31 Mar, 2009

THE OBSERVATORY FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS: Call for the acquittal of Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati


Paris-Geneva, March 30, 2009. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, call for the acquittal of Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, Director of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), which organises training workshops, monitors and documents human rights violations and participates in forming a regional network for young human rights activists in eight Arab countries.

Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati will be tried on March 31, 2009 upon charges of “activating an unregistered association before issuing the declaration of registration”, in the follow-up of a hearing that had taken place on November 27, 2007 before the Fourth Degree Minor Criminal Court.

These charges are linked to the fact that BYSHR failed to get registered because of the restricting procedures included in the Bahraini 1976 Criminal Code and 1989 Law on Associations, which pose conditions to the registration of NGOs, among which the approval by the authorities, the forbidding of handling political issues and the fact that all members should be older than 18 years old. According to these laws, the sentence incurred by Mr. Al-Maskati is six months' imprisonment and a 5,000 dinars fine.

The Observatory recalls that the Kingdom of Bahrain presented its candidacy to the Human Rights Council in 2006, and has accepted in this respect to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, in line with the General Assembly resolution creating the Council (A/RES/60/251). The Observatory points out in that regard that the grounds invoked by the authorities of Bahrain against BYSHR's Director are inconsistent with a number of international human rights standards.

First, the Observatory underlines that BYSHR had filed for registration in June 2005, and has never received any answer from the authorities since then.

According to the United Nations (UN) former Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, "registration should not be compulsory” and “NGOs should be allowed to exist and carry out collective activities without having to register if they so wish"[1].

Ms. Hina Jilani also recommended that when registration was required, States should adopt regimes of “declaration” or “notification” rather than “authorisation”, and that the law must set short time limits for the State to respond to the applications. Additionally, the decision to deny registration should be fully argued and cannot be politically motivated. Failure to provide a response should result in the NGO being considered as legally operative[2].

The Observatory therefore points out that according to international standards, approbation by the authorities should not be a pre-requisite for the creation of an association, and that any denial of registration should be adequately motivated, which never happened in the present case.

Secondly, the Observatory underlines that BYSHR carries out human rights, not political, activities. Hence the provision forbidding the handling of political issues cannot be retained against Mr. Al-Maskati.

The Observatory argues in the end that the provisions of the Bahraini legislation requesting that members of associations be over 18 years-old violate Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the Kingdom of Bahrain acceded on February 13, 1992, and which reads that “States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly”.

For all these reasons, the Observatory calls for the acquittal of Mr. Al-Maskati, in particular as the judicial proceedings against him seem to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities.

More generally, the Observatory urges the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to ensure that acts of harassment against human rights defenders in the country be stopped, in conformity with the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

For further information, please contact:

FIDH : Gael Grilhot / Karine Appy, + 33 1 43 55 25 18

OMCT : Delphine Reculeau, + 41 22 809 49 39


[1] See recommendations in the Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, 2004, at III, 54, Good practices and recommendations in conformity with the Declaration.

[2] Idem, at III, 82.

29 Mar, 2009

An Asian Worker Loses his Life in the Worst Deterioration of Ethnic Tension Yet,

1. An Asian Worker Loses his Life in the Worst Deterioration of Ethnic Tension Yet 2. A growing sense of hatred towards all foreigners, due to the Bahraini authorities employment of foreign mercenaries to suppress protests and attack protestors. 3. The Bahraini authorities instigate 'clashes' with protestors, and later use 'clashes' as an excuse to increase repression, justify further repression, and as part of a smear campaign against opposition activists

BCHR 29/03/2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights note with great sorrow the news published in the local press on March 22 regarding the death of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, a Pakistani national (58 years old). Mr. Riyad died on March 21 at Salmaniya hospital as a result of burns, which according to the Ministry of Interior, he suffered after the car he was driving was attacked with a Molotov cocktail on Maameer road on March 7.

Background The assault that took the life of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad is part of a series of incidents of violence and clashes between the Special Security Forces - and an increasing number of young youth who operate at the entrances of the Shiite villages in various areas of Bahrain, where they burn tires and garbage containers, and some of them throw stones or sometimes Molotov cocktails at the Special Security Forces. This happens within the tension of the political and security conditions in Bahrain, and the increasing decline of rights and liberties, and an escalation in the systematic sectarian discrimination by the country against the Shiite sect.

The BCHR believes that Sheikh Mohammed Riyad may not have been targeted as an individual, but rather, was a victim of the security clashes, and the increased suspicion and hatred against foreigners - especially of the Pakistani nationality - who are used widely in the National Security apparatus and the Special Security Forces. The Special Forces have been in charge of besieging and suppressing Shiite villages and areas - which witness acts of protest - and which are intensively and arbitrarily attacked with massive quantities of tear gas, rubber bullets. Special Security Forces also regularly carry out the random pursuit of individuals inside the villages, often assaulting and beating them.

In the last four years these activities have led to the death of one protestor, Ali Jassim Mohammed, the serious injury of scores of people, as well as the general exposure to tear gas of families, including the elderly and children, residing in villages. The BCHR released a report last month that reveals that 64% of the National Security Service are non-Bahrainis, with the majority of them are of Asian nationalities. Photographic and video evidence from 'clashes' show the employment of foreigners - in particular, Pakistanis - both in the Special Security Forces, and also as plainclothes intelligence officers operating in areas where there are protests.

It is in the context of the above-described situation, that Mr Riyad's car was attacked. It is important that his tragic and inexcusable killing sheds lights upon an increasingly dangerous situation in Bahrain, of violent ethnic tension, which is being created and stoked by the actions of the government.

Procedural Issues

The security services have announced the arrest of five suspects, and stated that a search is underway for others. Lawyers have already spoken against the practice of detaining and questioning the accused in the absence of their lawyers.

The process of arrest also raises concern. As is the case with the arrest of those suspected of attacking Mr Riyad's car, it is rare that the individuals accused are arrested red-handed at the scene of the incident. Instead, in the days following any given incident a campaign of arrests is launched based on lists in the possession of the National Security Service. 'Suspects' are then held in custody, and questioned over periods of up to two or three weeks. They are then brought before courts that do not even consider the improper legal proceedings, or the allegations of maltreatment in custody. The court sentencing is generally based on pre-obtained confessions which are usually extracted under duress during custody, and denied by detainees deny in court. The testimonies of security personnel, whose statements are inconsistent and who often fail to identify the detainees are also used as evidence - while the defense witnesses' statements are not considered.

Guilty before Proven

These skewed legal proceedings tend to take place alongside a politically motivated smear campaign in the local pro-government press or international news agencies, where the incident used to damage the reputation of legitimate opponents to the regime, and human rights defenders. This media campaign has the effect of creating a 'conviction' or consensus of guilt before the detainees' actually go through court proceedings. It also works to discourage and taint the lawful demands for rights of the detainees, including the right to not be to arbitrarily arrested, the right to protection from maltreatment or torture in custody, and the right to a fair trial.

Previous Incidents of Note

19 people - most of who are activists and human rights defenders - are currently being held in custody and on trial for allegedly causing the death of Majid Asghar on April 9 2008. Mr Asghar was a Pakistani member of the Special Forces who was part of a security mission on that day, wearing civilian clothes and in a civilian car, near the Karzakan village where protests were being staged.

The Ministry of Interior has also recently announced that almost 40 people set fire to a civilian car by Duraz village, where two security officers inside it survived. The Bahraini authorities also announced that a number of Asian migrant workers have been assaulted and injured by Bani Jamra villagers. The local Press has also reported more than one incident where civilians of Asian origin were attacked due to suspicions that they were members of the National Security. All of these incidents show the dangers which ordinary expatriates, or even Bahraini citizens of Asian background, are being exposed to, in a climate of increasing mistrust and violence.

Some opponents have questioned the truth behind some of the allegations of arson and violence. In the case of Mr Asghar, the medical examiners testimony in court confirmed that his death was not caused by burning, as was announced through the Interior Ministry's media office and by the Public Prosecution. According to the coroner Mr Asghar was killed as a a result of collision with the ground or a solid object.

