26 Jul, 2008

SENATE OF THE USA: Expressing support for a constructive dialogue on human rights issues between the United States and Bahrain

110th CONGRESS

2d Session

S. RES. 619 Expressing support for a constructive dialogue on human rights issues between the United States and Bahrain.

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

July 22, 2008 Mr. SESSIONS (for himself and Mr. COLEMAN) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations

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RESOLUTION Expressing support for a constructive dialogue on human rights issues between the United States and Bahrain.

Whereas Bahrain is a friend of the United States and a critical partner in the war on terrorism, as demonstrated by Bahrain's designation as a major ally outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the completion of the United States-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement in 2006, and the continued presence of United States forces in Bahrain;

Whereas the strategic relationship between the United States and Bahrain should not prevent the United States from speaking honestly to the Government of Bahrain about concerns regarding human rights issues in a mutually respectful dialogue; and

Whereas numerous reports, including the Department of State's 2007 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Bahrain, detail potential shortcomings by the Government of Bahrain in the areas of human rights and democracy, including--

(1) the use of torture and undue force against political activists;

(2) systematic discrimination by the Sunni government against the Shi'a majority, including forbidding Shi'a from joining the military and discriminating against Shi'a in public sector employment;

(3) the denial, in practice, of the right to a fair trial; and

(4) gerrymandering of political districts in order to support favored candidates: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate--

(1) supports a constructive dialogue on human rights issues as an integral part of the bilateral agenda between the United States and Bahrain;

(2) expresses support for efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Bahrain; and

(3) calls upon the President and the Secretary of State to aid in those efforts. END

26 Jul, 2008

The Bahrain Government Orders Collective Punishment against Shia Villages

Bargaining Economic and Social Services against Civil Rights! Oppression and Restrictions is not the Right Solution for the Escalating Unrest Bahrain Center for Human Rights

26 July 2008

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is highly alerted for the recent escalation in political and security tension leading to more restriction on basic freedoms and violations of civil, political, economic and social rights. Most restrictions and violations are directed against Shia individuals, groups and villages. The BCHR has occasionally warned that restrictive and sectarian policies would lead to more disturbance and unrest. Addressing editors-in-chief of local newspapers at Al Safriya Palace, the king of Bahrain said: “We have bought many lands and properties for the benefit of the residents of Al-Malikia (a Shia village in Bahrain west cost) that’s to build houses, sport clubs and shopping malls, but stability is a must for the continuity of these projects of development and modernization. The inhabitants of Al-Malikia are recommended to take the right position against the intruders who muddle with the security of their village” The statement was a reaction for continuance protests in Shia villages especially since December 2007, against state policy based on sectarianism and calling for detained activists.

As an implementation for the king statement, the Council of Ministers announced that development is bond to security. The official statement revealed that the cabinet has assigned the ministers of work, housing and municipality to continue the project of development in Al-Malekia only when security is restored in the village and in other villages. The statement concluded that “no development without security ” The minister of municipality warned that all development projects will be excuted only when the inhpitants take the nessessary security and national responsibility encouraging people to inform or take action against each other.

As a reaction to the statements by the king and cabinet, the Northern area's municipal councilor, Ali Mansoor, warned residents could start dishing out vigilante justice to anyone they catch trying to stir up trouble. His comments came after 40 people gathered near the village market and began chanting anti-government slogans on Sunday. One man from Hamad Town was arrested after villagers called the police. Mr Mansoor said families were not only concerned for the safety of their children, but also worried that services newly provided to Malkiya could be stopped as a form of punishment. "Malkiya has been deprived of government services and we will stop anyone who comes between them and us." However, Mr Mansoor also reserved some criticism of the police for the way they were handling the problem. He said they often made it worse by dishing out collective punishment. "If an eight-year-old child is seen burning a tyre, the whole village is punished for the child's act by police using tear gas and causing chaos. "The residents complain about the ministry's attitude because many people get punishment for the actions of others."

Nabeel Rajab, BCHR’s vice president commented that the government has since independence neglected villages from deployment projects specially those villages that witnessed wide protests during the eighties and nineties. But it is the first time that officials declare openly this policy.

It is worth mentioning that Al-Malekia is one of few Shia remote villages which use to be considered as loyal to the ruling family. Members of the ruling family in the past two centuries took over the village occupying most of its farms and coastline which is the workplace and the main source of income of the villagers. Ever since, the village has remained the least developed compared to other areas in regard to housing, roads, schools and other main services. As a result, during the last three years, the new generation in the village has widely revolted resulting in continuance protests. The first spark was when a member of the ruling family closed the last accesses of the village to the sea.

