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

Abed Choudhury

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

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

http://www.ihrc.org.uk/publications/reports/9137-report-of-the-trial-monitor-in-the-karzakan-and-maameer-cases-bahrain-2009

FT Report:Talk of reform but still much to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The picture is muddied by ruling family politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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_______________________________________________________ Education: New university combats entrenched attitudes By Abeer Allam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1d69e56a-ccbd-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=e80c109e-ccc3-11de-8e30-00144feabdc0.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Migrants Rights (Promotion and Protection)

2. Migrants, Health & HIV

3. Migration, Globalisation & Development

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

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

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

3. Brahm Press (Raks Thai Foundation, Thailand)

4. Irene Fernandez (Tenaganita, Malaysia)

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

6. Manju Gurung (Pourakhi, Nepal)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bahrain

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

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

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forced Religious Conversion

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

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

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

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

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

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127345.htm

BCHR:Bahrain-The Public Prosecution and its Violations to Human Rights

A Report on its Role in Obstructing, Harassing and Targeting Human Rights Defenders and Political Activists: Bahrain-The Public Prosecution and its Violations to Human Rights The Bahrain Center for Human Rights September 2009 "Prosecutors, as essential agents of the administration of justice, shall at all times maintain the honour and dignity of their profession" Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors- Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is deeply concerned for the grave role the Public Prosecution is playing in the cases related to public activities and peaceful protests.

The Prosecution did not the play the role of the honorable opponent in many of the cases, as it is mandated to do. Yet, it kept in line with the results and coincided with the suspicious investigations that were carried out by the intelligence agency or what is known as the "National Security Apparatus", and it worked on pressurizing the defendants to repeat the confessions that are believed to be taken under torture during their stay in the investigation offices and centers of the National Security Apparatus. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented many testimonies that confirm that some of the detainees faced torture in the hallways of the Prosecution building, and that the heads of the Prosecution threatened the defendants and coerced them to admit and sign confessions that have been prepared in advance, or threaten to take them back to investigation and torture centers to force them to do so. What adds to the concerns of the BCHR is the participation of the Prosecution in the blatant violations to the rights of the defendants by denying their testimonies or disregarding the torture marks that were usually apparent on their bodies due to what they faced during the initial period of detention. The Prosecution has also violated the law more than once, when it is supposed to be the body that contributes in applying and maintaining it. As an example, it approved the display of the confessions of the detainees in what was dubbed as "Al-Hujjairah" case on the State television. These confessions were extracted during the interrogation period, before the beginning of the trial and before charging them. They were, later, proved to have been manipulated with the complicity of the Prosecution and that they (The confessions) were been extracted under torture. At the time, the Public Prosecution (PP) is lenient with the arrest procedures, the gravity of charges and punishments in the criminal cases that are related to the possession of weapons, major drug trafficking offenses or sexual assaults on children, it has been overly stringent with the procedures and charges when the matter relates to detainees accused of participating in public activities or protests of the Shiite community.

