BAHRAIN: Lawyers walk-out over torture of activists

Defense lawyers of 25 detained opposition and human rights activists, including the professor and blogger Dr Abeljalil Al-Singace, staged a walk-out of their clients' trial in Bahrain following the court's repeated refusal to allow an investigation into the alleged torture of the detainees, Reporters Without Borders revealed on 9 December.

Following the declaration by detainee Mohamed Habib Al-Miqdad during the third hearing on 25 November that all detainees had been tortured and subjected to demeaning treatment, defence lawyers demanded a medical investigation to verify these allegations. The defence also requested suspension of the trial under article 186, to enable the investigation of torture allegations.

According to Jalila Al-Sayed, who represents all the defense lawyers, they decided to stage a walk-out of the trial because they consider it unjust and not fulfilling international standards. The judicial authorities adjourned the trial until 23 December.

al-Singace is a mechanical engineer at the University of Bahrain and Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Haq Movement for Civil liberties and Democracy. He was arrested by the authorities on 13 August at Bahrain International Airport as he returned from London with his family.

While in the UK, al-Singace attended a seminar on Bahrain at the House of Lords, where he criticised Bahrain's human rights practices. He was accused of "inciting violence and terrorist acts".

According to international articles, his lawyer has reported that al-Singace has been subjected to severe mistreatment, including sleep deprivation and physical violence, and has been denied medical treatment.

All 25 detainees are currently being held under anti-terrorism legislation introduced in 2006, which is considered to be used as a tool by the Bahrain authorities to arrest human rights activists.

Malaysia: Students challenge state law on political ban

Four Malaysians student from the National University of Malaysia are challenging the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act, which prevents students from becoming a member of a political party or participating in political campaigns and protests, reported The New York Times on 3 December.

In spite of the possible threat of expulsion from the University or other sanctions such as fines, the political science students argue that this law contravenes their right to free speech and association written in the Malaysian constitution. Their legal battle, which they plan to pursue to Malaysia's highest court, has attracted widespread support, including from the party in power.

The law bans students in Malaysian universities from expressing "support, sympathy or opposition" to any political party, in Malaysia or overseas, and was introduced in 1971 after the 1969 violent ethnic riots.

In 2009, an amendment permitted a vice-chancellor to grant permission for students to engage in politics. Yet the students from the National University of Malaysia claim there have been no cases in which this has taken place.

The students decided to start their legal action after they were arrested and detained for several hours in a police station earlier this year on suspicion of campaigning in a by-election in the north of Kuala Lumpur. According to one of the students, Woon King Chai, university officials informed the police to "charge them with whatever you can".

Although the students were freed by the police without charge, they faced internal disciplinary procedures in the university weeks later for their alleged political campaigning.

The students obtained a court injunction preventing the hearing from proceeding and also filed a suit to have the law ruled unconstitutional. Dismissed on 28 September by the Kuala Lumpur High Court, the students appealed the decision and are waiting for a court date.

Saudi Arabia: Law professor detained after article on royal family

A Saudi law professor, Mohammad Abdallah Al-Abdulkarim, has been detained since 5 December in Riyad after writing an article about divisions within the Saudi royal family, the International Freedom of Expression eXchange reported on 8 December.

Abdulkarim, well known for his position defending political and civil rights, was arrested without a warrant at his home and is currently detained in Al-Hair prison, south of Riyad. His family has had no contact with him since his arrest and no official charges have been filed against him.

Abdulkarim is a professor of law at Imam Mohammed bin Saud University, a leading Islamic university in Saudi Arabia, and is also a member of several Arab and international human rights organisations.

The article, posted on the website addressed the medical condition of 86-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, but also the divisions within the royal family over the succession.

Several Saudi human rights organisations, including the Human Rights Observatory in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), condemned Abdulkarim's arrest, calling it "a clear violation of the principles of good governance and human rights". They said a "dangerous gulf was growing between the country's royal family and its subjects".

Saudi Arabia experiences extensive internet censorship, with the authorities reportedly blocking access to approximately 400,000 websites.

Iran: National Student Day brings widespread protests

National Student Day in Iran turned a into a nationwide protest against the regime and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, The Wall Street Journalreported on 7 December.

Traditionally, National Student Day commemorates the death of three students killed by the Shah's security forces at Tehran University on 7 December 1953.

The day is designed to celebrate struggle against dictators and has seen large protests in recent years against the Islamic Republic's regime. On Student Day 2009, demonstrations erupted on university campuses as students expressed anger over the disputed June 2009 presidential elections.

Student Day 2010, held on 7 December, once again saw widespread anti-government protests. According to eye-witnesses and videos posted online, students demonstrated on campuses, waving green banners, and demanding the liberation of student prisoners.

The authorities responded with the deployment of riot police and security forces, especially around Tehran University, the center of student activism, and at least eight arrests were made, according to the student website Daneshjoo. Official media did not cover the protests.

Although Iranian law forbids security forces from entering the campus, students claim that up to 400 militia entered the campus and intimidated students.

* Roisin Joyce is Deputy Director of the Network for Education and Academic Rights, a non-profit organisation that facilitates the rapid global transfer of accurate information in response to breaches of academic freedom and human rights in education.