The Bahrain Centre for Human rights is highly concerned for the policies of collective punishment and sectarianism. “Bargaining economic and social rights with civil rights, such as the freedom of opinion, association and assembly, is a clear violations of both relative International convention of which Bahrain is a member state” said Nabeel Rajab. “Moreover, It is highly dangerous that officials pressurize citizens to inform or take actions against other citizens under the pretext of maintaining security” he added.

The BCHR is calling on the authorities to put an end for policies based on sectarianism and to react positively to 2005’s recommendations by the International Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (CERD) to secure economic and social rights to deferent groups including Shia and provide specific statistics in that regards.

BCHR calls also to resolve the direct problems generating unrest: i.e.; the use of excessive force against peaceful protests and arbitrary arrest, torture and unfair trial especially against political and human rights activists. --------------------------------------------------------- Al-Waqt daily newspaper- 20 July 2008 Bahrain News Agency – 20 July 2008 Alayam Daily news paper – 25 July 2008 Gulf Daily News - 22 July 2008

25 Jul, 2008

The King of Bahrain Warns Human Rights Defenders from “Collaborating” with the West

Fears for Safety of BCHR President

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

July 23rd, 2008

Hamad Bin Issa Alkhalifa, the King of Bahrain, warned Bahraini societies, associations or individuals against any external allegiances. Addressing editors-in-chief (of local newspapers) at Al Safriya Palace, the king said: "We will never be a vassal state, accepting foreign agendas,"..."Parties loyal to foreign agendas will be laid bare, sooner or later," he warned, stressing the need to learn from past mistakes. He rejected maneuvers by foreign countries to impose their agendas on Bahrain[i].

“We have a long experience with the colonization powers, which we had enough of, but there are still marginal efforts to bring Bahrain to its past state” the king added. He was more specific when he said: “the source of spreading doubts is those whom we pardoned after being in exile[ii]”..“We hear clearly on daily basis fake cries for help directed to the west. I say to these who face these cries: have you not seen “Abu-Graib” prison (in Iraq)? Who administrated that prison? Do you think that those people will give you a priority in their agenda?”

Based on the aforementioned, the BCHR is concerned for the safety of its President, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who could be the main target of the king’s threats. Alkhawaja was among many Bahrainis who were pardoned to come back from exile in 2001 and one of few who are engaged in reporting human rights violations to the different international mechanisms. Last month, Alkhawaja delivered an oral statement in Geneva at the meeting of the United Nation Human Rights Council addressing violations of civil and political rights in Bahrain including the overwhelming influence of the King and members of his family in political and economic life. Worth mentioning, in the past few years, the BCHR has organized a campaign in the United States, Brussels and the United Kingdom and has participated actively in Geneva in many of the United Nation mechanisms in relation to the implementation of International human rights conventions and the Universal Periodic Review.

The BCHR considers the warns and threats against human rights activists as a part of an intimidation and crackdown campaign which has escalated since December 2007, as a result of which, scores of activists have been subjected to arbitrary detention, systematic torture, unfair trials and prolonged imprisonment sentences[iii].

The BCHR calls on the Bahrain authorities to put an end to its policy of targeting human rights defenders, accusing them of instigating hatred or committing violence and portraying them as traitors or collaborators with western countries.

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[i] Gulf Daily News - 20 July 2008

[ii] Al-Waqt daily newspaper – 20 July 2008

[iii] Refer to recent reports by; BCHR, Human Rights Watch and Front Line on: www.bahrainrights.org

18 Jul, 2008

Bahrain: Convictions Tainted by Claims of Abuse

Bahrain: Convictions Tainted by Claims of Abuse Verdicts Follow Allegations of Torture, Coerced Confessions in Detention (New York, July 16, 2008) – Repeated allegations that confessions were obtained by abuse cast doubt on sentences that a Bahraini court has handed down this week to opposition political activists over violent protests in 2007, Human Rights Watch said today. The convictions of the men rested in part on confessions obtained during their interrogation and detention.

Bahrain’s High Criminal Court on July 13 sentenced 11 men to jail terms ranging from one to seven years for a variety of offenses, including illegal assembly, arson, attacking security forces, and theft of and illegal possession of weapons. The charges stem from confrontations between protesters and security forces in and near Manama in December 2007, in which protesters set fire to a police vehicle and allegedly stole a weapon from it. The court acquitted four other men charged in connection with that incident.

“By convicting these people partly on their confessions without having credibly answered claims of coercion and abuse, Bahrain’s courts are failing to address the possibility of torture,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “They should suspend the verdicts and thoroughly investigate the claims of abuse in detention.”