The BCHR envisages that the above-mentioned violations of the Public Prosecution are due to the intervention of its actual work with the security bodies, the National Security Apparatus in particular. Also, the background of most of the members of the PP come from military and security institutions who dealt with such detainees during the public protests in the past, and were involved in human rights violations. The BCHR, therefore, does not expect the Public Prosecution, in light of its current structure, to play the role it is mandated to do; achieving justice, especially in the political and human rights issues, and those stigmatized by the Authorities as "destabilizing security" due to its relation with the public protests. Structure and Mandates of the Public Prosecution Until 2002, the Public Prosecution was called the Office of Attorney General and was part of the Ministry of Interior and under the direct supervision of the Minister of Interior himself, according to the reorganization plan of the Ministry of Interior, prescribed by Decree no. 29 of 1996 [1]. As per Article 6 of the Criminal Procedures Decree no. 46 of 2002, promulgated on 23 October 2002, " the term 'Code of Criminal Procedure' replaces the term 'Code of Penal Trials Procedures ', the term 'Public Prosecution' replaces the term 'office of Attorney General ', and the term 'Public Prosecutor' replaces 'Attorney General'… wherever they appear in laws and regulations in force" [2]. It is apparent from the phrasing that Article that the title of "Attorney General" was changed but there was no indication to the formation of an independent organization. Rather, it reinforced the belief that what happened was a change in the official hierarchy (where the organization belongs to) of the body which was renamed as Public Prosecution – such that it is a subordinate of the Ministry of Justice instead of being the Ministry of Interior. It is to be noted that both ministries are headed by a member of the ruling family, who are also members of the Supreme Defense Council (SDC) which sets the foreign and internal security policies. SDC is made up of 14 political leaders and ministers, all of them are members of the ruling family. It is evident that the presence of the Attorney General (AG) under the supervision, guidance and administration of the Ministry of Interior ensures the loyalty of its members to the security bodies and the Executive Authority. The AG was not expected to stand as an opponent in any of the cases against any member of the Security and Executive Authorities. This would include cases of torture and abuse against members of the security bodies, extrajudicial killings inside and outside prison, and what was deemed as crimes against humanity by any of the employees of the Ministry of Interior. In the Judicial authority's amendments, as prescribed in Decree no. 42 of 2002, the authority specified a special section for the Public Prosecution in the fourth chapter of the law where it considers it, "an integral part of the divisions of the judicial authority, exercises the functions that are prescribed legally, and can exclusively initiate the criminal procedures unless otherwise stated in the law". "The Minister of Justice shall control and supervise the Public Prosecution and its members. The Public Prosecution members follow their heads according to their ranks, and they act on behalf of the Attorney General in practicing their jobs, and they all follow the Minister of Justice". The fact that majority members of the Public Prosecution were originally employees of the Ministry of Interior (See below), except for those who joined the Prosecution after it was formed (renamed), was evident on their performance, attitude and inclination in dealing with a security and military mentality. This was proven by the testimonies of those arrested in the cases of public protests.

