17 Apr, 2008

Arab League's proposed satellite broadcasting regulations would impede needed criticism of corruption and repression

JOINT ACTION: Arab League's proposed satellite broadcasting regulations would impede needed criticism of corruption and repression, warn 34 organisations

Date: 07 March 2008

(HRinfo/IFEX) - The following is a 5 March 2008 joint statement by HRinfo, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and 31 other organisations:

34 International and Arabian Human Rights Organisations declare: The document of organizing space transmission is invalid through its form and content

The undersigned human rights organisations confirm their total rejection of the document "Principles regulating Radio and Satellite TV Transmission and Receiving in the Arab Region", adopted by Arab ministers of information on 12 February 2008. Human rights organisations said that the document, which contains 12 articles, is full of ambiguous statements that would impose new restrictions on freedom of expression on the Arab satellite channels and is invalid without the affirmation of the Arab countries' parliaments.

Despite the document's first claim that it aims to "organize broadcasting and re-broadcasting, as well as receiving broadcasts in the Arab region, pay respect to freedom of expression, spread culture, and invigorate the culture through satellite transmission," we find that some articles contain statements that correspond to the same laws targeting critics of Arab governments, such as the statement referring to "the negative impact upon social peace, national unity, public order and politeness, protecting the higher interests of Arab countries and respecting the principle of national sovereignty of each country over its own land."

Human rights organisations who advocate for freedom of expression stated that "the document's articles aim in the first place to restrict documentary and public affairs programmes promoting dialogue which highlight and expose repressive acts and cases of corruption, widespread in the Arab world, by governments that have come to power in non-democratic ways, often against the wishes of their communities.

This document proposes restrictions that are open to interpretation, such as the requirement to "not discredit national leaders and religious figures." The document neither defines the distinction between criticism and "discrediting", nor clarifies clearly the standards for determining those figures. This consequently would result in targeting serious media programme makers and opening the door for governments to practice control and repression of freedom of expression, which violates the rights enshrined in international covenants and charters.

The document obliges television and broadcasting transmission corporations to subject their programme contents to a committee in charge of censorship, which would impose the scheduling of programmes, and intervene to protect children from inappropriate media materials. This would allow the censorship authority to interfere with the content of programmes that governments do not like.

The undersigned human rights organisations are convinced that articles in the document infringe on freedom of publication and broadcasting, which are aspects of freedom of expression.

Additionally, we find that the ministers ignored the legitimate process by which any document or agreement can be made mandatory: by first obtaining the consent of parliaments and legislative bodies, as stipulated in the countries' respective constitutions regarding any international agreement.

The governmental claim that it is just "a document of principles" is a denial of the possibility that governments will take legal action against any satellite channel that exercises its right to broadcast news and information in an independent manner.

This contradicts what is included in the document, which would impose certain punishments which could result in confiscation of the (. . .) equipment and cancellation of the licences of satellite channels opposing the governments' perspectives. This of course violates the legal principle of "no punishment without a court ruling."

Regarding this issue, the undersigned human rights organisations declare they will take the lead in supporting the broadly-based movement rejecting this document, acknowledging the right of media corporations to do their work with no restrictions or censorship and standing by the citizens' right to have serious programmes that reveal corruption and unmask the violations of their rights that citizens suffer from on a daily basis.

Signed,

The Arabic network for human rights information (HRinfo), Egypt Arab Program for Human Rights Activists, Egypt Palestinian Human Rights Foundation (Monitor), Lebanon Egyptian Association for the Support of the Democratic Development, Egypt Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Egypt Egyptian Association for Economic & Social Rights, Egypt Social Democratic Party, Egypt The Coordinating Committee for the Trade Union and Worker Rights & Liberties, Egypt Syrian Human Rights Committee, Syria The Egyptian Observatory for Justice & Law, Egypt The Egyptian Center for Housing Rights, Egypt National Center for Human Rights, Egypt Egyptian Democratic Institute, Egypt Arabic Foundation for Support of Civil Society & Human Rights, Egypt National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms, Yemen Developing Democracy Group, Egypt Bahraini Human Rights Society, Bahrain Egyptian Awn human rights association, Egypt Human Rights First Saudi, Saudi Arabia Bahrain youth society for human rights, Bahrain Justice Watch Association, Somalia The legal assistance of human rights group, Egypt The Land Center for Human Rights, Egypt Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Freedom center for political rights and democracy support, Egypt Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt Nadeem Center for Psychological Therapy and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence, Egypt Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies, Syria Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Egypt Maat for juridical & Constitutional Studies, Egypt Hisham Mubarak law center, Egypt Forum for Development & Human Rights Dialogue, Egypt Association for Freedom of Thought & Expression, Egypt

16 Apr, 2008

A call for sincere reflection by government on their policies, and protestors on their practices

A Statement by vice president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights-12 April 2008 "We condemns the use of violence which according to official reports led to the death of a 24-year-old policeman, and the injury of his two colleagues," BCHR vice president Nabeel Rajab said.

