24 Nov, 2009

Bahrain - Media Harassment Campaign Against BCHR and its president Nabeel Rajab

Posted on 23rd of November 2009

Front Line is deeply concerned that the BCHR and its president, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab are being subjected to a media harassment campaign started on the 13th of November 2009 following the publication of a BCHR report in relation to human rights organisations that allegedly are linked to the government of Bahrain. The BCHR report alleges that a number of organizations have received financial support from government-linked sources. Nabeel Rajab

The media harassment campaign against BCHR was reportedly started by the Arabic Akhbar Al-Khaleej and its English version, Gulf-Daily News (GDN), and then followed by Alwatan newspaper.

On the the front page of Akhbar Al-Khaleej on 13th November, there were a number of false accusations made against human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. The first accusation was positioned at the top right corner of the first page and entitled "With my money and not the soft talk", in which the editor of the Akhbar Al-Khaleej stated that:" In the recent election carried out in CARAM Asia, Nabeel Rajab won the membership of the its board due to the financial and political support offered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence in Iranian Embassy in Malaysia”. The Akhbar Al-Khaleej went further to state that: "Nabeel won the highest number of votes from the organizations which received Iranian money from him". Then on lower right corner of the first page of the same issue,and in an article entitled "For refusing indicting Iran, Nabeel Rajab was ejected from a European Conference", the Akhbar Al-Khaleej editor falsely mentioned that:"The Bahrain Kingdom Forum published a picture distributed by news agencies showing the expulsion of Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, in a European conference yesterday because he refused to condemn Iran, Ahmedi Nejad , the executions, and the latest killings of Iranian human rights activists".

This last accusation was also published on the Gulf-Daily News version of the same day on its front page under the tilte.,"Activist expelled from forum", repeating the same claims that were written in the Akhbar Al-Khaleej.

The allegations against Nabeel Rajab and the BCHR would appear to be crude fabrications, Front Line is not aware of any of the newspapers having published any information to substantiate their allegations. CARAM Asia has stated that: "as a regional organisation comprised of some 34 members from 17 countries, Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility Asia (CARAM Asia) remains astonished by the recent accusations of Gulf News Daily and Akhbar Al-Khaleej and their malicious and unfounded attacks levelled at our newly elected Chair Nabeel Rajab, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and by extension CARAM Asia. The recent allegation of links between CARAM Asia and the Iranian government remain absurd and baseless. Neither BCHR nor CARAM Asia has ever taken a solitary cent from the Iranian government or any of its wider bodies and such facile accusations only seeks to demonstrate the lengths that certain publications will go to smear those committed to increasing the rights of all people. Furthermore, we would like to note that not once has our organisation been contacted by the aforementioned publications, casting light on the credibility of the journalists and the publications themselves."

In Alwatan newspaper and for three consecutive days starting on 17th of November 2009, there were statements by some members of the organizations who are mentioned in BCHR recent documentary report, calling for "the prosecution of members of the unregistered" organizations that aim to on spoil the Bahrain image" considering their acts to be an "internal and external state security crimes" .

On November 18 and 19, 2009, the same newspaper attacked the BCHR and its president stating that "they are providing false information on Bahrain to the foreign community".

It's important to mention that in October 2008 Front Line also deeply concerned when human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was subjected to a similar media harassment following his participation in a n a briefing held on 15 October 2008 in Washington DC., USA, concerning the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain,”

Front Line is concerned that the repeated media harassments against BCHR and its president, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, is due to their legitimate peaceful activities in defence of human rights in Bahrain.

Front Line


Khalid Ibrahim00353-87237-1403 Front Line - The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders81 Main StreetBlackrockCo. DublinIreland Tel: + 353 1 212 3750Fax: + 353 1 212 1001Direct line +353 1 2100481Web: www.frontlinedefenders.orgRegistrated Charity No: CHY 14029


22 Nov, 2009

BCHR President takes legal action over Media Smear Campaign

BCHR President takes legal action over Media Smear Campaign Bahrain Center for Human Rights 22 November 2009

President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab filed a court case against Bahraini media proprietor AnwarAbdulrahmantoday(Nov22), for repeated incidences of defamation in Mr Abdulrahman's English and Arabic language newspapers.

A recent media attack was initiated by the Arabic Akhbar Al-Khaleej (AK) and its counterpart in English, Gulf-Daily News (GDN), and later continued by Al Watan newspaper. Both these newspapers were named by the BCHR in a report oncounterfeit human rights activists and GONGOS in Bahrain. Since exposing various fake 'human rights campaigners' and government supported 'independent' organisations, as well as prominent figures, their roles and some of the financial rewards they receive from government-linked sources, the BCHR and its president have been faced by a fierce media smear campaign initiated by a number of daily newspapers, electronic forums and TV.

AK is the oldest existing newspaper in Bahrain and its owner, Anwar Abdulrahman, is well known for his close ties to Shaikh Khalifa Al-Khalifa, a leading member of the ruling family and the only Prime Minister Bahrain has known since 1970.

Al Watan newspaper is the media arm and product of a covert operation, funded and managed by the Royal court, exposed in the Al-Bandergate leak. It is well known for its sectarian incitement, antagonism and provocation against dissidents and human rights defenders.

"On the front page of AAK , November 13th issue, there were two marked bogus news about myself," BCHR President Nabeel Rajab said.

"The first was positioned at the top right corner of the first page, titled "With my money and not the soft talk", in which the editor of the AK falsified that, "In the recent election carried out in CARAM Asia, Nabeel Rajab won the membership of the its board due to the financial and political support offered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence in Iranian Embassy in Malaysia.AK further stated that, "Nabeel won the highest number of votes from the organizations which received Iranian money from him".

"The second defamatory piece, situated in the lower right corner of the first page of the same issue was titled "For refusing to indicting Iran, Nabeel Rajab was ejected from a European Conference". Here, the AK editor falsely narrated that, "The Bahrain Kingdom Forum published a picture distributed by news agencies showing the expulsion of Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, in a European conference yesterday because he refused to condemn Iran, Ahmedi Nejad , the executions, and the latest killings of Iranian human rights activists".

"This lie was also published in the GDN issue of the same day. It was titled, and placed on the front page, as, "Activist expelled from forum", and reiterated the same story as the Arabic version; " A Bahraini human rights activist was expelled from a European conference yesterday for refusing to condemn Iranian President and the recent government crackdown on protesters. Bahrain forums have posted a news agency picture showing the expulsion of the now-dissolved Bahrain Center for Human Rights president Nabeel Rajab from the conference"

"In Al Watan, for three consecutive days, there were statements by some members of the GONGOs mentioned in the BCHR report, calling for prosecution of members of "unregistered" organisations which "aim to tarnish Bahrain's image" considering their acts to be of "internal and external state security crimes" . Moreover, loyalist parliamentarians expressed their support in prosecuting those "seeking to undermine the reputation of Bahrain", considering their organizations infiltrated by spoilers" . MP Abdulla Al-Dossary accused members of the "illigitimate establishments , like the BCHR, who have relations with foreign embassies, and deliver false information about Bahrain". MP Lateefa Al-Qaood, a female member of Parliament backed by the Royal Court, stated that "the Bahrain center does not have any official status and works for a foreign agenda". Salafi MP, Mohammed Khalid, who is known of his Hate speeches and statements, stated that: "This center is dissolved for several reasons as it has exceeded the red lines in what so-called human rights".

"Media statements were produced to support GONGOs, with the Ministerial Cabinet and Prime Minister "calling international organizations and bodies to rely on official indicators and reports to make reports more accurate and realistic". The PM noted that "some of these reports lack precision in reflecting the reality as it relied on unofficial sources ineligible to provide these organizations with the accurate data that reflect the reality in Bahrain".

"It is to the misfortune of the AK and GDN editors, who failed to show any level of professionalism when referring to a picture taken by members of the Bahraini Embassy in Washington DC who attended a briefing in 15 October 2008 on religious freedom in Bahrain called upon by the US Congress Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The picture shows Nabeel Rajab and two other activists from Bahrain- Dr Abduljalil Alsingace and Ms Maryam Al-Khawaja, as well as Dr Toby Jones - who were also invited by Congressman Frank Wolf, Chairman of the commission, to share their views and reports about the State-orchestrated violation of the religious freedom in Bahrain. At the time of the conference, the three Bahraini participants were faced with a media smear and defamation campaign stigmatizing them with names, and calling them stooges of the USA. This same photo is now being used to accuse Nabeel Rajab of being a stooge of Iran."

Briefing session on the "Impact of political reform and religious freedom in Bahrain- Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom (15 October, 2008, Rayburn House- Office Building 2168, Washington DC- USA)

Background: A few weeks ago, a similar campaign was launched by Al Watan newspaper and Bahrain TV. Al Watan posted the detail TV interview made by of its columnist, Sawsan Alshaer, who is also a presenter on Bahrain State TV. In that TV program, Hasan Mousa Shafeei, one of the figures mentioned in the BCHR documentary report about GONGOs and bogus organizations, was hosted to share the defamatory attack on Nabeel Rajab and other activists in Bahrain. Hasan Shafeei works as consultant in Bahrain Embassy in London to runa homepage dedicated to attacking human rights organizations and defenders in Bahrain.

It is understood that this fierce defamation and smear campaign against the BCHR and its president, Nabeel Rajab, is a counter reaction to the efforts of reporting and professional documentations of various human rights violations. This campaign has included intimidation and the targeting of Nabeel, his wife and family, through telephone calls and SMS, the post and cyber space. Many cases in the past have been filed by Nabeel Rajab through the Public Prosecution (PP), but have not been pursued or taken seriously.

The BCHR denounces such acts, which appear to have the silent consent of the Authorities, to suppress activists and human rights defenders. The BCHR has vowed to report and document human rights violations, irrespective of the source of violations, as a contribution towards protection and maintenance of such precious values. Intimidation by media organisations with close links to government will not alter the BCHR policy of being objective and credible when dealing with human rights issues. The BCHR calls on the media and Bahraini Authorities to remedy their record on human rights by genuinely respecting and encouraging the promotion of human rights, instead of attacking and demoralizing those defending them in Bahrain.

-------------------------------------------------- "㤙㇊ 捞枭椠ȇኒ歑" Bogus Human Rights Organizations and Activists www.bchr.net/ar/ngos www.anhri.net/bahrain/bchr/2009/pr1112.shtml http://www.aaknews.com/pdf.aspx?iid=11558 http://gulf-daily-news.com/source/XXXII/239/pdf/Page01.pdf http://www.alwatannews.net/index.php?m=newsDetail&newsID=46406§ion=4 http://www.alwatannews.net/archive/index.php?m=newsDetail&newsID=46057§ion=4&issueDate=2009-11-17 http://www.bna.bh/?ID=158802p:// http://www.pomed.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/lantos-commission-religious-freedom-in-bahrain-15-oct-2008.pdf http://media4.dropshots.com/photos/534673/20081029/181222.jpg http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/2472 http://www.fidh.org/Media-campaign-against-Mr-Nabeel,http://www.fidh.org/BHR-002-1008-OBS-171-Slandering,http://humanrightsdefenders.org/en/node/1604 http://www.alwatannews.net/archive/index.php?m=newsDetail&newsID=42424§ion=4&issueDate=2009-10-25

22 Nov, 2009

FIDH & BHRS: Slandering media campaign against Human Rights activist

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS)

Paris – Manama, November 20, 2009.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation in Bahrain, the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) express their deep concern about the slandering media campaign launched against the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), an organisation which works to defend civil, political, economic and social rights in Bahrain and its president, Mr. Nabeel Rajab.

