4 Dec, 2008

Bahrain: Travel restrictions on human rights defender, Abdulghani Al-Khanjar

Front Line is concerned following reports received of a travel ban imposed on human rights defender, Abdulghani Al-Khanjar who was refused entry to Qatar at Doha Airport on 2 December 2008.

Further Information Abdulghani Al-Khanjar has reportedly been prevented from entering Qatar and the other Gulf States due to his presence on a list due that includes his name, along with other activists, that was issued and distributed by the Ministry of Interior in Bahrain. Abdulghani Al-Khanjar is the spokesperson for the Bahraini National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture. Front Line believes that Abdulghani Al-Khanjar has been targeted as a result of his legitimate work in defence of human rights, in particular his work to help the victims of torture in Bahrain. Front Line is concerned that the travel restrictions that has been imposed against Abdulghani Al-Khanjar form part of an ongoing trend of harassment against human rights defenders in Bahrain.

http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1658

3 Dec, 2008

Visiting human rights organizations should be aware of arranged boasting and polishing press interviews

Local Authorities tailor human rights organizations visits to extract false statements about freedom of expression in Bahrain The sources of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) affirmed a funded scheme of inviting some of the regional and international human rights organizations to meet with Bahraini officials and extract statements from them which are used to polish the image of freedom of expression and press in the country.

In a recently published interview with Mr. Nedham Assaf- President of Amman Center for Human Rights Studies, he commended the level of media freedoms in Bahrain, and criticized those who disagree with the Government, without making a reference to reports by local and international organizations regarding the laws which violate basic rights, the constraining practices for liberties, the hard grip over media (TV, Radio and Press), censorship on daily newspapers and barring access to a large number of websites.

According to the published interview with Al-Wasat newspaper, Mr Assaf, who visited Bahrain through an official invitation by the Bahraini Ministry of Information, stated that “Bahrain has a good atmosphere of freedom of press, and a wide space for freedom of expression”.

Reporters without Borders sent a letter on June 26, 2008 to the Bahraini Minister of Information Jehad BuKamal stating that, "the Bahraini journalists are still exposed to imprisonment because of their writings, and the administrative decisions that permit the closing down of websites are still in effect." The organization concluded its letter by saying that, "the 5th article excludes electronic publications from the press law, although it does not seem necessary for us to have a special law for the Internet. It is possible to apply the Press Code No. 47 of 2002 for the entire print press, in disregard of the nature of the press. We finally remind you of our persistence on liberating the audio-visual sector. It is not possible to expand the space for liberties, which you are striving to achieve, without putting an end to state monopoly for this sector."

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights calls its colleagues in the Amman Centre for Human Rights Studies to look at the international reports on liberties in Bahrain, and not to fall into the scheme of promoting countries which violate freedom of expression, press and media. The Government, when inviting officials of these organizations to Bahrain, it tailors and arranges interviews which are with pro-government figures and institutions (GONGOS), while it prevents them from meeting with independent NGOs and civil societies.

30 Nov, 2008

Public Relations will not Resolve Sectarian Discrimination- Patton Boggs is the lobbying group for the government in the USA

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights notes the recent appointment of law firm Patton Boggs as a lobbying group for the Bahraini government in the USA. According to the Washington Intelligence Online Report, the Bahraini authorities have hired the Democrat lobbyists, "essentially to say the Shi'ites are getting a fair shake in Bahrain".

"Lobbying is of course a legitimate practice and powerful tool in the American system," Bahrain Centre for Human Rights President Nabeel Rajab said.

"What concerns us is that the issue the government will be lobbying on - discrimination against the Shia majority in Bahrain - and the approach the Bahraini authorities have taken towards this issue. "This action shows us that the government has full intentions to continue with its policies of sectarian discrimination, marginalization and disenfranchisement of a large percentage of the population.

"Instead of putting money into tackling these problems on a local scale by addressing issues of poverty, the national housing shortage, unemployment and discrimination, the government has chosen to put money into a public relations venture, presumably to cover up these problems in the face of the international community."

