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Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Noticing the Political Prisoners

Tonight's demonstration in Tal Refaat in Aleppo Provice in Syria, expressing support for the opposition's National Unity Council

See also Bahrain Feature: The Regime's Public-Relations Army of US and British Consultants
Yemen Feature: Locals "We Have Bigger Problems Than Al Qa'eda"
Sunday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Trying to Stem the Protests

1947 GMT: An activist, claiming he was speaking from hiding, has said that Syrian troops have detained more than 3,000 people in the past three days in house-to-house sweeps in Rastan,.

The Syrian military reportedly occupied the town of 70,000 in Homs Province after a five-day assault last week. The activist said the detainees were being held at a cement factory, schools, and the Sports Club, a massive four-storey compound.

Syria's state-media said troops moved into Rastan to hunt down "armed terrorists".

Meanwhile, a funeral procession was held for the 21-year-old son of Syria's top Sunni Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun.

Hassoun's son was killed on Sunday in an ambush in northern Syria. The cleric, considered a close supporter of the Assad regime, told hundreds of people attending the funeral at a mosque in Aleppo that dissenters working against Syria from abroad: "Come and say whatever you want here and if anyone rejects [you], I will be with you in the opposition.You want freedom, you want justice then come here and build it with us in Syria."

Hassoun blamed fatwas or religious edicts by unnamed clerics, living abroad, for the death of his son.

1942 GMT: The opposition in Bahrain has released this promotional video for tomorrow's "Manama Tsunami", an attempt at a "human chain" in areas such as the diplomatic sector in the capital:

1712 GMT: Al Wasat is reporting a decree from Bahrain's Ministry of Interior banning tomorrow's "human chain" protest by the opposition "to preserve public order and the protection of public and private property".

1632 GMT: In Bahrain, some of the doctors who have been given long-sentences recently have accused the Bahraini princess, Sheikha Noora bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, an undercover police officer, of torturing prisoners:

Ms Al-Khalifa is accused of torturing several doctors, male and female. Nada Dhaif, 36, who received a 15-year sentence last week, alleged that the princess had been involved in her interrogation in March. Ms Dhaif claimed: “She slapped me, beat me and called me a Shia pig. She put a cable in my ears and gave me electric shocks.”

Ms Dhaif has alleged that she was blindfolded during her torture, but said that there was only one other woman in the room, who was addressed as “sheikha” by the male guards.

“At the end of the interrogation, she took the blindfold off me and I recognised her,” she said.

Fatima Haji, 32, another detainee, said that she was subjected to ferocious beatings after she was arrested in April.

She has claimed that Ms Al-Khalifa searched through her BlackBerry mobile phone and found an e-mail sent to Human Rights Watch about her suspension from work.

1628 GMT: This video reportedly shows police firing tear gas in Al Eker, Bahrain, last night:

1519 GMT: The AP reports that a member of the Syrian parliament has dismissed the prospect of a successful Syrian National Council, established by the opposition in order to push for reform and a change in the regime.

Khaled Abboud told The Associated Press on Monday that those who announced the formation of the council in Istanbul a day earlier are "deluding themselves." Syrian dissidents formally established a national council designed to overthrow Assad's regime, which they accused of pushing the country to the brink of civil war. The council appeared to be the most serious step yet to unify a deeply fragmented dissident movement.

Abboud dismissed the opposition move, saying: "It's a dream that will never come true."

1515 GMT: Yet again, there are reports of more protests today across Syria. This video reportedly shows a student protest in Al-Sheikh Mustafam Idlib province:

This video reportedly shows children in Jabal Al-Zawyeh, Idlib, calling for the execution of the President:

1335 GMT: Journalist Jane Araff speaks to Al Jazeera about the refugees who have crossed the border from Syria into Jordan, where the Jordanian government is calling them "guests" as a diplomatic gesture:

1328 GMT: James Miller reports for duty.

And the new US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, has said that Israel must improve its relations with its neighbors and prepare to talk to the Palestinians.

"There's not much question in my mind that they maintain that [military] edge," Panetta told reporters travelling with him. "But the question you have to ask: is it enough to maintain a military edge if you're isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength."

Panetta also linked the Palestinian movement, and Israel's relation with its neighbors, to the wider situation in the Middle East, Arab Spring:

"It's pretty clear that at this dramatic time in the Middle East, when there have been so many changes, that it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated. And that's what's happening," he said.

Panetta said the most important thing was for Israel and its neighbours "to try to develop better relationships so in the very least they can communicate with each other rather than taking these issues to the streets".

1120 GMT: Al Jazeera English's Zeina Khodr reports on the serious humanitarian situation inside Sirte in Libya, surrounded by fighters of the National Transitional Council trying to remove supporters of former leader Muammar Qaddafi:

1050 GMT: Defense lawyer Mohsen al-Alawi has confirmed that a military court in Bahrain has sentenced 14 people to life in prison in the killing of a Pakistani man amidst unrest in March.

Al-Alawi said the court gave 15-year prison terms to six University of Bahrain students charged with causing violence and staging attacks. Another student received an 18-year jail sentence.

0900 GMT: In Bahrain, a military court has sentenced some detainees to life in prison over a murder in Manama; one defendant was acquitted.

The court has also sentenced other protesters and University of Bahrain students to 15 years in prison, with one student getting an 18-year term.

More than 20 students appeared in a criminal court on charges of "inciting hatred against the regime", "threatening the bodily safety of others", and "destruction of the University of Bahrain".

All told the that they signed papers while they were blindfolded, and the case was adjourned to 12 October at the request of the defence.

0850 GMT: In Yemen, a women's march in Sana'a calls for the regime of President Saleh to face charges for the killing of civilians:

0840 GMT: We have posted a separate feature on the Bahraini regime's "public relations army" of US and British consultants. Meanwhile, Manama Press gives us the latest flurry of regime news....