Since November 13, 2009, several media in Bahrain have been publishing slandering accusations against the BCHR, which is also an FIDH member organisation and its president, Nabeel Rajab, also Chairperson of the Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM Asia). This slandering media campaign has begun two days after the release by BCHR of a report in which the organisation documented the alleged setting up of state-controlled non-governmental organisations in Bahrain.

On November 13, 2009, several newspapers including Akhbar Al-Khaleej (AAK) and Gulf Daily News, electronic forums like the kingdomofbahrain.org and one TV programme named The Final Word published fabricated accusations pointing to links between Mr. Nabeel Rajab and the Iranian authorities. In particular, in the front page of the 13 November issue, AAK published two articles slandering Mr. Nabeel Rajab. The first article entitled “With my money and not the soft talk” in which the editor alleged that: “In the recent election carried out at Caram Asia, Nabeel Rajab won the membership of the board due to the financial and political support offered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence in Iranian Embassy in Malaysia”. The AAK further stated that: "Nabeel won the highest number of votes from the organizations which received Iranian money from him".

In another article also published in the front page on the same issue, entitled "For refusing indicting Iran, Nabeel Rajab was ejected from a European Conference", the AAK editor alleged that: "The Bahrain Kingdom Forum published a picture distributed by news agencies showing the expulsion of Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, in a European conference [the day before] because he refused to condemn Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, executions to death, and the latest killings of Iranian human rights activists". Allegations spelled out in this last article were also published the same day on the front page of the Gulf Daily News (GDN) under the title "Activist expelled from forum".

On November 18 and 19, 2009, the newspaper El Watan attacked the BCHR and its president stating that they were providing false information on Bahrain to the foreign community.

FIDH and BHRS also regret that Mr. Nabeel Rajab and his wife continue to face acts of harassment and intimidation through anonymous telephone calls, SMS, e-mails and letters. Though Mr. Rajab filed several complaints before the public prosecutor no serious investigation has been carried out so far1.

FIDH and BHRS fear that BCHR and its president have been targeted to deter them from pursuing their legitimate human rights activities and urge the competent Bahraini authorities to order an immediate, thorough, effective, impartial and independent investigation into the slandering campaign and the acts of harassment against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and his relatives, in line with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

Both organisations further call upon the authorities to guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of all activists, including human rights defenders, and to ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as international human rights instruments ratified by Bahrain.

Press contact: Karine Appy / Gael Grilhot: Tel. +33 1 43 55 25 18

21 Nov, 2009

CARAM Asia:Newly Elected Chair of CARAM Asia Faces Unfounded Media Accusations

As a regional organisation comprised of some 34 members from 17 countries, Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility Asia (CARAM Asia) remains astonished by the recent accusations of Gulf News Daily and Akhbar Al-Khaleej and their malicious and unfounded attacks levelled at our newly elected Chair Nabeel Rajab, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and by extension CARAM Asia.

The recent allegation of links between CARAM Asia and the Iranian government remain absurd and baseless. Neither BCHR nor CARAM Asia has ever taken a solitary cent from the Iranian government or any of its wider bodies and such facile accusations only seeks to demonstrate the lengths that certain publications will go to smear those committed to increasing the rights of all people. Furthermore, we would like to note that not once has our organisation been contacted by the aforementioned publications, casting light on the credibility of the journalists and the publications themselves. Further, it is crucial in the interest of transparency that some clear facts be recognised for the documentary record. The BCHR has been an active and passionate member of CARAM Asia since it was approved of membership in 2007 and it was as a result of this recognition that Nabeel Rajab was democratically elected last month as Chair of the organisation by our members. In fact, far from being ‘defunct’ as it was recently labelled by Gulf Daily News (Basma Mohammed, October 28th, 2009), the BCHR has continued to demonstrate its commitment to human rights of all people and continues to operate within an extremely hostile environment. CARAM Asia is not alone in its support of Mr. Rajab and other prominent human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Frontline and International Federation of Human Rights FIDH have all used our Chair’s reports as well as his commentary on human rights concerns within Bahrain. CARAM Asia will continue to offer its support to Nabeel Rajab and collectively we will persist as a network to promote the issue of migrants’ rights at the national, regional and international levels.

19 Nov, 2009

ALERT - BAHRAIN Columnist suspended after writing articles about demands for democratic reforms

SOURCE: Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR/IFEX) - 18 November 2009 The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned

overthe continuing repressive attitude towards journalists, writers and columnists in Bahrain. Many of them have been summoned before public prosecutors or the courts for exercising their professional rights intackling issues of interest to the public. Others have been suspended from writing or reporting by their employers and the editors-in-chief of their newspapers. In doing so, the employers express their opposition to theopinions of some journalists or columnists and assume a position ofself-censorship, fearing reprisals from the authorities, sometimes having received direct telephone calls from members of the ruling family orgovernment. BCHR has learned that Ali Saleh, a journalist and columnist, was suspended from writing in "Albilad" newspaper ( http://www.albiladpress.com ) afterhis last column was not published. When Saleh noticed that his column wasnot published as planned in the 15 October 2009 issue of the newspaper, heapproached the publication's directors to inquire about his article. He was advised that, based on orders from "high level authorities", he has been"indefinitely suspended" from writing. The 67-year-old Saleh started his work in the journalism profession when hewas 23 years old and his column writing experience exceeds 33 years. Hejoined "Albilad" in April, writing a column every Wednesday. Earlier, hewas a columnist at different times for "Akhbar Al-Khaleej", "Alwasat" and"Alayam" newspapers. According to Saleh, these newspapers stoppedpublishing his articles or actually "disposed of him" with differentexcuses, all of them focused on the fact that his writings "did not conform" with their policies. Moreover, he said that "other newspapers,like 'Almeethaq', 'Alwaqt' and 'Alwatan', absolutely refused to accept(him) as one of their columnists". Based on information obtained by BCHR, the orders to suspend Saleh fromwriting were issued by Royal Court officials who were displeased with aseries of published articles written by him focusing on demands for genuinedemocratic reforms and reinforcement of the state of law instead ofpolicies of individualism and gestures. Moreover, Saleh has been critical of the "Reform Project" proposed in 2002 to establish a democracy in Bahrain. According to Saleh, "This project ceased to exist after itsretraction when the 2002 constitution was passed in an undemocratic way, inaddition to the procedures, decrees and developments which brought Bahrainback to unilateral power - the executive one". Saleh considers his suspension to be "one of the measures taken by thelocal authorities to muzzle free speech, attack freedom of opinion andexpression and prevent criticism and demands for reform, which contrastwith the claim that Bahrain is a democracy." BCHR expresses its deep disappointment over the authorities' lack oftolerance for differing views that expose state violations or are criticalof state practices, contradicting what the government is trying to conveythrough publicity programmes both within and outside of Bahrain. The BCHRcalls upon the authorities to respect and uphold international human rightsconventions and covenants ratified by Bahrain, specifically those onfreedom of expression. In particular, reference is made to Article 19 ofthe International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified byBahrain in September 2006, which refers to the right to hold opinionswithout interference and the right to freedom of expression. BCHR's president, Nabeel Rajab, said, "We are strongly dismayed by thisescalation of actions against journalists and efforts to silence dissentingvoices. We remind the Bahraini authorities of their commitments andobligations to respect international covenants on human rights". Rajabadded, "What makes us most concerned are the constraining orders which comethrough telephone calls from the offices of top officials. These officialsshould pay attention and listen to differing views and criticisms in lightof their claims of democracy and freedom of expression. The continuingharassment of journalists in this way represents a step backwards and arevival of the old state security tactics. It reinforces the position ofBahrain on the blacklist of countries that violate human rights and freedomof expression (. . .). What happened to Ali Saleh is shameful." RECOMMENDED ACTION:Send appeals to the authorities calling on them to:- stop harassing journalists, columnists and writers who express theirviews on matters of public interest and issues relating to corruption andmisconduct- lift the suspension of Saleh, ensuring that he suffers no reprisals as aresult of criticising policies and programmes put in place by the rulingelite.- cease policies that result in suspension decisions made behind closeddoors without any judicial or legal process APPEALS TO:Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa,King of Bahrain Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa,Cabinet Prime Minister Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

17 Nov, 2009

Report of the Trial Monitor in the Karzakan and Ma’ameer Cases Bahrian, 2009

Abed Choudhury

Report of the Trial Monitor in the Karzakan and Ma’ameer Cases Bahrian, 2009 Abed Choudhury