Relatives of the detainees, as well as several men who were held in connection with the clashes and subsequently released, told Human Rights Watch in January and February that interrogators had tortured some of the detainees and sexually assaulted at least one. Several detainees claim they were abused in detention as interrogators sought to obtain confessions. A court-ordered medical inquiry in April concluded that the men may have had injuries consistent with abuse they described, but that delayed examinations made verifying claims of torture impossible.

Some of the 11 men sentenced are members of nongovernmental organizations aligned with opposition political movements. Several of them have alleged repeated abuse at the hands of interrogators seeking to elicit confessions following their arrests in mid-December 2007 and the beginning of their trials in February 2008.

Relatives of one man, Mohammed Singace, whom the court sentenced to five years on charges including unlicensed possession of ammunition, told Human Rights Watch in February that he said his guards beat him with a metal rod. They said they saw fresh bruises when they visited him at a Manama detention facility. Relatives of Maytham Badr al-Shaykh, whom the court sentenced to five years on charges including theft and illegal possession of weapons, told Human Rights Watch in January that al-Shaykh told them during a family visit that his jailers had sexually assaulted and electrocuted him, and suspended him from his hands and feet.

Relatives of Naji al-Fateel and Hasan Abdelnabi, whom the court sentenced to five and seven years respectively, told Human Rights Watch that the men said they had been deliberately placed with prisoners suffering from contagious illnesses.

A senior interior ministry official said on January 17 that a forensic physician had examined detainees claiming abuse but found no evidence of mistreatment. On January 21, Human Rights Watch urged Bahrain to let independent physicians investigate claims of abuse in detention.

The Bahrain Human Rights Society, an independent and legally recognized group, said on January 27 that it had asked the public prosecutor for permission to visit the detainees, but the authorities refused to allow physicians to take part in the visits. Following complaints from lawyers representing detainees that their requests for independent medical examinations of their clients had gone unanswered, the High Criminal Court authorized a Health Ministry team of doctors to examine detainees. The medical team issued its findings in April.

“Any forced confessions shouldn’t be admitted as evidence,” Whitson said. Bahrain’s obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include ensuring the rights of individuals not to be tortured, the right to a fair trial, and the right not to be compelled to confess guilt. Bahrain has also ratified the Convention Against Torture, which stipulates that states must ensure that statements made as a result of torture are not used as evidence in any legal proceeding.

Lawyers representing the sentenced men said they would begin filing appeals of the High Criminal Court’s verdicts in the coming days.

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Related Material

Bahrain country page Country Page

Human Rights Watch’s February 2008 news release on detainee abuse in Bahrain Press Release, January 1, 2008

15 Jul, 2008

Bahrain; failed political experiment, serious HR violations

Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group

Cordially invites you to a seminar on

Bahrain; failed political experiment, serious HR violations

Speakers and commentators will present their views on the failed political programme, people’s demands and the regime’s inability to address the crisis

11.00 AM, Thursday 21st August 2008

1 Abbey Gardens (Annexe to The House of Lords), London SW1P

For further information please contact: Lord Avebury: 020 7274 4617, Email: ericavebury@gmail.com

14 Jul, 2008

Disregarding Allegations of Torture and Forced Confessions Bahraini Court Judge Sentences “December” Detainees

Activist Sentenced to 7 years, Four Acquittals Remaining Between 1-5 Years

BCHR REF: 08071301

Amidst tight security measures and a thorough search of activist and members of the media, Bahraini 4th Higher Criminal Court Judge, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Khalifa sentenced today a group of activists on charges ranging from the stealing and illegal possession of a gun & the burning of a police jeep to illegal gathering and sabotage of public property and use of force against security officials. The sentences varied and included a large fine for one of the activists. Worth noting that 4 of those charged with harsh sentences are known activist who had been targeted by the government for their roles in their respective committees. Of them is Maytham Badr Al-Sheikh, who had alleged that he had been sexually assaulted while being interrogated. Another activist who received a large sentence and fine is Hassan Abdulnabi, an active member of the Unemployment Committee, long threatened of dire consequences should he continue in his active role with his committee.

The court apparently paid no heed to international organizations calling for an investigation into allegations of forced confessions and torture, nor to the medical team who had examined the detainees and concluded that there may be signs of beating.