Facts on Sectarian Discrimination in Bahrain (taken from the BCHR Shadow Report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination):

+ Discrimination against the Shia is institutionalized at the highest level of government office

+ Although Shia citizens account for at least 70 % of the population, they hold less than 13 % of top ranking positions in Ministries

+ A report revealed in 2006 by former government consultant Dr Salah Al Bander revealed the adoption of a national programme to illegally naturalize Sunnis from tribal groups in the region in order to alter the demographic make-up of Bahrain's population

+ Permits to establish Shia places of worship are regularly denied

+ The religious national curriculum does not teach about practices and beliefs of Shia Islam

+ In order to maintain sectarian segregation, Shias are denied the right to buy land in certain areas of the country, including the area of Riffa in which most of the ruling family have settled

Although the Bahraini government has ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it cannot be invoked in Bahraini courts.

25 Nov, 2008

BCHR Lawyer subjected to search and interrogation at the Airport

Bahrain: Fear of breach of Clients as well as BCHR Privacy resulting from copying information from his laptop and cell phone:

Ref: 08110700 The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, is highly concerned about the new practice of targeting and harassing human Rights defenders, as the Bahrain Authorities apprehended Mr Mohammed Majeed Aljeshi at Bahrain International Airport during which his cell phone and laptop were confiscated in a clear intention of copying information. Mohammed Aljesshi is a lawyer who has been involved in defending many cases of detained human rights defenders during the last two years in cooperation with the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the relatives of detainees. Mohammed Aljeshi told BCHR that on Monday 3rd of November 2008, he was stopped at the immigration check point leaving Bahrain to Geneva to attend a special training on UN mechanism, and was surrounded by 5 security men in plain clothes. They took him by force to an isolated room, prevented him from using his mobile, and took away both his mobile and laptop for over an hour. The men, who ar suspected to be members of the National Security Apparatus, were observed to be taken instructions over the phone from a higher authority. During the interrogation, Mr Aljishi was asked about his work as a lawyer and who planned his trip to Geneva. In protest their unacceptable actions, Mr Aljishi refused to answer any question unless the security individuals reveal their identity and the reason behind what they did. They responed that they have instructions not to answer any questions and that he could ask the Public Relations at the Ministry of Interior when all of this had finished. One of them told Mr Aljishi that he is on a special security list. After the interrogation, Mr Aljishi was given back his mobile and laptop, and was allowed to continue his trip. He noticed that reports in his laptop related to the BCHR were opened as well as a video film presented as evidence to the court case of five Human rights defenders, appealing against their prison sentence . Mohammed told the BCHR that he had been under surveillance in the last few months and was once prevented from attending a court session, an incident strongly protested against by the Bahrain Bar Society. Mr Aljishi was never stopped or searched when leaving or coming back to the country. BCHR contemplates that it might be the information, the security Authority thought he might have in relation to court cases or human rights network and activities that may have instigated this search and interrogation. "It is also a strong message to me and to other human rights defenders", he said. The BCHR calls for addressing the Bahraini Authorities that they: 1. Put an end to the surveillance and the systematic harassment of Human Rights activists in Bahrain. 2. Insure the protection of the privacy of human right activists, whether related to their personal information or that of their work with human rights organization. 3. Introduce a legislation to protect all human rights defenders on the basis of the UN declaration of Human Rights defenders.

24 Nov, 2008

Arrest of Former Prisoner at Guantanamo by the Saudi authorities

Former Prisoner at Guantanamo Bay

The Saudi Security Arrest a Bahraini Citizen on King Fahad Causeway

Manama – 23 November/2008 The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is deeply concerned at information received about the arrest of Bahraini citizen Abdullah Majid Al-Nuaimi on October 29, 2008 by the Saudi authorities as he was entering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia via the King Fahad causeway which connects Bahrain with Saudi Arabia. Mr Al Nuaimi was then taken to an unknown destination. Since his arrest he has not been allowed to meet with any family members, nor allowed to hire or meet an attorney. The Saudi authorities have as yet failed to release charges against him. Abdullah Al-Nuaimi (age 26), a father of two and an electrical contractor, was held at Guantanamo Bay with 5 other Bahraini citizens for almost four years after being arrested at the Pakistan-Afghan border in November 2001. He was returned to Bahrain as a free man on November 5th 2008. Al Nuaimi has previously described how he was tortured by the American authorities at the maximum security prison in Cuba. Since his release, security authorities in Bahrain have called him in for questioning on several occasions and until very recently he was banned from travelling outside the country.

It is worth mentioning that the release of Mr Al Nuaimi from Guantanamo Bay came after a wide-scale local, regional and international campaign for the release of all detainees in Guantanamo and in the United States' secret prisons spearheaded by the BCHR.