First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Islamic Human Rights Commission PO Box 598,Wembley, HA9 7XH © 2009 Islamic Human Rights Commission All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereinafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. ISBN 978-1-903718-66-7 Contents Preface 5 Introduction 6 Trial monitoring: Karzakan Case 7 Background 7 The hearing 7 General observations of the hearing 8 Ma’ameer 9 Conclusion 11 Preface The IHRC sent Abed Choudhury to monitor the verdict hearing of 19 Bahraini men charged with the murder of a police officer. The hearing was held on 13th October 2009. This is a report of his observations and conclusions, as well as his observations pertaining to a further case in Ma’ameer. At the time of writing up, Mohammed Al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, mentioned in the section Ma’ameer, below, had had charges brought against him under the 1989 Law on Societies, which effectively restricts the activities of societies and dictates the parameters in which they must operate. Further information about Bahrain and IHRC Campaigns for Bahrain can be found on the IHRC website: http://www.ihrc.org.uk. Multimedia information including photo galleries, articles, reports and action alerts are and will be available. Introduction Bahrain is a nation of extremes. It is a nation flooded with extreme wealth, the product of oil and foreign investment in a burgeoning financial and property market. Manama city is developing incessantly with buildings for banks, hotels, shopping malls and expensive hotels going up continuously at a rapid pace. But this is not the whole picture. The wealth and development is a mirage that hides the less palatable face of Bahrain, the face the authorities do not want the world to see. The wealth of Bahrain is concentrated into the hands of a few powerful Bahrainis, the bulk of the wealth concentrated in the hands of the royal family of Bahrain. The majority of Bahrainis live in villages and towns outside the capital city. They have not benefited from the wealth enjoyed by the rich and wealthy of Bahrain. They stand on the outside watching as their nation marches forward to join the developed world, forced to fight and struggle for their share of their birthright. Bahrain is currently gripped in a struggle that is political and sectarian. The government is accused of actively pursuing an immigration policy which is changing the religious/ethnic demography of Bahrain. This is coupled with a policy of targeting political opponents from the majority Shia population. This has created anger and resentment amongst the Shia community. The arrest and prosecution of political opponents and activists is straining relations between the government and the Shia community to breaking point. The tension is visible throughout Bahrain. From demonstrations and marches to tyre burnings on the streets and switching off street lights. There have even been threats of an intifada (armed uprising) if all political prisoners are not released. Trial monitoring: Karzakan Case Background The Karzakan case involves 19 men from the village of Karzakan, Bahrain. The 19 were charged with murdering a policeman by throwing Molotov cocktails into his car during protests in April 2008. The trial itself has been a long drawn out process, with the defendants claiming their confessions were extracted under torture. A fact that was initially recognised by the trial judge when the evidence was presented to him, though according to the defence lawyer, Muhammad Al Tajer, the judge refused to acknowledge the torture at later hearings. The defence also claims that various underhanded tactics were used by the prosecution, including calling all the prosecution witnesses during a hearing that was being boycotted by the defence lawyers, thereby depriving the defence team the chance to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses. The case has generated a lot of interest in Bahrain and has intensified tensions between the government and Bahrain’s Shia majority. There have been numerous demonstrations and protests in support of the 19 men, with threats of violence if they were convicted. The hearing The verdict hearing was held on 13th October 2009. The tension created by this case was visible throughout the city. Armed policemen had been deployed around the court building to maintain order. The court house had a security barrier in front and another was set up directly outside the courtroom itself. Security guards were only allowing in people who had legitimate business in the court house. Outside the court house a large group of people (mainly from the village of Karzakan) had gathered to show their support. The crowd were chanting slogans and were peaceful and orderly. The courtroom was a small room that held around 60-70 people. One side of the room was for the defendants and the other for their lawyers and the public. There were several defendants from other cases with their lawyers present in the court room. There were 5-6 security officials in the court room as well as 3-4 plain clothed men who were also security officials sent in to maintain order (according to a member of the defence team). Before the Karzakan verdict hearing the judge heard 13 ordinary cases. These were mainly criminal cases in the initial stages of prosecution. The defendants along with their lawyers all presented themselves before the judge and proceeded to mount their defence. Worryingly the prosecutor did not speak during any of the 13 cases as he had already presented his case to the judge in writing before the judge sat in session. The judge nonetheless allowed each defendant to make his case. After hearing the 13 ordinary cases (he did not pass judgement in these cases), the judge took a 15 minute recess. During this time the 19 Karzakan defendants were brought in. Each was handcuffed to another. They seemed in good spirits, chanting religious incantations in unison. One of the defendants was wearing a bandage around his fingers; I was unable to determine the cause of the injury. During the recess 15-20 journalists entered the courtroom and sat down. The judge entered the courtroom and read his judgment. It took him 2 minutes to read out after which he got up and left. As soon as he left the court room the defendants burst out into loud chanting, hugging one another and congratulating each other. They had been cleared of all charges. The 19 men were taken from the court house by the court security officers. Their lawyers claimed that before their release they were asked to sign an undertaking. The undertaking stated that they would not take part in any political activities that were critical of the government. They refused to sign the document and were released soon after. General observations of the hearing The hearing appeared to be open and public. Throughout the two sessions people were continuously coming in and out of the court room. Besides the two security barriers (which did not seem disproportionate given the tensions and heightened security concerns) there were no other barriers stopping people from entering the courtroom. During each hearing other defendants and their lawyers were always present. Furthermore there were journalists and a delegate from the French embassy (David Vanheessen-Genty) was present while the verdict was being read out. So it was very much a public trial in the sense that outsiders were able to observe the verdict hearing (though the writer is unable to comment on how many members of the general public besides lawyers and journalists were present). One of the journalists present said that he had been present at all the Karzakan hearings. The ruling itself appears to be fair and independent. The head of the defence team, Muhammad Al Tajer, commented that the ruling showed the independence of the Bahraini judiciary. Though such a sweeping judgement about the Bahraini judiciary is beyond the scope of this report, the judgment in this case does appear to be independent. It is worrying that the basis of the judgment was not expressed in the courtroom when the verdict was read out as is customary in most legal systems. A document was released later that same day explaining the reasoning behind the judgment. One must ask why it was not expressed at the time; did they come up with a reasoning afterwards to explain what was essentially a political decision to ease tensions in Bahrain? Nonetheless, the reasoning is indicative of a judicious decision, based on a good grasp of the facts and sound knowledge of the law. The judge recognised the extensive use of torture on the defendants and argued that information obtained under torture could not be used to convict these men. Ma’ameer Ma’ameer is a small village on the island of Sitrah just off the main island of Bahrain. The people there face many difficulties including unemployment and high levels of pollution being emitted from nearby refineries. It is a poor community that has not benefited from the economic prosperity of Bahrain. I visited Ma’ameer on 14th October 2009. I was taken there by Mohammed Al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. He was my translator during my trip to Ma’ameer. In Ma’ameer I met with the Ma’ameer Detainees Families Committee (MDFC). This was a committee made up of individuals who were related to the ten men who are currently being tried for the murder of a Pakistani truck driver, Shaikh Mohammed Riaz. The authorities allege that the ten men threw Molotov cocktails at the truck he was driving. He was left with severe injuries and died several weeks later, on 21st March 2009, at the hospital. The committee described the circumstances surrounding the arrest and detention of the ten men. Essa Ali Sarhan -Issa is 17 years old. He was arrested at home. The police entered the home using force and damaged property as they searched the house. He was attacked by the officers and beaten before being taken from his house at gun point. At the station he was kept handcuffed for three days during which time they threatened to beat him and rape his mother and sisters as a result of which he signed the confession they put before him. Ahmed Ali Ahmed -He was arrested in similar circumstances as Issa. He had a water hose put into his anal cavity and told that they would blast water inside him. They did not enact this as Ahmed agreed to sign the confession. Hussain Hamza Sarhan -His arrest was similar to the above cases. Most of the torture Hamza sustained was to his head and legs. When his family visited him he was limping. At the time of my visit Hamza was still waiting for a medical examination by a doctor. Sadaq Jaafar Mahdi -He was visited by his family two weeks after his arrest. He informed them that he had been handcuffed to the ceiling and left hanging for three days. They had also used pepper spray on him to temporarily blind him. He signed a confession after threats to rape his mother and sisters were made. Jassim Hasan Ahmed -Jasim’s arrest was also a violent affair. He was beaten in front of his young nephew during his arrest even though he did not resist arrest. He was left hanging from the ceiling at the police station for several days; they also used pepper spray on him. Jasim’s case is extremely worrying as his family claim that the public prosecutor, Usama Al Asfoor, threatened to rape Jasim’s wife and personally torture Jasim unless he signed the confession. Mohammed Ahmed Ali -Mohammed was 15 at the time of his arrest. He was arrested when he tried to renew his passport. He was beaten and was limping when his family went to see him. He was released on bail three months after his arrest. Ali Ahmed Hussain -He is being tried in absentia. Police have visited his family home on multiple occasions and used force to gain entry into the house. They have destroyed property and threatened his elderly father, at gunpoint, so that he reveals the whereabouts of Ali Ahmed. They have even threatened to arrest and detain his father if he did not reveal the whereabouts of Ali Ahmed. Kumail Hussain Abdul Hasan -Kumayal was arrested while he played football with friends. He was beaten, hung from the ceiling and they also administered electric shocks to various parts of his body. The torture was so severe that his sister was unable to recognise him when she saw him being removed from the police station three days after his arrest. Police threatened to rape his wife; they even went looking for her at their family home. Mohammed Hasan Ahmed is also awaiting trial. His case was not discussed during the meeting. Ebrahim Jaafar Mohammed has also been allowed out on bail. The ten men were pardoned in April 2009 by the King of Bahrain. The Public Prosecutor nonetheless felt that the ten men were still personally liable to the victim’s family and so should still answer for the alleged crime. The MDFC are extremely well organised. Initially each family campaigned for their own family member. With the help of local NGO’s they have been able to organise themselves into an effective campaign/pressure group campaigning for all ten men at once. They have been taught, by the NGO’s, non-violent means of protest as well as different ways of highlighting their campaign in Bahrain and the international community. They have held charity football matches/marathons, regular marches and rallies outside the Ministry of Justice as well as the UN office and switching off street lights in protest. They have highlighted their campaign on various websites, printed t-shirts with pictures of the ten men on them as well as distributing CDs that contain all the pictures and information detailing the torture the ten men have been subjected to. Conclusion Whilst the writer is unable to make generalisations regarding the fairness of trial procedures in Bahrain, his observations of the Karzakan case indicate that there has been substantial improvement of procedures since the transformation of Bahrain’s political system from absolute to constitutional monarchy. Claims of lack of due process persist but the writer cannot comment on these based on his observations. The prevalence of torture by police and security services, however, is still a major issue in Bahrain. Aside from the cases cited above, human rights groups and activists state that the use of torture persists. IHRC strongly recommends that those countries and international organisations that hold sway with the Bahraini authorities, including but not solely the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, the OIC and the Arab League, take issue with Bahrain over the culture of torture that exists and demand an end to it and the culture of impunity that ensures that both the policy makers perpetrators of such acts remain in positions of authority. The IHRC sent Abed Choudhury to monitor the verdict hearing of 19 Bahraini men charged with the murder of a police officer. The 13th hearing was held on October 2009. This is a report of his observations and conclusions, as well as his observations pertaining to a further case in Ma’ameer. Islamic Human Rights Commission Free to download from www.ihrc.org.uk ISBN 1-903718-66-X


11 Nov, 2009

FT Report:Talk of reform but still much to do

By Andrew England Published: November 9 2009 17:47 | Last updated: November 9 2009 17:47

Next month, as Bahrain marks the 10th anniversary of rule under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the feelings of Bahrainis will be decidedly mixed.

Some will celebrate and point to development projects, greater freedom of speech and labour reforms as illustrations of progress on the small island state, which has carved out a reputation as one of the Gulf’s most open business destinations. Others will look back on the past decade with a grimace as the hope for political and social changes they clung to in the early years has turned sour.

Like other Gulf states, Bahrain has sought to use the 2003-2008 rise in oil prices to develop infrastructure, raise living standards and diversify its oil-dependent economy by attracting new industries and developing the private sector. In Manama, the capital, the signs of modernisation are conspicuous as gleaming multi-story buildings rise up on land reclaimed from the sea.

In one new building, officials at the Economic Development Board (EDB) map out a 2030 vision, which they hope will double household income and reduce the state’s dependency on oil. Bahrain claims to be the most diversified Gulf economy but oil still contributes about 75 per cent of government revenue even though hydrocarbons account for just 14 per cent of gross domestic product.

It is estimated that annual household income is around 15,500 dinar ($41,100) per family, but the government is conducting a review to produce a more accurate figure. Bahrain hopes to build on its reputation as a financial centre, its proximity to Saudi Arabia and its relatively well-educated population compared to others in the region.

But as the country seeks to modernise and find its place in an increasingly competitive region, surrounded by wealthier neighbours pursuing similar goals, it is blighted by an age-old problem that shows few signs of abating – a bitter sense of discrimination among the Shia majority.

The Shia are estimated to account for 60 to 70 per cent of Bahrain’s indigenous population but are ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family. This makes the kingdom unique in the Sunni-dominated Arab Gulf, and Shia have long complained of economic and political marginalisation. It is a situation many argue remains unresolved.