On March 16, the local Press ran a statement by security officials stating that a car was set aflame by several individuals throwing Molotov cocktails at it in Duraz village, and photos of the burnt car were published with the news piece. However, on the same day, several electronic forums published photographs of the same car showing a group of Special Security personnel from the National security apparatus standing by the above-mentioned car watching the small flame beside the car without attempting to extinguish it. Photos in the sequence show that a member of the security forces appears to be pouring a liquid on the small fire which then causes it to grow and burn the whole car. (Photos attached) The Bahraini authorities has used these incidents to justify the arrest, maltreatment and trials of numerous political opponents and human rights activists. The photos that are related to incidents of arson are used within an organized media campaign inside and outside Bahrain in order to depict incidents in Bahrain as organized acts of terror. This same campaign accuses independent human rights organizations and opposition activists of standing behind these incidents, or provoking people to carry out these acts, in order to justify a crackdown on their liberties, activities and to prosecute them in Bahrain's legal system.

The BCHR and the BYSHR stress that the attack on Sheikh Mohammed Riyad is a terrible violation of his right to life, the most fundamental human right. We emphasize that nothing justifies endangering the safety and lives of innocent people. The BCHR and the BYSHR are sad and disturbed by the escalating sense of hatred and enmity towards foreigners, particularly Asians, among the ordinarily-tolerant Bahraini society. This escalating tension and violence threatens social harmony and civil peace, and is especially worrying since foreigners form almost half of the population of Bahrain, and many of them contributed towards building this country.

The BCHR and the BYSHR holds the Bahraini authorities accountable for this dangerous increase in negativity and violence towards foreigners, and calls for public awareness of this matter.

The BCHR and the BYSHR demand the following:

A fair and independent investigation into the assault on Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, and that its perpetrators are brought to justice in a trial with fair and independent proceedings.

A guarantee that the rights of those arrested on charges related to the incident are protected in a fair trial, and a guarantee that International standards in the procedures of arrest, detention and investigation are met. This also includes the prevention of torture and maltreatment in custody, and the guarantee of the fairness and independence of the court, as well as the assurance of every individual's right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial.

A just and independent investigation into complaints regarding violations committed by Special Security Forces in the areas where protests are constantly taking place, and that security personnel involved in such breaches are held accountable presented before an unbiased and independent court.

An end to the policy of using foreigners in State Security apparatus to suppress Bahraini civilians, and an end to the practice of using foreign mercenaries as plainclothes officers in Bahraini villages, which ultimately endangers them and other foreigners who are not involved in the Security Forces.

And end to the policy of using security incidents as part of a smear campaign against human rights defenders, and as a means to hinder their legitimate work and prosecute them.

To honestly address the causes of political and security tension, and to stop the policy of the systematic sectarian discrimination and to guarantee the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all citizens.

For all Bahrainis to recognize the ultimate futility and failure of such acts of violence, and to end all acts of violence and hatred against foreigners, the vast majority of whom are here with legitimate cause and contribute greatly to the Bahraini nation.

26 Mar, 2009

Bahrain: Special Forces Shoot and Wound Protestors with Shotgun Bullets

Bahrain: Special Forces Shoot and Wound Protestors with Shotgun Bullets 26 March 2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights express their deep concern regarding the use of shotguns by the Special Forces, that is a subordinate of the National Security Service, against the demonstrators in the escalating protests in Bahrain.

Based on the information supported by photographs, the Special Forces used this gun Friday 13 March 2009 to disperse the participants in the peaceful gathering in Sitra area, who were demanding the retrieval of their lands that have been taken up by the government for military purposes. The same Forces reused the same gun on Sunday 15 March 2009 at a gathering of some of the families who were demanding the release of their detained children by the Duraz roundabout. The use of that gun led to the injury of several protestors.

The shotgun fires a bullet which explodes directly after being shot, and which releases tens of solid balls that spread over a wide area to hit the largest number possible of targets, and leads to the injury of more people among the demonstrators. These solid masses penetrate the human skin, stop at the bones, and do not penetrate them. It is difficult to pull out these masses from the body later; there are tens of Bahraini citizens who still suffer from the penetration and settling of these objects in their bodies, since the 90’s. It is also difficult to treat or remove these masses due to their small size, and there are many who died in the incidents of the 90’s also due to the use of this gun which has been prepared for different purposes. It is believed that the gun that is used is the shotgun (Baikal MP-153) and which is usually used for bird hunting or for small animals.

The Special Forces in Bahrain increased its excessive use of force in the last months, and which is believed to be used to terrorize the participants in the protests, in order to cause the most possible damage to the demonstrators. The Special Forces in Bahrain are made up of foreign mercenaries, who the Bahraini authorities bring from some of the Sunni Arabian tribes, from Syria Jordan, Yemen, Iraq or from Baluchistan tribes in Pakistanis . Usually, the victims that are targeted are from Shiite villages and who form the majority of the native inhabitants of the country.

Mohammed Al-Maskati – president of the BYSHR – commented on this and said, “the Bahraini authorities pursue of excessive violence, and the targeting of demonstrators and shooting them with shotguns, and depending on foreign mercenary forces to do so will not only not solve the human rights and political crisis, but it will rather complicate it further”. He added, “The authorities in Bahrain have to respect the international commitments and conventions which it had adhered to both legally and morally, especially that it is a member in the Human Rights Council.”

The BCHR and the BYSHR recommend the following:

1. To stop using firearms, of all kinds, and to stop using excessive violence against the demonstrators.

2. To stop bringing in and using non-Bahraini mercenaries, with a sectarian agenda, in the various security services.

3. To form an independent investigation committee, which inspects the issue of using excessive force and illegal use of foreigners and to bring those responsible to trial.

4. To start an actual dialogue with the powers of society to resolve the crisis the country is going through, and to stop resorting to security solutions.

25 Mar, 2009

Nabeel Rajab:dangerous this time is that they are legalising it under the pretext of national security

'Big Brother' move rapped By GEOFFREY BEW NEW regulation that would force telecommunication companies to keep records of everyone's phone calls, e-mails and the websites they visit in Bahrain, has been attacked by human rights activists and MPs.

It has been drafted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which wants the information to be stored for up to three years.

Both the National Security Agency and the BDF Directorate of Military Intelligence would have access to the data, but only upon receipt of a court order or permission from the Public Prosecution.

It would allow authorities to eavesdrop on the content of phone calls, e-mails and any other form of electronic communication.

In addition, information such as the phone numbers of the parties' involved, the date, time and duration of the call and their location at the beginning and end of the call would also be stored.

Similar data will also be logged from text messages, multi-media messages and enhanced messages.

Meanwhile, information retained from e-mails sent and received would include the authentication username, date, time of login and logout, the Internet Protocol (IP) address, date and time the mail was sent.

Telecommunication companies would have to provide access to the information within 24 hours of a request being made.

They would also be responsible for paying the costs of setting up such a system.

Companies would have two months to submit a plan for establishing a database to the TRA and another six months to put it into effect.

Firms would be able to keep an electronic copy of the data, but would have to ensure its safe storage and maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the information.

The TRA says the law has been proposed to help maintain national security, but has been criticised for allowing Bahrain's authorities to spy on its citizens.

President of the now-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab claimed it would provide a legal mandate to invade people's privacy - especially political and human rights activists.

"Although infringing privacy of activists has always been practised by the Bahrain authorities, what is more dangerous this time is that they are legalising it under the pretext of national security," he said, as he urged the TRA to withdraw the draft law.

Parliament's foreign affairs, defence and national security committee chairman MP Shaikh Adel Al Maawada was also against the proposal.

However, his opposition could be futile since the regulation does not have to be approved by MPs.

"This is a breach of personal freedom and is unethical," he told the GDN. This will mean everyone being monitored - including me.

"It is like (the government is) entering your home without your permission to see what you are doing with your family. This is against Islam. Everyone has the right to personal freedom."