The campaign was established by liasing with a large number of attorneys in the United States to represent Arab detainees in US Federal Courts and by working with international organizations in order to pressure the American government to close down the infamous prison.

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan who has been instrumental in representing the interests of the Bahraini nationals was locked up in Guantanamo Bay said ”Abdulla spent years in Guantanamo without any due process. As such, I can only hope that he is treated fairly by Saudi authorities and released immediately if - as news reports suggest - he was arrested simply because he drove from Bahrain to Saudi”.

Initially the Bahraini authorities failed to play their part in pushing for the release of their citizens. However, following public pressure from the American lawyers, NGOs, and support from members of the House of Representatives the government began diplomatic negotiations after two years of the detainees' imprisonment. It should be noted that the Bahraini government has pledged its support in assisting its citizens released from Guantanamo in re-establishing normal lives on their return through financial support and help with social integration. However, since the return of the detainees the government has failed to fulfill the promise of support and rehabilitation it previously stated in official releases and the local media.

Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights stated, "While we fully respect and appreciate our brothers in Saudi Arabia, we do not accept for any of our citizens to be arrested in this arbitrary manner, which violates the simplest international norms. Today there are international standards and charters that should be respected as part of every country's role in the international community."

The Saudi authorities, in their arbitrary arrest of Mr Al-Nuaimi violated the ninth article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile," and the fourth article as well of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment which states that, "any form of detention or imprisonment and all measures affecting the human rights of a person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be ordered by, or be subject to the effective control of, a judicial or other authority." "We are also raising questions about the role of the Bahraini government in this arrest. We call on the government to take immediate diplomatic action on behalf of one of their citizens," Mr Rajab added.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights calls for: 1. The Saudi authorities to provide immediate legal guarantees for the detainee, including allowing him to hire an attorney and meet his family and to release the charges for his arrest. 2. The Bahraini authorities, as promised earlier, to provide financial and emotional support to all the Bahraini prisoners that were released from Guantanamo Bay in order to facilitate them in maintaining a normal life.

18 Nov, 2008

Minister of Information replaced following TV programme critical of ruling elite corruption

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has learned that the Bahraini Minister of Information, Jihad Bu-Kamal, has been replaced by Shaikha Mai Al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family, after a talk-show program criticising the ruling elite of corruption was aired on TV. Bu-Kamal, a businessman and former member of the Appointed Shura Council, was named Minister of Information just over a year ago in a limited ministerial cabinet shuffle. Bu-Kamal took the place of Mohamed Abdulghaffar, the current Bahraini ambassador to Brussels, after a row over a cultural programme (coordinated by Al-Khalifa, who was then the assistant secretary to the Ministry of Information. The programme provoked the Islamists in Parliament, leading to the creation of a committee, which denounced the programme and its coordinator. Last week, the Bahraini TV programme "Al-Meezan" invited Ibrahim Sharif, Secretary General of the National Democratic Action Society, also known as "Waad," and Abdulnabi Salman, a former member of Parliament and member of the Progressive Democratic Forum Society, also known as "Al-Menbar", to speak about the 2007 Report of the Fiscal Monitoring Bureau. In that TV programme, Abdulnabi and Sharif criticised the fiscal report, pointing to the deterioration of the oversight capabilities of Parliament, and accused the government of hiding detailed information concerning oil revenues, future funds, tenders and the spending of the military and service ministries. Sharif accused the executive branch, led by Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's only prime minister since 1970, of lying and misleading the public with regards to misappropriations of public funds. He further inquired about the inflated budget of the Royal Court, as well as of other state-owned companies. Sharif accused the ruling elite of breaching the Bahraini Constitution, which limited the funds allocated to the Royal Court. Nabeel Rajab, the president of BHCR, stated, "This is a sad and strange act by the Bahraini government, whose public relations endeavours try to portray Bahrain as an oasis of transparency and respect for freedom of expression." The BCHR deplores the reprisal against the Minister of Information for giving members of political societies a single opportunity to express their views on public issues live and without constraints. "The Minister of Information was penalised for not ensuring that the invited TV guests would not express their views in this unapproved manner," Rajab added. Last week, the Bahraini Minister of Interior, a member of the royal family, issued a statement threatening citizens with legal prosecution for any form of contact with foreign agencies or participation in events concerning local issues while outside Bahrain. The Bahraini authorities should refrain from penalising its citizens for expressing their views and should lift all legislative restrictions on any form of expression. BCHR believes that the Bahraini authorities should loosen their grip over TV, radio and the press to enable citizens to express themselves without fear of punishment or legal action.