Government officials, however, seek to play down talk of discrimination and instead suggest the criticism is a sign of Bahrain’s democratic credentials. They say education, labour and economic reforms – led by Sheikh Salman, the crown prince, and the EDB he chairs – will benefit all and address the socio-economic ills that fuels much of the Shia anger.

“Eight years ago if you drove through the villages, half of the roads weren’t paved – 90 per cent of the roads weren’t paved. Today, 90 per cent are paved,” says Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa al-Khalifa, the EDB’s chief executive. “Things have got better. Can you do more? Yes. I’m the one who is always pushing to do more.”

Bahrain does have areas to build on, including its reputation for being one of the most liberal Gulf states with a favourable investment climate boosted by lower costs than neighbouring Dubai. It is also further ahead with economic diversification than others, with financial services accounting for around 27 per cent of GDP and a regulatory regime that is touted as among the best in a region that lacks transparency.

So far, the kingdom has survived the global economic crisis relatively unscathed. Some projects have been delayed and jobs have been lost, particularly in finance and construction, but the country is still expected to achieve positive growth this year. This is partly because oil represents a far smaller proportion of the nation’s $21.9bn GDP than its neighbours, but also because its real estate sector developed at a less spectacular pace and so did not fall as sharply. But with oil expected to run out in 10 to 15 years according to some estimates, Bahrain faces myriad hurdles as it looks to find its niche, raise living standards and avoid being eclipsed by neighbours.

Officials say the EDB is still identifying sectors that will take the kingdom through the next stage of development.

They talk of a knowledge-based economy and leveraging its proximity to Saudi Arabia and Qatar as a transport and logistics hub. But they still have some convincing to do.

“In spite of an impressive track record of innovation and resilience, Bahrain seems to be a bit lost,” says Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at NCB Capital. “Right now the approach seems to be try a little bit of everything, but where is the Bahrain idea? Why Bahrain rather than other countries?”

He says the “Bahrain formula” needs to be more crisply defined to differentiate it from the rest of the Gulf.

Finding the right future economic model could go some way to appeasing frustrated Shia, observers say, with small groups of youths regularly taking to the streets to protest their lot.

“They have to come up with something in the near term because it will take so long to overcome the social challenges the Shia face,” says a western diplomat. “The important thing is the crown prince has become more powerful and is committed to economic liberalisation. As for political liberalisation – it can’t be rolled back but I’m not sure how far he wants to push it.”

During the 1990s Bahrain was plagued by violence that saw hundreds of Shia detained and others forced into exile.

When King Hamad succeeded his father in 1999 he inspired optimism that things would change by introducing political reforms. He put a new National Charter to a referendum that led to the reconstitution of parliament for the first time since the 1970s, released political prisoners and allowed exiled Shia leaders to return from overseas.

There have been two parliamentary elections since – rarities in the Gulf – although politicians grumble that the National Assembly is toothless. Still, activists have more freedom to speak out against the government and the allegations of torture and arbitrary arrests that dogged the 1990s have subsided, if not completely disappeared.

But Shia activists complain that discrimination has become more institutionalised, with Shia representation in high-ranking government jobs falling – there are just two Shia who are full cabinet ministers. Government critics – Sunni and Shia – also accuse the government of granting citizenship to Sunnis from other countries in a bid to counter some of the Shia’s demographic dominance.

In contrast to the capital, Shia villages dotted around the island are made up of scruffy apartment blocks and flat-roofed houses that are often dirtied by graffiti lambasting the government and ruling family.

“The only hope will be when the government changes its policies,” says Jalal, who lives in a Shia area in Sitra, an industrial area to the east of the island.

When King Hamed visited Sitra at the beginning of the decade, the neighbourhood’s Shia wanted to “lift him up” into the sky, such was their optimism, Jalal says. But now “there’s anger. He promised and has not stuck to his word.”

The picture is muddied by ruling family politics.

Observers agree that Sheikh Salman’s influence has increased, while that of Sheikh Khalifa, the veteran prime minister, has waned.

But the crown prince’s focus is deemed mainly to be economic, while political issues, particularly the treatment of Shia, is thought to be under the influence of Sheikh Khaled, another ruling family member who is head of the royal court.

And few expect further political reform any time soon – even though failing to address Shia frustrations risks jeopardising economic progress.

“There are enough people in the regime who can manage the [Shia] problem. We just want to see it happen soon. If not ... the worst case scenario more likely is the cycle of low-level violence with Shia youth will happen more often and last longer,” says the Western diplomat.

“And at some point Western bankers will send their families home and before long it’s not as attractive as a banking hub. It undermines everything, if you don’t manage it you cannot move forward.” Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web


_______________________________________________________ Education: New university combats entrenched attitudes By Abeer Allam

Published: November 9 2009 17:47 | Last updated: November 9 2009 17:47

At Bahrain Polytechnic, a lecturer displays a controversial Ralph Lauren advertisement, in which a model’s waist appears smaller than her head and asks students how they would avoid a similar marketing debacle.

For further education in the Arab world, this is a fresh approach. Formal lectures and rote learning are the dominant teaching methods in public universities rather than the development of problem solving skills or practical knowledge.

But in the red and blue buildings of Bahrain Polytechnic, which was launched last year, teachers from New Zealand, Australia and the UK now offer pragmatic instruction in fields such as accounting, marketing and logistics for the first time.

The university, which has 900 students, and expects 2,000 next year, is a focal point of the government’s National Education Reform, which aims to equip students for the needs of the workplace, rather than allowing them to accumulate academic credentials from hours in the classroom.

“We spoke with industries, searched jobs advertised in engineering and we developed a programme that Bahrain desperately needed,’’ says John Scott, chief executive of the school.

Bahrain is an island nation of around 1m people. Up to 100,000 Bahrainis will enter the workforce in the coming decade. In spite of government efforts to reduce employment from 16 to 4 percent, jobs remain elusive.

Unemployed men have joined street protests to demand jobs from the government.

But employers complain that few Bahrainis possess the skills they require, particularly technical or language skills, even with university degrees – in spite of numerous accounting programmes, up to 90 per cent of accountants are foreigners.

As many as 20 per cent of schools and 40 per cent of vocational training institutes are failing their students, according to an October report by the country’s newly established Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET).

“Education must be at the beating heart of national plans for the future,” Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, told delegates at an education conference last month. “It is in the interest of the country and the national economy to ensure a steady supply of skilled and qualified workers.”

Bahrain spends up to 11 per cent of its budget (BD4.2bn) on education. But spending on glamorous buildings and expensive programmes, sometimes costing as much as 20 per cent of the national budget, has produced unimpressive results in the Arab world, says a recent report by the UNDP.

In Bahrain and other Gulf states, oil wealth has created a culture in which nationals feel entitled to jobs, regardless of skills. While the problem in Bahrain is less acute – many Bahranis work as taxi drivers or shopkeepers – many trades such as plumbing and nursing are filled with foreign workers.

It is a mindset that Bahrain Polytechnic is trying to change. “We try to develop a culture that they are primarily responsible for their own future, not us,” says Mr Scott. “We also work with industry, which has to provide proper work environment.”

Key sectors with significant gaps include accounting, tourism and services, translation, conference organising and transport and freight logistics.

Other reforms include a teacher training programme, secondary school vocational training and the Quality Assurance Authority that periodically reviews academic standards.

Tamkeen, a BD66m fund established last year, helps fund the career development of university graduates, particularly for potential accountants.

Unlike in other Gulf states, Bahrainis make up 70 per cent of the country’s bankers, but the number of prestigious jobs does not match the demand from underskilled graduates. But with such expectations, it is hard to imagine Polytechnic students settling for a manual job.

The school, which currently runs two-year diploma courses, has had to promise to add a four-year degree to appease parents and students unimpressed with the lesser credential. School officials hope the mindset of students and employers will eventually change, but the reform process is still in its early stages.

Aside from the training, however, students see other advantages to studying at the Bahrain Polytechnic: “It is backed by the crown prince,” says Khalid al Khawaja, 19, a business student.

“I am sure they will find jobs for us.” http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1b6205d6-ccbd-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=e80c109e-ccc3-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0.html

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Economy: Awards don’t pay the bills By Digby Lidston

Published: November 8 2009 23:18 | Last updated: November 8 2009 23:18

Like an eager student, Bahrain likes to collect awards. The past few months have seen the kingdom judged “20th best country for ease of doing business” (World Bank), “the best country for business in the Gulf” (Forbes), “the freest economy in the Middle East” (Heritage Foundation) and “fifth most stable macro-economic environment in the world” (World Economic Forum).

Each accolade is accompanied by a glowing press release – and Bahrain could do with the praise.

As the smallest economy in the Gulf, Bahrain has often felt left behind by its neighbours, unable to muster the huge oil and gas revenues of Saudi Arabia or Qatar and outflanked by the rapid growth of Dubai as a trade and services hub.

By the same token, it has also avoided the worst of its neighbours’ excesses.

After realising in the 1960s that its oil reserves were in decline, the government set about encouraging new industries, building up a small but thriving banking centre and a modest manufacturing base.

And with hydrocarbons accounting for around 14 per cent of gross domestic product, the lurching oil prices of the past year have affected Bahrain’s macro numbers less than energy producers such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Equally, it has avoided the speculation that brought the Dubai real estate market crashing to earth.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts the real economy to grow by 2.6 per cent in 2009. More bullish figures from the country’s Economic Development Board put that figure closer to 3.8 per cent, even though this is well shy of the 6.1 per cent growth of last year.

“Bahrain has managed to muddle through the crisis better than most. One of Bahrain’s key advantages is the nimbleness it owes to its small size and diversity,” says Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at NCB Capital.

Yet the chaos of the past 12 months has also given Bahraini policy makers food for thought.

Crude oil, which the kingdom imports from neighbouring Saudi Arabia and refines for export, still accounts for about 75 per cent of government revenues. And there is a growing realisation that an over-large financial sector could leave the economy unbalanced and exposed to instability elsewhere in the region.

“Two years ago, we expected the financial sector to grow at a very rapid rate; today, our attitude has changed,” says Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa al-Khalifa, chief executive of the EDB. “We have always adopted a demand-led model of economic growth. The financial sector will continue to be important, but the economy has to evolve over time.”

Rather than drift with the tides, however, the government has decided to give the economy some sense of direction. To this end, it launched its Vision 2030 in October last year. “It came at an opportune time,” says Sheikh Mohammed. “It is good to have a target to focus on as we go through challenging times.”

The planned Bahrain of two decades’ time is not dissimilar to the island kingdom of today, albeit with a heavier reliance on high-tech and service industries, an extensive public transport system, a better educated workforce and, more importantly, a wealthier one. A key pledge of Vision 2030 is to double household income, though how that is achieved, and on what basis it is calculated, remain nebulous.

Bahrain enjoys a comparatively high per capita GDP of $18,250, but its wealth is skewed heavily towards a small middle class.

The kingdom’s poorer, largely Shia communities face shortages of low-cost housing and poor employment prospects – the average private sector salary is only BD305 a month, according to the Labour Market Regulatory Authority.