“The killing of a policeman last Wednesday* can be seen as the devastating result of the Bahraini government's policies of discrimination and mass naturalization, which have stoked hatred between communities in Bahrain. However, demonstrators must carefully consider the outcome of their actions, and the method of protest they choose”.

"Whether the killing was accidental or not, it is a dangerous sign of things to come unless serious reflection is taken by the Bahraini government and protestors," he added.

"The government must realize that putting those responsible for this act on trial is not enough to resolve the situation at this point. They must also explore the factors which have contributed to such hatred and violence towards security forces. These are:

- the politically motivated mass naturalization of foreign nationals into jobs which are denied to the majority of the local community (see: http://www.bahrainrights.org/node/425) - the authorization for use of excessive violence by security forces against civilians at nonviolent demonstrations (see: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/346/list)

"The killing of the policeman was wrong, and should be dealt with according to fair and independent principles of law. But this violent situation has been developing for a long time in Bahrain, and this incident has shown us that it is necessary to examine how it reached this terrible stage.

"Perhaps if the government had previously dealt with the issues being raised by protestors in a nonviolent and conciliatory way, anger would not have reached such a high level and such an act would not have been committed?

"As human rights activists we support the demands of the protestors, and recognize that they have legitimate concerns. We call on the Bahraini government to do the same, to pre-empt such disastrous occurrences from being repeated in the future.

"At the same time, as human rights activists we cannot support such an action. We call on protestors to cease any violent attacks on human beings, and to consider the meaning and consequences of such actions. At the end of the day, it is a detriment to the validity of their cause."

11 Apr, 2008

Universal Periodic Review of the State of Bahrain- Human Rights Watch's Submission to the Human Rights Council

April 7, 2008 The government has done little to institutionalize in law protection of basic rights in the aftermath of the important reforms decreed by the king, Shaikh Hamad bin `Isa Al Khalifa in 2001-02. New laws have been adopted containing provisions that undermine freedom of assembly, association and expression. The Human Rights Council, in its review of Bahrain�s human rights record, should assess this legislation and recommend steps to bring existing legislation, especially in the areas of freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and accountability for grave crimes such as torture, into compliance with international human rights standards.

Death Penalty

The 2006 counter-terrorism law as well as a new Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law, enacted in August 2007, prescribe the death penalty for certain offenses. In December 2006, the government carried out death sentences against a Bangladeshi man and woman and a Pakistani man convicted in separate murder cases. Except for a single execution in 1996, a time of great political turmoil, Bahrain had not executed anyone since 1977.

Counter-Terrorism Measures

On August 12, 2006, Shaikh Hamad signed into law the �Protecting Society from Terrorist Acts� bill. The UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism had earlier urged the king to seek amendments to the bill passed by the legislature, expressing concern that it contained an excessively broad definition of terrorism and terrorist acts. Article 1 prohibits any act that would �damage national unity� or �obstruct public authorities from performing their duties.� Article 6 prescribes the death penalty for acts that �disrupt the provisions of the Constitution or laws, or prevent state enterprises or public authorities from exercising their duties.� The law also allows for extended periods of detention without charge or judicial review, heightening the risk of arbitrary detention and torture or inhumane treatment during detention.

Freedom of Expression

The existing Press Law (47/2002) contains measures that unduly restrict press freedoms, such as prohibitions on insulting the king and on reports that �threaten national unity.� The country now has two independent daily newspapers, but other dailies as well as Bahrain�s radio and TV stations are state-run. Journalists exercise a considerable degree of self-censorship, particularly on issues such as corruption implicating the ruling family. The Shura Council, the upper chamber of the parliament whose members are all appointed by King Hamad, in May 2007 passed draft legislation that removed criminal penalties for journalistic offenses, but as of November the government had not forwarded the draft for consideration by the elected National Assembly. The authorities continue to use Law 47/2002 to restrict coverage of controversial matters, particularly issues such as official corruption. Between January and early November 2007, authorities referred the cases of 15 journalists to the public prosecutor, in most instances for alleged defamation of a government official or department. The country�s sole residential internet service provider, Batelco, is government-owned; the independent Bahrain Center for Human Rights said in early November 2007 that the authorities were blocking 23 discussion forums and other websites, including its own.

In mid-November 2006, authorities arrested a 35-year-old dentist and a 32-year-old insurance salesman for attempting to distribute leaflets calling on Bahrainis to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections. On January 30 a court sentenced them to prison terms of six months and one year for possession and dissemination of materials that could �damage the public interest.� The government released them several weeks later, apparently following a pardon from the king.