This background and structure of the Public Prosecution in the senior positions starting from the Attorney General, prosecutors and heads of prosecution led directly to fixing charges – coercively – against anyone detained by the security apparatuses. The role of the Prosecution (PP) focuses on arranging confessions prepared in advance and working on documenting its details with the ones presented by the security and intelligence apparatuses in the interrogation and torture centers. Moreover, the PP works on searching for articles of the existing laws that would criminalize the detainees based on those charges and following it up in the Courts. The Public Prosecution basically relies on the evidences and testimonies prepared by the security apparatuses and tries to comply with it even during the interrogation with the detainees which is usually at midnight or at dawn. It also insists on denying all the violations of those apparatuses as well as the abuse and torture whose effects are usually apparent on the bodies of the detainees. This runs completely counter to the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors adopted by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, where Article (3) states that "Prosecutors, as essential agents of the administration of justice, shall at all times maintain the honour and dignity of their profession". In addition, Article (16) asserts that "When prosecutors come into possession of evidence against suspects that they know or believe on reasonable grounds was obtained through recourse to unlawful methods, which constitute a grave violation of the suspect's human rights, especially involving torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or other abuses of human rights, they shall refuse to use such evidence against anyone other than those who used such methods, or inform the Court accordingly, and shall take all necessary steps to ensure that those responsible for using such methods are brought to justice." What is striking is that all cases that were related to public protests, usually linked by the Authorities with the internal security, which involved prosecuting well known activists and human rights defenders been taken over by PP heads who had military or security positions in the past. This in turn was reflected on the manner they dealt with the accused and their transgressions as well as the violations of the standards and internationally known values of the Public Prosecution, as will be detailed later. No doubt that the tribute received by the PP members by virtue of the superior positions in the judicial authority, issued by royal orders and decrees, will ensure their permanent loyalty to the authority. This justifies the Prosecution's (or previously the Office of Attorney General) inclination to secure the criminalization of the political opponents and defenders of human rights before the state courts, where the Public Prosecution and Judiciary – which is also biased and not independent – are in accordance with each other at the expense of the defendant who is always the victim. Some Members of the Prosecution and their Jobs Background 1. Ali Fadhl Al-Bu'ainain –Attorney General at the rank of a minister – was working as an officer in the Office of Attorney General at the Ministry of Interior. He was then appointed as vice-president of the security committee, formed during the unrests of the nineties. This committee has been accused of exposing the activists and detainees to torture, which in some of the conditions, led to permanent physical and mental disabilities, and to extrajudicial killing in several documented cases. At the rank of a Colonel, Al-Bu'ainain later held the position of Director of Department of Legal Affairs, which subsides directly under the Minister of Interior according to Decree no. 29 of 2003 on the organization of the Ministry of Interior. He represented the Ministry of Interior in various official committees at the local and regional levels, the last of which was the security committee formed by the Prime Minister on 19 October 2004 to study the causes of "crimes" in that period [3]. Five days after the previous resolution, he was appointed by a Royal Order dated on 24 October 2004 in the Public Prosecution in the rank of First Lawyer, which is equivalent to Deputy, the Court of Cassation [4]. In September 2005, another Royal Order was issued to appoint Al-Bu'ainain as Attorney General at the rank of a minister [5]. 2. Hameed Habib – General lawyer in the Public Prosecution – worked as a researcher in the office of General Attorney at the Ministry of Interior, then head of legal affairs at the Northern Governorate which is a subsidiary of the Ministry of Interior. Habib was appointed in 2005 in the post of Head of Prosecution type (A), which is at the rank of a head of High Court. 3. Ahmed Al-Dossery – General lawyer in the Public Prosecution – worked as an officer in the Criminal Investigations Bureau at the Ministry of Interior. 4. Nawaf Abdullah Hamza – General lawyer in the Public Prosecution – worked as an officer in the Minister of Interior before joining the Public Prosecution. Hamza was appointed in 2003 as a deputy Attorney General [6], then in 2005 [7] and 2007 [8], respectively, in the post of head of prosecution type (B) in the rank of a judge then a deputy at the High Court. 5. Osama Ali Jassim Al-'Oufi – Head of Prosecution – worked as an officer at the Ministry of Interior before joining the Public Prosecution. He was appointed in 2003 in the post of a deputy of the Attorney General. Al-'Ofi was promoted in the years 2005 and 2007, respectively, to the post of Head of Prosecution type (B) in the rank of a judge then as a deputy at the High Court 6. Nawaf Mohammed Hamad Al-Mu'awda – Head of Prosecution – worked as an officer at the Ministry of Justice before moving to the Public Prosecution. He was appointed in 2003 as deputy of the Attorney General. It is worth mentioning that in a period that does not exceed five years more than 20 deputies to the attorney general were appointed, before promoting some of them to the rank of a judge or head of prosecution. In the same period, more than 25 were appointed as assistant to the Attorney-General. The criteria of recruitment depend on their acquaintances and relations with some officials in the Public Prosecution, the Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Justice. What is also noted in the recruitments in the Public Prosecution is the high pace in the promotions to hold senior positions. Paragraph (A) of Article (2) of the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, states, "Selection criteria for prosecutors embody safeguards against appointments based on partiality or prejudice, excluding any discrimination against a person on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, social or ethnic origin, property, birth, economic or other status, except that it shall not be considered discriminatory to require a candidate for prosecutorial office to be a national of the country concerned".

