29 Oct, 2008

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY : Slandering campaign

October 28, 2008 The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain. Description of the situation: The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about a media campaign waged against Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Dr. Abduljalil Al-Sengais, Head of the Human Rights Unit of the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy in Bahrain, and Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, former leader of the student organisation .

According to the information received, on October 16, 2008, a media campaign was launched by members of the elected house of representatives, writers, columnists, and some editors-in-chief of national newspapers[1] as well as regional ones[2], following the participation of the three human rights defenders in a briefing in Washington held on October 15, 2008 about the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain”.

The above-mentioned media as well as some preachers have been qualifying Mr. Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Sengais and Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja as “traitors”, “not loyalists to Bahrain” and “stooges of the United States”. The media further considered the briefing as “a call for foreigners to intrude in local affairs”, stigmatised the briefing as a call for sectarian sedition, and have been encouraging the authorities to take action against the three activists.

This briefing was organised by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission - recently created within the United States’ Congress - and the Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom. In the course of this event, Mr. Rajab insisted on the systematic discrimination faced by Shia citizens in high-ranking Government and public offices, as well as in the police and security forces. He also pointed out the unequal access of Shia to education. Dr. Al-Sengais addressed the religious discrimination in Bahrain, focusing on problems faced by Shia as regards the allocation of worship premises, education and access to public media. Ms. Al-Khawaja addressed the discriminatory practices suffered by Shia in Bahrain.

Recommendations were put forward at the end of the briefing, demanding the end of discriminations against Shia in Bahrain.

The Observatory is highly preoccupied with this hostile campaign targeting Mr. Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Sengais and Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, and urges the Bahraini authorities to ensure that an end be put to the harassment against them, in line with Article 12.2 of the of 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”.

Actions requested :

Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to :

i. Ensure that the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Al-Sengais and Ms. Al-Khawaja be guaranteed in all circumstances;

ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment against them as well as against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

iii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, and Article 12(2) mentioned above;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

Addresses:

· Cheikh Hamad bin Issa AL KHALIFA , King of Bahrain, Fax: +973 176 64 587

· Cheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tel: +973 172 27 555; Fax : +973 172 12 6032

· Cheikh Khalid bin Ali AL KHALIFA, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Tel: +973 175 31 333; Fax: +973 175 31 284

· Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: info@bahrain-mission.ch

***

Paris-Geneva, October 28, 2008

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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[1] Such as Al-Watan, close to the Royal Court, Al-Ayam, property of the King’s advisor, Akhbar Al-Khaleej, close to the Prime Minister, Al-Waqt and Al-Bilad.

[2] Such as Al-Khaleej and Khaleej Times.

22 Oct, 2008

BCHR:Nabeel Rajab's participation in congress breifing Religious Freedom for Shi’a in Bahrain:

Religious Freedom for Shi’a in Bahrain: "Systematic Suppression and Marginalization" Bahrain has a population of 1,050,000, according to a January 2008 government statement. The citizen population is 99 percent Muslim; Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Baha'is constitute the remaining 1 percent. Muslims belong to the Shiite and Sunni branches of Islam, with Shiite’s constituting an estimated 70 percent of the Muslim population . 1. Participation of Shi’a in the Political system:

While Shiite’s amount to approximately 70 percent of residential citizens they occupy only 13% of the high ranking positions in government institutions . The low percentage of Shiite’s in political institutions and high ranking positions does not reflect their entitlement amongst the top 30 high level graduates of public high school, which was 78% in 2007/2008 . It also does echo the proportion of Shiite’s in University of Bahrain, which was estimated to be close to 70 percent of Shiite’s in the general population .

Establishment Percentage of Shiite’s The Supreme Defense Council: The (SDC) is the highest level of decision making in regards to national defense and security . It consist of 14 members of the ruling family, who are the most influential personalities in the system including; the king, the Crown Prince, the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Royal Court and the heads of sovereign ministries . According to a report in 2006 by a former government consultant, Dr. Salah Albandar, the Supreme Council is responsible for the creation and supervision of a secret national security plan which considers Shiite’s as a major threat to the regime and establishes a secret web working on marginalizing Shiite’s in all aspects of life . 0% All high ranking positions at the: 1. Bahrain Ministry of Defense, 2. Bahrain Ministry of Interior, 3. Bahrain Ministry of the Cabinet Affairs, 4. General Organization for Youth and Sports, 5. Central Informatics Organization, 6. Survey and Land Registration Bureau, 7. Bahrain Royal Court and 8. Crown Prince Court 0% The Bahrain National Guard and the Special Security Force: The SSF consist of around 15,000 most of whom are newly naturalized tribal-Sunnis recruited from Yemen, Jordon, Pakistan and Syria, who are used mainly in suppressing demonstrations and protests in Shiite villages. 0% The Judiciary: The civil law courts, through their criminal and civil branches, adjudicate all civil and commercial cases . The criminal branch and the Attorney General Office are used affectively against Shiite activists. 5% The high ranking positions in the public sector: (Shiite proportion dropped from 18% in 2003 to 13% in 2008) 13% The Constitutional Court 18% The Executive Power - the cabinet: Only 4 out of 24 ministers are Shiite, while 12 (50%) of them are members of the ruling family including the prime minister and the heads of sovereign ministries. It is a further setback from 2002, when 7 out of 24 ministers were Shiite and 9 were members of the ruling Family. 17% The Legislative Power: the Council of Representatives: 17 Shiite’s out of 40 members who were elected based on gerrymandering and the use of the votes of thousands of newly neutralized non Shiite’s. As a result, Shiite representatives got 42.5% of seats despite the fact that they collected 62% of total votes. In 1973, the Shiite members in the National Assembly were 57%. Due to constitutional changes introduced by the current king, the Council of Representatives has no real legislative or monitoring power. 43% The Legislative: Shura Council- (19 Shiite’s out of 40 seats) appointed by the King. 48%

2. Geographic Sectarian Apartheid:

As a clear practice of segregation, Shiites are prohibited from inhabiting one of Bahrain's largest districts, Riffa, which consists of more than 40% of Bahraini land, in which a majority of the ruling family members reside . The Directorates of Muharraq city and the Capital Manama have declared restrictions on selling and buying lands in the old Muharraq and Hoora district in order to combat wider influence of Shiite’s.