The sentences in accordance to information received from lawyers are as follows:

Hassan Abdulnabi Hassan, 23 years, member of the Unemployment Committee: 7 Years Sentence and over 9980BD ($26,600) in fine

5 Years Sentence:

Maytham Badr Jassim Al-Skeikh, 31 years, Jidhafs, Unemployment Committee Isa Abdulla Isa Alsarh, 25 years, Bani Jamra, active member of the Amal Islamic Society Naji Ali Fateel, 31 years, Bani Jamra, member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) Mohammed Abdullah Al Sengais, 40 years, head of the Committee to Combat High Prices

1 year Sentence:

Ali Ahmed Abdulaziz Almadhi, 24 years, Alhajjar Hussain Abdulhassan Khatam, 23 years, Karzakan Ahmed Jaffar Mohammed Ali, 28 years Jidhafs, former member of the Unemployment Committee Hussain Shaker Mohammed Fardan Shakar, 35 years, Bani Jamra Mahmood Hassan Saleh, Aldaih Ahmed Abdulhadi Ahmed Mahdi Salman, 18 years, Almugsha

Acquittals:

Hussain Jaffar Trayf, 20 years, Sanabis Abdulla Mohsen Abdulla Saleh, 30 years, Isa-Town, Member of the Unemployment Committee Ebrahim Mohammed Alarab, Bani Jamra, Board member in the Amal Islamic Society Mohammed Makki Ahmed, 19 years, Sanabis

The BCHR would like to draw attention to the fact that both the court judge and the Minister of Justice are from the ruling family which makes these sentences highly questionable. Furthermore, the laws by which the activists were sentenced were criticized more than once by international human rights organizations and have been used in the past 6 months to impose harsh sentences on individuals in several cases related to public security including illegal gathering.

The BCHR calls for:

The immediate release of all the detainees An independent committee to look into allegations of torture and forced confession Protection for human rights activists in Bahrain from targeting and legal prosecution as a result of their activities A full review of those restrictive laws that have been used in these past months to impose harsh sentences on individuals in relations to public security charges For more information Please contact Mr. Nabeel Rajab,+97339633399 e mail nabeel.rajab@bahrainrights.org

Bahrain Center for Human Rights www.bahrainrights.org

11 Jul, 2008

FRIDE: Bahrain: Reaching a Threshold

03/07/2008 By Edward Burke

Bahrain’s top-down reforms, initiated by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in 2001, were a welcome respite for a population weary of the violence and state repression that characterised much of the preceding decade. King Hamad’s relatively benign treatment of CSOs and his tolerance for a wider degree of freedom of expression has won international praise, most effusively from the United States.

The lack of legislative and judicial reform however, means that Bahrain’s political societies, CSOs, journalists and trade unions continue to operate under flawed and inconsistently applied legislation. Restrictive legislation such as the associations’ law, public gatherings law and the legislation governing trade unions and the media urgently require amendment to concretely secure the rights which Bahrain is required to observe under its international obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

As the 10th year of King Hamad’s reign approaches, in this working paper, Ed Burke argues that Bahrain has reached an impasse in its reform process. To see the full report please go to: The Report

10 Jul, 2008

IFEX: GOVERNMENT STOKES SECTARIAN TENSIONS TO JUSTIFY CRACKDOWN ON PRESS

Just over a month after the Bahrain government said it would eliminate prison sentences for journalists and lift some bans on censored publications, it has done a massive U-turn. Authorities in the country are cracking down on opposition journalists, websites and even mosque leaders for apparently stirring up sectarian tensions and threatening national security, reports the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

At least three journalists writing for the main opposition group mouthpiece "Al-Wefaq" were arrested on 28 June and held overnight, report BCHR and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Another three journalists in charge of the website Awaal.net - shut down on 24 June because of its "sectarian nature" - were also detained. All six were charged with "inciting hatred of the government" and "disseminating news that would raise sectarian divisions", says BCHR. At least two of them showed signs of being tortured while in police custody.

According to BHCR, the men had published information implicating the King and senior members of the royal family in administrative and financial corruption scandals - including the seizure of large areas of public lands and the naturalisation of thousands of non-Bahrainis based on their political beliefs.

The Bahraini government introduced amendments to the country's press law in May, eliminating prison sentences for journalists and prior censorship on publications, say RSF and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). But it is still possible to charge and jail journalists using the penal code and anti-terrorism laws, the groups say.

BCHR says the Bahraini authorities are exploiting religious tensions - often stoked by officials themselves - to justify a crackdown on the press and critical voices.

"Many violations in Bahrain are committed using the name and powers of the King ... He has become a part of the conflict rather than a symbol of national unity," says BCHR.

Take the blocked websites. Besides Awaal.net, the Ministry of Information closed down two other sites on 24 June because they published stories of a "sectarian nature" that might "harm social stability in Bahrain," reports BCHR. According to RSF, at least 24 other political websites are currently blocked in Bahrain - including the sites of BCHR and IFEX member Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

During a cabinet meeting in June, the government announced plans to set up a commission to monitor mosques, press articles and online forums for any violations concerning the King, national unity and Arab identity - offences under Bahrain's penal code, says RSF.