In early February authorities arrested Abd al-Hadi Khawaja, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and Hassan Mushaima, head of Al Haq, a political opposition group, on charges of circulating false information, insulting the king, and inciting hatred against the government. In May, following demonstrations protesting their prosecution, Shaikh Hamad declared the court proceedings against them �frozen.�

In 2007 the government intensified its harassment of women�s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer following an April letter she addressed to Shaikh Hamad calling for the dissolution of the Supreme Council for Women (chaired by the king�s wife) for failing to do more to advance women�s status in the kingdom.

Freedom of Assembly

Law 32/2006 requires the organizers of any public meeting to notify the head of Public Security at least three days in advance and authorizes that official to determine whether a meeting warrants police presence on the basis of �its subject� or any other circumstance.� The law stipulates that meeting organizers are responsible for �forbidding any speech or discussion infringing on public order or morals,� but leaves �public order or morals� undefined.

During 2006 and 2007, Bahraini authorities, citing Law 32/2006, banned meetings and on several occasions forcibly prevented or dispersed unauthorized gatherings. On September 15, 2006 police prevented Al Haq from holding a public seminar on the group�s petition calling for a new constitution, on the basis that the group had not sought permission from the Ministry of the Interior. On September 22, when the group tried a second time to hold the meeting, police used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse the gathering, reportedly wounding several people. In several instances the police used what appeared to be excessive force and inflicted severe beatings on persons they seized, sometimes amounting to torture. On May 20, 2007 police reportedly fired rubber bullets at a gathering at which opposition political figures, including members of parliament, were speaking, injuring Ibrahim Sharif, a leader of the opposition National Democratic Action Society. The next evening, in an incident that Human Rights Watch investigated, riot police confronted a street demonstration protesting the May 20 incident and separately seized 22-year-old Ali Sa`id al-Khabaz and 46-year-old Hamid Yusif Ahmad. The officers beat both of them severely, inflicting serious injuries on both men. In the case of Ali Sa`id al-Khabaz, the authorities held him for more than a week in undisclosed locations while refusing to acknowledge to his family that he was in the state�s custody.

Freedom of Association

The government continued to deny legal status to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which it ordered dissolved in 2004 after its president publicly criticized the prime minister. Several other groups, including the National Committee for the Unemployed and the Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society, attempted in 2005 to register with the Ministry of Social Development, as required by law, but as of November 2007 had received no response to their application.

In 2007 the Ministry of Social Development drafted new legislation governing the regulation of civil society organizations, but at the time of this writing, the ministry had not submitted the draft to the Shura Council or the Chamber of Deputies, and refused to share the draft with affected organizations.

Bahrain has ratified some conventions of the International Labor Organization, but neither of the two core conventions governing freedom of association. Law 33/2002 permits workers to form and join unions, but the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) filed a complaint with the ILO in June 2005 protesting what it said was the government�s repeated refusal to register six trade unions in the public sector. The GFBTU filed another complaint in 2007 protesting a November 2006 edict by the prime minister prohibiting strikes across numerous sectors of the economy.

Women�s Rights

Bahrain has no codified personal status law governing marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Family court judges, who are generally conservative religious scholars with limited formal legal training, render judgments according to their own reading of Islamic jurisprudence. They have consistently favored men in their rulings and are unapologetically adverse to women�s equality.

In June, a shari�a court denied the former wife of a Bahraini policeman custody of their three children and any rights to the marital home. Prior to the ruling, the 29-year-old woman appeared on television criticizing these judges for their handling of the case and the Ministry of Interior for failing to take any action against her ex-husband despite numerous allegations of physical abuse and harassment. Women�s rights organizations continued to call for a written unified personal status law.

Accountability

In 2002, prior to Bahrain�s initiation of a partially-elected parliament for the first time since 1975, Shaikh Hamad issued Decree 56/2002. This decree confers immunity from investigation or prosecution of individuals, including government officials, for offences committed prior to 2001. Since that time, the government has cited Decree 56/2002 on several occasions as the basis for refusing to undertake criminal investigations against former officials who were the subject of complaints by citizens alleging that those officials had subjected them to torture. Such use of Decree56/2002 is inconsistent with Bahrain�s obligations as a State Party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Recommendations

Bahrain should resume its de facto moratorium on executions. The Council should also urge Bahrain to restrict any application of capital punishment to the most serious crimes, and to consider removing capital punishment from all legislation where it is currently prescribed

Bahrain should endorse the recommendations of the special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism proposing amendments to the 2006 counterterrorism law in order to ensure that the law is not used improperly to infringe on protected rights of peaceful dissent and to bring the period allowed for detention without charge or judicial review into line with international standards.

Bahrain should amend the Penal Code to remove all criminal penalties for alleged libel offences. The government should also halt the prosecution of journalists and other writers solely for the expressing views critical of government policies, and cease blocking Internet sites.

Bahrain should amend Law 32/2006 to bring its provisions into compliance with Article 21 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

The Council should urge Bahrain to codify family laws and ensure that those laws do not discriminate on the basis of gender, afford women equality before the law, and are consistent with international human rights standards.