Labour reform is a key plank of Vision 2030, and the area where there has been most notable progress. Tamkeen, a labour fund that derives its BD66m budget from a tax on foreign workers, is already training nationals entering the job market and those looking for a step-up in their career. Unlike many wealthier Gulf states, where local Arab populations are a middle-class veneer over a working base of expatriate labour, it is not uncommon to see Bahrainis stacking supermarket shelves and fixing cars.

“Provided they can maintain their edge, then human resources are a real asset,” says Tony Mallis, chief executive of Sico, an investment bank. “More than 70 per cent of my staff are Bahrainis, and they are extremely bright and well-trained. That’s not something you would say elsewhere in the Gulf.”

In other areas of the economy, the cogs are only just beginning to turn. A national economic strategy, a six-year programme intended to screw down some of the high-minded sentiments of the vision into working practice, was approved by the cabinet in February. “It will be a gradual process, as we streamline the civil service and swing them behind the programme,” says Sheikh Mohammed.

In a region that has become used to grand gestures, from the purpose-built economic cities of Saudi Arabia to the skyscrapers of Dubai, Vision 2030 leaves many commentators wondering how Bahrain can compete against its neighbours. Transport, light industry, technology, finance and tourism all offer the potential for economic growth, but there are few industries where Bahrain stands above the rest.

Ultimately, says Sheikh Mohammed, the country’s strength lies in its diversity, rather than individual talents. “We need to be more nimble and we need to adapt, but our fundamentals are the quality of our workforce and the quality of our services. We want a balanced economy.” The open question is whether that is enough to ensure the accolades keep rolling in. Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Politics: A sham or a transition to democracy? By Andrew England

Published: November 9 2009 17:47 | Last updated: November 9 2009 17:47

With a year to go until Bahrain’s next parliamentary elections, the nation’s opposition parties are already grappling with an internal debate that accompanies every Bahraini poll.

The question: should they or should they not participate in a process they condemn for being flawed – a façade, critics claim, that is held up to the west as a sign of Bahrain’s democratic credentials but which in reality has little impact on the ground.

Proponents of participation argue that it is better to attempt to reform the system from within, with hopes of pressuring the government to make amendments to the constitution to give parliament more power and to redraw constituencies that they claim favour the Sunni minority at the expense of the Shia.

They also say that media coverage of parliament allows them to raise social issues such as the need for more housing and allegations of discrimination against the Shia.

“At least you can expose the government from within their house,” says Abdul Jalil Ebrahim, a parliamentarian with the al-Wefaq movement, the main opposition in parliament. “From day one we knew the game, but we have to fight.”

On the other side of the debate, however, the belief is that entering parliament only serves the interests of the royal family, which retains ultimate power in the nation.

“Participation would put an obstacle [in the way of] real reform because it legitimises the system,” says Abdulwahad Hussein, leader of al-Wefa, a religious Shia movement formed this year.

Officials with the societies – political groups are not allowed to call themselves parties – say they have yet to make a final decision, but it is generally expected that Wefaq will take part in the 2010 election, as it did in 2006.

However, Wefa and Haq, another Shia movement, are expected to sit out the process, with mutterings that they may call for a boycott of Shia voters.

If that proves the case, the vote will be a key test of how much Wefaq’s credibility has been damaged by its failure, in the eyes of many, to bring genuine change during its time in parliament.

Turnout will also be a barometer of whether Shia have any faith left in a system that was hoped would help soothe years of frustration and feelings of political and economic discrimination.

“Al-Wefaq are in a real pickle; damned if they run, damned if they don’t,” says a western diplomat. “If they don’t, they admit to a mistake [in taking part in 2006], if they do they might get an embarrassingly low level of support.”

Elections were reintroduced to Bahrain following a quarter of a century hiatus only in 2002 after King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa had put a “National Charter” to a referendum, which reconstituted parliament for the first time since the 1970s.

At a time when the US was pushing for greater democracy in the Middle East, a region bereft of democratic institutions, Bahrain was widely praised by its Western allies.

But the 2002 poll was blemished after leading opposition parties boycotted the vote in protest at King Hamad’s decision to adopt unilaterally a new constitution that gave the upper house, or Shura Council, equal voting rights to the 40-member parliament.

The Shura Council is appointed by the monarch, while critics complain that the parliamentary constituencies are drawn up in such a way that it would be impossible for Shia groups to get a majority in the National Assembly.

In 2006, Wefaq won 17 seats after gaining around 60 per cent of the vote, according to its own officials. Yet its experience over the past three years has reinforced critical views of the assembly.

Some believe it has bolstered support for other Shia groups, like Haq, which are deemed to pursue more radical change.

“Sure, our reputation has been damaged,” says Jasim Husain Ali, a Wefaq MP. “Our problem is that we do not have any champion cases.”

The government, however, insists the system is working and that it is a question of the fledgling system going through teething pains.

Observers and politicians also raise questions about the quality of some of the MPs, both among the Shia and the Sunni Islamists that control most other seats.

“There is not a unified vision by those who are in the parliament and this vision need to be drafted, need to be worked on and needs to be followed,” says Nazar al-Baharna, minister of state of foreign affairs. “People here are not patient.”

He says the system has to mature, “grow and has to be sustainable.”

“There is no way we can jump from zero to 100. It has to be progressive,” adds Mr Baharna, who is a former member of Wefaq.

Critics, however, say the process will remain flawed unless there is serious reform.

“The government uses us as a decoration for the state,” says Ebrahim Sharif Al Sayed, a Sunni and senior official at the National Democratic Action Society, a liberal opposition movement. “We are just a picture in a house owned by the royal family, and if you come from abroad it looks like a good picture.” Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Shia population: Fed up with immigration and discrimination By Digby Lidstone

Published: November 9 2009 17:47 | Last updated: November 9 2009 17:47

October brings an end to the humidity that keeps Bahrainis indoors for four months in every year. It also heralds a new political season for the poorer Shia villages, where in recent weeks protesters have taken to the streets by day and daubed anti-government graffiti by night. In northern settlements such as Karbabad and Diraz, the roads are mottled with black scorch marks, the scars left by barricades of burning tyres.

Bahrain has a long history of political activism: “There had been riots, and burning of cars, and it was said [it turned out to be untrue] that one of the sheikhs had been pulled from his car and stoned to death,” a visiting archaeologist wrote in 1956, after a scuffle in a vegetable market escalated into a national strike.

Back then, the focus of resentment was the British colonial presence. These days, the protests have a sectarian flavour. Bahrain is the only country in the world where a Shia majority population is ruled by a Sunni minority, led by the ruling Al-Khalifa family. Shia citizens account for 60 to 70 per cent of Bahraini nationals, yet hold only 13 per cent of high-ranking public posts, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

This figure has fallen from about 25 per cent at the beginning of the decade, says Nabeel Rajab, from the centre. “The biggest problem is inequality, people feel marginalised, they feel like second or third-class citizens,” he says.

Add to this shortages of housing and well-paid jobs, and you get a combustible mix. “There is a lot of resentment among these young people,” says Abduljalil Alsingace, a senior official from Haq, an opposition movement associated with many street protests.

“They can’t afford to marry, they can’t get a house, and they see Syrians and Pakistanis being given jobs in the security forces and their families given homes by the government.”

In an attempt to defuse tensions, the government has stepped up the pace of social reform. It has pledged to double average household income by 2030, and intends to build 50,000 low-cost homes in the next five years. “It’s a slow process, we don’t have the financial resources of Qatar or Abu Dhabi, but it is a priority,” says Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa al-Khalifa, chief executive of the Economic Development Board and a member of the ruling family.

Wary of a return to the civil unrest of the 1990s, when bombings and bloody clashes between Shia protesters and security services left more than 30 dead, the authorities have reined in heavy-handed tactics. “Ten years ago, the security could come in your house and break your things. Now, they need to have a certificate [search warrant],” says a Shia resident of Sitra, an industrial area to the east of Bahrain.

Discrimination has proved a stickier charge. At the end of October, a three-kilometre human chain of more than 2,000 demonstrators lined Manama’s eastern waterfront to protest against “political naturalisation” – the award of nationality to foreign, especially Sunni Arab and Asian, members of the military and security forces.

Shia groups claim they are excluded from jobs in the military and other security services, and accuse the government of attempting to alter the sectarian balance of the island.

“In the past, just a few hundred people would get citizenship every year, but the rate has really increased in the past seven years,” says Ebrahim Sharif al Sayed, secretary-general of the National Democratic Action Society, which helped organise the rally. As many as 9,000 foreigners a year have been naturalised recently, he says – a significant number for an island of just 1.2m people. “Many of them are poor or from Bedouin backgrounds, so they have large families, and these families are not reflected in the statistics.”

In a rare public statement on the issue in October, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa denied claims of systemic discrimination. “The king has ordered the naturalisation of 7,648 since the start of the decade, 95 per cent of whom are Shia,” he told the pro-government daily Al-Watan.

Finding common ground may prove difficult: “I wish they would meet the opposition’s concerns on naturalisation,” says a senior western diplomat. “The Shia exaggerate it but it’s clear there are new neighbourhoods of Syrians that were not there a few years ago.”

The Al-Khalifa family bears the brunt of the graffiti in many Shia villages. But what worries the authorities are the stencilled faces of religious leaders from other countries, such as Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq, and Ayatollah Khamanei of Iran.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, many Arab governments have been concerned by the perceived spread of Iranian influence across the Middle East. Iran has posed an overt threat on at least one occasion in Bahrain’s recent history, when it backed a failed coup attempt in 1981. Yet analysts say the main grievances of the kingdom’s Shia communities today are social, rather than political or religious, in nature.

“There has been a tendency to point the finger of blame at Tehran for the slightest disturbance, and to assume demonstrations are instigated from overseas, but I’m not sure many Bahrainis look to Iran for political inspiration,” says Steven Wright, a specialist in Gulf politics at Qatar University. “The demands for political change really stem from socio-economic issues, from poverty and discrimination. Dressing it up as a sectarian problem only masks these underlying social concerns.” Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2a4a99be-ccbd-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=e80c109e-ccc3-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0.html ______________________________________________________ Industry: Competition for dwindling gas supplies By Digby Lidstone

Published: November 9 2009 17:47 | Last updated: November 9 2009 17:47

The main road from Manama loops south past the oasis of Riffa into the southern desert of Bahrain. It is a scrubby expanse broken by Jebel Dukhan, the smoky mountain that studs the island’s navel, and the tracks of oil and gas pipelines, tawny with rust, that hiss quietly to themselves in the silence.

This is the site of Oil Well Number One, an unremarkable spigot about eight feet high and the scene, in 1931, of the first oil strike in the Gulf.

Bahrain was the original Arab oil state. Revenues from oil exports helped build one of the first modern cities in the region and eased the decline of older industries such as fishing and the pearl trade. Yet Bahrain will also be the first to run out of oil. Declining production in the 1970s spurred the government to diversify its economy, using gas once flared off as waste to fuel new industries such as aluminium and petrochemicals.

The result today is that Bahrain has one of the most varied economies in the region, with a modest manufacturing base and decades-old factories and smelting plants. But its attempts to diversify away from oil and gas have hit a snag. Local industries still depend on the fuels from which Bahrain is supposed to be weaning itself.