15 Nov, 2008

IFEX MEMBERS CONDEMN HARASSMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

At a human rights event in Washington, D.C. last month, the head of IFEX member Bahrain Center for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab and two other human rights defenders discussed how Shia citizens of Bahrain are continually shut out - of government jobs, the best education opportunities, the media, places to worship.

When the activists returned home, they were branded "traitors to Bahrain" and "stooges to the United States" in the media - by members of their very own government.

Twenty-four IFEX members and partners are calling for solidarity with the three human rights defenders and government assurances that they are free to carry out their work without intimidation or reprisal.

Rajab, along with Abduljalil Alsingace, the head of the Human Rights Unit of the HAQ Movement of civil liberties and democracy, and Maryam Alkhawaja, a youth activist and member of BCHR, were invited to brief U.S. Congress members on how political reforms are affecting religious freedom in Bahrain.

Since their participation in the 15 October event, they have been exposed to a defamation campaign through state-controlled media and religious venues. Members of Parliament, columnists and editors of local Arabic newspapers, as well as statements and sermons through mosques and religious centres, said their human rights activities were a call for foreigners to intrude in local affairs, and that they should be severely punished. Some have even called for the defenders to be jailed or tried for sedition.

The IFEX members said they were "alarmed" at the language, level of provocation and intimidation in the articles, and said the government was also to blame. "Such a campaign has been encouraged by the silence of the authorities and judicial establishment, which should be expected to respond... as they would if a similar campaign was made against officials, members of the government or the ruling family," said the groups.

Bahrain's Interior Minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla al-Khalifa, has since demanded that Article 34 of Bahrain's penal code be enforced, reports ARTICLE 19. The article says that citizens who attend meetings or conferences abroad or meet with representatives of foreign bodies to talk about Bahrain's internal affairs will face no less than three months in jail and a fine.

"The minister's statement is an attempt to silence human rights defenders and severely impedes freedom of expression in Bahrain. ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about articles in the Bahraini Penal Code which deprive Bahrainis of the right to freedom of expression," said ARTICLE 19.

The case of the three rights defenders is not isolated. According to reports by human rights groups submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in April, "threats, ill treatment, torture, and all forms of intimidation and harassment have been directed towards Bahraini human rights defenders in recent years."

ARTICLE 19 mentions Mohammed Abdul Nabi al-Maskati, founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), a youth group designed to encourage fellow young people to learn about and promote human rights in accordance with international standards. He faces six months in jail or a steep fine for "running an unlicensed association" - even though he tried registering the group as an NGO in June 2005. He is due in court in January.

Front Line, an international foundation that protects human rights defenders, has organised a letter-writing campaign to take action on behalf of the Bahraini activists. Copy the letter here and send it to the addresses provided: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1617/action

Also visit these links: - IFEX joint action: http://tinyurl.com/6edpxp - BCHR: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en - ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/5f2z65 - Front Line: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/bahrain -Human Rights watch: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/11/12/bahrai20194.htm

(12 November 2008)

14 Nov, 2008

Bahrain - Call to enforce Article 134 of Bahraini Penal Code threatens human rights defenders

Front Line is deeply concerned following reports received of a statement by the Bahraini Interior Minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa, published in the local Arabic press on 6 November 2008, calling for the enforcement of Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code against any citizen who attends meetings, conferences or seminars abroad or meets with representative of foreign countries, organisations or bodies to discuss the internal affairs of Bahrain, without government authorization.

Further Information posted 12/11/08 The Minister based his statement on Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 which states that “any citizen, regardless of his profession, who attends without government authorization, a conference, meeting or seminar abroad discussing the political, social or economic situation in Bahrain, likely to weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations, is punishable by imprisonment of no less than three months and subject to a fine of no less than one hundred dinars, or both.” The Minister also mentioned that the same penalty applies to any citizen who "deliberately broadcasts false news, statements or rumours on the internal situation in Bahrain which could weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations." Front Line is particularly concerned that Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa´s call to enforce Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code comes at a time of increased state and media harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. On 30 October 2008, Front Line issued an appeal concerning the media harassment of human rights defenders, Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja in which local Arabic newspaper described them as “traitors to Bahrain and stooges of the United States.” This accusation followed their participation on 15 October 2008 in an event in Washington DC on the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain” which the media interpreted as a call for foreigners, specifically the United States Congress, to interfere in local affairs.

