City Bar Calls on Bahraini Government to Respect Fundamental Rights and the Role of Lawyers; Cites Case of Detained Defense Lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer

The New York City Bar Association has sent a letter to the Commander-in-Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force, Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalif, urging Bahraini authorities to respect the fundamental rights of its citizens and the role of lawyers during the current unrest. “We are aware that Bahrain has seen great unrest in recent months, including the killing of peaceful protestors and the arbitrary detention of hundreds of individuals,” states the letter signed by City Bar President Samuel W. Seymour, with copies to Bahrain’s Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs and its Minister of Interior Bahrain Bar Association. “We are aware also that since March 15, 2011, Bahrain has been operating under what is officially known as the Declaration of the State of National Safety, which has created a legal regimen similar to martial law,” the letter states. “However, even during times of unrest, fundamental rights must be respected. In that respect, what appears to be the routine and systematic denial of access to legal counsel for hundreds of persons arrested since March 15 is particularly troubling. The June 22nd sentences of life imprisonment for eight human rights activists and opposition figures (and prison terms ranging from two to fifteen years for other activists and opposition figures) have heightened this concern.” The letter also cites credible reports of Bahraini government agents interrogating attorneys regarding their clients in national-security cases, and focuses on the specific case of Mohammed al-Tajer, who has defended opposition figures and rights activists, and who reportedly was taken from his home during a raid by masked security officers and “disappeared” for nearly two months before being brought before a military court on June 12. “Al-Tajer’s attorneys, however, were given no notice of the hearing and were thereby precluded from attending. According to the Bahrain News Agency, al-Tajer is being charged in the military tribunal with ‘inciting hatred for the regime,’ engaging in illegal protests, and inciting people to harm police, although his attorneys have still yet to be notified of any charges officially. These hopelessly vague charges would seem to target al-Tajer largely for exercising his fundamental human rights and for engaging in activities as an attorney,” states the letter. In calling on the Bahraini government to respect human rights and the rule of law, the letter cites the Bahrain Constitution and Bahraini law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and concludes, “We call upon the Bahrain Defense Forces to: (i) investigate the foregoing incidents, (ii) reaffirm the rights afforded Bahraini lawyers to practice their profession without governmental interference under domestic and international law, and (iii) effect the immediate release of al-Tajer if he is not charged with a cognizable crime in a competent court.”