The Council should urge Bahrain to clarify publicly that Decree 56/2002 does not apply to grave crimes such as torture.

8 Apr, 2008

Recommendations to the Government of Fodh: Bahrain on the occasion of the 1st Universal Periodic Review Session, April 2008

http://www.fidh.org/spip.php?article5400

Monday Recommendations to the Government of Bahrain on the occasion of the 1st Universal Periodic Review Session, April 20087 April 2008

Recommendations to the Government of Bahrain on the occasion of the 1st Universal Periodic Review Session, April 2008

Issued by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS)

1.Equality and non-discrimination

Women’s rights Bahrain has entered reservations to key provisions of CEDAW that reflect discriminatory and restrictive legislative frameworks and undermine the object and the purpose of the Convention, in many cases emptying ratification of meaning. The Bahraini legislation remains discriminatory in several areas affecting women in large aspects of life. The absence of Personal Status and Family Laws in Bahrain is the source of much suffering for women. Therefore, our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to implement Treaty bodies’, Special rapporteurs’ and UNDP’s recommendations in the field of gender discrimination, and in particular to: Remove all reservations to CEDAW and ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW; Harmonize Bahrain’s domestic legislation according to CEDAW; Adopt a family code, including fair standards of proof and other measures to prevent and punish violence against women, especially domestic violence.

Migrants rights Labour Migration has witnessed its most profound and remarkable impact in the Middle East regions, including Bahrain. Problems faced include trafficking and forced labour, mandatory health testing related to sexual and reproductive health without consent or counseling, long working hours, low salaries and late payment of salaries, poor and repressive living conditions and psychological, physical and sexual abuse, restrictions on the right to organize and join trade unions. Therefore, our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to implement the recommendations adressed by the CERD and in particular, to: Ratify the ICRMW Take necessary measures to extend full protection from racial discrimination to migrant workers. Sectarian discrimination Despite the persistent demands by civil society organizations and some MPs to legislate against all types of discrimination, Parliament has failed in such attempts. The Government continues to follow a de facto policy of discrimination on sectarian and political grounds and there is discrimination against Shia’a in the Government administration. Shi’a Bahrainis, traditionally not allowed in the Defense and Security Ministries are now further disadvantaged in virtually all other ministries and functions of the state.

Election constituencies are State-controlled and are drawn on sectarian as well as tribal bases to ensure the ruling family’s primacy, maximize state allegiance and create an environment of sectarian tension. The Government is reportedly pursuing policies to alter the island’s demographic balance through granting citizenship to non-Bahrainis – mainly Sunni Arabs from around the region – to mitigate Shiite dominance; and through manipulating and controlling the output of any suffrage process, ensuring a winning majority by the ruling Authorities,

To implement the recommendations issued by CERD in 2005 in this respect and create new laws that criminalize all form of discrimination. To remove gerrymandering and politically motivated voting constituencies and enforcing equal representation, by one-man one- vote concept.

2. Right to life and security of person

Use of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment Our organisations remain concerned about the lack of a comprehensive definition of torture in domestic law. We express our concerns also at Decree 56/2002 which contains a blanket amnesty for alleged perpetrators of torture. Furthermore, security forces continue to practice torture as a part of law enforcement. Despite classifying torture as a penal offence, instances of torture have been noted. Security forces also indulge in unrestrained and indiscriminate use of force than is usually necessary to maintain law and order.

Therefore, our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to implement all recommendations adopted by United Nations CAT in 2005 and in particular, to :

Amend its legislation to explicitly prohibit the use of torture and ill-treatment, and adopt a definition of torture consistent with article 1 of CAT; Allow impartial organisations and NGOs to visit prisons and places of detention; Amend Decree 56/2002 to ensure that there is no impunity for officials who have perpetrated or acquiesed in torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Right to compensation for victims and request for Transitional Justice Mechanism In 2006, eleven NGOs et political associaitons formed a « Coalition for Truth, Equity and Reconciliation » and therefore, call upon the authorities to establish a national committee for truth and reconciliation that the Bahraini government considers as non-necessary as the issue of the victims of the past have been addressed.

Our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to:

take necessary measures to provide victims of past acts torture with redress and an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, i.e. through the establishment of a transitional justice process which results from dialogue between the authorities and civil society organizations.

3. Freedom of association and peaceful assembly

Our organisations remain concerned regarding limits on human rights NGOS to conduct their work and repressions against human rights defenders, such as arbitrary arrest, threats, physical assaults, ill-treatment, torture and numerous other acts of harassment by the authorities and government security forces. In May 2007, a number of non-registered human rights organizations received official letters from the Ministry of Social Development asking that they cease their activities or face legal persecution. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights remain closed despite CERD and CAT recommendations. Our organisations remind that in its pledges to the Human rights Council, Bahrain reaffirmed its commitment to continue to work to promote its NOGs, especially those dealing with human rights.