Before the full establishment of the PP, non-Bahraini employees were recruited with temporary contracts, on the expense of the qualified Bahrainis whose political loyalty to the authority is not guaranteed. Since 2003 and until the re-location of members of the former attorney-general office of the MOI to their new post at the Ministry of Justice, a group of legal advisers of Arab nationalities, the majority were Egyptions, were taking the posts of the public prosecution. Some of those names are: · Mohammed Rafat Mustafa Barghash who was a senior general lawyer. · Ahmed Ra'fat Abdul-Mune'm Shenaishen who was a senior general lawyer · Shareef Hasan Abdullah Shadi at the post of general lawyer · Mukhtar Ahmed Ibrahim Mahmood who was head of prosecution type (A) · Mahmood Mustafa Mursi Al-Daqqaq as head of prosecution type (A( · Ashraf Kamal Abdul-Haleem Abdullah as head of prosecution type (B( · Hani Ahmed Fahmi Darwish as head of prosecution type (B( · Wajeeh Kamal Hasan Abadha as head of prosecution type (B( Violations of the Prosecution The BCHR received numerous complaints and reports on the Public Prosecution's gross violations of human rights. These will be briefed highlighting the most flagrant and taking into consideration the reservation to publicize the names of detainees and lawyers who contributed in documenting these violations for their own safety. However, the Center will be ready to provide and announce those names and the details in any investigation carried out by an independent body. Noteworthy, the Prosecution was recently accused of manipulating the testimonies of prosecution witnesses in some of the cases which proves that the corruption has penetrated into those institutions that are initially accused of prejudice. Following are some of the violations of the Prosecution that have been documented: Late Night Interrogations Many victims and detainees complained that the Public Prosecution interrogated them at very late hours of the night or at dawn, and usually, after questioning for long hours and exposing them to torture and ill-treatment by members of security apparatuses. The last episode which involved such act was the Prosecution's interrogation to children in Salmaniya Hospital who were fired upon in Sanabis by members of the Special Forces. The children and their families indicated to the local press that the interrogation was in their rooms at the hospital, without the presence of a lawyer, started at about half past twelve after midnight and ended at dawn. This was also the case with the detainees of the events in December 2007, December 2008, and the detainees of Karzakan and Ma'ameer who were all interrogated at late hours at night. Interrogation without the Presence of Lawyers There have been numerous cases in which the detainees were brought to the Prosecution very late at night, without the knowledge of their families or lawyers. Testimonies confirmed the persistence of the detainees to summon their lawyers during the interrogation in the Public Prosecution; however the prosecutor usually denies their request on the grounds that it is too late in the night to summon the lawyers. The prosecutor then insists on initiation and continuing the interrogation without any form of legal representation. This was the case with the detainees of December 2007 and the detainees of 2008, as well as the detainees of Karzakan. Article (12) of the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors, states, "Prosecutors shall, in accordance with the law, perform their duties fairly, consistently and expeditiously, and respect and protect human dignity and uphold human rights, thus contributing to ensuring due process and the smooth functioning of the criminal justice system." Threatening and Forcing the Defendants to Sign Ready Confessions- Torture in the PP building Detainees and victims of torture confirmed that heads of prosecution threatens or shouts at them to coerce them to admit or sign ready confessions that correspond with the confessions that have been extracted under torture. In case the defendant refuses to sign, the prosecutor threatens the detainee to call for his return to the same place he was interrogated for more torture. This has been confirmed by more than one detainee. Some even asserted that the prosecutor keeps the door of his office opened during the interrogation and allows the intelligence officer, who is in charge of the torture, and usually accompanies the detainee, to stand by the door to terrify him and force him to sign the ready statements taken under torture. Testimonies of some of the detainees indicated that those who refused to sign ready statements presented to them by the head of prosecution were returned to the detention centers to face a share of torture, before being returned and forced to sign the prosecution papers without having the chance to read it or know what confessions were made against himself. Other detainees testified that they refused to sign ready statements prepared by the prosecutor, and those were not returned to the detention centers again, but were taken to a room next to the Prosecution representative. Those detainees were faced with beating and kicking within earshot and in full view of the prosecutor. This has negatively impacted many detainees, who already experience a state of terror as soon as they enter the Prosecution building, where they are abused and ill-treated. Such attitude hastened them signing to sign confessions that prepared in advance by prosecutors without having seen its content.