Tomorrow is the deadline for public comments on the draft law. People can submit their views directly to the TRA by e-mail or deliver their comments in person to the TRA's office, in the Diplomatic Area, by 4pm tomorrow.

The TRA will then review the feedback and publish a report on the public consultation process, before officials decide whether the draft should be amended.

Once that process is completed, the regulation will become law and officials said it could be implemented as early as next month.

However, Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) general-secretary Dr Abdulla Al Deerazi claimed the law could breach the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Bahrain has signed.

"The whole thing will breach privacy and interfere with personal freedom," he said.

"To apply such a law goes against transparency.

"This is not a 21st Century step. This is like going back to the dark ages, especially with the Information Technology revolution.

"It puts into mind that the state is moving towards security solutions, but they have proven unsuccessful before the reform projects and even now.

"If you do not trust your citizens how can you expect them to trust you?"

Dr Al Deerazi believed the government was trying to discourage activists, but predicted the plan was doomed to failure.

"The only explanation for such a law, the way it is, is to target activities in all fields of political and human rights," he said.

"It will not stop us. We will be more determined to continue our work."

However, TRA officials claimed there had been a "misunderstanding" about the purpose of the regulation and denied suggestions it breached the country's constitution.

"It (the draft regulation) sets out the requirements for telecommunications operators to retain all communication logs and to allow access to such information and actual call content when required by the authorities," said a TRA statement.

"The competent authorities will have to follow standard procedures as part the relevant laws to instigate access on the strength of a permit by the Public Prosecutor's office or by virtue of an order issued by the court."

Officials also claimed the proposed regulation was no different to other national security measures around the world.

"In line with international practice, this regulation addresses lawful access and data retention in the context of the constitution and the Telecommunications Law and strives to balance the individual right to privacy and national security requirements," added TRA general director Alan Horne.

The full text of the regulation is available in English and Arabic on the TRA's website at www.tra.org.bh.

People can e-mail their comments to the TRA on consult@tra.org.bh. geoff@gdn.com.bh


© Gulf Daily News http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=246587

24 Mar, 2009

Human Rights Watch: Bahrain: Coerced Testimony Taints Trial

Charges Against 35 Political Opponents Also Marred by Lack of Evidence, Overbroad Laws, Trials in Absentia March 23, 2009 (New York) - Bahrain's use of televised, coerced testimony and other serious flaws in the criminal trial of an opposition leader and others shows contempt for the right to a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that all coerced testimony in the trial of Hassan Mushaima, leader of the political opposition group Haq, and 34 others should be withdrawn and that those not charged with a genuine criminal offense should be freed.

"The televised statements of young activists detained without access to lawyers smacks of coercion and should be tossed out of the courtroom," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "Their use makes a mockery of government claims of providing Haq members a fair trial."

On December 28, 2008, state-controlled television showed a program in which young opposition activists who had been held incommunicado for weeks "confessed" to committing violence at a Haq rally ahead of Bahrain national holidays on December 16 and 17. The broadcast accused Mushaima of inciting violence as part of a plot to overthrow the government during these holidays.

The televised testimony is a key element in the prosecution's case involving various charges against Mushaima and 34 others. The trials began in February and resume on March 24, in Manama, the capital.

Large portions of the February 23 court proceedings were omitted from the official trial record, said a defense lawyer, Jalila al-Sayed, including detailed torture allegations by many of the 19 defendants then present. She told Human Rights Watch that they testified that they had been beaten with water hoses and on their feet, and tortured with electricity, especially on their genitals. Several reportedly said all their clothes were removed, and one alleged being threatened with sexual assault.

In the broadcast, which is accessible on the internet, several young men are shown and identified by name, admitting to throwing stones, shouting slogans, and setting street fires. They repeat allegations that Mushaima, the secretary-general of Haq, prompted and persuaded them to "continue the fight." The broadcast was divided into five sections, one of which was headlined "Terrorism and the Industry of Death" (al-irhab wa sina'at al mowth). Some of the detainees said, though, in a February 23 court session that their confessions were coerced.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Sheikh Abd al-Aziz Bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, defended the broadcast. "With all the facts that we have we believe that we were entitled to put the public at firsthand knowledge," he told Human Rights Watch. Mai Al Khalifa, the minister of culture and information, told the media that the ministry was complying with a "judicial order" of the public prosecutor when it broadcast the "confessions."

Some of the 35 defendants were arrested before the holidays, after a Haq-sponsored rally in Manama that ended with stone-throwing and tires being set on fire in the streets. Three of the defendants, including Mushaima, were arrested without warrants at their homes in the early hours of January 26. The others are Abd al-Jalil al-Singace, who heads Haq's human rights unit, and Muhammad al-Moqdad, a cleric. The three face various charges, the most serious being "inciting violent overthrow of the government using terrorist methods."

Thirteen are believed to be abroad and are being tried in absentia. Human Rights Watch opposes in absentia trials in virtually all circumstances as violating the right of defendants to challenge the evidence against them.

Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that none of those in custody were informed of the charges against them until February 10. Nineteen of the 35 defendants, including Mushaima, remain in solitary confinement, a lawyer for the group told Human Rights Watch.

Mushaima faces the most serious charge of "forming, leading, providing necessary monies, and training an illegal organization whose purpose is the advocacy of disrupting provisions of the law and which uses terrorism as one of its methods," under article 6 of Bahrain's counterterrorism law (58/2006). He has been ordered to remain in detention until the court reaches its decision, and faces possible life imprisonment if convicted.

He and Singace are also charged under article 165 of the 1976 Penal Code with "inciting hatred against the system of government, using violence to distort the government, discrediting the government's reputation through publications and speeches, and trying to convince others to join in this effort." Singace also has been charged under the 1976 Penal Code with "joining an organization outside the provisions of the law whose purpose is the advocacy of disrupting provisions of the Constitution and the law and to knowingly undertake terrorist operations."

Bahrain's obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include the right to a fair trial. Bahrain has also ratified the Convention against Torture, which prohibits torture and other ill-treatment under all circumstances and prohibits the use of statements made as a result of torture as evidence in legal proceedings.

"The overly broad and ambiguous language of Bahrain's counterterrorism law and penal code allow the government to criminalize the basic rights to freedom of expression and association," Stork said. "The government, for political purposes, seems to have turned a matter of stone throwing and lit tires into a conspiracy to overthrow the government without any evidence to prove it."

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http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/03/23/bahrain-coerced-testimony-taints-trial © Copyright 2008, Human Rights Watch

23 Mar, 2009

Menassat:Bahrain's "anti-porn" campaign heightens censorship

Published on Menassat (http://www.menassat.com)

By ALEXANDRA SANDELS Created 23/03/2009 - 16:40

BEIRUT, MARCH 23, 2009 (MENASSAT) – In January, local newspapers in Bahrain made public a ministerial order by Bahrain’s new Minister of Media and Culture, Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, that called on telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to tighten their measures in preventing access to websites previously banned by the ministry.

The resolution read, “Lifting the block on any site should only be on the instructions of the minister herself."

Al-Khalifa's campaign is being billed as an action against, "pornographic websites and public morality,” but activists cite several examples of websites that have been censored or banned, which fall outside of the minister's edict, including those of human rights, religious, and political organizations.

According to rights-groups, hundreds of websites have been blocked by the government on the grounds that they "incite violence," the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, BCHR, reported.

Nabeel Rajab of BCHR, whose website is on Al-Khalifa’s blacklist, told MENASSAT earlier this year that the majority of the sites blocked in Bahrain are dealing with human rights and political issues in the country and in “village chat forums.”

Sites that are currently inaccessible in Bahrain include independent newspaper Bahrain Times, the online current events forum Montadayat, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Facebook censorship

The Bahraini authorities appear to have also turned their attention to social media, in an attempt to block dissident voices.

In a recent press release, BCHR accused Al-Khalifa of expanding the censorship campaign to social networking sites such as Facebook. The organization “discovered” that the national authorities had removed postings on Facebook pages belonging to Bahraini rights groups that reported on the human rights situation in the country.