The Prime Minister has hailed Bahrain’s Parliamentary by-elections on Saturday as “the success of all loyal people, determined to give a major push to democracy and popular participation”. The regime, however, has still not released figures on whether the turnout was better than the 17.4% in the first round a week earlier.

There is a shot at the medical staff sentenced by a military court on Thursaday, with the head of the Bahrain Medical Society complaining that "rogue doctors...are continuing with their private practice" and are "not stopping their propaganda of feeding false information to the international media".

Most intriguing, however, may be the clear slap of the Obama Administration with a story on the Occupy Wall Street protest, "US 'Trampling on Democracy'":

The US must release hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested for voicing legitimate demands, a Bahraini MP demanded yesterday. Independent Bloc deputy chairman Mahmoud Al Mahmoud, who is parliament’s financial and economic committee member and the head of the Human Rights Committee, voiced the stance, “putting the US administration to the test”. He deplored the illegal arrests of more than 700 protesters for occupying Brooklyn Bridge in New York, blocking roads and disrupting the smooth flow of traffic to protest against social inequalities. He condemned the US police for resorting to excessive force to disperse the protesters.

“Human rights have been violated in a country which has long professed democracy and declared itself as its ‘sole agent’ in the whole world,” Mr Al Mahmoud said.

0640 GMT: This morning's public-relations effort for the Bahraini regime comes from Tom Squitieri, who grabs a page in The Huffington Post to insinuate that the strings of dissent are being pulled by unnamed foreigners and sinister forces within the country:

Anger without a purpose. Foot soldiers for puppet masters with a greater agenda. Driven of course by personal desires, personal visions and inspiration from sources near and far. Legitimate anger, but anger vulnerable to manipulation, a truism in struggles around the world.

Why "public-relations effort" rather than independent opinion? At the bottom of the piece, there is this identifying note: "Tom Squitieri is a journalist and is also working with the Bahrain government on media awareness."

"Media awareness" is a rather coy term, as Squitieri's homepage makes clear: "After 34 years as an awarded-winning journalist, Tom Squitieri joined the public relations and communications world and turned his talents into capturing client ideas and crafting them into prose that is smart, creative, unique, seductive and compelling, to say what the clients want to say and connect them to those the clients seek."

And here's a bit more on Squitieri that is not on his website or The Huffington Post contribution:

A USA Today Pentagon correspondent, Tom Squitieri, resigned under pressure yesterday after the paper learned he had lifted quotes from another newspaper for a front-page story and used several other quotes, without attributing them to other publications, that were cut during editing.

In a March 28 piece on the Army falling behind in ordering armored Humvees for Iraq, Squitieri quoted Brian Hart of Bedford, Mass., whose son was killed in the war. The same quote appeared, word for word, in the Indianapolis Star in May 2004.

0620 GMT: Ahram Online publishes a copy of the agreement between Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and leading political factions. Points include procedures for the Parliamentary and Presidential elections, including international monitoring, "study [of] ending the emergency law, with the exception of certain crimes, and stripping former National Democratic Party members [of ousted President Hosni Mubarak of political rights", and an end to military trials for civilians.

0510 GMT: Claimed footage of Bahraini security forces, apparently using tear gas, dispersing the funeral procession for Jaffar Lutfallah, the 74-year-old man who died from tear gas inhalation on Friday:

Police moving on foot through Alshakhura:

Meanwhile, we have footage of protests in several village last night. A montage from the candle-lit march in Karbabad:

A march in Sitra, with people declaring they will participate in the "Bahrain Tsunami" --- a human chain of dissent --- on Tuesday:/p>


And Sanabis:

0440 GMT:

Bahrain had dropped out of the coverage of most international media months ago, but it is now on the front line, thanks to the regime's imposition of lengthy prison sentences on 20 doctors and nurses on Thursday. (Interestingly, the handing-down of even longer terms, including eight life sentences, on 21 political activists a day earlier had attracted little notice.)

Part of the answer is that the sentenced medical staff are still able to speak with the media, as they await their summons to prison. The BBC, US National Public Radio, America's CBS News, and Britain's Sky News have all featured discussions with doctors and nurses, often prefaced by an introduction that notes the scope of the regime crackdown on dissent. This morning, Rula al Saffar, the head of the nursing union sentenced to 15 years in prison, is featured in The Independent of London, claiming that interrogators threatened to rape schoolgirls and saying of her detention: "They gave me electric shocks and beat me with a cable. They did not let me sleep for three or four days."

Ghassan Dhaif, who received a 15-year sentence last Thursday, and his wife, Zahra al-Sammak, given a five-year term, speak to Al Jazeera English:

We will be watching for further developments today as trials are held for in the military court for University of Bahrain students and for 20 men from Manama accused of killing a foreigner.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates, largely a by-stander in the "Arab Spring", also gets an international mention this morning because of its prosecution of activists. The Associated Press and America's ABC News profile Nasser bin Ghaith --- former air force pilot,economist, professor, and legal advisor to the armed forces --- who is one of five detained activists standing trial after Internet campaigns calling for a greater public role in political affairs.

Yesterday, the five men refused to attended a court hearing, the first one opened to the public in their case.

The Associated Press opens out the episode to assert:

The anti-state charges against the five — which could bring decades in prison — highlight the strict political limits in a country that built its fortunes on Western-style commerce and open borders for workers from around the world.

Even modest calls to loosen the power of the ruling sheiks are seen as acts of betrayal against the tacit bargain common throughout the Gulf: Cradle-to-grave privileges for citizens in exchange for unwavering loyalty to the system. The region's main political bloc, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, has now reoriented its mission to try to ride out the Arab upheavals with its ruling families intact.

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