These shameful acts of the Public Prosecution body contradict all the international standards, its members should abide by, particularly Articles (12) and (16) of the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors that have been referred to above. Violating and Breaking the Law The Prosecution violated the law more than once by using authorities it is not even entitled to. At the end of the year 2008, in what was known as "Al-Hujjairah Plot", the Prosecution agreed to the request of the National Security Apparatus (NSA) to publicize the confessions and identities of those detained, during the period of arrest and investigation, while their case had not been transferred to the court yet. The Ministry of Information and some local newspapers, based on the approval of the head of prosecution directly responsible for the case, published the confessions which were recorded and broadcasted on Bahrain TV channel and in the newspapers without the knowledge or consent of the detainees or their lawyers. Hence, the Prosecution conspired with the National Security Apparatus in criminalizing those detainees in the public view before presenting their case to court, which is incompatible with the articles of Decree Code no. 46 of 2002 of the Criminal Procedures and that of Penal Code no. 15 of 1976 in revealing the identity of the defendants, exposing and ruining their reputation, let alone the effect it has on the course of justice by utilizing the media. The Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors in the Criminal Proceedings indicate, in Article (13), on the necessity of "Keep matters in their possession confidential, unless the performance of duty or the needs of justice require otherwise; Consider the views and concerns of victims when their personal interests are affected and ensure that victims are informed of their rights in accordance with the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power". Overlooking Torture Cases and Opposing Independent Medical Reports Testimonies of detainees as well as some of their lawyers have recurred that Prosecution representatives overlook the documentation of torture cases which are usually fresh in front of them, or when the detainee expresses orally and/or by showing the torture scores which are apparent on his body. These signs on the detainee were due to the ill-treatment to extract forced confessions he was exposed to when he was at the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) or in the Police Fort- NSA Headquarter. Moreover, the Prosecution took a negative stance in dealing with the reports of the medical committees and was defending the security apparatuses and their violations, abuse and torture which were mentioned by more than one detainee and in more than one case. The Prosecution considered a default position of challenging and questioning those testimonies and reports, at a time where it was supposed to initiate an immediate investigation n the torture claims and present to the court those proven to practice torture. Article (15) of the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors, states, "Prosecutors shall give due attention to the prosecution of crimes committed by public officials, particularly corruption, abuse of power, grave violations of human rights and other crimes recognized by international law and, where authorized by law or consistent with local practice, the investigation of such offences." The Role of the Public Prosecution While it is expected from the Prosecution body to be an honorable opponent, the attitude of the members of this organization, their security and military background which is characterized by trying to exhibit their loyalty to their subordinates as well as their prejudice. This has revealed a repetitive tendency of the Public Prosecution to search for legal articles that criminalize activists and human rights defenders, after the success of the latter and their activities in compelling the authorities and exposing their systematic violations. The case of the young man, Hasan Ali, who was accused of publishing information about the NSA – and was sentenced on 16 September 2009 to three years imprisonment – has disclosed the Public Prosecution's intentions in targeting human rights defenders and the attempt to incriminate them. This highlights the role and conduct of the Prosecution which disregarded all complaints filed by the activists on smearing their reputation and the harassments practiced by those who are servile to the security apparatuses, (among the complaints that the Prosecution have disregarded: the smearing campaign by using SMS messages from mobile phones in December 2005 against Sheikh Ali Salman – Secretary General of Alwefaq Society, as well as against Mr. Hasan Mushaima – Secretary General of Haq Movement in February 2006, in addition to various harassments and threats to Mr. Nabeel Rajab – president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights- and his wife since 2005).

The Prosecution strived to criminalize activists by using laws that violate rights and which are locally and internationally condemned because they contradict the most basic standards of human right (Gatherings Code, Penal Code, Counter Terrorism Law, Civic Societies law and others). This achieved with the support of the Bahraini judiciary which is known for its lack of independence or impartiality. The Demands of the BCHR Based on the above, and in order to achieve justice and secure its proper function and integrity, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls for the following: 1. The Public Prosecution body should comply and adhere with the international standards related to its function and duties, in particular and foremost the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors adopted by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in September 1990. 2. Changing the current team of the Public Prosecution, starting from the Attorney-General and including heads of prosecution and prosecutors, and to recruit a specialized and experienced team with a good repute, and whose record is devoid of any connection with the security or military apparatuses or previous records of violations of human rights. 3. Reinitiating the interrogation in all the cases mentioned earlier, in which the Prosecution played an active role in convicting the activists and subjecting them to torture, abuse or illegal procedures that contradict the international standards to which Bahrain vowed to adhere to. 4. To lift the immunity of the current members of the Prosecution and present the perpetrators to the court for the charges of: - Conspiring with the intelligence and security apparatuses - Concealing the violations of human rights and the detainees - Transgressions that amount to crime against humanity, public right and the right of the defendants.