3. Shiite children, at schools, are taught against their beliefs:

Islamic studies are mandatory part of the curriculum in government for all public and private schools. The Maliki school of Sunni jurisprudence forms the basis for the decades-old curriculum, which does not include the Ja'afari traditions of Shiite Islam . . As a result, Shiite children are obliged to learn Islamic studies according to another theology which labels Shiite as nonconformists. In May 2006, the minority Shiite members of the Council of Representatives (CR), made an attempt to reform the Islamic studies curriculum to include all schools of Islam, but was rejected by the Government and the majority of CR members.

Other Facts Regarding Discrimination against Shiite citizens :

4. The right to practice religious beliefs:

In new towns, which often have mixed Sunni and Shiite populations, such as Hamad Town and Isa Town, number of Shia mosques are disproportionate to their population. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has not finalized practical steps to respond to over two-decade application for the Shiite community to establish their only Ma'tam (community Center) in Hamad Town. As an alternative, individuals in the Shiite community have converted parts of their homes into Ma'tams.

Not all Shiite waqfs (Endowments) are well-endowed and able to fund mosque construction. New mosques are dependent upon government approval of land allocation. The government's approval of land allocation for mosques was not transparent and reportedly not proportionate to the Shiite community's relative population in the country.

During the year, the government permitted public religious events, most notably the large annual Shiite holiday of Ashura, but police closely monitor and limit these gatherings.

5. Job opportunities:

Discrimination against the majority Shiite population remains a problem. Non-Shia receive preference for employment in sensitive government positions and in the managerial ranks of the civil service. The royal family is Sunni, and the defense and internal security forces are predominantly Sunni. Although Shiite citizens hold very few posts in these forces, with few exceptions, positions are not high-ranking. In the private sector, Shiite’s tend to get employed in lower paid, less skilled jobs. Educational, social, and municipal services in most Shiite neighborhoods are inferior to those found in other communities. Although the percentage of Shiite students is close to the approximately 70 percent of Shiite population in the country, only about 40 percent of university faculty is Shiite. Shiite’s compose a high percentage of the country's unemployed.

6. Demographic Engineering:

There were many reports indicating that the naturalization process, resulting in the abnormal increase in the population, is politically driven to manipulate demographics for voting purposes and to keep Shiite’s out of the police and defense forces, which are dominated by naturalized Sunnis. Although naturalization requirements are clearly defined in law, adjudication of naturalization applications is neither transparent nor impartial. The government reportedly is more lenient with naturalization requests from expatriates in the security forces. Shiite’s and non-Arab applicants reportedly experience longer delays in the processing of their cases. The government occasionally grants citizenship to Sunni residents from neighboring countries. The government stated that some of the Saudis who had received citizenship were the grandchildren of Bahraini citizens who had immigrated to Saudi Arabia.

7. Gerrymandering: Manipulation of the Election:

The government drew the unified electoral districts for both the municipal council and the legislative elections to protect its interests by creating several districts with small populations likely to elect a Sunni candidate. In contrast, districts where a Shiite candidates are likely to win, were drawn to include large numbers of voters, a formula that diluted the voting strength of the Shiite community. According to voter lists for the elections, divergence in the electoral population per district is significant—the number of eligible voters per elected representative can vary by as much as a factor of 13. The election law prohibited speeches at most public locations and limited the areas where campaign material could be placed.

The law grants citizenship to applicants who have resided continuously in the country for 15 years, for Arabs, and for 25 years, for non-Arabs. However, there is a lack of transparency in the naturalization process, and there were reports that the citizenship law is not applied uniformly. For example, there are allegations that the government allows expatriate Sunni Arabs who had served less than 15 years in the security services to apply for citizenship. There are also reports of Arab Shiite’s who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab expatriates who had resided more than 25 years who have not been granted citizenship. The Ministry of Interior has acknowledged the naturalization of 5,000 people between 2003 and 2006.

8. Unrest and Violations of Civil Rights- during 2007:

During the year, there were reports of clashes between the government and elements of the Shiite majority population, who were often critical of the Sunni-dominated government. Problems continued to exist during the year, stemming primarily from the government's perceived unequal treatment of Shiite’s in the country. Many of these incidents involved Shiite protestors burning tires or throwing Molotov cocktails at security forces. There were reports that the security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas to break up some of these demonstrations, which Shiite protestors and other local human rights observers alleged lead to the death of a 31-year-old man after a December 17 protest.

On May 18, the king ordered the public prosecution to drop all charges against Hassan Mushaima, head of the Haq Movement; Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Director of the dissolved BCHR; and Shaker Abdulhussain, a Shi'a activist. Police arrested the men on February 2, and prosecutors charged them with inciting hatred, encouraging law-breaking, and publishing false news. The arrest sparked riots in several Shiite villages.