Among the reports that mysteriously disappeared from BCHR’s page were Amnesty International's recent report on human rights defenders in the Middle East and North Africa, an AlJazeeratalk report on human rights violations in Bahrain, and a statement from the BCHR on the prosecution of Bahraini journalist Lamees Dhaif.

BCHR said it believes the motives behind the censoring of the “dissident entries” on Facebook is the “realization of the Bahraini authorities that this social site has extensive accessibility and distribution.”

Rajab also personally attacked Al-Khalifa in response to BCHR’s recent Facebook ordeal and accused the minister - often labeled as a “liberal" - of being the chief architect behind the censorship campaign.

“We are dismayed that this war is spearheaded by Mai Al-Khalifa, a lady modeled as liberal and presented with many medals in recognition of her support to culture and liberalism,” stated Rajab.

Not just politics and porn targeted

A Bahraini human rights activist speaking on the condition of anonymity told MENASSAT that the current censorship campaign is “getting out of hand” with regular sites that are unrelated to porn and politics falling victim to the government’s censorship campaign.

The activist added that this development has led to much frustration among Bahrainis.

“You should note that the outcry is amongst all citizens, even average business owners who rely on the web. There are some web services, like galleries, that are blocked despite being entirely unrelated to proxies or porn or local politics. We demand that a full investigation is put in place on how and why all these sites are blocked and not only those that are either porn-related or relevant to the authorities,” the activist told MENASSAT.

The activist agreed with the claims made by BCHR that the censorship campaign has expanded to social media sites, saying that authorities have been blocking Facebook links since the beginning of March.

“We can't even share articles on our Facebook profiles, which is something I do all the time,” said the activist.

Activist crackdowns

Along with censorship, Bahraini activists are facing gloomy days as several have been sent to court for defamation suits.

The most recent was Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, former president of BCHR who currently works for the rights group Front Line. Al-Khawaja was accused of "instigating hatred and disrespect," in a speech he made in January, where he had lashed out against the Bahraini authorities, calling the government an "oppressive regime," that "plundered public lands, degraded the people, and used mercenaries against them.”

Human Rights Watch has reportedly called on Bahrain to drop all charges against Al-Khawaja and lift the travel ban authorities have imposed on him.

Legal suits have also been filed against human rights activists Abduljalil Alsingace, Hassan Mushaima and Mohamed Habib Al-Muqdad, "in relation to their publishing activities and speeches about the political situation in Bahrain,” reports the London-based Article 19.

The three men are due in court on March 24 to respond to the 18 charges filed against them. One of the charges is related to Bahrain’s Article 6 of the Terrorism Code of 2006 and carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

In a press release today, HRW reported a "serious use of flaws" in the criminal trial of Mushaima, leader of the political opposition group Haq, and said that all coerced testimony in his trial and in that of 34 others "should be withdrawn and that those not charged with a genuine criminal offense should be freed."

Meanwhile, HRW has reported legal suits against two Bahraini journalists, Lamees Dhaif of "Al Waqt" and Maryam al-Sherooqi of "Al Wasat.”

Dhaif is supposedly facing three years behind bars for writing an article series on the Bahraini court system's failures in family law. Al-Sherooqi has been charged with "insulting and degrading the Civil Service Bureau" for exposing discriminatory hiring practices at the Bureau.


Source URL: http://www.menassat.com/?q=en/news-articles/6231-bahrain-more-internet-censorship-activist-crackdowns

19 Mar, 2009

Authorities block links posted on BCHR Facebook page

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is alarmed by the widening scope of a censorship and internet blocking campaign, led by Mai Al-Khalifa, Minister of Information and member of the ruling family, targeting dissident voices about Bahrain. This campaign has extended to social networking sites such as Facebook, blocking any discussions the authorities consider subversive.

BCHR has conducted some research on the extent of this battle against freedom of expression inside Facebook to report on the following recent incidents of censorship of Facebook entries. BCHR believes that these samples do not comprise an exhaustive list:

- "Discrimination and sectarian oppression in Bahrain, a Systematic Reality" a report, in English, by Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, displayed on PressTV ( http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=86562§ionid=3510303 ). This report is posted on the BCHR Facebook page

- A BCHR alert posted on IFEX, which appears on the BCHR Facebook page, on the prosecution of journalist Lamees Dhaif, in both English and Arabic. ( http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101406 )

- "A Window Overlooking Bahrain," a report in Arabic by Kawther Ali, "Aljazeeratalk" reporter, covering some aspect of recent popular protests and human rights violations in Bahrain ( http://www.aljazeeratalk.net/portal/content/view/4152/56 )

- Amnesty International's recent report on human rights defenders covering Middle East and North Africa, posted on the BCHR Facebook page ( http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/as...0012009ara.pdf ). Brief coverage of this report was also posted on the BBC Arabic site

- An electronic forum by the University of Bahrain students, posted on the BCHR Facebook page, managed by a group of students covering issues of academic and public concern. An electronic vote is displayed on its main page ( http://www.uobvoice.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=747 )

- A "Washington Post" piece on a "Democracy Appeal", a petition addressed to US President Obama by 163 American and overseas politicians, human rights defenders, academics, and others, calling for the U.S.'s commitment to genuine democratization and support of human rights in the Muslim world and a promise to cease supporting autocrats and dictators in this part of the world. This article and the letter with signatories, was posted on Facebook by activist AJ Alsingace, Head of the Human Rights Unit in the HAQ Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy

- A link to page 4 of the 14 February issue of "Alwasat" newspaper, showing different portraits of human rights violations, with an English comment: "UTTERLY untrue. Bahrain is a safe haven. People enjoy freedom of expression, assembly, religious practice, etc. Children, youth, women and seniors are enjoying it!" This remark and link was posted on BCHR's Facebook page by the activist AJ Alsingace. ( http://www.alwasatnews.com/pdf/default.asp?issue_number=2381&p=1 )

- Facebook provides a free SMS service for its members. The authorities blocked the downloading of the application software from the site, which is required for the Facebook chat service.

What is interesting is that these items and comments are accessible outside of Facebook. BCHR believes that the drive behind the eagerness of the Bahraini Authorities to block these and similar dissident entries on Facebook is the realization that this social site has extensive accessibility and distribution.

Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, responded to this campaign:"We consider this campaign to be a war against all forms of expression". He added: "This war has widened to include even social and worldwide renowned sites like Facebook. We are dismayed that this war is spearheaded by Mai Al-Khalifa, a lady modeled as liberal and presented with many medals in recognition of her support to culture and liberalism". Rajab concluded: "We are wary of these accolades. Mai Al-Khalifa's actions, with regards to restricting freedom of expression, should be the basis for the retractions of those accolades.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the Bahraini Authorities asking them to: - lift the ban and blockage of BCHR's Facebook entries and respect the freedom of expression of BCHR's Facebook group members - put an end to the campaign against all forms of freedom of expression and lift the ban on dissident voices on the web - repeal all administrative resolutions targeting web accessibility and restricting freedom of expression, and constrain the Minister of Information's involvement in media censorship - amend the Press Code of 2002, ensuring its conformity to international conventions

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.


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; Facebook: English Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=44138766349, Arabic Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=50727622539

19 Mar, 2009


In the Bahraini government's ongoing crackdown on free expression, blogs and social networking websites have been censored, union leaders have been slapped with defamation suits and human rights activists are facing up to 10 years or even life in prison, report the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19.

Last week, Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, former president of BCHR who now works for Front Line, was in court on charges of "instigating hatred and disrespect", stemming from a speech he made in January that was critical of the government. Human Rights Watch, which monitored the trial with Front Line, called on Bahrain to drop the charges and lift the travel ban on Al-Khawaja.

"Speaking out harshly against a country's rulers should not be a crime," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "A government that claims to be promoting democracy and human rights, as Bahrain does, shouldn't be putting people in jail for what they say and write."

In his speech, Al-Khawaja called the government an "oppressive regime," that "plundered public lands, degraded the people, and used mercenaries against them." He called for the public to demand the removal of the "ruling gang" through "peaceful means."