References: [1] www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/Portals/0/Dept_LegalLaw/D2996.htm [2] www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/Portals/0/Dept_LegalLaw/L4602.htm [3] Premier Council Resolution no. 44 of 2004 to form a security committee and define its terms of reference on 19 October 2004 [4] Royal Order no. 34 of 2004 to appoint senior general lawyer at the Public Prosecution on 24 October 2004 [5] Royal Order no. 30 of 2005 to appoint of the Attorney General on 24 December 2005 [6] Royal Order no. 5 of 2003 to appoint members of the Public Prosecution on 28 January 2003 [7] Royal Order no. 16 of 2005 to appoint heads of prosecution types (A) and (B) on 9 July 2005 [8] Royal Order no. 27 of 2007 to appoint heads of prosecution type (B) on 4 October 2007

Contact the Bahrain Center for Human Rights:

E-mail: info@bahrainrights.org

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Reporters Witthout Borders: Internet Enemies

Internet Enemies “The 12 ‘Enemies of the Internet’ - Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam - have all transformed their Internet into an Intranet in order to prevent their population from accessing ‘undesirable’ online information,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“All these countries distinguish themselves not only by their ability to censor online news and information but also by their virtually systematic persecution of troublesome Internet users,” the press freedom organisation said. Reporters Without Borders has placed 10 other governments “under surveillance” for adopting worrying measures that could open the way to abuses. The organisation draws particular attention to Australia and South Korea, where recent measures may endanger online free expression.

“Not only is the Internet more and more controlled, but new forms of censorship are emerging based on the manipulation of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Orchestrating the posting of comments on popular websites or organising hacker attacks is also used by repressive regimes to scramble or jam online content.”

A total of 70 cyber-dissidents are currently detained because of what they posted online. China is the world’s biggest prison for cyber-dissidents, followed by Vietnam and Iran.

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Bahrain Bahrain has one of the region’s highest levels of Internet penetration, alongside Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. However the struggle launched by the government against sectarianism has limited access to some websites. The information ministry, with which websites have had to register since 2005, on 14 January 2009 ordered the country’s access providers to block some political and commercial content, specifying that it alone had the power to go back on the decision.

Since then, websites that provide help in getting round censorship have also been inaccessible. As a result, Internet users cannot go on to some pages on social networking sites such as Facebook, seen as critical of government policy, along with 66 other websites dealing with human rights or politics. The information ministry however conceded that some blocking did result in “technical errors”. In order to fight censorship, Bahraini bloggers have devised their own code of ethics, finalised on 14 August 2008. This code of conduct should help limit proliferation of incitement to hatred online. The code says, “We reject all writing or allusions containing a sectarian message, incitement to hatred, abuse of freedom of worship or belief”.

While a new draft law is under discussion allowing the authorities to shut down websites without recourse to the courts, the government has decided to strengthen its policy of holding on to people’s personal details in the name of national security. Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) on 25 February 2009 launched a public charter for Internet regulation. Aimed at operators authorised to provide Internet, it will define technical methods needed to “guarantee national security”. Under this charter, and also article 78 of the telecommunications law, operators must offer “legal and secure” Internet access. They also have the obligation to allow “security organs to access the network for national security reasons”. They have until 26 March to make any representations to the authorities.

http://www.rsf.org/en-ennemi26083-Bahrain.html

Gulf Times:Bahrain court acquits 19 of policeman’s murder

Bahrain court acquits 19 of policeman’s murder Tuesday13/10/2009October, 2009, 11:58 PM Doha Time

A Bahraini court yesterday acquitted 19 Shias charged with murdering a policeman, a rights activist and a prosecution official said. “They were considered innocent by the High Criminal Court,” said Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, who attended the trial. “The public prosecution will study the judgment, and after that it will decide whether it will appeal or not,” an official at the public prosecution office said. “We believe in the justice of Bahraini courts,” an official at the ministry of interior said. The 19 were charged with murdering a policeman by throwing petrol bombs into his car in a Shia village in April 2008.

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Villagers not guilty of policeman's murder Mazen Mahdi, Foreign Correspondent Last Updated: October 13. 2009 11:39PM UAE / October 13. 2009 7:39PM GMT

MANAMA // In a surprise verdict yesterday, a Bahraini court acquitted 19 men accused of killing a policeman last year in the Shiite village of Karzakan, after ruling the government case against them lacked incriminating evidence.

The men were accused of killing a Pakistani policeman during clashes in the village in April 2008 after they allegedly threw Molotov cocktails at the unmarked police car he was in as he patrolled the streets.

Opposition groups, who see the accused as victims of government persecution and the rioting as a result of official discrimination against Bahrain’s Shiite community, hailed the verdict.

The Bahraini government brought murder charges and attempted murder charges – because two other officers survived – against the men based on confessions it obtained from them. The men alleged the statements were made under torture.