However, on December 17, a 31-year-old man, Ali Jasem, died after participating in a protest where Shiite activists clashed with security forces. Although the official autopsy reported that he had died of “acute cardiovascular and respiratory collapse,” local human rights observers alleged his death was linked to inhaling tear gas used to disperse demonstrators.

On December 24, according to the Associated Press, Hafez Hafez, a lawyer for some of the detainees who were arrested by police following the December 20 clashes between Shiite protestors and security forces, reported that the government refused to allow the detainees access to legal counsel or family members.

On May 19, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a seminar in support of political activists Hassan Mushaima and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. A number of MPs and Sunni and Shiite clerics were in attendance. Chairman of the Wa'ad Society Ebrahim Sharif reportedly suffered minor injuries.

On May 21, police broke up a gathering near the house of political activist Hassan Mushaima and arrested Ali Saeed al-Khabbaz and Hassan Yousif Hameed. According to a June 1st Human Rights Watch report, police beat Al-Khabbaz and Hameed while in custody. On June 7, both men were released.

On December 18 and 20, street clashes between Shi'a protestors and security forces also occurred. On December 20, according to press reports, approximately 500 protestors rallied over the December 17 death of Ali Jassem. The police reported that some attacked and severely beat a policeman and stole his service weapon. Protestors set a police vehicle on fire. Security forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. According to Reuters, during and following the clashes security forces arrested dozens of protestors, including opposition political activists. At year's end, fifteen individuals faced charges of arson, attempted murder of a police officer, and theft of a weapon.

The MOI reportedly told the owners of some venues to close their premises to prevent meetings from occurring, primarily at mosques and "ma'tams," or Shiite community centers. The number of times this happened was unknown.

16 Oct, 2008

Nabeel Rajab:Shia only holds 13% of the high official post in the country

Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain

The session was chaired by Congressman Frank Wolf who is chair of the Congressional Human Rights Commission at the United States House of representative. Congressman Wolf is a champion of Human Rights causes and long time advocate for Human Rights around the world. Congressman Wolf opened the session with strong and powerful remarks about the political situation in the country. The Congressman refer that reforms in Bahrain were nothing but a campaign of deceptions and disappointment especially the new imposed constitution that put all the powers in the hand of the King.