Al-Khawaja thanked the trial monitor, Andrea Rocca of Front Line, who reported back details of the proceedings to Human Rights Watch and the IFEX Clearing House. "It seems that the presence of Andrea as a representative of important international NGOs had a great impact in regard to the restrictions and the proceedings", he said. Rocca noted, "In previous occasions, there was a very significant presence of riot police both outside and inside the court building and access was restricted. However, this morning, the presence of riot police was minimal, although many policemen in plainclothes were present. Access to the courtroom was not restricted," and a representative of BCHR and Al-Khawaja's family were able to enter freely.

ARTICLE 19 reports that another trial is ongoing against human rights activists Abduljalil Alsingace, Hasan Mushaima and Mohamed Habib Al-Muqdad "in relation to their publishing activities and speeches about the political situation in Bahrain." They were arrested on 26 January, and Alsingace was freed on bail, while the other two remain in jail. They return to court on 24 March, facing 18 charges, the most severe being related to Article 6 of the Terrorism Code of 2006 and carrying a penalty of life imprisonment. On 6 February, 20 members of IFEX, led by BCHR, protested the arrests of the above three men.

In spite of a constitution that protects the right of free expression, recent weeks have seen a spate of censorship tactics aimed at journalists, bloggers and activists.

BCHR reported this week that the Minister of Information, Mai Al-Khalifa, is expanding an Internet censorship campaign to social networking sites such as Facebook. BCHR has discovered the government has taken down Facebook postings that link to critical news reports or press releases from rights watch groups. Already, hundreds of websites have been blocked by the government on the grounds they "incite violence," according to BCHR.

BCHR also condemns the defamation case against two members of the Bahrain Nursing Association, who are accused of smearing officials at the Salmaneyya Medical Complex, the main public hospital in Bahrain. The High Criminal Court will rule on their case on 24 March.

Meanwhile, the legal cases continue against two other newspaper journalists, Lamees Dhaif of "Al Waqt" and Maryam al-Sherooqi of "Al Wasat," HRW reports. Dhaif faces three years for penning a series that used case studies to demonstrate the Bahraini court system's failures in family law and al-Sherooqi has been charged with "insulting and degrading the Civil Service Bureau" for exposing discriminatory hiring practices at the Bureau.

Visit these links: - HRW's coverage of the Al-Khawaja case: http://tinyurl.com/d5jdn9 - BCHR website: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en IFEX joint action on three detainees: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100645/ - IFEX's Bahrain page: http://tinyurl.com/ytqq7w

18 Mar, 2009

Freedom House: Women's Rights in Bahrain 2009

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.2 Autonomy, Security, and Freedom of the Person: 2.6 Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 3.1 Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.3 Social and Cultural Rights: 2.9 (On a scale of 1-5, with 1 representing the least rights and 5 representing the most rights available)


The Kingdom of Bahrain, a small island nation off the Arabian Peninsula, is generally considered more liberal in its interpretation and application of Islam than adjacent countries. Spurred by the political and economic reforms of hereditary ruler Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, women's rights have steadily improved since he took the throne in 1999. Shari'a (Islamic law) is the main source of legislation for family law courts, and the rights, duties, and gender roles of women in Bahrain are strongly influenced by the country's culture and religion. Bahraini citizens make up approximately one half of the resident population, which is believed to have reached one million.[1]

Bahrain is for the most part a peaceful nation, but friction between the Sunni-led government and the largely Shiite opposition persists. Although they constitute the majority of the population, Shiites face discrimination in employment, government services, and the education system. While the ongoing ethnic and sectarian tensions are deeply troubling, they have acted as a catalyst for increased women's participation in political movements and demonstrations calling for social equality and the promotion of democratic rights.[2]

With pressure and encouragement from local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), unions, and international bodies, the government has taken steps toward improving the standing of women in Bahrain in recent years. The quasi-governmental Supreme Council for Women (SCW) has played an important role in this process, and NGOs'including the Women's Union umbrella group'also promote women's rights. These entities have worked toward the promulgation of a unified family law code, in part to mitigate injustices in the current application of Shari'a.

Since the adoption of the National Action Charter in 2001 and the ratification of a new constitution in 2002, the autonomy, security, and freedom of Bahraini citizens have improved. The government has attempted to combat human trafficking over the past five years, and shelters have been created to support abused women; however, additional protections are still needed. Slavery is forbidden by both religion and the law, but slavery-like practices still occur, mainly affecting foreign domestic workers.

Bahrain ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2002 but made reservations to many important provisions, including those regarding family law, the granting of citizenship, and housing rights. Implementation of CEDAW has been slow, though under certain, extremely limited circumstances women have been able to pass Bahraini citizenship to their children. Although they now have access to adequate health care, academic opportunities, and employment, women need continued support in these areas to achieve true equality with men. Their participation in the workplace and in business has increased, and several Bahrainis are now listed among the most powerful businesswomen in the world.[3]

One woman won a seat in the popularly elected Council of Representatives in 2006 after running uncontested, becoming the first elected female member of parliament in any Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member state. However, women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making positions, constituting approximately one-quarter of the appointed Consultative Council, the upper house of the legislature. Their representation in the government, judicial system, and political parties also remains insufficient. However, several women have entered the judiciary in recent years, and two are now government ministers.


Gender-based discrimination continues to be evident throughout Bahrain's legal system, although the kingdom's recent election to the UN Human Rights Council has instilled hope among activists that the government will continue to expand women's rights. Over the last five years, local NGOs have continuously lobbied for the creation of a codified personal status law, as well as amendments to the citizenship law that would allow women to pass their citizenship to their spouse and children. Their success, however, has so far been limited.

Bahrain's 2002 constitution guarantees equality between men and women 'in political, social, cultural, and economic spheres, without breaching the provisions of Islamic canon law.'[4] The constitution also provides citizens the right to education, health care, property, housing, work, the right to defend the country, and the right to engage in economic activities. Although the constitution does not discriminate between people based on their gender, there are no laws that directly ban discrimination either. The Penal Code (No. 15 of 1976) does not contain any provisions that would punish individuals found guilty of discrimination against women at the workplace or in other facets of society.

Bahraini women remain unable to pass their citizenship to their non-Bahraini spouses, even though Article 7 of the Bahraini Citizenship Law of 1963 permits male Bahraini citizens to do so. Moreover, the law stipulates that children may only receive Bahraini citizenship from their father, and the child of a Bahraini mother and a foreign father may not receive his mother's nationality.[5] In September 2006, over 370 children of Bahraini mothers and noncitizen fathers were granted Bahraini citizenship, but this was an ad hoc decision made at the discretion of the king, and there is no guarantee that such an act will be repeated again.[6] In November 2008, in efforts to provide consistency and a legal foundation in such cases, the SCW recommended amendments to the citizenship law that would permit children from these unions to receive Bahraini citizenship after certain requirements are met. The SCW has called on all women's rights NGOs to openly discuss their proposal and make additional recommendations.

Bahrain has no codified personal status law. Instead, marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance cases are heard by separate family courts for Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The judges in these courts are often conservative religious scholars with little or no formal legal training, who make judgments according to their own interpretations and readings of Islamic law. Because they may implement Shari'a in an arbitrary manner, rulings are commonly detrimental to women's rights.

Women's rights NGOs began advocating for a codified personal status law as early as 1982, and the movement has been publicly supported by SCW since late 2005. The Women's Union has worked with Sunni and Shiite religious leaders and legal experts in drafting the law, which was presented to the government in December 2008. The strongest opposition to comes from religious groups'who demand that Shiites and Sunnis have their own divorce and inheritance laws'as well as conservative segments of the population who seek to return to traditional values. In November 2005, the Islamic political group Al-Wefaq organized a demonstration against the introduction of the personal status law that grew to include 120,000 people. By contrast, an alliance of women's rights organizations held a rally in support of the law on the same day that attracted only 500 supporters.

