del Bahrain e Presidente diNoga, e Claudio Descalzi, amministratore delegato di Eni.

DESCALZI: "RAFFORZATA NOSTRA PRESENZA IN REGIONE CHIAVE DEL MEDIO ORIENTE" - "Siamo molto contenti della firma di questo accordo e dell'opportunità di esplorare il potenziale del Blocco 1, ha dichiarato Descalzi. Questo memorandum consentirà a Eni di iniziare a collaborare e investire in un Paese che è stato uno dei primi nel Golfo a produrre petrolio e che ora punta a svelare il suo potenziale offshore. Entrare in Bahrain ci consentirà anche di espandere la nostra presenza in una regione chiave del Medio Oriente, in linea con la nostra strategia di diversificazione del nostro portafoglio esplorativo in bacini petroliferi con potenziale produzione di idrocarburi liquidi, mantenendo quote di partecipazione significative in fase esplorativa".

ALLEANZA STRATEGICA - "Questa alleanza strategica con Eni, ha sottolineato Mohamed Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, è un passo importante per lo sfruttamento delle risorse naturali nell'offshore del Regno. Con la firma di questo memorandum puntiamo a iniziare varie discussioni per valutare tutti gli aspetti rilevanti in termini tecnici e commerciali per le potenziali attività di esplorazione e di sviluppo in tempi brevi".


US to host Iran-focused world summit next month


Summit to focus on making sure Iran is not a destabilising influence

Washington: The United States plans to host a global summit focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, next month in Poland, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News in a report published on Friday.
In an interview with the news network, Pompeo said the international gathering would be held Feb. 13 to Feb. 14 in Poland to “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilising influence”.
Pompeo arrived in Bahrain on Friday, the first leg of a tour of Gulf monarchies which Washington says are “critical” to confronting Iran and Islamist terrorists.
In Bahrain, Pompeo is due to have a working lunch with King Hamad, Crown Prince Salman and Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, according to his official programme.
Bahrain, a key US ally in the Gulf, hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet with around 7,800 US military personnel deployed in the country, as well as a British naval base.
It is one of the closest allies of regional power house Saudi Arabia and shares its hostility Iran.
“Bahrain is a staunch supporter of countering Iran’s malign efforts” in the region, the US spokesman said.
“Bahrain continues efforts to investigate and counter Iranian sanctions evasion and combat illicit maritime activity,” he added.
Pompeo’s visit is part of a whistlestop regional tour aimed at reassuring US allies after President Donald Trump’s shock decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria.


Bahrain rejects UN criticism over Rajeeb


Call is interference in Bahrain’s domestic affairs, panel says

Manama: A parliamentary committee in Bahrain has dismissed UN human rights spokesperson’s statement as “unjustified and irresponsible interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom.”
On Friday, Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the UN human rights office in Geneva, called on Bahrain “to immediately and unconditionally release” Nabeel Rajab, a Bahraini citizen sentenced to five years.
“No one can accept such statements regarding the integrity and independence of the Bahraini judiciary,” the Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security Committee of the Shura Council, the upper chamber of the bicameral parliament, said.
“We condemn such a surprising statement by officials at the United Nations and we call on all parties to be accurate in issuing their decisions and positions towards Bahrain,” the committee said.
At the same time, there is a need to set up a mechanism to deal with parties and organisations that base their statements on suspicious information and reports, and to ensure the existence of open channels for mutual and continuous communication, the committee said.
“Such a mechanism will help provide reliable information from official sources and will contribute to correcting the false image of Bahrain. The Kingdom is pursuing a policy of mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and looks forward to everyone adopting such an approach.”
Last month, the Cassation Court upheld the five-year sentence decided in 2015 by a lower court against Rajab who was put on trial on charges of using social media in March 2015 to disseminate false news and rumours during wartime and to insult a foreign state and the Ministry of the Interior.


UAE, Bahrain send activists to jail for speaking up l Al Jazeera English


Published on Jan 1, 2019
The European Union has called for the release of a prominent rights activist in Bahrain whose prison sentence for speaking out against Saudi Arabia has been upheld by a Bahraini top court.
The development comes on a day a court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) upheld a sentence against an activist there.

Al Jazeera's Andrew Chappelle reports.

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Bahrain's Nabeel Rajab loses final appeal in 'insult' case


Prominent activist loses appeal against 5-year term for criticising alleged prison torture and Saudi air raids in Yemen.