On 15 January 2009, human rights defender Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), will face trial on charges of “running an unlicenced association” under the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 and the Association Law of 1989. This charge carries a sentence of a maximum of six months in jail and/ or a fine of five hundred dinars.

Front Line sees the call to enforce Article 134 as part of an ongoing trend of harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain and believes it is directly related to the legitimate and peaceful activities of Bahraini human rights defenders in defence of human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Take Action Please take action on behalf of Bahraini human rights defenders.

Copy the enclosed letter and send it to the address provided.

Thank you for taking action on behalf of Bahraini human rights defenders.

Target adresses: HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, King of Bahrain, Office of the King, The Amiri Court, Rifa'a Palace, PO Box 555, Manama, KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Letter: Your Majesty,

I am deeply concerned following reports received of a statement by the Bahraini Interior Minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa, published in the local Arabic press on 6 November 2008, calling for the enforcement of Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code against any citizen who attends meetings, conferences or seminars abroad or meets with representative of foreign countries, organisations or bodies to discuss the internal affairs of Bahrain, without government authorization.

The Minister based his statement on Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 which states that “any citizen, regardless of his profession, who attends without government authorization, a conference, meeting or seminar abroad discussing the political, social or economic situation in Bahrain, likely to weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations, is punishable by imprisonment of no less than three months and subject to a fine of no less than one hundred dinars, or both.” The Minister also mentioned that the same penalty applies to any citizen who "deliberately broadcasts false news, statements or rumours on the internal situation in Bahrain which could weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations."

I am particularly concerned that Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa´s call to enforce Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code comes at a time of increased state and media harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. Front Line issued an appeal concerning the media harassment of human rights defenders, Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja in which local Arabic newspaper described them as “traitors to Bahrain and stooges of the United States.” This accusation followed their participation on 15 October 2008 in an event in Washington DC on the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain” which the media interpreted as a call for foreigners, specifically the United States Congress, to interfere in local affairs.

On 15 January 2009, human rights defender Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), will face trial on charges of “running an unlicenced association” under the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 and the Association Law of 1989. This charge carries a sentence of a maximum of six months in jail and/ or a fine of five hundred dinars.

I see the call to enforce Article 134 as part of an ongoing trend of harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain and believe it is directly related to the legitimate and peaceful activities of Bahraini human rights defenders in defence of human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

I Urge the authorities in Bahrain to:

1.Repeal the provisions of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976, specifically Article 134, which violate Bahrain´s international human rights commitments on freedom of expression in Bahrain and abroad, in accordance with the human rights of freedom to expression and association as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bahrain acceded in 2006. 2.Take measures to ensure that all human rights defenders in Bahrain, carrying out their legitimate work in human rights, are able to operate free of all restrictions and harassment.

13 Nov, 2008

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: End Threats to Rights Activists

Interior Minister Warned of Criminal Punishment for ‘Foreign’ Contacts (New York, November 12, 2008) – Bahrain’s government should withdraw a threat by the interior minister to prosecute human rights activists for having met with foreign government officials while abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.

Bahrain: End Threats to Rights Activists Interior Minister Warned of Criminal Punishment for ‘Foreign’ Contacts

(New York, November 12, 2008) – Bahrain’s government should withdraw a threat by the interior minister to prosecute human rights activists for having met with foreign government officials while abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a statement published by Bahrain’s official news agency on November 5, 2008, the interior minister, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, threatened Bahraini activists with prosecution for having meetings abroad “for the purpose of discussing internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain in violation of the law,” citing article 134 of Bahrain’s penal code.

“Bahrain points to its membership on the UN Human Rights Council as proof that it’s committed to human rights, then threatens to jail people who exercise them,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North African director at Human Rights Watch. “The kingdom should change laws that violate human rights and stop threatening people who exercise them.”

The November 5 statement did not specify what individuals or groups were involved. But it followed a briefing by members of Bahraini rights groups in Washington, DC, on October 15 to the US Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom. Participants, some of whom are also affiliated with opposition political groups, alleged that the country’s Sunni Muslim ruling family systematically discriminates against Bahrain’s Shia majority.