“We have guaranteed supplies of gas, and can rely on both the reliability and quality of supply, but if we want to expand we have to look for new resources,” says Mahmoud al-Kooheji, chairman of Aluminium Bahrain, or Alba.

Alba is one of the oldest industries in the kingdom, set up in 1968 to produce some 56,000 tonnes a year of aluminium – what is known in the industry as frozen energy for its highly intensive use of gas.

Alba can now produce up to 880,000 tonnes of aluminium in a year, making its smelter the second largest in the Middle East after a similar facility in Dubai.

The company has considerable strategic importance for the small economy of Bahrain, employing more than 3,000 people and contributing about 12 per cent of gross domestic product. As importantly, it feeds a wider industry of rolling mills, cable manufacturers and foil manufacturers.

“We’ve managed to develop a very good downstream industry, and nearly 50 per cent of our products go into the local market,” says Mr Al-Kooheji. “That gives us an advantage over any competitors, as it will take them years to develop their own downstream industries.”

Yet Alba would have problems competing with new arrivals even if wanted to. Plans for a sixth production unit have been kept on hold for several years, pending the provision of more gas. With the population expanding at 1.8 per cent a year on average, Bahrain needs to dedicate as much of its supplies as possible to fuelling its power and desalination plants.

“They give us the gas, instead of giving it to Alba, because for us it’s a necessity,” says Abdulmajeed Ali Alawadhi, chief executive of the Electricity & Water Authority. Plans to expand the local Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company have stalled for much the same reason.

Worse, Bahrain’s natural gas reserves are in decline. Reserve estimates stand at about 84bn cubic metres, with this figure expected to fall to 75bn by 2011, making the discovery of new resources or increased imports essential to keep Bahrain’s existing heavy industries afloat and ensure the lights stay on in Manama.

Bahrain has talked to its neighbours about possible gas supply agreements, so far to little avail. Discussions with Iran about building an export pipeline south from the Islamic Republic stalled last year after a political spat. Qatar, the obvious supplier of last resort, continues to observe a moratorium on any new gas deals, worried about the effect on its giant North Field.

This leaves scope for creative thinking. “We believe we can increase production to about 1.2 million tonnes for just a fractional increase in gas,” says Mr Kooheji. “By replacing our old power plant and upgrading our lines, we can build a sixth line using no more than 10 per cent additional gas.”

There is the chance of a future respite. Royal Dutch Shell has signed an agreement with the government to examine a range of gas import proposals, which include construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal – a costly investment, but one that would make Bahrain less reliant on its neighbours for supplies.

The government is also beginning to shift the focus of its industrial plans away from energy-intensive companies such as Alba towards light manufacturing. Several investment zones have been set up next to the newly-opened Khalifa bin Salman Port at Hidd, and Bahrain’s free trade agreement with the US and easy access by road to Saudi Arabia have been heavily marketed to potential investors.

“One of the main advantages of Bahrain is access,” says Nicola Pero, chief executive of @Bahrain, a $3.5bn mixed-use technology and industrial park being developed in the south of the island.

“You have huge markets on your doorstep and a benign investment environment, which is a powerful argument.”

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1f7052ae-ccbd-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=e80c109e-ccc3-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0.html ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Sector regaining its confidence after shock of crisis By Digby Lidstone

Published: November 9 2009 17:47 | Last updated: November 9 2009 17:47

Ask any Bahraini banker how the financial industry fares, and you tend to get the same answer: the worst of the crisis appears to be over, but a long climb awaits.

“We’re in a pit, I don’t think anyone disputes that,” says one. “But we’re grateful the pit’s not filling with water.”

Like many banking centres, Bahrain has had a bumpy ride in the past 12 months. “It was inevitable we would feel repercussions, and most difficulties here are derivative of troubles in the wider Gulf and the global markets,” says Tony Mallis, chief executive of Sico, an investment bank.

Bahrain has an outward-looking financial industry, with more than half its 146 banks classified as wholesale – in effect, offshore institutions with an eye on neighbouring markets such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Cash has been in short supply in the past year. But the full extent of the crisis was brought home in July, when Awal Bank and The International Banking Corporation were placed in administration.

Though based in Manama, both institutions were the offspring of the troubled Saad and Algosaibi groups of Saudi Arabia. The family conglomerates ran into financial difficulties this year, and are believed to have more than $20bn of liabilities. Bahrain’s central bank took control of Awal and TIBC after both banks defaulted on their debts and failed to come up with suitable restructuring plans.

“I think it was a big shock to the industry, but I don’t think anyone was actually surprised,” says Gary Muriwai, director of the Bahrain Institute of Banking & Finance. “There had been a lot of lending against reputation and family names across the region. A lot of people are seriously reassessing how they manage risk.”

Not least among these is the governor of the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB). Rasheed al-Maraj oversees one of the most rigorous regulatory environments in the region, with strong capital adequacy ratios and stringent rules on disclosure. Yet the central bank was taken aback by “how the reported liquidity position of these banks could have deteriorated so suddenly”, as he told the Financial Times at the time.

Four months later, any concerns about systemic risk have been mollified, say bankers, but confidence has been knocked.

Compared with its oil-rich neighbours, Manama has fewer financial resources to bail out banks in the event of a crisis. At $224bn, the combined assets of the Bahraini financial sector are equivalent to more than 10 times the nation’s gross domestic product. Nor does the central bank “consider itself a lender of last resort”, says Mr Maraj, arguing this would undermine the competitive nature of the industry.

Before the financial crisis hit, Bahrain worked hard to claw back financial business from other Gulf states. Once the undisputed offshore banking centre for the Middle East, the country slid from pole position after 2000 as the likes of Qatar and Dubai launched purpose-built financial centres and banks gravitated towards their larger, thriving economies.

Between 2006 and last year, Bahrain regained some momentum, with the industry averaging 18 per cent annual growth. It now hosts more than 400 financial institutions, and the industry accounts for 27 per cent of GDP, making it the largest sector of the economy.

The country has traded off its reputation for a mature legal and regulatory environment, which has been lauded by the likes of the International Monetary Fund. “The CBB is generally very well regarded,” says Atif Abdulmalik, chief executive and founder of Arcapita bank.

The central bank moved rapidly to apply lessons learned from the Awal/TIBC affair, drafting new rules on bank liquidity within weeks and tightening up its scrutiny of banks’ balance sheets.

“At the end of the day, it’s not the job of the regulator to sniff out fraud, their job is to prevent systemic risk, and on that basis the CBB have done a good job,” says a European financier working for a local Islamic bank. “It’s a pretty thankless task, but they seem to strike the right balance.”

Yet the events of the past year have led many to question where Bahrain’s financial industry is headed. “If there is one criticism, it is the sheer number of licences that have been granted,” says Mr Mallis. “I think there will be more thought about where Bahrain’s strengths lie, and less attention paid to its size.”


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Labour: Liberalised labour laws help country stand out from peers By Abeer Allam

Published: November 9 2009 17:47 | Last updated: November 9 2009 17:47

When Bahrain abolished much of its expatriate sponsorship system this summer, the move sparked an avalanche of protests from the business community. Executives complained that the move would destroy their businesses and turn employees against them.

“They said there would be chaos in the market,” says Majeed al Alawi, the labour minister. “But cheap labour distorts the whole labour market. We want to ensure the human rights and contractual rights for expatriates are respected.”

In other Gulf countries, sponsorship, or kafala, gives employers scope to exploit foreign workers. Because they are dependent on obtaining consent before travelling, changing jobs, or being joined by their families, employers have leverage over them.

Expatriate workers dominate most high and low skilled labour markets in the Gulf. Bahrain has calculated that freeing its labour market will give it a competitive advantage. If foreign employees can switch jobs, they may move to better conditions or demand better salaries,reducing the salary gap between Bahraini and foreign nationals.

Labour reforms, which also extend unemployment benefit to Bahraini citizens, are part of the Bahrain’s Economic Development Board‘s plan to overhaul the labour and education systems. Fees for work permits for foreigners have been increased to BD200 ($533), and sponsors now pay a BD10 monthly fee for each expatriate worker.

Officials hope increasing the cost of foreign workers will induce employers to hire nationals. The policy, experts say, may be emulated by other Gulf states, where governments have focused on quota systems, which are open to abuse.

Periodic unrest in Bahrain is often galvanized by unemployment and under-employment among young Bahrainis, particularly from its Shia majority.

But the government says the plan should yield opportunities for all. Government efforts have reduced unemployment, with the official rate falling from 16 per cent six years ago to around 4 per cent.

But young Bahrainis are hard to please, business owners say. They show up for work for few days but then leave and go back to protest to the labour ministry. Many shun manual work and expect cushy government jobs.

“The private sector considers Bahrainis to be undisciplined, untrained and demanding,” says Mr Alawi. “Young people say salaries are too low, there is no future or benefit.”

Tamkeen, a BD66m ($175m) fund set up two years ago, supports vocational training and career development for Bahrainis. By offering loans to qualifying small and mid-size businesses that can pay up to 50 per cent of start-up costs for equipment, the fund subsidises companies that gradually replace foreign workers. It also retrains Bahrainis for the job market. It has helped as many as 5,600 companies in two years, officials say.

“We want Bahrain to be the first choice of employment,” says Nazar al Baharna, chairman of Tamkeen. “Raising the productivity should broaden the middle class and fill gaps in the business sector.”

Official statistics show that 460,352 foreign workers were employed until the second quarter, amounting to roughly 77 per cent of the labour force.

But at the end of the day, salaries drive the system. Bahrainis say they cannot afford to live with the low wages businesses pay foreign workers. Also jobs in the tourism industry are not welcome because they may mean serving alcohol.

Bahrainis, particularly from the Shia community, remain skeptical and suggest that factors unrelated to their skills are the real cause of unemployment.

“Shia are still second-class citizens,” says Ali Abdel Imam, political activist and blogger. He cites the scholarships and job positions, which he says favour Sunni candidates over Shia. In a job application to be an army nurse, his sister was required to specify her religious sect. She never heard back, he says.

“The gang that controls the decision-making is sectarian, that is the problem,” he says. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/25ecf01a-ccbd-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0.html?nclick_check=1

4 Nov, 2009

HRW:Bahrain: Migrant Workers Denied Pay, Right to Travel

Bahrain: Migrant Workers Denied Pay, Right to Travel Government Should Protect Workers from Employer Abuse November 4, 2009 Other Material: More Human Rights Watch reporting on Bahrain Withholding wages and confiscating passports appears to be rampant, but the authorities do nothing to stop it. There is no system to make sure these vulnerable migrant workers can actually recover both their passports and wages, let alone to punish the abusive employers. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch (New York) - Bahrain's Labor Ministry should hold employers who withhold wages and passports from migrant employees accountable, Human Rights Watch said today. Both practices are illegal under Bahraini law, but authorities do little to enforce compliance.

In one recent case, on October 6, 2009, Muhammad Naseer, an Indian citizen, filed a complaint with the Labor Ministry alleging that his employer and sponsor had refused to pay him nearly four months of back wages and withheld his passport, preventing him from returning home. The Labor Ministry helped him retrieve his passport but not the pay, and he returned to India on October 26 without it. Another worker at the same company told Human Rights Watch that the company owes him and at least 28 other workers wages for three months. At another company that sponsors migrant workers, eight employees say they have not been paid for five months.