A woman's testimony before a Shari'a court is worth half that of a man's, and women's legal claims are treated unequally by the Shari'a judiciary. Men have the right to divorce that is effective immediately'Sunni men need only orally announce their intent to divorce while Shiite men must record their intent. On the other hand, women must either seek out a judicial divorce based on extremely narrow reasons, such as desertion or impotency, or else initiate khula. Khula is the Islamic practice of divorce initiated by a woman, but it requires the woman to return her dowry. Some men abuse khula'in certain instances requesting that the wife pays the approximate amount the husband spent on her during the entire marriage'taking advantage of the fact that women use this form of divorce because it is faster than the alternative. A judicial divorce may take years, during which time women may not be financially supported, and is not guaranteed to end in a divorce. Divorced Shiite women lose custody of their sons at the age of seven and their daughters at age of nine, while Sunni mothers retain custody of their daughters until they are married and sons until the age of majority.

'Unlike in Shari'a courts, the testimony of both sexes are weighted equally in civil and criminal courts, and women are able to bring charges in court without permission from male family members. Civil and criminal laws apply equally to both men and women, but fewer women than men go to prison because this is viewed as a punishment more appropriate for men.

No laws or government policies specifically address the issue of gender-based violence, and enforcement mechanisms are lacking for the existing legal provisions that may apply. The penal code generally addresses violence against citizens, but this is not adequate to protect against sexual harassment and domestic abuse. Wives, daughters, and female foreign workers rarely seek legal redress for violence committed against them, and when they do, the perpetrators often avoid punishment, thereby exposing victims to additional maltreatment. If a man commits a violent offense against a female relative, he may face a few days in jail, then sign a pledge and pay a fine.

The punishment for rape is life in prison, but spousal rape is not considered a crime.[7] Additionally, under Article 353 of the penal code, a rapist may avoid punishment if he agrees to marry his victim.[8] Although this is viewed by some as protecting women from shame, the psychological effects of this policy are grave and divorces after such unions are likely. Additionally, the rapist may later initiate a unilateral divorce, thereby avoiding both a rapist's punishment and a husband's responsibilities. These considerations make women less likely to report rape. Honor killings are punishable under Bahraini law, but Article 334 of the penal code permits a reduced penalty for one who surprises his or her spouse in the act of adultery and immediately assaults or kills the spouse or the spouse's accomplice.[9]

'Women are normally protected from discriminatory or arbitrary detention and exile, but they are vulnerable to these abuses in relation to prohibited sexual activities such as prostitution and zina (sexual relations outside marriage). The penal code prohibits adultery, sex outside of marriage, and homosexuality, all of which are also religiously and culturally forbidden. However, extramarital sexual activities by men are far more culturally acceptable than those of women. Articles 324 through 332 of the penal code prohibit prostitution for citizens and noncitizens of both sexes, but noncitizens'particularly women'are more likely to be prosecuted for such offenses. For instance, in May 2008, an Indian woman staying at a hotel in Bahrain with her husband and children was arrested during a 'vice raid' on suspicion of being a prostitute, although there was no evidence to support this claim.[10]

Having ratified CEDAW in 2002, Bahrain is required to institute a number of measures to prevent gender-based discrimination in law and in practice. However, reservations were placed on several CEDAW provisions in so far as they conflict with Shari'a, including the Article 2 prohibition against discrimination within government policies, particularly in the area of inheritance; the right of a woman to pass her citizenship to her husband and children under Article 9, paragraph 2; a woman's freedom of movement and choice regarding residence and housing under Article 15, paragraph 4; and equality in marriage and family life under Article 16.[11]

The reservations are the result of religious, cultural, and societal obstacles that will likely take time to overcome. Reservations to Article 2 are based on the Shari'a mandate that men receive greater inheritance than women in certain situations. The reservation to Article 9(2) regarding nationality reflects the tradition that children take the citizenship of their father to avoid dual citizenship. Full realization of Article 15 is hindered by social customs that prevent women from taking a full role in public life, and reservations were placed on Article 15(4) because it is still unacceptable for unmarried women to live outside their family homes. Finally, a reservation was placed on Article 16 in the belief that it conflicts with the Shari'a provisions that control marriage rights.

In October 2008, the SCW and Bahraini NGOs met before the CEDAW Committee at the United Nations offices in Geneva to discuss Bahrain's implementation of CEDAW. The SCW submitted a report on behalf of the government, defending its choice not to remove certain reservations and explaining efforts that have been made to empower Bahraini women. Simultaneously, 'shadow reports' were also submitted by Bahraini NGOs that asked the government to remove its reservations to CEDAW and improve women's rights in Bahrain.

The main government-sponsored entity that promotes and protects women's rights is the SCW, which was created by royal decree in 2001 for the purpose of helping the government formulate policies on women's issues. The council's relative power and state support, however, has somewhat diminished the role of women's rights NGOs. In addition to publishing studies, promoting political participation of women, organizing workshops, and advocating for gender equality, the SCW has supported the codification of Bahrain's family law and equal citizenship rights. Its approach, however, is tempered due to its association with the government. Within the state structure, the head of SCW has a rank equivalent to minister without portfolio.


The government should treat women as full persons before the law by recognizing their equality in courtroom settings, whether as litigants or jurists. In consultation with the SCW, the Women's Union and other NGOs, and liberal religious scholars and judges, the government should enact a codified personal status law that would prevent arbitrary and discriminatory rulings by Shari'a court judges. NGOs and the SCW, with the support of neutral parties, should establish connections with women's committees within Shiite and Sunni associations in order to more effectively promote the importance of a codified family law. ' The Women's Union, with the support of international and domestic NGOs, should establish a specialized committee dedicated to CEDAW that will monitor its implementation and work to remove reservations to provisions that do not conflict with Islamic law. The government should immediately remove its reservations to CEDAW and bring Bahraini law into compliance by providing women with equal citizenship, residence, marital, and custody rights as men.


Despite the protections offered by the 2001 National Action Charter, improvements to women's personal freedoms have been hampered by the absence of a codified family law, unequal marriage and divorce rights, and the lack of legal prohibitions against domestic violence. However, the government has made some efforts to combat human trafficking over the last five years and has created new shelters for trafficking victims, although additional preventative measures are needed to effectively address the problem.

Bahraini law ensures freedom of worship under Chapter 1, section 3 of the National Action Charter.[12] The population is religiously diverse: 57 percent is Shiite, 25 percent is Sunni, 8.5 percent is Christian, and the remaining 9.5 percent belong to other religions. The king's family is Sunni, and it is widely acknowledged that Sunnis hold more influential positions in government and the economy. Religion is inherited primarily from one's extended family. In a marriage between a Sunni and a Shiite, each person is generally permitted to retain his or her own beliefs, although marriage between persons from different sects is increasingly uncommon. Moreover, all Muslims are encouraged to marry within the faith, but unlike women, Muslim men may take Christian or Jewish spouses.[13] Apostasy is punishable by death under Shari'a, although Bahrain does not enforce this punishment. Regardless, many non-practicing Muslims of both genders are fairly quiet about their lack of faith out of concern for cultural demands.

Despite the country's relative liberalism, some Bahrainis continue to hold a more conservative interpretation of Islam, especially Salafi Sunnis and inhabitants of Shiite villages. Bahrain has been influenced by the regimes of nearby Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have strict Islamic ideas and practices, and recent increases in sectarian violence in Iraq and Lebanon have stoked sectarianism in Bahrain. Since the 1980s, the resurgence of Islamic conservatism led to the return of traditional dress and social codes for women, although the ḥijab (veil) is not compulsory.[14]

Men and women in Bahrain do not have equal marriage rights. Unlike her groom, a Sunni bride is required to have a wali (marriage guardian) who will represent her during the marriage proceedings. A wali is most often a father, brother, or uncle. If a woman does not have a wali, the judge will represent her in completing the marriage formalities. Conversely, most Shiite women sign their own marriage contracts, although practically this does not give them more independence in selecting their marriage partner. In all cases, the agreement of the family is important, and it is not socially acceptable to marry without the family's permission.