In addition, United States has a strong relationship with Bahrain and Congressman Wolf stated that such relationship should be used to influence issues of Religious Freedom and Human Rights. In addition, he personally is very disturbed by numerous reports that comes of credible organizations about the Religious Freedom situation in Bahrain and how the Al-Khalifa led government marginalize and systematically discriminate against the Shia in the country although they are the majority of the populations. Finally Congressman Wolf stated that when Congress returns in November the issues of Human Rights and Religious Freedom will be on the top of his agenda and he will be closely following the situation in Bahrain. Furthermore, this briefing will be the first of many others that are coming in the near future as issues of Bahrain going to be on the top of his agenda. A note that need to be mention that a session that is chaired by Congressman Wolf is something that should not be taken seriously because he only chair issues that are important. Then, the President of Bahrain center for Human Rights, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, talked about the systematic governmental policies of discrimination that is taking place in Bahrain under the Al-Khlifa ruling family. Mr. rajab gave several example of those policies and these are some of the highlights: · Shia only holds 13% of the high official post in the country · Shia citizens are not allowed to work in the Bahraini Army · Shia citizens are not allowed to work in the intelligence agency · Shia citizens are not allowed to work in the in police force · Shia in Bahrain are not allowed to include their religious believes in the school curriculum · Shia attendance in the University of Bahrain is above 70% while the majority of them are unemployed as a specific policy of the government. · The government is made it so difficult for the Shia youth to live in Bahrain where they are forcing them to leave Bahrain to neighboring countries for employment. In Conclusion Mr. Rajab stated that Bahrain is important to the United; thus, a peaceful Bahrain where the rights of the majority are protected and respected is very crucial to the United States. Therefore, he urged the member of Congress to use all the available tools to convince the US administration to put pressure on the Bahraini government and include Human Rights and Religious Freedom within it is Foreign Policy agenda toward Bahrain. After that, Dr. Abdul Jaleel Alsingace took the podium where he discussed different aspects of religious discrimination toward the Shia population in the country. This is in summary what Dr. Singace discussed: · There are 5 ministers out of 25 in the government cabinet. · The Shia mosques are neglected by the Bahraini government and it is almost impossible to get a permit to build a Shia mosque in the country. · Shia citizens cannot buy land or house in 48% of the country because the government refuses to allow Shia citizens to purchase land and houses on those areas; like East and West Riffa. · Shia are not allowed to study Islam according to their sect in the government schools. · Shia Friday sermons are completely neglected by the government media while Sunni sermons are aired live every Friday. · When it comes to religious program on the Television; Shia scholars are rarely invited and the government act if the Shia does not exist in the country. Then, Dr. Singace suggested the following recommendations: · Bahraini Shia should be treated as citizens of equal rights and not discriminated against in any form. · The right to exercise, teach and disseminate their theology should be respected and maintained. · Criminalizing all forms of discrimination. Issue and enforce a law · Establishing the basis of true representation and equality among citizens by involving them fairly in the Government. Re-plot electoral constituencies based on one-man-one vote system. · Shia children should be able to receive formal education to learn Shia jurisprudence and theology. · Pass a resolution in the House same like the one that was introduced in the Senate. · Open direct and clear communication channel with Bahraini government where issues of Human Rights and Religious Freedom are discussed more often. The last speaker was activist, Ms. Maryam AlKhawaja who brought her personal story and what does it mean to be a Shia young lady in Bahrain. She started by saying “I am here today not only for myself, but to speak for my brothers and sisters back in Bahrain who did not have the privilege of being in your company today. I am here to speak for my many friends who are easily classified as Shiite because of how they speak, their names, or how they look. I am here today, ladies and gentlemen, to speak for those who could not be here to speak for themselves.” Maryam was very effective in connecting to the audience as her speech was full of examples of a daily life of a young Shia Bahraini. At her conclusion she suggested that “It is you, ladies and gentlemen, members of the congress of the most influential country in the world, who are able to assist in bringing about times like these. These times will come when the administration of the United States of America decides to impose demands whenever signing agreements with the government of Bahrain, demands that call for the equality between the different religious sects in Bahrain and making it clear that there will be no collaboration between the two countries until the government in Bahrain instills a system which guarantees this equality. Your failure to act, ladies and gentlemen, will result in your assisting the government of Bahrain in perpetuating the inequality of their system and rule of law. The consequence of neglecting my request today will result in severe loss to US interests tomorrow.” The turnout was great especially this time of the year in Washington DC and the number of people who attended and the quality of discussion was great. Over 60 to 70 people came to the event and so many were standing because they were not enough chairs in the room. So many people asked questions and engaged in serious discussion about the topic. What is interested to mention is that the Bahraini Ambassador, Hoda Nonoo, herself was among the attendance; she set in the back seats and was quite and surprised and shocked by the how well the event turned out. In addition, so many Bahraini-Americans came to the event and showed support to the people of Bahrain and they promised to do everything possible to help their counterpart in Bahrain by pressuring the US government to force Bahrain to adapt real and genuine reforms. So many media groups attended the event and had interviewed with all the participants and recorded the whole briefing. Moreover, Mr Nabeel Rajab will be interviewed by the Alhurra television to talk about the briefing and Religious Discrimination in Bahrain. After the briefing, members of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain and Bahrain Center for Human Rights held an assembly outside the Bahraini Embassy where so many Bahraini-Americans attended and repeated slogans to support the indigenous movement in Bahrain to establish Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain; while the assembly was taking place many media sources came to interview the people who took place in the assembly and taped the event. At the end of the assembly Mr. Husain Abdulla gave the following speech: My friends let me begin by thanking you for coming to this assembly. Once again we are standing in front of the Embassy of Bahrain; because the Bahraini government is continuing its policies of sectarianism, discrimination, suppression of freedom of speech, dictatorship, and Human Rights violations toward the people of Bahrain. So many innocent Bahrainis who are freedom loving, democracy desiring, reformers are being tortured in the Bahraini prisons as we speak. We demand nothing short of their immediate release with full apology and complete compensation to them and to their families; because that is what an honorable and just government would do toward its citizens. Furthermore, I have to make it clear that we are gathering today to show our unwavering support to the people of Bahrain and their peaceful demands toward justice and democracy. People of Bahrain: keep up your peaceful struggle and do not think for a moment that your voice did not reach the freedom loving people around the world. Your voice, your struggle, and your demands, have reached Washington DC; and because of your resiliency the officials at the United States Congress seen the true and ugly face of the Al-Khalifa ruling tribes. Also, for the first time a Senate Resolution 619 was introduced in the United States Senate to support your effort to establish Democracy and justice for all in Bahrain. That is not all, we are just coming from a fully fledged briefing on Religious Discrimination and Human Rights Violations that was held in the US House of Representative where nothing was discussed but the atrocities that were committed against you by the Al-Khalifa government; and soon we will be carrying this discussion on your behalf into the Oval office in the White House. Now, I want to turn my attention for a minute to the Bahraini Ambassador Mrs. Hoda Nonoo. The Bahraini Jewish Community is outraged because you are representing and serving the same Al-Khalifa ruling family that one day forced the Bahraini Jewish Community to leave their country Bahrain; when they were living side by side of their other fellow Bahrainis. Mrs. Nonoo how dare you to serve an anti semantic Al-Khalifa family which committed many atrocities toward the Jewish community in Bahrain. Your act is unacceptable. Finally, People of Bahrain you control your future and I mean by that your political future. Do not think for a moment that you are weak or a lone; because you are not; and the reason behind that is your demands are just and peaceful. Because your believes and your demands are like the believes of Thomas Jefferson when he said “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” Change and waves of reforms and democracy are certain and there is no way that these waves are going to miss Bahrain; and the dream is no longer going to be a dream. The reality is very close and within reach. Our salute and respect to our friends in Bahrain in their peaceful struggle toward Democracy and Religious Freedom in their country.

Husain Abdulla Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain October 15, 2008

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11 Oct, 2008

"Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain."

October 9, 2008

Dear Colleague,

Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom for a briefing on the "Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain." The briefing, chaired by Rep. Frank Wolf, will be held at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, October 15, in 2168 Rayburn. It is open to the public.

This past June, Bahrain successfully completed its Universal Periodic Review for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Despite approval by the Council, concern still looms regarding Bahrain's commitment to human rights and religious freedom. Despite reforms decreed by King Shaikh Hamad bin 'Isa Al Khalifa in 2001-02, Human Rights Watch criticized new laws containing provisions that undermine human rights and the reform measures. Journalists also have questioned the government's sincerity as intra-religious political and social tensions continue to rise.