"Withholding wages and confiscating passports appears to be rampant, but the authorities do nothing to stop it," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "There is no system to make sure these vulnerable migrant workers can actually recover both their passports and wages, let alone to punish the abusive employers."

Instead of enforcing the law, as it is authorized to, the government steers workers into an arbitration system that favors employers, Human Rights Watch said.

In Naseer's case, the company rebuffed his requests for his back wages, his brother, Bashir, told Human Rights Watch. Naseer, a husband and father of two, then told his employer that he would need to return to India to find work and support his family. Naseer borrowed from friends for an airline ticket, but was unable to use it because the sponsor refused to return his passport or approve his travel.

After Naseer sought the help of the Indian embassy and filed a formal complaint with the Labor Ministry, it called an arbitration meeting between with the company.

"The Ministry told my brother he could either go to court to try to recover his wages or get his passport back and leave the country," said Bashir.

Naseer, who only speaks Malayalam, decided he was unable to go to court, where he would have faced a potentially lengthy and costly legal battle with no income and little hope of prevailing. He felt he had little option but to sign a settlement letter, written in English, in which he waived all legal claims against his employer in exchange for his passport and authorization to leave the country, his brother said.

Marietta Dias, who works for the Migrant Labor Protection Society in Bahrain, told Human Rights Watch that Naseer's case is not unusual. "The Ministry of Labor has the authority to arbitrate such cases but not to compel the employer to comply with the law," she said. "If the employer doesn't agree to settle the case, then the ministry can only send it to the labor court."

Under the current arbitration system, an employer can force litigation by refusing the Ministry of Labor's request to settle. Dias said that most workers cannot afford lawyer fees or the loss of income, and so they have little choice but to accept highly unfavorable settlements. If the employer doesn't show up at an arbitration meeting after it is scheduled three times, the Labor Ministry automatically refers a case to the court.

"Employers know if they do not show up then the case will probably go away," Dias said.

The employee at the same company, who alleges the company still owes him and at least 28 other workers three months in back wages, said they received only one month's pay. The company tried to get the unpaid workers to sign documents affirming receipt of full payment, but they refused, the employee said. Some workers have also alleged that the owner of the company physically assaulted an employee for requesting back wages, allegations the employer denies, according to Construction Week magazine, published in Dubai.

On October 24, another 38 migrant workers at another company held a demonstration outside the Indian Embassy in Manama claiming that their employer has failed to pay them for five months, Construction Week and the Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News reported. Workers reportedly filed a complaint against their employer with the Ministry of Labor and assault charges with the local police.

Several recent news reports say that employers blame the global credit crunch for their failure to pay workers.

Article 302 of the Bahraini penal code makes it illegal for an employer to withhold wages in full or in part, and authorizes the government to prosecute abusive employers.

While Bahraini law also forbids employers from holding on to migrant worker passports, the Migrant Worker Protection Society maintains that the practice is widespread.

"We keep asking the government to prosecute but have not seen anything yet," Dias said. She added that authorities also rarely prosecute employers for withholding payments.

"Bahrain portrays itself as a regional leader in migrant labor rights, but the government has some way to go before it really earns that reputation," Stork said. "It should start by actually enforcing its own law."

Also available in:العربية http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/11/04/bahrain-migrant-workers-denied-pay-right-travel

1 Nov, 2009

President of BCHR elected to be the Chairperson of CARAM Asia for 2 years

CARAM Asia Bhd (541195‑T) 8th Floor, Wisma MLS, 31 Jln Tuanku Abdul Rahman, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel:(603) 2697 0708, 2697 0219 Fax: (603) 2697 0282 Email: caraminfo@caramasia.org URL: www.caramasia.org

CARAM Asia is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is an open network of 34 NGOs and CBOs working in some 17 countries. The CARAM Asia network is involved in action research, advocacy, coalition building and capacity building with the aim of creating an enabling environment to empower migrants and their communities to reduce all vulnerabilities including HIV and enhance their health rights

CARAM Asia Concludes A Successful 3rd General Assembly and elect its Board of Directors

Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM Asia) is proud to announce that it has held a very successful 3rd General Assembly which convened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from the 27th-28th October. This meeting represented an increase in the solidarity and cooperation amongst our members to further address the employment rights and living standards of migrant workers within the Asian region.

The regional network was initially established in 1997 as an approach to address the social issues of migration as direct response to these growing global phenomena. Since its inception the network has evolved to adapt to the emerging issues while staying true to its vision that migrant workers deserve the same human rights and protection mechanisms accomodated to nationals.

Over the last 12 years CARAM Asia has gone from strength to strength and has actively campaigned throughout the region to address the increased violations against migrant workers. This has been demonstrated by growing membership of the network who each seeks to actively to address special interventions for migrant populations at all stages of migration. Furthermore, CARAM Asia’s voice continues to be heard at both the regional and international levels.

The members at the General Assembly debated intensely its priorities, emerging issues and challenges faced over the last two years. As a result of this process, CARAM Asia has evolved its new programmatic areas for the coming future and these are the following focus of work;

1. Migrants Rights (Promotion and Protection)

2. Migrants, Health & HIV

3. Migration, Globalisation & Development

Furthermore, CARAM Asia is also proud to announce its seven new Board of Directors, who were elected by the participating members into the role of leadership.

1. Nabeel Rajab (Chairperson, Bahrain Center for Human Rights)

2. Bridget Lew (Treasurer, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics) Singapore

3. Brahm Press (Raks Thai Foundation, Thailand)

4. Irene Fernandez (Tenaganita, Malaysia)

5. Zia Awan (Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, Pakistan)

6. Manju Gurung (Pourakhi, Nepal)

7. Carmelita Nuqui (Development Action Women’s Network) Philippine

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that was established back in 2002. Despite an order by the authorities in November 2004 to close it, the BCHR is still functioning after gaining a wide internal and external support for its struggle to promote human rights in Bahrain. At its core, the group seeks to encourage and support individuals and groups to be proactive in the protection of their own and others' rights; and to struggle to promote democracy and human rights in accordance with international norms.

Raks Thai Foundation was established in 1997 as a civil society group to strengthen the capacity of the poor abd disadvabntaged communities to analyse the root causes and problems and determine suitable solutions and participate in development activities. Since 2003, the organisation has become the first member of CARE from a developing country seeking to analyse and relief and development programs in Thailand.

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economic (H.O.M.E): Since 2004, HOME has sought to provide direct assistance to migrant workers, victims of human trafficking and forced labour within Singapore. As part of its vision, HOME is committed to the principle that migration of people benefits the global society with a focus of the effects of migration within the context of Singapore.

Tenaganita: This organization was established in 1991 by Irene Fernandez to undertake research, advocacy and action to prevent, solve and address grave abuses that happen to migrants and refugees. At its core, the organization campaigns for the recognition of mmigrant rights and in doing so, Tenaganita continues to promote a culture where human rights are embraced, valued and protected.

Pourakhi: This NGO works to ensure the rights of Nepalese women migrant workers in the entire phase of foreign employment through the processes of information, counseling, advocacy and empowerment. Furthermore it seeks to act as a pressure group for the implementation of existing domestic laws and the ratification and implementation of international instruments concerned with the protection and promotion of the rights of women migrant workers.

Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid: LHRLA was formed to meet the ever-growing demands of those who cannot afford the expenses of litigation. Since its inception, the LHRLA has sought to provide direct legal aid in Pakistan by approaching law enforcement agencies, the D.I.G. police, the Home Secretary, the provincial governor and other highly placed officials with reports, petitions and statistics.

Development Action Women’s Network: The Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) is a non-government development organisation created in 1996 to assist Filipino women migrants in Japan and their Japanese-Filipino children (JFC) in the promotion and protection of their human rights and welfare. Through its work, DAWN hopes to create a society where women and men share equal opportunities for a just and humane living, creating empowered and self-reliant families in communities where each one cares for one another in the spirit of peace based on justice; and where migration is an option that is respected and protected.

31 Oct, 2009

U.S.State Dept.International Religious Freedom Report 2009 Bahrain


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor International Religious Freedom Report 2009 October 26, 2009

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. Article 22 of the Constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings, in accordance with the customs observed in the country. However, the Government placed some limitations on the exercise of these rights.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period; however, the Government continued to exert a level of control over Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. Outcries against government discrimination against Shi'a Muslims in certain fields continued. Members of other religious groups who practiced their faith privately did so without interference from the Government.

There were no reports of societal abuse or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. However, there were some reports of Sunni-Shi'a tensions.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 231 square miles and a population of 1.05 million. The population is 99 percent Muslim; Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Baha'is constitute the remaining 1 percent. Muslims belong to the Shi'a and Sunni branches of Islam, with Shi'a constituting between 60 and 70 percent of the citizen Muslim population.

Foreigners, mostly from South Asia and from other Arab countries, constitute an estimated 49 percent of the population. Approximately half of resident foreigners are non-Muslim, including Christians (primarily Roman Catholic, Protestant, Syrian Orthodox, and Mar Thoma from South India), Hindus, Baha'is, Buddhists, and Sikhs.

Much of the tension between Shi'a and Sunni Bahrainis stems from social and economic factors. Shi'a Muslims comprise the majority of the poor citizen population, and have a higher unemployment rate than Sunni Muslims, although many exceptions can be found, especially in several Shi'a merchant and scholarly families, and in older Sunni areas. Historically, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims lived in geographically separate villages, however intermingling between the sects has increased. Because of the Shi'a's generally lower socio-economic status, and the lower quality of government schools as compared to private schools, less wealthy Shi'a Muslims have less access to international-quality college- and graduate-level education.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, there were limits on this right.

The Constitution imposes no restrictions on the right to choose, change, or practice one's religion of choice, including the study, discussion, and promulgation of those beliefs. The Government observed and enforced these provisions. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or creed, including by private actors; however there is no further law to prevent discrimination, nor is there a procedure to file a grievance.

Shari'a law governs personal status and a person's rights can vary according to Shi'a or Sunni interpretation, as determined by the individual's faith or by the courts. Both Shi'a and Sunni women have the right to petition for a divorce. Religious courts grant the request in most cases but are not obligated to. Women of either branch of Islam may own and inherit property and may represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shi'a woman may inherit all property. By contrast, in the absence of a direct male heir, a Sunni woman inherits only a portion as governed by Sunni interpretations of Shari'a; the balance is divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased. A Muslim woman may legally marry only a Muslim man. Non-Muslim men often convert in connection with a planned marriage to a Muslim woman. The Constitution states that Islam is the state religion. The law gives the Government the authority to monitor sermons and prosecute clerics for inciting sectarianism or violence, but the Government did not prosecute any preachers for incitement during the reporting period.

The law prohibits anti-Islamic writings but imposes no other restrictions on religious expression or speech.

The Constitution states that Shari'a is a principal source for legislation. The civil and criminal legal systems consist of a complex mix of courts based on diverse legal sources, including Sunni and Shi'a Shari'a, tribal law, and other civil codes and regulations. Shi'a Shari'a judges were slightly more numerous than their Sunni counterparts. The Constitution provides for women's political rights. Shari'a law governs personal status.