The high criminal court, in its ruling, said it did not find the testimony of the two surviving officers “comforting enough” and that the testimonies of witnesses produced by the defence were more solid.

The court also based its judgment on the medical examiner’s testimony, which found that the death of the policeman, Majid Asghar Baksh, 24, to be the result of a head injury sustained as a result of a fall and not the Molotov cocktail attack.

The case is one of two clash-related deaths being reviewed by courts. In the other, 10 men stand accused of taking part in an attack in March of this year in Maamer, a Shiite village, on a civilian pickup vehicle during clashes that resulted in the death of a 58-year-old Pakistani man. It is believed the men thought the pickup was a private security vehicle.

Mohammed al Tajer, the head of the 15-lawyer defence team for the Karzakan detainees, described the ruling as one that proves the independence of the Bahraini judiciary, despite his earlier criticisms that the court was biased.

“We were confident that we will win the case because it is impossible to have 19 people [in the middle of a riot] come to an agreement to kill one person and because we had brought forward enough evidence to disprove the government allegations.”

He said he was hopeful that the court on November 17 would also find the 10 suspects from the Maamer case not guilty.

The judgment came as a blow to the credibility of the security services training and investigational procedures, but human rights and political activists said the ruling proved the independence of the judiciary system.

Abduljaleel al Singace, a spokesman for the opposition Haaq Movement, described the decision as a wise one that helped the country steer clear of entering a “dark tunnel” of government repression.

Opposition groups had warned of the “uncertain future” and possible political and social upheaval in the case of a harsh judgment, a warning that had been repeated since June as talks to mediate a settlement with the families of the two men killed failed and an April pardon did not materialise.

Two weeks ago, opposition groups in a joint statement called for the release of all the detainees, describing it as the “best path to maintain the stability and security of the country by moving it away from the security solutions approach which only generates violence and confrontation in which all lose”.

The statement also repeated the position taken by the opposition that both cases had major contradictions on the level of the evidence presented to the court and the indications that the detainees’ statements taken during investigation were extracted under duress.

In April, Bahrain’s king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, issued a pardon for 178 detainees and wanted men – including four key Shiite opposition figures – arrested between December 2007 and March of this year standing accused of security related charges, as part of an effort to reduce tensions with the Shiite community.

The pardon was the result of secret negotiations led by the Shiite opposition group Al Wefaq, which has 17 members in parliament. The 29 suspects from Karzakan and Maamer were said to be included in the deal.

However, in June, Al Wefaq accused elements in the government of obstructing the final stages of a compensation agreement with the families that would have secured their release before the two cases resumed in courts.

On Monday, Al Wefaq warned of a return to unrest if the two court cases continued, less than 24 hours before the court was expected to issue its verdict in the Karzakan case.

mmahdi@thenational.ae http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091014/FOREIGN/710139840/1040

Ministry of Information undersecretary orders blocking of 1,040 websites

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is alarmed to learn that a further grip by the local authorities was introduced on electronic sites, in continuation of a Ministry of Information campaign initiated earlier in 2009 by Ms Mai Al-Khalifa, a member of the ruling family.

On 24 August 2009, Mohammed Albanki, the newly appointed Ministry of Information undersecretary, sent a letter to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in Bahrain ordering the blocking of a further 1,040 sites, based on a January 2009 ministerial resolution, regulating the blocking of websites. The letter from Albanki referred to Article 2 of the resolution, which states that "All telecommunications companies and Internet service providers shall block pornographic websites that breach public morality", thus giving the impression that the blocked sites are of a "pornographic" nature. Detailed information on the targeted sites, including server names, the sites' IP addresses and the originating countries, was also attached to the undersecretary's letter.

Since the Ministry of Information initiated and led its website regulation campaign, hundreds of websites, inside and outside Bahrain, have been blocked and banned within the country. These include many electronic public forums belonging to villages, religious, cultural and political establishments, as well as opposition and human rights organizations. The campaign did not exclude bloggers and specific pages in the Facebook and YouTube sites. The common element among these sites is that freedom of expression is respected and many subjects, which are considered subversive by the authorities and not favoured, are reported and discussed freely.