While Bahrain has been referred to as a model of democracy and reform in the Arab region, the majority Shiite population feel increasingly marginalized by the ruling Sunni minority. According to the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2008, government discrimination against Shiites has been found in certain areas, including the allocation of land for places of worship. The also report indicates that Shiites are underrepresented in the Ministry of Education, whereas Sunnis often receive preference for government employment, managerial rankings in the civil service, and in the military.

The president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), which documents religious freedom concerns in the country, was arrested in February. Later released, he spoke out against human rights abuses by the Bahraini government at the Universal Periodic Review session on Bahrain in Geneva; the BCHR now fears for his safety. Human rights advocates also have questioned the substantial population growth, reportedly 41 percent by government statistics, as rumors spread that the government is granting passports to Sunnis from other countries to increase their representation within Bahrain and force the Shiites into the minority.

Joining us to address these issues are experts from Bahrain including Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, founder and acting chairman of the BCHR; Dr. Abduljaleel Al Singace, assistant professor at the University of Bahrain and co-founder of the Al-Wefaq political society; Maryam Al Khawaja, former leader of the student organization AIESEC-Bahrain, and Dr. Toby Jones, assistant professor at Rutgers University and former contributor to the International Crisis Group reports on Bahrain.

Sincerely,

Frank R. Wolf James P. McGovern Trent Franks

Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress

11 Oct, 2008

Suspicions Regarding the Credibility of the Police Murder Case

Defense Lawyers Reveal Official Document Proving Death Before Alleged Murder Incident Individuals Accused of Burning a Police Car and Killing a Police Man are Exposed to Cruel and Inhuman Treatment

8 October 2008

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is concerned and has doubts about the case that the First Criminal Court, chaired by member of a ruling family Judge Sheikh Mohammed Al-Khalifa, has looking into since last April and which was filed by the Ministry of Interior against a group of youth from Karzakan area. The Ministry of Interior’s report stated that “a group of individuals targeted a police car affiliated to the ministry by using a Molotov cocktails and killed a policeman – of Asian nationality – and burnt the entire car, and injured the rest of the car members with minor injuries”. However, Mr. Bakhsh, the deceased policeman’s grandfather, stated to the press that his grandson was attacked with sharp tools and was beaten severely after being taken out of the car, and that he had serious injuries in the head and shoulder, as blood was seen coming out of his ears and nose when his corpse was being washed. This has raised suspicion in the alleged burning incident.

According to the Bahrain Center for Human Right’s information, the case’s defendants are known in their society to be activists in human rights committees concerned with various demands, and they organized a public debates, symposiums and protests about political and economic rights.

The defendants stated to the judge in several court hearings that they were being exposed to cruel and inhumane treatment during the interrogations of the case or while they were being held in the detention centers. These torture claims were verified by the defendants’ families to the local press. The defendants also told the judge the names of the people responsible for torturing them in the detention centers.

In the court hearing which was held on 6 October 2006, the defense lawyers disclosed an official document released by the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice regarding the deceased inheritance – Majid Asghar Ali – CPR no. 811111717, the former employee in the Ministry of Interior number 15316. The official document, and it is in the form of a letter, is from Mr. Khalid Ali Mohammed Al-Manae – Manager of the Department of Financial and Administrative Affairs at the Ministry of Interior – numbered AE/AM/5-14/127 (أع/أم/5-14/127 ) dated 25 May 2008 and directed to the Director of the Department of Courts at the Ministry of Justice, an attachment of a cheque number 078687 issued by the Ministry of Interior and dated 13 December 2007 and which is final leave entitlements of the deceased – Majid Ali Asghar – of a value of around 1060 B.D.

According to the lawsuit no. 1/2008/435, those accused of killing a policeman and burning the car and they are 19 defendants, were accused of instigating this attack on the 9th of April 2008 which proves that the policeman died or was killed before the incidents several months before the mentioned incident took place.

The Bahraini Ministry of Interior stated in a press conference held after the court hearing and the presentation of the document that, “The Ministry discovered a misprint in the document which is the policeman’s date of death, as the date that was inserted accidentally in the document and is the date of death of another policeman”.

Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, stated in a comment about this document that, “The defense lawyers raised suspicions regarding the credibility of this case, which was clouded with uncertainty since the beginning. This is due to the deceased’s grandfather’s statements to the Bahraini press, the eye-witnesses account dismissing the official story, up until the surfacing of this official document that was released by the defense.”

Rajab added, “The Ministry of Interior should stop practicing torture to extract forced and not true confessions just to maintain a good image before the public opinion, and it should initiate an urgent investigations in those claims”.

It is worth noting that the Special Security Forces made up of foreign forces used excessive force against the defendants and their families inside the court in the previous hearing, which led to the falling of some of the defendants to the ground.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights asks the concerned parties to urge the authorities in Bahrain to:

• Create an unbiased committee, which includes civil society institutions, to look into the document issued by the Ministry of Interior. • Investigate the defendants’ claims of being exposed to cruel and inhuman treatment. • To end the arbitrary detention, torture, inhuman treatment and unfair trials and its use as a tool to suppress the practice of the most basic of peoples rights and peaceful struggle. • Reform the Judiciary, Public Prosecution and Penal Laws in order to guarantee fair trial

8 Oct, 2008

Oil company whistleblower dismissed for denouncing corruption, communicating with media, says BCHR

(BCHR/IFEX) - BCHR is alarmed to learn that Abbas Al-Omran, a unionist and labour rights defender, was dismissed by his employer, the Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco), which is engaged in the oil industry and under the control of the local oil and gas authorities. The BCHR believes that the dismissal is linked to Al-Omran's communications with the local media, blowing the whistle on corruption in the company.