Therefore, our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to:

as stated by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, to review its Law on societies and other relevant regulations to ensure that Bahrain’s legislation adequately protects the right of persons to freely organize to defend human rights; fully comply with its international obligations and take effective measures to ensure that human rights defenders are able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including carrying out their peaceful activities, and be protected from harassment by law enforcement authorities. To remove restrictions on the work of The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and other human rights groups.

Bahraini law prohibits unauthorized public gatherings of more than five persons and public gatherings need to be notified to the Ministry of Interior twenty four hours in advance. The Law on Public Meetings, Processions and Gatherings (Law 32/2006), further increased the number of legislative constraints.

Our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to:

Amend Law 32/2006 to bring its provisions into compliance with Article 21 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

Lastly, our organisations urge the Bahraini authorities to implement an awareness campaign on the ICCPR and ICESCR, ratified in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Contact Délégation de la FIDH auprès des Nations unies à Genève 15, rue des savoises, CH 1205 Genève tel +41 (0) 22 700 12 88 fax +41 (0) 22 321 54 88

4 Apr, 2008

The Economist: Bahrain Not so sunny for Shias

Apr 3rd 2008 | MANAMA From The Economist print edition A put-upon majority feels done down—and is getting angry

THE monarchy of Bahrain regards itself as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. It was the first in the Gulf to give all its citizens the vote, setting up a partially elected parliament, albeit with limited powers, in 2002. Yet in the past few months its officials concede that in an average week there have been more than two riots and five public protests.

Most of the unrest takes place outside the predominantly Sunni capital, Manama, in poorer, mostly Shia, villages. No official statistics are published but some villagers say that a third or even half of them have no jobs. Bahrainis are readier to work in menial jobs than their wealthier counterparts in Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates but cheap foreign workers depress wages. A typical foreign construction worker is housed in a labour camp, cannot bring his family to Bahrain and earns around $160 a month, which would barely support a Bahraini family with four or five children. The soaring price of land is another grumbling point. Some Bahrainis have been waiting for state housing since 1992. Mortgages are hard to get. Yet the government has embarked on a grandiose campaign to reclaim land, with banks pouring cash into construction. Many of the new schemes are for fancy flats and artificial islands, like those in Dubai, and are more likely to be sold to rich Saudis or people from the emirates than to Bahrainis.

To make matters worse, these inequalities often have a sectarian tint. Most Bahrainis are Shias but the royal family is Sunni. The Shias are more likely to be jobless; many government employers discriminate in favour of Sunnis. “Recently I went for a public-sector job and they asked me what sect I was,” says a sour Shia mechanic. “But I didn't come to the garage to pray!”

Ebrahim Sharif, a former banker, heads Wa'ad, a liberal Arab-nationalist party. Himself a Sunni, he thinks Sunni and Shia Bahrainis should form a united opposition. “Most of the Shias are worse off than the average Sunni but the only first-class citizens are the royal family,” he says. However his party lost all its seats in the last election, and the parliament is dominated by Islamists of both sects.

These included the country's main Shia opposition group, Wefaq National Islamic Society, which joined parliament in 2006 after boycotting the previous election four years earlier. Its presence raised hopes of change. But voters are growing frustrated with parliament as they realise how few powers its elected members have. The government controls the pace of liberalisation. Local political activists get little support from abroad. America is wary of calling for more democracy. It fears that parliamentarians may turn against America's naval base in Bahrain, its biggest in the Gulf; last year a majority of them declared that it should not be used in any war between America and Iran. More recently the government has signed an agreement with America to help Bahrain develop peaceful nuclear technology.

Wefaq must now deal with one of the trickiest sectarian issues raised by its supporters: a widespread rumour that the government is handing out passports to Sunnis from other countries in an attempt to turn the Shias into a minority. These fears were raised in a report in 2006 by a former government adviser, Salah al-Bandar, who said he had confidential government documents revealing such a plan, The government hotly denies any such thing. The row has flared up again with the publication of government statistics that show the population jumping by 41% last year and the number of citizens growing by 15%, against a previous rate of 2.4%.

Wefaq wants to question a minister named in Mr Bandar's report. The constitution says a minister must submit to questions in parliament if five of the assembly's members so demand; in this case, 18 want the minister questioned, so far in vain. The row has paralysed parliament for the past six weeks as debates have descended into shouting matches; for one week it was suspended. A Sunni Islamist member says it should be dissolved. Wefaq is wondering whether it was sensible to have joined it.

This week, just before its officials were to attend a UN meeting to review Bahrain's human-rights record, the government said it would set up a new human-rights task-force. What a coincidence.

3 Apr, 2008

THE OBSERVATORY: OPEN LETTER TOTHE KING OF BAHRAIN

OPEN LETTER TO SHEIKH HAMAD BIN ISA AL-KHALIFA, Paris - Geneva, April 3, 2008

Re: Ongoing acts of harassment against Ms. Najiya Abdulghaffar

Your Highness,

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its deepest concern over various acts of harassment against Ms. Najiya Abdulghaffar, Vice-President of the Post Office Trade Union, affiliated to the Bahrain General Federation of Trade Unions (BGFTU).