Most prospective brides are sought out and selected by the man's family. A suitable wife is considered to be a woman from the same social class, religious sect, ethnicity, and educational level; both she and her family must have a good reputation in terms of sharaf (honor). Only men can solicit their own marriage partners if a match is not arranged for them. Furthermore, unlike men, women face significant legal, financial, and societal hurdles if they want a divorce (see 'Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice').

Dating has become more common, but romantic relationships are not generally made public because of a constant concern about kalām al-nās (gossip) and sexual relations outside of marriage are criminalized. Young people in Bahrain are becoming increasingly independent when choosing their future life partners, but families remain influential in the final decision. Women may make whatever stipulations they wish in a marriage contract, but very few women practice this right. Instead, the contract concentrates predominantly on the details of the woman's mahr (dowry).

Women do not face any legal restraints in terms of their freedom of movement, although some cultural boundaries still exist. In July 2004, Article 13 of the passport law was amended to permit married women to apply for passports without permission from their husbands. Women are also not required to seek permission from their guardians before travelling abroad, and citizens of the GCC countries do not require visas or passports to travel between the member states, making movement within the region easier for both men and women.

On a practical level, unmarried women are less able to move freely and their whereabouts are indirectly monitored by their families and community. They generally live with their families until marriage and are required to adhere to rules that are intended to protect their reputation and virginity. Single women that are beyond the traditional age of marriage may have greater freedom of movement within cultural limits because they are viewed as being more sexually neutral than their younger counterparts. Married women have additional freedoms because society believes that the responsibility for their husbands and children makes them more 'reasonable' than single women. Regardless of her age or marital status, a woman's behavior traditionally reflects not only upon herself but also upon the honor of her family and tribe, while men's honor depends on their ability to protect the women in their family.

Bahrain has consistently been listed in the U.S. State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report as a known destination for trafficked persons, including women trafficked for sexual purposes.[15] In November 2007, the government created a special unit within the Ministry of the Interior for the purpose of investigating sex trafficking in particular, but it has reported no arrests, prosecutions, or convictions for trafficking offenses. Between April 2007 and February 2008, 45 foreign workers, many of whom claimed to have been physically abused by their employers, received help from a government shelter, and the international community has recognized these efforts.[16] Although the government has enacted many of the laws necessary to combat trafficking, they continue to be inadequately enforced.

Slavery is forbidden in Bahrain under the tenets of Islam, yet slavery-like conditions continue to exist for some laborers, especially female foreign domestic workers. Bahraini labor law forbids the withholding of salaries and travel documents from foreign workers, though they are specifically excluded from the broader labor protections afforded to citizen workers.[17] Nevertheless, many cases have been reported in which passports are taken and wages are withheld from employees, restricting their freedom of movement and leaving them vulnerable to other abuses.[18] If abused workers are fortunate they will be sent home by their sponsors, but generally without any compensation for suffering.[19] Female domestic workers commonly report physical (often sexual), psychological, and verbal abuse by their male employers, who are also often their visa sponsors.[20]

The Indian Ladies Association has provided one year's rent for a government-approved shelter for abused workers. This rent would be paid through the Migrant Workers Protection Society and would allow the society to provide accommodations and necessities for a greater number of abused workers.[21] Despite these measures, abused workers require more help. Informal shelters run by local NGOs receive no funding from the government; there are still no formal processes for monitoring the populations most vulnerable to trafficking, such as prostitutes and domestic workers; and no steps have been taken to reduce demand for commercial sex.[22]

Bahrain's main prison is for men, in part because there are few female prisoners. According to the SCW, the existing 'women's custody center' generally adheres to international standards for treatment of prisoners, but improvements are needed in terms of space and medical care. Plans are underway to build an additional custody center with a women's wing that will provide better conditions for female inmates.[23] Political prisoners were often tortured prior to the adoption of the National Action Charter in 2001, but there have been no major torture cases involving prisoners of either gender since then.

Domestic violence in Bahrain is thought to be widespread, but its existence is usually covered up and kept within the family. Studies carried out by the Information Center for Women and Children, a regional research organization, indicate that 30 percent of Bahraini women face some sort of domestic abuse.[24] Although laws generally prohibit assault and battery, domestic violence is not specifically prohibited under Bahraini law or addressed by any government policy.

Accusations of domestic violence are rarely taken into account in divorce cases and abused women seldom seek any form of legal recourse, but when they do, courts do not look favorably on such cases.[25] Recent statistics released by the Batelco Anti-Domestic Violence Center indicate that the number of women seeking protection from violence in the first half of 2008 doubled as compared to 2007.[26] Such a surge may indicate women's growing awareness and comfort with such centers rather than any general increase in violence against women.

The number of NGOs that support victims of domestic violence is steadily increasing in Bahrain, a marked improvement for a society that did not condone speaking of such matters until recently. The Awal Women's Society has provided free legal advice to abused women since the late 1990s and also offers a telephone hotline for anonymous emotional support. The Bahraini Young Ladies' Association established the Aisha Yateem Family Coaching Center, which offers consultancy services and residential facilities. Established in March 2007, this is the only private shelter in the kingdom, but it lacks staff with adequate experience.

The Batelco Anti-Domestic Violence Center, a non-profit organization that was created in 2006 to rehabilitate victims of domestic violence, is the only successful partnership between the private sector and civil society in the field of domestic violence. Another partnership was formed in 2007 between the U.S.-based NGO Vital Voices, the Bahraini company Smart Coaching and Research Center, and the U.S. State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative. Together, these entities work to advance civil society activity regarding domestic violence. The program also attempts to provide training in advocacy, volunteerism, and other areas.

Victims of gender-based violence had only recently begun to receive support from the government when the Dar al-Aman Care Center for battered women was established in 2006. In May of that year, control over the shelter was transferred to the Sociologist Association; however, the center has since been publicly criticized for restricting the victims' freedom of movement and for an absence of qualified personnel. The government has also initiated training for judges who deal with domestic abuse, increased the number of policewomen, and amended Law No. 26 of 1986 to streamline Shari'a court procedures, especially with respect to alimony and child custody.[27] Furthermore, the SCW has established a hotline that offers free legal advice and support to victims, and it has conducted a number of conferences and training sessions for different groups, including judges, on the issue of gender-based violence.

Although commendable, the improvements made by both NGOs and the government are insufficient to protect women from domestic abuse, particularly those who need a safe place to stay. Both the Dar al-Aman and Aisha Yateem shelters are only available to battered women for a limited period of time, and victims must seek approval by the police in order to become residents. Until suitable alternative residences exist, financial and social pressures may force many battered women to remain in abusive homes.

Political, religious, and cultural barriers continue to restrict the free and effective work of both the government and NGOs with regard to gender-based violence and marital rights. Efforts to protect other rights for women, such as freedom of movement, have been more successful as the civil and public entities have fought to increase awareness of existing rights and advocate for their expansion. However, Bahraini activists generally remain less engaged in the fight again human trafficking and slavery-like practices, which are considered by many to be an issue reserved for international organizations.


The government should enact legislation that specifically outlaws domestic violence and prescribes substantial penalties that will have a deterrent effect on offenders. Subsequently, the police and prosecutors should be trained to enforce such legislation effectively. Abused women should no longer be required to seek approval from the police before they may access domestic abuse shelters. Moreover, the funding should be increased for NGO programs aimed at expanding shelter capacities for abused women and monitoring vulnerable populations, including foreign workers. The government should provide specialized law enforcement units with the legislative and budgetary tools they need to carry out successful investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking offenses. Victims of trafficking should be guaranteed immunity from prosecution for prostitution, illegal migration, and related offenses, granted protective and rehabilitation services, and encouraged to testify against those who confined or abused them. Domestic NGOs, in conjunction with international bodies with experience in data collection, should conduct research that quantifies the existence of gender-based violence. This data can then be used to raise awareness and to help train the police, social workers, psychologists, and medical staff who deal directly with abused women.


True economic equality between men and women has been difficult to achieve in Arab countries, including Bahrain, where society tends to view formal employment and business as issues for men. However, Islamic history supports the idea of economic rights for women, and some point to Sayeda Khadijah, the Prophet Mohammad's first wife, as an example of a successful, economically independent businesswoman.