Al-Omran, a design engineer by profession, waged a media campaign, using the local press and local popular electronic forums, to expose corruption in Bapco. He further circulated press releases, news and other relevant documents to his fellow employees. In September 2008, Al-Omran was officially banned from using the company's e-mail to communicate with his superiors or colleagues. Use of external e-mail providers is barred and controlled by the Bapco authorities.

Prior to his dismissal, Al-Omran received official threats ordering him to stop communicating with the media. He did not comply with the order. As a result of his efforts to combat corruption inside Bapco, Al-Omran has faced various forms of harassment, having been denied equal opportunities and financial allowances, in contrast to his colleagues at the company.

"It is a strange attitude by Bapco Management, previously known for its openness and support for union work," BCHR President Nabeel Rajab said. "Mr Al-Omran is a well known human and labour rights activist, and treating him in this manner is not acceptable," he further elaborated.

This is not the first time that unionists and labour rights activists have been banned from accessing a means of communication. Jamal Ateeq and Najeya Abdulghaffar of the Bahrain Postal Union board of directors, as well as other members of the union, were suspended from their positions, harassed and threatened for using media and speaking to the public about their rights and violations committed by their employer.

"Preventing Mr. Al-Omran from expressing himself violates Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and confirms that the authorities are systematically targeting all forms of expression in Bahrain," Rajab stated. "We deplore Bapco's decision to expel Mr Al-Omran in reprisal for expressing his views and demand that the decision be reconsidered, resulting in his reappointment. We call for an end to the silencing of activists."

The BCHR expressed concerns about the actions of the oil and gas authorities, apparently aimed at silencing and intimidating unionists and rights activists who communicate with the public using media and electronic means.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the authorities: - calling for the reinstatement of Al-Omran in his previous position and for the lifting of all administrative clamps and restrictions which prevent him from communicating with the public - asking them to introduce legislative changes to guarantee the right of labour rights defenders to freely express their views

APPEALS TO: His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Manama, Bahrain

His Excellency Abdulhusain Mirza Oil and Gas Minister Manama-Bahrain Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

MORE INFORMATION:

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

1 Oct, 2008

Website accused of violating press code, BCHR concerned that move is aimed at silencing critical voices

(BCHR/IFEX) - In a statement sent to the press, the Bahrain Ministry of Information (MOI) announced that it has referred one public website to the Public Prosecution (PP) for violating the 2002 Press Code. "Al-Ayam" newspaper reported that the public forum in question is known as the "National Edifice Forum (NEF)", http://www.wattani.net

In the press release, MOI Undersecretary Hamad Al-Mannaei said that the website was referred to the PP for violating provisions of the Press, Printing and Publishing Law. He stressed that the ministry will not hesitate to use its legal authority to refer those who violate the basic principles of circulation and dissemination of public publications, to face the proper legal measures. Al-Mannaei further called up on the web administrators to abide by the law and to not publish in contravention of its provisions.

According to BCHR's information, prior to this escalation in dealing with public web sites, the MOI took measures to administratively prevent access to the NEF from inside Bahrain, without providing an explanation of the violations committed by the web site administrators. The ban was executed by the Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco) - the main internet provider in Bahrain - without prior warning, or any communication with the web administrators advising them of their alleged violations. More over, the MOI press release does not explicitly state the type of violations and the provisions of the Press Code which were violated.

BCHR president Nabeel Rajab said that in the light of this incident, "We are not amazed to learn about the act of the MOI." He further added, "NEF, similar to the web site of the BCHR and many others, is the subject of this administrative ban and direct lack of access by the public from inside Bahrain. It is ridiculous that there are officials in the local authorities who still think that by imposing a ban on a website by the local internet provider, they can prevent people from accessing any site they wish to browse".

NEF is a well known public site, recognized for its swift coverage of events and news, the publication of articles and press statements by non-governmental organizations which have been censored by the authorities, and an electronic space for dialogue, archiving and advertisements.

The local authorities have not abated from using the grip of the 2002 Press Code and enlisting the help of the PP to exert tough censorship measures on all forms of expression, victimizing web sites which touch on subversive or sensitive issues by introducing a local ban. This government tactic does not recognize or differentiate between the web sites of human rights organizations, public forums, religious, liberal, news or even dissident sites. The treatment is the same and it amounts to a complete administrative ban.

Rajab added, "The act of the Bahraini authorities violates Article 19 of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), especially paragraph 2, which states that 'Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice'."

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the authorities calling on them to: - fulfill their obligations to respect all forms of freedom of expression as laid out by the international charters and declarations - lift all measures which result in banning all electronic sites related to public, cultural and human rights affairs as regards Bahrain or other topics - amend the 2002 Press Decree Code so that it conforms with international human rights standards

APPEALS TO: His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Manama, Bahrain

His Excellency Mr Jihad Kamal Minister of Information Manama-Bahrain Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

MORE INFORMATION:

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

23 Sep, 2008

A writer and reformist banned from addressing public issues and publishing his speeches in media

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is gravely concerned about the continued clamp down on freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain which resulted in preventing Sheikh Salah Al-Jowder from distributing his sermons for Friday prayers to the local newspapers.