In another case, activist Abdullah Bou-Hassan was arrested for writing an article published in the newsletter of the National Democratic Action Society and for displaying a political banner in his car, reports BCHR. He was charged under the penal code with inciting hatred and insulting the ruling regime.

"We are frustrated that after we read in the press that the Cabinet is moving towards abolishing prison sentences for journalists, this incident proves that the legal system in Bahrain, and particularly the penal code, still contains provisions stipulating punishment through imprisonment for writing, publishing and distribution," says BCHR.

BCHR is demanding that the government reform the penal code and other laws that restrict freedom of the press, online journalism and preaching in mosques under the pretext of easing sectarian tensions.

The proposed amendments to the press law will be reviewed in Parliament in October.

Visit these links: - BHCR on website closures, sectarian tensions: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95155/ - BCHR: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en - RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=27741 - IFJ: http://tinyurl.com/6mr3x8 - IFEX Bahrain page: http://tinyurl.com/ytqq7w - Bahrain Journalists' Association: http://www.bja-bh.org/en

(9 July 2008)

10 Jul, 2008

BCHR/IFEX: Detainees in newsletter and website case beaten and ill-treated; journalists warned over dignity of royal image

Country/Topic: Bahrain Date: 09 July 2008 Person(s): Adel Al Aaly, Mohammed al-Musawi, Sayed Tahir Asfour, Mohammad Noman, Ali Shihabi, Suhail al-Shihabi, Hussein Marzouq, Abdullah Bou-Hassan Target(s): Internet/website(s) , journalist(s) , web dissident(s) Type(s) of violation(s): assaulted , charged , detained , questioned , released Urgency: Threat

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses great concern over the arrest and interrogation of seven citizens by the national security service in Bahrain over their role in publishing the newsletter "Wifaq" and Awal news website.

After being released on 29 June 2008, the detainees said they were subjected to beatings and ill-treatment for 24 hours at the premises of the National Security office. The detainees included Adel Al Aaly, Mohammed al-Musawi, Sayed Tahir Asfour and Mohammad Noman, administrators of the newsletter published by the Al-Wefaq Islamic Society. The investigation also included three others - Ali Shihabi, his brother Suhail al-Shihabi and Hussein Marzouq - involved with the website Awal, which the Ministry of Information shut down several days earlier on the pretext that it incited sectarianism.

Mohammed al-Musawi and Ali Shihabi were both examined by a forensic medical office on the request of their lawyers due to signs of physical assault, said lawyer Abdullah Al Shamlawi, who noted bruises on Shihabi's face and wounds on his right arm. Adel Al Aaly and Suhail al-Shihabi complained that they were struck in the face.

The detainees were released after they were transferred to the prosecutor general and charged with "inciting hatred against the regime and dissemination of news that would raise sectarian divisions in a way that affects the general peace and public order." The sites in question have published information about administrative and financial corruption in the government, the seizure of large areas of public land and coasts, unlawful political naturalisation on a sectarian basis for tens of thousands of non-Bahrainis and a network headed by a member of the royal family that penetrates the opposition and raises sectarian tension. All these issues are related to the Royal Court and senior members of the King's family.

A few days earlier, activist Abdullah Bou-Hassan was arrested and threatened for writing an article published in the "Democrat" newsletter issued by the National Democratic Action Society and for displaying a notice in his car stating his opinion.

In another disturbing development, the Minister of Interior had a two-day meeting with members of parliament, including members of the Al-Wefaq Islamic Society. The meeting, followed by press releases on behalf of the Ministry of Interior, warned against harming the dignity and image of the royal personality, which could be considered a warning to activists and media of more restrictions on freedom and prosecution. MPs belonging to the Al-Wefaq Islamic Society were subjected to humiliation and threats of use of force by security forces when they were outside the National Security building during the interrogation of detainees who belong to the Society. Seventeen of the 40 deputies in the House of Representatives are members of the Al-Wefaq Islamic Society.

With regard to the restriction of freedom of expression under the pretext of protecting the royal image, the symbol of the country and his personality, Nabeel Rajab, BCHR's vice-president, said: "Many violations in Bahrain are committed using the name and powers of the king, or through the Royal Court that belongs to him, which is widely believed responsible for many of the problems facing the island in the past few years, such as sectarian discrimination, sectarian tension and unlawful political naturalisation. Hence, the king became a party to the conflict rather than the symbol and umbrella of national unity."

BCHR, therefore, finds that the closure of electronic forums, the arrest and prosecution of journalists or bloggers and the threats to the press, political groups and civil society institutions in the name of protecting royal dignity are considered suppression of freedom of expression that undermines the ability of these parties to protect freedoms and basic rights.