The Government observes the following Islamic holidays as national holidays: the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Islamic New Year, and Ashura.

The Government allows religion-based, political NGOs to register as political "societies," which operate as parties with the legal authority to conduct political activities.

The law allows for religious publications and other religious media. The law does not restrict the distribution of religious media in general, so long as that media is not anti-Islamic. The law does not prohibit, restrict, or punish the importation, possession, or distribution of religious literature, clothing, or symbols. The law does not impose a religious dress code.

A senior Shi'a cleric meets, makes public statements, and interacts directly with senior Government officials, but did not register. The Government did not attempt to force the group to register.

Islamic studies are a part of the curricula in government schools and are mandatory for all public school students. The Maliki school of Sunni jurisprudence forms the basis for the decade-old curricula, which does not include the Ja'afari traditions of Shi'a Islam.

The Government does not designate religion or sect on national identity documents. While the birth certificate application records the child's religion, it does not record the sect. The actual birth certificate does not include this information.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, the Government placed limits on this right and continued to monitor and exert limited control over Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. Members of other religious groups practiced their faith without interference from the Government. These groups maintained their own places of worship and displayed the symbols of their religion, including crosses and statues of deities and saints.

Several Christian congregations remained unregistered. On May 14,2009, the Ministry of Social Development ordered six congregations, which it had instructed to register in January 2008 following neighbors' complaints about parking, to close down on May 14, 2009, after denying their registration applications. The Ministry denied registration to 10 other congregations that applied for registration.

Members of the Baha'i community reported they have not sought official recognition from the Government; however, the group maintained a functioning cemetery on land donated by the Government, as well as a Baha'i center they established in 1963, and land for a future Baha'i temple.

The Government funded, monitored, and closely controlled all official religious institutions, including Shi'a and Sunni mosques, Shi'a ma'tams (religious community centers), Shi'a and Sunni awqaf (religious endowments), and the religious courts, which represented both the Ja'afari (Shi'a) and Maliki (Sunni) schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs reviewed and approved all clerical appointments within both the Sunni and Shi'a communities. The Government rarely interfered with what it considered legitimate religious observances. The Government permitted public religious events, most notably the large annual commemorative marches by Shi'a Muslims during the Islamic months of Ramadan and Muharram, but police closely monitored such events during the reporting period.

The Government did not prohibit, restrict, or punish parents for raising their children in accordance with religious teachings and practices of the parents' choice. The Government did not require individuals to practice or affiliate with any religion. Noncitizens and immigrants faced no governmental difficulties in practicing their faiths.

Local bookstores displayed and sold Bibles and other Christian publications in addition to Islamic and other religious literature. Churches also sold Christian materials, including books, music, and messages from Christian leaders, openly and without restriction. Religious tracts of all branches of Islam, cassettes of sermons delivered by Muslim preachers from other countries, and publications of other religious groups were readily available. The Government authorized the publication and public discussion of a book by a Bahraini citizen on the Baha'i community in the country. On January 18, 2009 the Ministry of Culture and Information Affairs ordered the blocking of websites that incited sectarianism, and those that it deemed anti-Islamic or pornographic.

There were no reports that the Government monitored other minority religions. The Government attempted to restrain speeches and materials that fostered intolerance or hatred toward any particular religion or religious figures.

Shi'a were underrepresented in the Ministry of Education in both the leadership and in the ranks of head teachers who teach Islamic studies and supervise and mentor other teachers. At the secondary school level, out of more than a dozen Islamic studies head teachers, only two were Shi'a. Although there were many Islamic studies teachers who were Shi'a, school authorities discouraged them from introducing content about Shi'a traditions and practices and instructed them to follow the curriculum.

The Ministry of Information continued to ignore requests by the government-run TV station to broadcast Friday sermons live from Shi'a mosques, as it did from Sunni mosques.

The Government did not prevent or punish the importation, possession, or distribution of religious literature, clothing, or symbols.

The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs maintains program oversight on all citizens studying religion abroad. There were no restrictions on the number of citizens permitted to make pilgrimages to Shi'a shrines and holy sites in Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Government monitored travel to Iran and scrutinized carefully those who chose to pursue religious study there.

The Government did not punish links with coreligionists in other countries, although some officials expressed concern about Iran's influence on the Shi'a population. The Government did not require employees to take any kind of religious oath or practice elements of a particular faith, nor did it prevent them from displaying or practicing any elements of their faith.

Although there were exceptions, the Sunni Muslim citizen minority enjoyed favored status. Sunni citizens often received preference for employment in sensitive government positions, in the managerial ranks of the civil service, and in the military. Only a few Shi'a citizens held significant posts in the defense and internal security forces, although more were found in the enlisted ranks. The police force reported it did not record or consider religious belief when hiring employees, although Shi'a continued to allege they were unable to obtain government positions, especially in the security services, because of their sect. Shi'a were employed in some branches of the police, such as the Community Police and the Traffic Police, and, in at least one instance, were permitted to bear arms.

Curricula specialists in the Islamic Studies Department at the Ministry of Education's Curriculum Directorate were all Sunni. The Curriculum Directorate formed a separate committee of Shi'a teachers and clerics, along with members of the Curriculum Directorate, to develop the Islamic studies curriculum for the Ja’afari Institute, which is the only publicly funded institution in which teachers can legally discuss Shi'a beliefs and traditions. There were five registered Ja’afari Hawzas (Shi'a religious schools), and five registered Sunni religious schools.

There were 723 Shi'a mosques and 339 Sunni mosques registered with the Government. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJIA), the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, and the Royal Court provided Dinar 11,160,274 ($29,574,726.10) to fund 27 religious projects for Shi'a and 19 projects for Sunnis across the country. In newer developments, such as Hamad Town and Isa Town, which often have mixed Sunni and Shi'a populations, there tended to be a disproportionate number of Sunni mosques. In Hamad Town, where the population was estimated to be more than 50 percent Shi'a, there were 22 Sunni mosques and five Sunni grand mosques, but only 10 Shi'a mosques and only one Shi'a grand mosque, although a second one is near completion. This represents an increase of one Sunni mosque, five Shi'a mosques, and one Shi'a grand mosque from 2008. MOJIA approved an application for the Shi'a community to establish a ma'tam in Hamad Town; however, the land allocated was far from the rest of the community. As an alternative, Shi'a have converted parts of their homes into ma'tams. The Government provided land and funds to establish the Sunni Hamad Town Charity Fund, but no land was similarly granted to the Shi'a community, which had rented an existing building for the offices of the Shi'a Charity Fund.

Every religious group must obtain a license from the MOJIA operate. A religious group may also need approval from the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Information, and/or the Ministry of Education for some activities, such as opening a school. Christian congregations with current Ministry of Social Development registration operated freely and could offer their facilities to other Christian congregations that did not have their own places of worship. Four Sikh temples, several Hindu temples, and a Hindu crematorium function freely. The Hindu temple dedicated to Krishna has existed in Manama for over 150 years. While the Jewish community's only synagogue has been closed since 1948, the Jewish cemetery is operational. Holding a religious meeting without a permit is illegal; however, there were no reports of the Government denying religious groups a permit to gather during the reporting period. There are several unregistered Christian congregations.

In divorce cases, the courts routinely granted Shi'a and Sunni women custody of children until an age at which custody reverts to the father based on Ja'afari and Maliki Islamic law, respectively. In all circumstances except mental incapacitation, the father, regardless of custody decisions, retains the right to make certain legal decisions for his children, such as guardianship of any property belonging to the child, until the child reaches legal age. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father.

On January 13, 2009, the Government proposed a law to standardize personal status rulings for both Sunni and Shi'a courts. In response to Shi'a opposition to the proposed Ja'afari portion, the Government withdrew the combined draft and submitted only the Sunni-Maliki portion. On May 27, 2009, the King ratified the Sunni-Maliki portion of the law.

Civil courts use non-Muslims' faith to determine their personal status in regard to marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States or who had not been allowed to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

On January 4, MOJIA registered a Baha'i marriage as a civil marriage, not as Islamic.

During the reporting period, the Government allowed members of the Awali Community Church to visit Christian prison inmates monthly to provide clothing and Christian literature. Members of other churches also made periodic visits to Christian inmates.

The Ministry of Education worked with MOJIA to develop a new religious education curriculum to cover the five principal schools of Islamic jurisprudence and practices. The new curriculum contains content opposing extremism and, at the end of the reporting period, was pending government approval before being sent to Parliament for legislative approval.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Regional Sunni-Shi'a tensions had an impact on intra-Muslim relations. In general the Sunni Muslim minority enjoyed favored status. The private sector tended to hire Shi'a in lower paid, less skilled jobs. Educational, social, and municipal services in most Shi'a neighborhoods were inferior to those found in Sunni communities.

Converts to Islam from other religious groups were not uncommon, especially in cases of marriage between Muslim men and non-Muslim women. These converts were normally welcomed into the Muslim community. On the other hand, society traditionally does not tolerate converts from Islam to other religious groups. There were reports that families and communities often shunned these individuals and sometimes subjected converts to physical abuse. Some of these converts believed it necessary to leave the country permanently.

On March 7, 2009, Shi'a rioters threw Molotov cocktails at a Pakistani Sunni's truck as he drove past their village. The man died on March 21 from burns suffered in the attack. On April 11, the King granted amnesty to 178 individuals accused of security-related crimes, such as rioting, theft of a police weapon, arson, and assault on a police vehicle. Nearly all of those included in the pardon were Shi'a. Criminal charges were suspended against 27 Shi'a youth suspected in the March 7 Molotov attack and the April 2008 death of a Pakistani Sunni police officer, but they remained in custody pending an agreement on compensation for the next-of-kin. Problems continued, stemming primarily from the Government's perceived unequal treatment of Shi'a in the country and from street violence advocated by some Shi'a radicals.

The Islamic Enlightenment Society, a Shi'a group, held its annual conference in March 2009 with the announced aim of diffusing tension between Muslim sects. The society invited national Sunni and Shi'a scholars to participate. Bahraini independent Salafi (Sunni) religious scholars Sheikh Salah Al-Jowder and Sheikh Rashid Al Muraikhi, and Shi'a clerics Sheikh Isa Qasim and Abdulla Al Ghoraifi spoke about the importance of sectarian cooperation. Throughout the year, the society invited Sunni and Shi'a scholars from outside the country to participate in seminars and to speak about increased Islamic unity and awareness. Some Sunni scholars accepted these invitations.

The Hindu temple to Krishna allowed Hindus devoted to other deities and Sikhs to use its facilities for their religious rites throughout the year.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

U.S. government officials continued to meet regularly with representatives of human rights NGOs to discuss matters of religious freedom among other human rights-related topics. Regular meetings with human rights activists reaffirmed the U.S. government's commitment to religious freedom and other human rights-related matters.

To foster better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, the United States again sponsored the Ramadan visit of a prominent American imam; in 2008 it was Imam Bashar Arafat, President of Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation. He met with clerics, government officials, NGOs, students, and members of the public. He delivered public addresses, moderated roundtable discussions, and gave interviews on interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance. Imam Arafat also led prayers at the country's preeminent mosque.