According to the information received, on March 19, 2008, Ms. Abdulghaffar was informed that a new investigation on her activities had been initiated. It is the sixth investigation that has been launched against her since her election as Vice-President of the trade union in 2003.

Ms. Abdulghaffar was subsequently summoned to appear before the investigation committee of the post office on March 30, 2008. The outcome of this interrogation remains unknown, but the Observatory strongly fears that Ms. Abdulghaffar might be once again sanctioned because of her human rights activities.

In 2003, Ms. Abdulghaffar had addressed a letter to the Minister of Social Affairs, outlining the various problems faced by post office workers. This was followed by a petition signed by 200 workers supporting the activities of the newly-created trade union. At that time, all the employees who signed this petition - including Ms. Abdulghaffar - were threatened with dismissal and with promotion freezing. Ms. Abdulghaffar related these abuses to the press through various press releases and interviews in 2006 and 2007[1], in which she also mentioned the problems faced by post office workers, infringements to trade-union freedom as well as the constant discrimination and harassment against the members of her union in terms of pay rise, workload, and relocation[2].

Since then, the post administration has almost systematically resorted to measures of intimidation against her as a reaction to the publication of her interventions in the media or to the exercise of her fundamental freedoms:

- on October 17, 2006, she received a warning letter from the assistant of the Post Office Under Secretary, threatening her with suspension of salary for three days, as a reaction to her press releases of August 2006;

- on November 23, 2006, she was summoned to appear before an investigation committee for a discussion on her press articles as well as her trade union activities. The committee decided to suspend her salary and professional activities for three days (from January 23 to 25, 2007);

- on July 23 and October 10, 2007, she was again called before the investigation committee to explain herself on the information she published in the press in 2007;

- on January 14, 2008, another session of the investigation committee accused her of “wasting time” and “disobeying orders”;

- on January 28, 2008, she was accused before the same body of “attending a solidarity picket in support of trade unions”. As a consequence, she was suspended from work for 10 days (from February 9 to 14 and 16 to 19, 2008).

In addition, all contacts between her and other employees have been banned by the post office administration since 2006. Her telephone and computer were also removed from her office, and the administration decided to stop giving her work duties.

At the end of 2007, Ms. Abdulghaffar was given a bad evaluation mark from her employers, who decided to freeze her salary indefinitely.

The Observatory denounces these acts of continuing harassment against Ms. Abdulghaffar, and deplores the situation of trade-union freedom in Bahrain, in a context of a degradation of fundamental freedoms.

The Observatory further recalls that as a member of the Human Rights Council from June 2006 to June 2007, Bahrain had committed to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”[3]. A few days ahead of the review of the human rights record of Bahrain through the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, the Observatory demands that the Bahraini authorities refrain immediately, permanently and unconditionally from any form of harassment against all human rights defenders, and conform in all circumstances with international human rights standards.

Accordingly, the Observatory urges the Bahraini authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Abdulghaffar and of all the members of the post office trade union, as well as to put an end to all forms of harassment against Ms. Abdulghaffar and human rights defenders in Bahrain.

Furthermore, the Observatory calls upon the Bahraini authorities to conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, its Article 6(b), which reads that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others [...] freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms, Article 11, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to the lawful exercise of his or her occupation or profession”, as well as Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

More generally, the Observatory calls upon the Bahraini authorities to ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

In the hope that you will take these considerations into account,

Yours sincerely,

Souhayr Belhassen Eric SOTTAS

FIDH President OMCT Secretary General

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[1] See press releases to Al Ayam, August 14, 2006, Akhbar Alkhaleej, August 15, 2006, written statements to Alwasat, Akhbar Alkhaleej, Alwaqt and Al Ayam on January 19, 23 and 24, 2007 and June 21, 2007, as well as press releases to Alwasat on July 24, 2007 and to Al Watan on October 1, 2007.

[2] Several employees members of the trade union were relocated to other post office premises away from the union.

[3] See OP9 of the General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/251

14 Mar, 2008

Reporters Without Borders: Bahrain under watch in the First Online Free Expression Day

Reporters Without Borders has launched the first Online Free Expression Day today. http://www.rsf.org/print.php3?id_article=26086 “From now on, we will organise activities every 12 March to condemn cyber-censorship throughout the world,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A response of this kind is needed to the growing tendency to crack down on bloggers and to close websites."

“Today, the first time this day is being marked, we are giving all Internet users the opportunity to demonstrate in places were protests are not normally possible. We hope many will come and protest in virtual versions of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Cuba’s Revolution Square or on the streets of Rangoon, in Burma. At least 62 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned worldwide, while more than 2,600 websites, blogs or discussions forums were closed or made inaccessible in 2007.”