"We are appalled by this approach of abrupt silencing and the abusive use of power to block access to the Internet. The said shameful Ministry of Information resolution early this year has resulted in the blocking of any sites which speak about public affairs without being controllable by the authorities," BCHR President Nabeel Rajab said. "This is not acceptable and has resulted in laying down Bahrain in the black list of countries (which are) against the use of technology . . . People can still access websites, irrespective of the wealth and expertise spent on the web blocking campaign," Rajab continued.

"If the authorities have an issue with these sites, they should revert to the judiciary, not administrative orders," Rajab added.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the authorities urging them to:

- lift the block on all websites related to public, cultural and human rights affairs in Bahrain or other countries

- respect the country's vows and commitments to international conventions, of which Bahrain is a signatoree, as well as the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review, which includes amendments of legislation which violates freedom of expression and access to information

- cease using administrative orders to block sites and revert to the judiciary, while at the same time ensuring that this does not violate basic rights

APPEALS TO: His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa King of Bahrain

Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

Update: Prosecution of Journalists Shoroogi and Sabt

24 September 2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its ultimate concerns about prosecuting journalists and bringing them for charges of defamation and slandering when reporting about malpractices and corruption in the Government offices. The Bahrain Higher Criminal Court (HCC) presided by Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Khalifa, a member of the ruling family, scheduled next September 27th, for its verdict in the cast brought against her by the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) on charges of publishing an article which “harms unity and introduce discrimination between Shia and Sunni Muslems”.

In one of her columns in Alwasat newspaper, Ms Shoroogi wrote about the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) discrimination practices in recruitment of citizen on basis of their sect and political affiliation, highlighting her own experience when applying for a post at the CSB. The Civil Service Bureau (CSB) accused Ms Shoroogi of insulting the Bureau when accusing it of discriminatory practices among citizens as well as of slandering and false reporting when she spoke of her experience.

More information: http://ifex.org/bahrain/2008/12/09/journalist_prosecuted_for_alleged/

On the other hand, the Public Prosecution (PP) has already referred to the Court the case against Mr Husain Sabt, Alwaqt newspaper journalist, on charges of defamation using publication means, which is scheduled for its first session on next October 6th. The PP bypassed its role of questioning Mr Sabt and, without any obvious reason, deprived him from showing his initial defense and refutes the evidence against him. On March 11th, 2009, in Alwaqt newspaper, Mr Sabt published a report on the corruption in Bahrain Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) in which he referred to the resignation of one of its officials amidst news of corruption and manipulation in the proportions of Bahrainization. This was considered defamatory and, after two days of the report, the LMRA responded in a statement in Alwaqt, negating the reasons behind the resignation of the said official.

More information: http://ifex.org/bahrain/2009/05/08/journalist_summoned_for_allegedly/

The charges in the cases formed against Ms Al-Shoroogi and Mr Sabt, as it is for other journalists in Bahrain, are based on the Press Decree Code no. 47 of 2002 and the Penal Decree Code no. 15 of 1976, which have been condemned and criticized, locally and internationally.

Mr Nabeel Rajab, President of BCHR, commented on the prosecution of journalists by saying that:" The local Authorities are not appreciating the importance of providing impunity to journalists, instead of targeting them while performing their duty in monitoring all forms of corruption and ill-practices". He added:" Using the power of the PP and laws to undermine the role of journalism in public affairs, will evidently encourage corrupt and abusive individuals in Governmental institutions to feel safe and continue what they have been doing in the dark". Rajab concluded:"In order to clear their tarnished image, we call upon the Authorities to put off all cases against journalists in Bahrain"

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the Bahraini Authorities to: - Repeal the case against Ms Maryam Al-Shoroogi and Mr Husain Sabt and ensuring no reprisals are carried out against them as a result of shedding light on malpractices in official establishment. - Stop harassing and prosecuting journalists when performing their duty of documentation, reporting and analysis about conduct of public institutions - Amend all legislations, such that they conform with the international charters and covenants, in particular, the notorious Press Code of 2002 and the Penal Code of 1976.

APPEAL and TAKE ACTION TO:

- Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, King of Bahrain

- Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, Cabinet Prime Minister

Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

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 No virus found in this incoming message. Checked by AVG - www.avg.com Version: 8.5.409 / Virus Database: 270.13.111/2386 - Release Date: 09/21/09 05:51:00