A section of Article 134 of Bahrain’s penal code stipulates that citizens who fail to obtain government permission to attend any meeting abroad or to meet representatives of foreign states, “with the goal of discussing political social and economic conditions in the State of Bahrain or any other state, which could weaken financial confidence in the State of Bahrain or diminish its stature,” may be subject to jail terms of at least three months, fines, or both.

In his statement, the interior minister warned participants in such events against “disseminating information, statements, or rumors that are false or based on an agenda regarding conditions in Bahrain.” He added: “Continued violation of the law with this conduct ... will lead to taking the necessary legal measures to confront these events and the referral of those involved in them for prosecution.”

Bahrain’s constitution enshrines the right of free expression. Article 23 states that “freedom of opinion and scientific research is secured, everyone has the right to express his opinion verbally, in writing or otherwise, in accordance with the terms and conditions prescribed by the law.”

Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bahrain acceded in 2006, states “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression,” and that “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.”

Bahrain, a close US ally, provides the base for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet – the naval force operating in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean. ¬The country has a predominantly Shia population, although the ruling family is Sunni. The Shia majority claims it is subject to systematic discrimination in housing, state employment, and access to land. Bahrain’s government rejects allegations of religious discrimination.

Bahrain has previously prosecuted activists for making political statements under other elements of its penal code. In 2007, two activists who distributed leaflets calling for a boycott of elections faced charges in a criminal court for disseminating materials that could “harm the public interest.” The two were sentenced on those charges, but subsequently released.

“The government of Bahrain ought to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of expression by revising broad provisions of its laws that can be used to criminalize dissent,” Whitson said.

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Related Material

HRW Bahrain country page Country Page

8 Nov, 2008

JOINT ACTION: Twenty-four IFEX members and partners call for solidarity with human rights defenders at risk

(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is a joint action led by BCHR:

Signed, Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, Kazakhstan Arab Archives Institute (AAI), Jordan Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt ARTICLE 19, U.K Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), U.S.A. Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), Tunisia Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Kathmandu Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Freedom House, U.S.A. Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova Index on Censorship, U.K. Institute of Mass Information (IMI), Ukraine Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI), Indonesia Maharat Foundation, Lebanon Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Australia Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ghana Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia Media Watch, Bangladesh Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC), Tunisia Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (SPP), Paraguay

A Petition of Solidarity with Human Rights Defenders in Bahrain

The undersigned organisations express their deep concern over the sustained smear campaign waged against three Bahraini activists who participated last month in a human rights event in Washington D.C., USA. They are Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Dr Abduljalil Alsingace, the head of the Human Rights Unit of the HAQ Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy in Bahrain, and Maryam Alkhawaja, a youth activist, former leader of a student organisation and a member of BCHR. BCHR is a member of IFEX.

Since their participation in the event on 15 October 2008 and their return to Bahrain, they have been exposed to a direct defamation campaign through state-controlled media and religious venues. The campaign includes inflammatory articles written by members of the elected house of representatives, columnists and editors of local Arabic newspapers, as well as statements and sermons through mosques and religious centers.

The organisations listed below are alarmed at the language, level of provocation and intimidation in these articles which are referring to the three activists as "traitors to Bahrain," while considering their human rights activities as a call for foreigners to intrude in local affairs. Moreover, these articles - as well as some state-loyal preachers - have exploited the event by calling for sectarian sedition and encouraging severe action to be taken against these activists. Such a campaign has been encouraged by the silence of the authorities and judicial establishment which should be expected to respond differently, as they would if a similar campaign was made against any officials, members of the government or the ruling family.

The three human rights defenders were officially invited by 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". Nabeel Rajab highlighted areas of discrimination against Shia citizens of Bahrain in high governmental posts which includes banning Shia citizens from recruitment in security and police forces, underlining the many public organisations where there is no Shia presence. Dr. Alsingace discussed the different aspects of religious discrimination against the Shia in Bahrain, covering the allocation of worship premises and maintenance as well as media accessibility. Maryam Alkhawaja told the audience of her personal experience as a result of discriminatory practices against her, her family and friends including the subsequent repercussions of such exposure.

Clearly these activists are being threatened for their ongoing peaceful human rights activities and are being denied the right to free expression without fear of threat, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The undersigned organisations seek the assurance that the security and physical and psychological integrity of Nabeel Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja are not hampered in any way and that they, and other human rights defenders in Bahrain, are free to carry out their activities in the promotion and protection of human rights without any form of intimidation or reprisal.

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