The press freedom organisation added: “Our list of ‘Internet Enemies’ has also been updated with the addition of two countries - Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. And we are offering an new version of our Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents.”

Reporters Without Borders learned last night that UNESCO has withdrawn its patronage for today’s Online Free Expression Day (read our press release).

To denounce government censorship of the Internet and to demand more online freedom, Reporters Without Borders is calling on Internet users to come and protest in online versions of nine countries that are Internet enemies during the 24 hours from 11 a.m. tomorrow, 12 March, to 11 a.m. on 13 March (Paris time, GMT +1). Anyone with Internet access will be able to create an avatar, choose a message for their banner and take part in one of the cyber-demos taking place in Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, North Korea, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

There are 15 countries in this year’s Reporters Without Borders list of “Internet Enemies” - Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. There were only 13 in 2007. The two new additions to the traditional censors are both to be found in sub-Saharan Africa: Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

“This is not at all surprising as these regimes regularly hound the traditional media,” Reporters Without Borders says in the introduction to its report.“Internet penetration is very slight, but nevertheless sufficient to give them a few nightmares. They follow the example of their seniors and draw on the full arsenal of online censorship methods including legislation, monitoring Internet cafés and controlling ISPs.”

There is also a supplementary list of 11 “countries under watch.” They are Bahrain, Eritrea, Gambia, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Unlike the “enemies,” these countries do not imprison bloggers or censor the Internet massively. But they are sorely tempted and abuses are common. Many of them have laws that they could use to gag the Internet if they wanted. And the judicial or political authorities often use anti-terrorism laws to identify and monitor government opponents and activists expressing themselves online.

“The hunting down of independent thinkers online is all the more effective as several major western companies have colluded with governments in pinpointing ‘trouble-makers’,” the reports says. “US company Yahoo! apologised in 2007 for a ‘misunderstanding’ which ended in journalist Shi Tao being sent to prison for ten years. The company has been responsible for the imprisonment of a total of four Chinese cyber-dissidents. It was apparently willing to ‘obey local laws’ that forced it to identify Internet users deemed to be dangerous.”

Finally, a new version of the Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents is available in French and English on the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org). It offers practical advice and techniques on how to start up a blog, how to blog for anonymously and how to circumvent censorship. It also includes the accounts of bloggers from countries such as Egypt and Burma.

The cyber-demonstration was devised and produced by the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

© Reporters Without Borders 2008

11 Mar, 2008

US State Department : Bahrain Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2007