Accordingly, BCHR urges the King of Bahrain to intervene to stop any violations of freedom in his name, including harassment of journalists, banning websites and threatening activists or bloggers. BCHR calls upon the king of Bahrain to continue his role in urging more dialogue and reforms aimed at strengthening freedoms and human rights, which cannot be achieved without freedom of the press and expression.

Updates alert on website closures: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95099

For further information contact Nabeel Rajab, Vice-President, BCHR, Manama, Bahrain, tel: +973 3963 3399 / 3940 0720 , fax: +973 1779 5170, e-mail: nabeel.rajab@bahrainrights.org, info@bahrainrights.org, Internet: http://www.bahrainrights.org

OTHER RELEVANT ALERTS:

PREVIOUS ALERT(S):

- Three journalists held overnight, interrogated, charged with "inciting hatred of the government, "insulting the regime" and "publication of news fostering confessionnalism"

3 Jul, 2008

Reporters sans frontières: Press law amendments hailed but journalists still face jail and websites risk closure

Reporters Without Borders -Press release- 3 July 2008 - BAHRAIN

Press law amendments hailed but journalists still face jail and websites risk closure

Reporters Without Borders has welcomed some amendments to the press law in Bahrain but voiced concern about some remaining failings that leave journalists and publications exposed to risk. Despite real improvements, Bahraini journalists still face prison sentences for what they write and officials keep the right to close websites, the worldwide press freedom organisation said in a letter to the country’s information minister, Jehad bin Hassan Bukamal.

The government in May proposed amendments to decree-law n°47 of 2002 to parliament which is to study them at its next session starting in October.

“Even though we broadly approve the amendments, there are a few outstanding questions”, it said in the 26 June 2008 letter. The press law reforms take things in the right direction. They amend the law by abolishing almost all prison sentences, along with some offences. Several articles also provide that a judge should monitor the running of media businesses rather than officials. These initiatives will favour a blossoming and strengthening of the kingdom’s independent press”, the organisation said.

“Several articles are amended in a way that boosts press freedom. Prison sentences are abolished for distributing publications without a licence, before they are granted or after being banned or cancelled (Articles 16 and 86). “

“We hail the abolition of Article 21 under which foreign publications could be seized and even though distribution of these publications still has to be authorised, a refusal can in future be appealed (Article 17). Likewise, under Article 4 paragraph 5, a reason must be given for any refusal to grant a licence to a printer. It can also be appealed whereas there was no recourse in the event of a refusal under the current law.

The reform also reduces obstacles to the creation of new publications by opening up printing, publishing and press activities to foreign residents (Article 7), allowing foreigners, albeit with restrictions, to invest in a company publishing a newspaper (Article 45) and shortening the time limit for granting of licences. But at the same time, we can only deplore the fact that licensing, along with deposit of financial guarantees, granted by the information minister and after approval by the council of ministers, remain an essential condition to publish a newspaper”, the organisation added.

“In the same way, protection supplied by Article 19, which puts banning distribution of a publication under the control of a judge, remains risky since official seizure will still precede the decision going before the courts. We believe that no publication should be seized and no website closed before a judge can examine the complaint against them. Cases could be referred to a specialised court that would have the advantage that the judges would be knowledgeable about how the press operates and aware of what is at stake.

“Moreover, the abolition of Articles 68, 69, 70, 71 and 72, which, at first sight appear to be favourable to journalists, carry the implicit risk that judges could apply criminal law in some press cases. These articles punish criticising the head of state, harming the foundations of Bahrain’s official religion, publishing news detrimental to national unity, private life and dignity of individuals or insulting the head of an Arab state which has good relations with the kingdom. All these measures considerably limited journalists’ rights but abolishing them will not mean progress as long as other laws can be used to convict journalists. While waiting for a wider reform of Bahraini criminal law, it seems to us safer for these articles to be put back into the press code, but with prison sentences replaced by fines proportional to the offence suffered by the victims and removing all reference to criminal law”, Reporters Without Borders said.

“Article 5 excludes electronic publications from the press law. While it seems to us of little benefit to have a specific law for the Internet the amended law-decree 47 of 2002, could be applied to all press publications of whatever kind. Finally, we wish to remind you of our commitment to broadcast liberalisation. The extension of freedoms which you are working towards cannot succeed without ending the state monopoly in this sector”, the organisation concluded in its letter to the information minister.

Three journalists on the weekly al-Wefaq, press organ of the main opposition group of the same name, were summoned by state security services on 28 June and were not released until the following day. The editor Sayyed Taher, journalists Adel al-Ali and Mohammd Naaman are being charged with “inciting hatred of the government, “insulting the regime” and “publication of news fostering confessionnalism”. The representative for al-Wefaq, Khalil al-Marzooq, said the prosecutor’s office had not produced any evidence or even any article to the three men before charging them.