The head of the of Sunni Endowment (Waqf) Department of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, a member of the Royal family, sent an ultimatum to the Qalali Mosque Imam, Sheikh Salah Al-Jowder because of his "political" sermons in Friday prayers, as well as to its dissemination to the public in Bahraini newspapers.

Sheikh Salah Al-Jowder sent a statement to the press briefing the instructions passed to him, and asking to stop publishing his speeches starting last Friday. It is to be mentioned in earlier occurrence, Sheikh Al-Jowder had suspended his speeches in Tariq ibn Ziyad Mosque, without explaining the reasons behind his move. Sheikh Al-Jowder was then transferred to the present Mosque.

It is worth mentioning that Sheikh Salah Al Jowder, in addition of being a writer in Al-Ayam newspaper, is one of the distinguished reformist speakers among Sunni Bahrainis. His speeches have emerged over the past years touching over issues of concern to the public and society. He is known for his consistent call for religious tolerance, religious rapprochement between people with different religious, ideological, ethnic backgrounds as well as of his disapproval to hatred and sectarian sedition. Al-Jowder also has distinct relationship with all other sects and various societal groups. Last week and in with reference to the Bahraini Press Code, Sheikh Al Jowder stated that: «We want a modern press law, not a law which imposes royalties and fines for muzzling mouths and tongues."

Nabeel Rajab- President of BCHR- commented on this case, stating that "Such practice is a blatant violation of freedom of expression and breach of the second paragraph of Article 19 of the ICCPR which states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice". "The Authorities should left its clamb on freedom of expression and allow reformists, writers, and activists to freely express their views and communicate with public in any means they deem viable", Mr Rajab added.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to the Bahraini Authorities asking for:

1 - lifting the ban (legal, administrative or otherwise) on freedom of expression of reformists, writers, activists

2- permit Sheikh Salah Al Jowder to publish his sermons in the local media.

APPEALS TO:

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Manama, Bahrain

His Excellency Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa

Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs

Manama-Bahrain

Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

21 Sep, 2008

Bahrain in the US International Religious Freedom Report 2008

Bahrain International Religious Freedom Report 2008 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor The Constitution states that Islam is the official religion and that Shari'a (Islamic law) is a principal source for legislation. 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 this right.

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. 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 occasional reports of incidents between the Government and elements of the Shi'a majority population, who were often critical of the dominant position of Sunnis in the country. Problems continued to exist, stemming primarily from the Government's perceived unequal treatment of Shi'a in the country.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues 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 1,050,000, according to a January 2008 government statement. The citizen 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 an estimated 70 percent of the 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.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution states that Islam is the official religion of the country and also provides for freedom of religion; however, there were limits on this right. Anti-Islamic writings are prohibited. The Government allows religion-based, political nongovernmental organizations to register as political "societies," which operate somewhat like parties with the legal authority to conduct political activities. Parliamentary and municipal elections were held in 2006 and all political societies participated, including the largest Shi'a political society, which had boycotted the previous parliamentary elections in 2002. Of eligible voters, 73 percent participated in the elections.

The Government does not designate religion or sect on national identity documents. Upon the birth of a child, parents applying for a birth certificate are asked to provide the child's religion, but not the child's sect. The government-issued birth certificate does not include this information.

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

Every religious group must obtain a license from the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJIA) to 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 that are registered with the Ministry of Social Development operated freely and were allowed to offer their facilities to other Christian congregations that did not have their own places of worship. Four Sikh temples and several Hindu temples are allowed to function freely. 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, and the Government pressed two of these congregations to register in response to community complaints about parking.

The High Council for Islamic Affairs reviews and approves all clerical appointments within both the Sunni and Shi'a communities and maintains program oversight on all citizens studying religion abroad.

The Ministry of Interior reported that it had recruited Shi'a into nonmilitary security agencies during the reporting period.

In April 2007 officials in the Ministry of Education announced that the Ministry, in conjunction with the MOJIA, was developing a new religious education curriculum to be taught in all public schools. According to the Undersecretary of Islamic Affairs, the new curriculum was expected to focus on practices in Islam and jurisprudence and would contain content opposing radicalism and extremism. The Undersecretary for Islamic Affairs reportedly stressed to the Ministry of Education that the new curriculum should be inclusive of the convictions of all branches of Islam. Parliament has not yet approved the new curriculum, and it was not implemented by the end of the reporting period.

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

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 (Islamic law), tribal law, and other civil codes and regulations. The number of Shi'a Shari'a judges was slightly higher than the number of their Sunni counterparts. Although the Constitution provides for women's political rights, Shari'a governs personal status.

A person's rights, especially in personal status law, can vary according to Shi'a or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, 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 obliged 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. In 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.

In divorce cases the courts routinely grant 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.

There are 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 monitors travel to Iran and scrutinizes carefully those who choose to pursue religious study there.

The law does not prohibit conversion from one religion to another.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contribute to the generally free practice of religion; 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 who practiced their faith privately do so without interference from the Government and were permitted to maintain their own places of worship and display the symbols of their religion, including crosses and statues of deities and saints.

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 waqfs (religious endowments), and the religious courts, which represented both the Ja'afari (Shi'a) and Maliki (Sunni) schools of Islamic jurisprudence. 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.

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.

Curriculum 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.

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 21 Sunni mosques and 5 Sunni grand mosques, but only 5 Shi'a mosques and no Shi'a grand mosques. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs 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 has rented an existing building for the offices of the Shi'a Charity Fund.