Bahrain Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2007 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor March 11, 2008 Bahrain is a monarchy with a population of approximately 725,000, approximately 430,000 of whom are citizens, according to official figures. King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa is the head of state and all branches of government. The king appoints a cabinet of ministers, half of whom are members of the Al‑Khalifa royal family. The 2002 constitution reinstated a legislative body with one elected chamber, the Council of Deputies, and one appointed chamber, the Shura Council. All political societies participated in the November and December 2006 parliamentary and municipal elections. Trained local observers did not report significant problems during the elections, although there were allegations that the government manipulated general poll center vote counts in some cases and gerrymandered political districts. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices. Although citizens were not able to form political parties, the law authorized registered political societies to run candidates and participate in other political activities. The judiciary lacked independence, and corruption was a problem. Domestic violence against women and children was common, as was discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of expatriate workers remained problems. The Shi'a majority population was routinely discriminated against. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From: a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life There were no reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings. However, on December 17, a 31-year-old man, Ali Jasem, died after participating in a protest where Shi'a activists clashed with security forces. Although the official autopsy reported he died of “acute cardiovascular and respiratory collapse,” local human rights observers alleged his death was linked to inhaling tear gas used to disperse demonstrators. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The constitution prohibits such practices; however, there were reports during the year that security forces employed them. According to a June 1 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, security forces severely beat Ali Saeed Al-Khabbaz and Hassan Yousif Hameed after arresting them on May 21 while breaking up a gathering near the house of political activist Hassan Mushaima. According to HRW, on May 29, Ministry of Interior (MOI) officials informed the two men's families that they were in a military hospital. The hospital declined to give the families any information about their injuries. On May 29, the Arabic daily Al-Wasat published photos of the men depicting swelling and bruising on their faces and heads. According to HRW, Hameed sustained a broken jaw. On June 7, both men were released following a meeting between the minister of the interior and Secretary General of Al-Wifaq Islamic Society Shaikh Ali Salman. There was no investigation into the alleged abuses. Following protests that occurred on December 18 and 20, security forces arrested dozens of protestors and detained them in the Adliyeh detention center. According to HRW, some detainees were reportedly tortured and abused in prison by judicial interrogators that beat and electrocuted them. One detainee, Maytham Badr al-Shaykh, reported that interrogators sexually assuaulted and electrocuted him. Officials denied the allegations of abuse. Human rights activists, including the dissolved Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), continued to demand government accountability for alleged acts of torture committed prior to 2001. Prison and Detention Center Conditions Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards. Unlike in previous years, the government did not permit any visits by international human rights observers. In August 2006 the quasi-governmental Supreme Council for Women (SCW) conducted a visit of the country's women's prison in Isa Town. There was no publicly released SCW report on the visit. In 2005 a Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) team made two visits to Jaw Prison, the country's men's prison. BHRS conducted interviews with staff and 56 inmates. There were reports from some inmates of mistreatment in the detention section where new inmates are first held before being assigned a permanent cell. Although International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials visited the country during the year, they did not request prison visits. Bahrain Red Crescent Society officials reported that ICRC officials had not visited prisons since the release of all political prisoners in 2000. d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. Role of the Police and Security Apparatus The MOI is responsible for public security. It controls the Public Security Force and the extensive security service, which are responsible for maintaining internal order. The Bahrain Defense Force is responsible for defending against external threats and also monitors internal security. The security forces were generally effective in maintaining internal order. A widespread lack of transparency made corruption difficult to assess. The press reported that authorities jailed and/or fined law enforcement officials for misconduct, most often for accepting bribes. During the year there were no known instances of police officers punished for committing human rights abuses. There is no mechanism in place for investigating security force abuses. In practice the MOI responded to allegations of abuse and public complaints by establishing ad hoc investigation committees. There is no evidence that these committees have ever issued public reports of their findings. Arrest and Detention In order to apprehend felony suspects, the police must convince the judge based on evidence to issue an arrest warrant. Police and security forces must transfer suspects to the public prosecutor's office immediately, and generally respect that requirement in practice. Within seven days of arrest, a detainee must appear before a judge in the public prosecutor's office. If the judge decides the suspect is a flight risk or a danger to society, a maximum additional 45 days detention is permitted while the investigation is carried out. This process may continue through subsequent reviews by different judges, but pretrial detention may not exceed six months. Judges may grant bail to a suspect and do so regularly. The 2006 counterterrorism legislation allows the public prosecution to detain a terrorism suspect for a five-day period. Upon request, the public prosecutor may extend this period based on the needs of the investigation for up to an additional 10 days. At the end of this period, the detainee must be transferred to the public prosecution and questioned within three days. The public prosecutor must then decide to issue a detention order or to release the detainee. The detention order may not exceed 60 days. Detainees were generally allowed prompt access to visiting family members. Detainee access to attorneys was often restricted in the early stages of detention; attorneys must seek a court order to confer with clients. The state provided counsel to indigent detainees. After conviction attorneys required the prison director's permission to visit a client in jail. On May 18, the king ordered the public prosecution to drop all charges against Hassan Mushaima, head of the Haq Movement; Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Director of the dissolved BCHR; and Shaker Abdulhussain, a Shi'a activist. Police arrested the men on February 2, and prosecutors charged them with inciting hatred, encouraging law-breaking, and publishing false news. The arrest sparked riots in several Shi'a villages. On September 30, according to the BHRS, police arrested Khalid Nour and Hussain al-Ali for taking an illegal commission and held them for 48 hours before granting access to an attorney. At year's end, the authorities had not announced charges against either Nour or al-Ali, and they remained in detention. On December 24, according to the Associated Press, Hafez Hafez, a lawyer for some of the detainees who were arrested by police following the December 20 clashes between Shi'a protestors and security forces, reported that the government refused to allow the detainees access to legal counsel or family members. Amnesty On February 25, a royal pardon released and dropped all charges against Mohamed al-Sahlawi and Hussein al-Habash. Authorities had charged them with promoting change of the system of the state through illegal means and possessing publications containing false information that "would cause disruption to public security and damage the public interest" in connection with plans to distribute leaflets calling for a boycott of the 2006 elections. On August 1, the government initiated an amnesty for illegal workers. On December 31, the amnesty was extended until Jan 31, 2008. Under the terms of the amnesty, any expatriate living or working illegally in the country may legalize his or her status without penalty or return to his or her home country without paying fines. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not respect judicial independence in practice. Courts were subject to government pressure regarding verdicts, sentencing, and appeals. There were allegations of corruption in the judicial system. The constitution provides that the king appoint all judges by royal decree. The king also serves as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the body responsible for supervising the work of the courts and the public prosecution. The legal system is based on a mix of British civil law, common law, Shari'a (Islamic law), and traditional laws. The judiciary is organized into two separate branches: the civil law courts and the Shari'a courts. The civil law courts, through their criminal and civil branches, adjudicate all civil and commercial cases, criminal cases, and personal status cases involving non-Muslims. The courts of minor cases (the lower courts and the Court of Execution) have one judge with jurisdiction over minor civil, commercial, and misdemeanor cases. The high civil courts have three judges with jurisdiction over larger civil and commercial cases, felonies, and personal status cases involving non-Muslims. The Civil High Court of Appeal has a panel of three judges and hears appeals. Both the civil and criminal court systems