The journalists were apparently questioned about their links to the website Awal.net (http://awaal.net/) that was closed on the order of the information ministry on 24 June 2008. Two other websites, Shams Albahrain (http://www.ba7rainss.com/vb/ ) and Mamlakat Albahrain Forums (http://www.bahrainforums.com/) were closed on the same date because of their “sectarian nature”. The information ministry relied on Article 19 of the decree-law No 47 of 2002, allowing any publication to be banned that “harmed the regime, the official state religion, morality or different confessions in a way likely to cause a breach of the peace”. At least 24 websites are currently being blocked in Bahrain as a result of decisions by officials.

The Manama government has also made known its wish to set up a commission responsible for monitoring sermons given in the kingdom’s mosques as well as press articles and online discussion forums to “report any incitement to confessionnalism”. On the blogosphere, an ethical code has been proposed by blogger Mahmood al-Yusif (http://mahmood.tv/2008/07/02/proposed-bloggers-code-of-ethics-against-sectarianism/ ) to “appeal to the sense of honour of Internet-users” to counter hasty closures of websites. “The closure of online discussion platforms or any other website, whatever its content, only serves as a springboard to celebrity. It is only through debate in society that we will really succeed in changing people’s mentalities,” he said.

A Reporters Without Borders’ delegation went to Manama from 9 to 13 February 2008 to meet government representatives and opposition members, journalists, and leaders of civil society. Read the investigation report (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26040).

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Reporters sans frontières - Communiqué de presse

3 juillet 2008

BAHREÏN

Réforme du code de la presse : Reporters sans frontières salue des avancées mais s’inquiète des insuffisances des amendements proposés

Reporters sans frontières a adressé, le 26 juin 2008, un courrier à Jehad bin Hassan Bukamal, ministre bahreïni de l’Information, dans lequel l’organisation a salué les avancées contenues dans les amendements au code de la presse mais s’est inquiétée de certaines insuffisances. Des amendements au décret-loi n°47 de 2002 ont été présentés en mai dernier par le gouvernement au Parlement, qui devrait les étudier lors de sa prochaine session, à partir du mois d’octobre. Malgré de vraies améliorations, les journalistes bahreïnis continuent de risquer la prison pour leurs écrits et les décisions administratives permettant de fermer des sites Internet sont toujours d’actualité.

“Si les amendements qui ont été apportés au décret-loi n°47 de 2002 sur la presse reçoivent globalement notre approbation, quelques interrogations persistent. Les réformes envisagées en matière de droit de la presse vont dans le bon sens. Elles amendent la législation en vigueur en supprimant presque partout les peines de prison qui figuraient dans ce texte, ainsi que certaines infractions. Par ailleurs, elles font intervenir dans plusieurs articles un juge à la place des seules autorités administratives pour veiller au bon fonctionnement des entreprises de presse. Ces initiatives sont favorables à l’épanouissement et au renforcement d’une presse indépendante dans le royaume”, a écrit Reporters sans frontières.

“Plusieurs articles de la loi sont modifiés dans un sens favorable à la liberté de la presse. Les peines de prison sont supprimées en cas de distribution d’une publication sans licence, avant qu’elle ne soit octroyée ou après qu’elle a été supprimée ou annulée (articles 16 et 86). Nous saluons la suppression de l’article 21 qui prévoyait la saisie de publications étrangères. Et si la distribution de ces publications reste soumise à une autorisation, le refus peut désormais donner lieu à un recours (article 17). De même, en vertu de l’article 4 alinéa 5, le refus d’accorder une licence à un imprimeur doit être motivé. Il est par ailleurs susceptible de recours alors qu’un tel refus n’est soumis à aucun contrôle dans la loi actuellement en vigueur. De plus, en ouvrant les activités d’imprimerie, d’édition, de presse, etc. aux résidents non bahreïnis (article 7), en ouvrant aux étrangers, quoique avec des restrictions, la possibilité d’entrer dans le capital d’une société publiant un journal (article 45), ou encore en raccourcissant le délai d’attribution d’une licence (article 51), cette réforme réduit les obstacles à la création de nouvelles publications. Mais en même temps, nous ne pouvons que déplorer le maintien des licences, assorties du dépôt d’une garantie financière, octroyées par le ministère de l’Information après approbation du Conseil des ministres, condition aujourd’hui sine qua non pour la publication d’un journal”, a ajouté l’organisation.