Members of the Baha'i community reported that although they have not sought official recognition from the Government in many years, the Government did not interfere in their worship or gatherings. The community organized a cultural conference in October 2007 to teach about their faith. Under the law, the Government did not recognize Baha'i wedding ceremonies but recognized civil marriages abroad. The Government authorized the publication and public discussion of a book by a Bahraini on the Baha'i in the country.

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. In November 2007 the Ministry of Information implemented a new policy authorizing publication of several previously banned books that covered sensitive topics. The Ministry of Information removed blocks from many Internet sites considered antigovernment or anti-Islamic, although some sites remained difficult to access.

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 does from Sunni mosques.

Although there were exceptions, the Sunni Muslim minority enjoyed a favored status. Sunnis often received preference for employment in sensitive government positions, in the managerial ranks of the civil service, and in the military. Shi'a citizens did not hold significant posts in the defense and internal security forces, although they were found in the enlisted ranks. In recent years the Ministry of Interior has made efforts to reform hiring practices and has increased the hiring of Shi'a citizens. In 2004 the Ministry of the Interior established a community policing program to place Shi'a men and women officers on the streets in Shi'a neighborhoods; at the end of the reporting period there were 436 officers in this program.

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 of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In April 2008 the King selected the only Jewish member of the upper parliamentary house, the Shura Council, as the new ambassador to the United States. That member, along with one Christian member, had been among those appointed to the upper house by the King in December 2006. Members chose the Christian member to be the second deputy speaker for the Shura Council. She is also one of the country's four representatives to the Arab Parliament. One Christian municipal council candidate stood for election, but he was defeated.

In April 2007 the Bahrain Businesswomen Society initiated a public awareness campaign on family law by sponsoring a panel discussion, the first public event on the topic in several months. The issue was not raised in any significant way during the November/December 2006 elections, despite an awareness campaign by the Supreme Council for Women in the fall of 2005 and seminars by civil society groups, which highlighted the need for a family law. This was followed by public debate and rallies both in favor of and against such a law.

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.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Regional Sunni-Shi'a tensions had an impact on intra-Muslim relations. In general the Sunni Muslim minority enjoyed a 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. Some members of the Christian community reported receiving anonymous threats.

There were occasional reports of incidents between the Government and elements of the Shi'a majority population, who were often critical of the dominant position of Sunnis in the country. Problems continued to exist, stemming primarily from the Government's perceived unequal treatment of Shi'a in the country.

The Islamic Enlightenment Society, a Shi'a group, held its annual conference in March 2008 with the announced aim of diffusing tension between Muslim sects. The society invited national Sunni and Shi'a scholars to participate. The keynote speaker was Bahraini independent Salafi (Sunni) religious scholar Sheikh Salah Al-Jowder. 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.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Sada Cumber, visited Bahrain on April 27, 2008, in part to further this discussion.

U.S. government officials continued to meet regularly with representatives of human rights nongovernmental organizations 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.

With U.S. government funding, Arab Civitas continued to help the Ministry of Education develop a civic education program for public schools that includes lessons on human rights and tolerance. In January 2008, 56 local teachers participated in a 2-day training session on how to integrate Arab Civitas into their lesson plans.

To foster better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, the United States again sponsored the Ramadan visit of a prominent American imam; in 2007 it was the Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He met with clerics, government officials, and members of the public. He also delivered lectures and gave interviews to the local media promoting tolerance and moderation.

Released on September 19, 2008

17 Sep, 2008

URGENT ACTION NEEDED: Human Rights Activist Fired after Exposing Corruption

Human Rights Activist Fired after Exposing Corruption Threats of Arrest by Police after 24 hour sit in www.bahrainrights.org BCHR Ref: 08091600

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is highly concerned upon receiving news that the prominent human right activist and unionist Mr. Abbas Al Omran, member of the Bahrain Centre for Human rights and former member of the BAPCO www.bapco.net Workers Union, was fired today from his job. The Centre fears that this step taken by BAPCO (Bahrain Petroleum Company) comes as retaliation to Mr. Abbas’s activities and is related to Mr. Abbas’s exposure of members of the workers union and his allegation that they were receiving bribes from the company. In 2006 Mr. Abbas sent a letter to the company with information about these alleged bribes demanding answers, and he has been harassed ever since. In a recent letter about the harassments he has been exposed to, Mr. Abbas wrote “My isolation in this situation makes me exposed to revenge and spiteful actions especially considering my trade union activities and my insistence on exercising my rights.”

Since the news of his dismissal, Mr. Abbas has been holding a sit in outside the company as a protest to the unjust decision. The police observing the sit-in have already threatened to arrest Mr. Abbas, they have denied him the right to display his banners, and will not allow more than three family members or supporters to join him.

“Targeting human rights activists and unionists and cutting off their income because of their activities, and then fabricating reasons for those unjust actions, is not only uncivilized but also immoral and does not beseem a big and known company which should respect the rights of their employees. This will have a very negative influence on the company’s reputation.” Nabeel Rajab, president of the BCHR

The BCHR requests your urgent intervention in insuring the safety of Mr. Omran and calls for the following:

1. That Mr. Omran be reinstated immediately. 2. That his allegations of corruption are investigated by an objective third party 3. That human rights activist and unionists are protected 4. That the police cease to harass activists and avoid intervening on behalf of the company. 5. That the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions speaks out and be actively involved in defending the rights of unionists.

For further information and details on this case kindly contact

1. Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR on (00973) 39633399 2. Abbas Al-Omran, (00973) 39875458