Bahrain's top court has rejected a final appeal by a prominent activist who was imprisoned for criticising Saudi Arabia's air strikes in Yemen and accusing Bahrain’s prison authorities of torture. 
The verdict on Monday upheld a five-year prison sentence handed to Nabeel Rajab in February, according to a lawyer and a judicial source.   
"The Court of Cassation rejected the appeal and upheld the sentence of five years in prison against Nabeel Rajab for his tweets," his lawyer, Mohamed Al Jishi, told Reuters by phone. 
Bahrain, where a Sunni Muslim royal family rules over a Shia-majority population, has kept a tight lid on dissent since the Shia opposition staged a failed uprising in 2011. 
Rajab, a leading figure in the 2011 pro-democracy protests, was sentenced for comments he made online accusing Bahraini authorities of prison abuse and criticising Saudi Arabia's role in the war in Yemen.
The convictions were for "spreading false news and rumours in time of war", "insulting foreign countries" and "insulting publicly the interior ministry" in comments posted on Twitter, a court document seen by Reuters showed.
One charge related to a social media post on March 26, 2015, the day that Saudi Arabialaunched an intervention in the Yemeni civil war.
The post criticised wars that "bring hatred, destruction and horrors".
Rajab is also serving a second two-year term in a separate case. 
International rights groups have previously denounced the ruling and the United Stateshas expressed concern about Rajab's case.
Bahrain has shut down the main opposition groups in the country, barred their members from running in elections and prosecuted scores of people, many described by human rights groups as activists, in mass trials.

Bahrain top activist loses final appeal against jail term

Dubai (AFP)
A prominent Bahraini activist, who played a key role in the 2011 Shiite-led anti-government protests, on Monday lost his final appeal against a five-year jail term for writing tweets deemed offensive to the state.
The Gulf state's supreme court, whose verdicts are final, upheld the jail term against Nabeel Rajab, his second imprisonment verdict this year, for criticising the Sunni-ruled monarchy on social media, a judicial source said.
Rights groups were swift to condemn the latest verdict -- which is final and cannot be challenged.
Amnesty International declared Rajab a "prisoner of conscience" and said the sentence was a "travesty of justice" and "utterly outrageous".
The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said the verdict "illustrates that Bahrain's corrupt political system sought to continue his (Rajab) political persecution".
Rajab, a high-profile rights activist who is already serving a two-year term in another case, was first handed the sentence in February by a lower court and an appeals court confirmed it in June.
He was convicted of insulting the state by "deliberately disseminating", false and malicious news on social media.
Rajab was also convicted of criticising the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and publicly offending a foreign country, a reference to Saudi Arabia.
The court convicted him of endangering Bahrain's military operations in Yemen. Manama is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels since March 2015.
He also tweeted criticism of the Bahraini government's treatment of prisoners.
In January this year, the same court upheld a two-year imprisonment against Rajab after convicting him of press statements critical to the government.
- 'A complete farce' -
Rights groups poured scorn on Monday's final verdict and called for Rajab's immediate release.
"The decision to uphold Nabeel Rajab's conviction and five-year sentence simply for posting tweets expressing his opinions, exposes Bahrain's justice system as a complete farce," Amnesty International said in a statement.
"Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience. It is utterly outrageous that he has already spent two years behind bars -- including nine agonising months in solitary confinement, amounting to torture."
It said Bahraini authorities should have quashed his conviction and sentence and released him immediately and unconditionally.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy echoed Amnesty.
"By arranging the final verdict to fall during the holidays, a time when international attention will be minimal, the intentions of Bahrain's rulers have been made clear. This appears to be a planned outcome, prepared well in advance," it said in a statement.
About 127 non-governmental rights groups urged Bahrain in August to "immediately release" Rajab after the United Nations denounced the Shiite opposition leader's detention as "arbitrary" and "discriminatory".
Bahrain is mostly Shiite Muslim according to unofficial estimates contested by the government.
The country -- which is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and a British military base -- is located between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran and has been ruled for more than two centuries by the Al-Khalifa dynasty.
Authorities have jailed dozens of high-profile activists and disbanded both religious and secular opposition groups since Shiite-led protests demanding political change erupted in 2011.
They have stripped hundreds of those convicted of their citizenship, leaving many stateless.
In March, authorities announced they would be taking "severe measures" to track down dissidents who use social media, as Bahrain tightens its grip on political opposition.
Social networking sites, notably Twitter, are a major platform for rights activists in the tiny kingdom.
? 2018 AFP