“De même, la protection apportée par l’article 19, qui fait passer sous le contrôle du juge l’interdiction de distribution d’une publication, est aléatoire puisque la saisie administrative continue à précéder la décision de justice. Nous pensons qu’aucune publication ne devrait être saisie ni aucun site Internet fermé avant qu’un juge n’examine la plainte à son encontre. A ce titre, la mise en place d’une chambre spécialisée aurait l’avantage de confier ces dossiers à des magistrats informés du mode de fonctionnement de la presse et conscients de ses enjeux.

Par ailleurs, l’abrogation des articles 68, 69,70, 71 et 72, qui, au premier regard, paraît favorable aux journalistes, risque, sans le dire, d’amener les juges à appliquer le code pénal dans certaines affaires de presse. Ces articles sanctionnaient notamment la critique du chef de l’Etat, l’atteinte aux fondements de la religion officielle du Bahreïn, la publication d’informations portant atteinte à l’unité nationale, à la vie privée, à la dignité des personnes ou encore outrageant un chef d’Etat arabe entretenant des relations avec le royaume. Toutes ces dispositions limitaient considérablement les droits des journalistes. Mais leur suppression ne constituera pas une avancée tant que d’autres textes de loi pourront être utilisés pour condamner les journalistes. Dans l’attente d’une réforme plus globale du code pénal bahreïni, il nous semble plus prudent de réintroduire ces articles dans le code de la presse, en les assortissant non plus de peines de prison mais d’amendes proportionnées aux offenses subies par les victimes et en supprimant toute référence au code pénal”, a déclaré Reporters sans frontières.

“L’article 5 exclut les publications électroniques de la loi sur la presse. Or, il nous apparaît peu nécessaire de mettre en place une loi spécifique sur Internet. Le décret-loi n°47 de 2002, modifié, pourrait être appliqué à l’ensemble des publications de presse quelle que soit leur nature. Enfin, nous tenons à vous rappeler notre attachement à la libéralisation de l’audiovisuel. L’élargissement du champ des libertés, auquel vous ¦uvrez, ne pourra aboutir sans mettre fin au monopole de l’Etat dans ce secteur”, a conclu l’organisation dans son courrier au ministre de l’Information.

Trois journalistes de l’hebdomadaire Al-Wefaq, organe de presse du principal groupe d’opposition du même nom, ont été convoqués le 28 juin 2008 par les services de sécurité de l’Etat. Ils n’ont été libérés que le lendemain. Le rédacteur en chef Sayyed Taher, les journalistes Adel Al-Ali et Mohammd Naaman sont poursuivis pour “incitation à la haine contre le gouvernement”, “outrage contre le régime” et “publication d’informations suscitant le confessionnalisme”. Selon le député d’Al-Wefaq, Khalil Al-Marzooq, le parquet n’aurait présenté aucune preuve, ni même aucun article aux trois hommes avant de les inculper. Les journalistes auraient été interrogés sur leur lien avec le site Internet Awaal.net (http://awaal.net/), fermé, le 24 juin 2008, sur ordre du ministère de l’Information. Deux autres sites, Shams Albahrain (http://www.ba7rainss.com/vb/ ) et Mamlakat Albahrain Forums (http://www.bahrainforums.com/) ont été fermés à la même date en raison de leur “caractère sectaire”. Le ministère de l’Information s’est appuyé sur l’article 19 du décret-loi n°47 de 2002, l’autorisant à interdire toute publication portant “atteinte au régime, à la religion officielle de l’Etat, aux bonnes m¦urs, ou aux différentes confessions de façon à troubler la paix publique”. Actuellement, au moins 24 sites Internet sont bloqués au Bahreïn par décision administrative.

Par ailleurs, le gouvernement de Manama a affiché son désir de mettre en place une commission chargée de surveiller les sermons délivrés dans les mosquées du royaume ainsi que les articles de presse et les forums de discussion sur Internet pour “signaler toute incitation au confessionnalisme”. Du côté de la blogospère, un code d’éthique a été proposé par le blogueur Mahmood Al-Yousif (http://mahmood.tv/2008/07/02/proposed-bloggers-code-of-ethics-against-sectarianism/ ) pour “faire appel au sens de l’honneur des internautes” et remédier ainsi aux fermetures intempestives de sites. “La fermeture des plates-formes de discussion sur Internet ou de n’importe quel site, quel que soit son contenu, ne sert que de tremplin vers la célébrité. Ce n’est qu’à travers un débat de société que nous réussirons à faire réellement évoluer les mentalités“, a-t-il déclaré.

Une délégation de Reporters sans frontières s’est rendue à Manama du 9 au 13 février 2008 pour rencontrer des représentants du gouvernement, des membres de l’opposition, des journalistes et des acteurs de la société civile. Lire le rapport d’enquête de la mission (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26039).