According to certain Islamic scholars, a woman's duty is to care for her home, husband, and children, while a man's duty is to treat women fairly and shoulder his family's financial responsibilities.[28] These expectations have resulted in corresponding gender roles for many households, but some adopt less traditional arrangements, and women are increasingly becoming financially independent through employment.[29] Women's responsibilities in the home have also been reduced through the widespread use of cheap domestic help, even among lower middle-class families.

Bahraini women are free to own property and land, subject to their individual financial constraints.[30] In the 1970s, the government established the Productive Family Project to encourage families to run small businesses from home. Following in this tradition, the government'particularly the SCW'has initiated several programs intended to increase women's economic participation. It has financed small and medium-sized enterprises and established the Family Bank to improve the living standards of low-income families and create jobs.[31] In addition, many NGOs, some with help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), provide microcredit programs in an effort to encourage women to participate in small business ventures. The Bahrain Development Bank also offers both microcredit and larger loans, and 73 percent of its beneficiaries are now women.

Previously, women found it difficult to run their own businesses because cultural norms required that they hire men to authorize their work or manage all government documents, such as customs forms and work permits. However, since 2000, women have begun to provide such document-clearance services. Consequently, liberal, educated, middle-class women have begun to run businesses independently or hire document-clearance services operated by both sexes, which saves time and energy.

Although rules differ slightly between Sunnis and Shiites, inheritance law is governed by Shari'a. Women inherit less than men in a number of situations, including where the man and woman are similarly related to the deceased. For example, a sister inherits half of her brother's share. This disparity is generally justified by the fact that men have greater financial responsibilities under the Koran and, unlike women, inherit the debts of the deceased.[32] Problems arise when executors, usually a male family member, do not follow the law and refuse to give women the inheritance to which they are legally entitled. Consequently, women often face injustice during the actual division of estates.

In 2007, Bahraini women constituted 72 percent of students enrolled at the Arabian Gulf University and 67 percent of those enrolled at the University of Bahrain, the two largest postsecondary education institutions in Bahrain.[33] As educated members of society, graduates tend to be more conscious of their rights and more forthright in demanding that they be respected. However, some fields remain segregated based on gender. For instance, certain technical subjects in high schools are restricted to boys, while textile classes are limited only to girls. This segregation affects future job opportunities and reflects government support for societal biases. Although no other subjects are actually restricted, women remain underrepresented in areas such as engineering and overrepresented in education and health care. From a practical standpoint, this limits women's freedom to choose their university courses and leads them to study subjects in low demand in the labor market, increasing their unemployment rate.

Article 12 of the constitution provides equal rights and opportunities to all laborers. However, according to a recent study, men, as a group, earn more than women. The average monthly salary for women employed in the public sector is 643 dinars (US$1,705.80) and for men is 706 dinars (US$1,872.93). The gender gap in private sector wages is even more evident: women earn an average monthly salary of 307 dinars (US$814.43) while men earn 454 dinars (US$1,204.40).[34] Moreover, women'mainly domestic workers'tend to face harsher treatment and poorer working conditions than men in similar positions.[35]

Although most women are free to choose their professions, certain restrictions in this domain still exist. Under Article 301 of the Private Labor Law (No. 63 of 1976), women are prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., with certain exceptions such as jobs in health care. Law No. 5 of 1977, issued by the Ministry of Health, prohibits women from doing hazardous work, which includes predominantly heavy industrial jobs.[36]

Women constituted approximately 19 percent of the country's labor force and approximately 31 percent of adult women were employed in 2007.[37] Although many obstacles to women's full and equal economic participation still persist, most commonly those involving traditional social attitudes, there is a growing awareness that such mindset must change if Bahrain is to achieve its full economic potential. Exemplifying this increased awareness, a female government employee named S. Ahmed brought the first discrimination court case in 2005 after she was denied a promotion because of her gender. The case is still pending.[38]

In an effort to decreased Bahrain's dependence on foreign labor, companies are restricted as to the number of foreign employees they may hire in comparison to the number of Bahraini employees they have. Law No. 56 of 2008 encourages private companies to hire Bahraini women by counting each female employee as two Bahraini citizens, thereby permitting the company to hire more foreigners, who are generally cheaper to employ than citizens.

The labor law offers gender-based protections by prohibiting employers from firing women during maternity leave or because they get married.[39] Several improvements have been made to gender-based workplace benefits in recent years. In 2005, maternity leave increased from 35 to 60 working days, breaks for breast-feeding increased from one to two hours a day for a six-month period, and mothers can now obtain unpaid leave for a maximum of two years at a time on three separate occasions during their working lives.[40] Women tend to work longer hours than most nurseries are open, creating friction between the obligations of work and motherhood. They also generally lack support as they attempt to balance their jobs with their other home duties, which continue to include most domestic chores.[41]

Economic support provided for women by the state is a new concept for Bahraini society, which has traditionally considered it a man's duty to care for his female relatives. The SCW is doing its part by promoting laws that reward companies that employ and promote women. In addition, the MSD and the Ministry of Justice administer funds created by the government to assist divorced women and their children.[42]

Meanwhile, the Bahrain Businesswomen's Society has provided women with training opportunities in cooperation with other entities, such as the government and the UNDP. Although women represent a significant portion of the workforce and are members of the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions, women's issues are not on the federation's agenda to any substantial degree.[43] Despite the continuing existence of cultural barriers, concrete advances have been made in upholding women's economic rights in recent years.[44]


The government, in cooperation with local NGOs, should create special programs to encourage women to study subjects in which they are currently underrepresented. For example, they could initiate public campaigns that highlight female engineers and scientists, create public-private partnerships that bring highly accomplished women to classrooms to act as role models, or create girls' science clubs. 2. 'The working hours of nurseries should be expanded to fully accommodate employed women, and the government should provide incentives for public and private companies to maintain on-site childcare. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions should make gender discrimination in the workplace one of its main issues. The government should scrutinize inheritance proceedings to ensure that women receive their share, provide efficient mechanisms for filing and adjudicating complaints, and publicize penalties for deliberate abuses by executors and guardians.


In 2002, Bahrain became the first GCC member to grant women's suffrage. Chapter 1, section 2(1) of the National Action Charter provides equal rights and opportunities for all citizens of Bahrain.[45] Furthermore, Article 1, paragraph e, of the constitution clearly states, 'all citizens, both men and women, are entitled to vote and to stand for election, in accordance with this constitution and in the conditions and principles laid down by law. No citizen can be deprived of the right to vote or to nominate oneself for elections except by law.' Despite these broad reforms, women have remained underrepresented in the legislature, the government, the judicial system, and political parties.

In 2002, six women ran unsuccessfully as candidates for the Council of Representatives. After losing that year's election by a small margin, Latifa al-Gaoud ran again in 2006, this time unopposed, and became Bahrain's first and only female parliamentarian. In general, women face unique obstacles while campaigning, in part because they have fewer opportunities to address large groups and mixed-gender groups than men, who have wider access to mosques and other community gatherings. In all, 16 female candidates ran in the 2006 elections, and women constituted 50.2 percent of the voters, a vast improvement over the 2002 elections.

One female candidate, Munira Fakhro, a former Harvard academic and member of Wa'ad, the largest liberal political society, ran against the incumbent candidate Salah Ali, a member of the Al-Menbar Sunni Islamic Society. Fakhro had only limited support from the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, but the majority of women from her own region supported her in the 2006 electoral contest. She lost by only a few votes and, believing that voting irregularities had taken place, she took the case to court to ask for a repeat vote. Her request was denied. None of the liberal parties such as Wa'ad won, suggesting that her defeat was not only due to her gender but also due to her party affiliation. None of the female candidates were members of the male-dominated Islamist parties, which won the majority of the available seats.

Participation by women in the national government and decision-making positions remains low. Bahrain has had female ambassadors since the 1990s and became the first Arab country to have a female minister of health when Nada Haffadh was appointed in 2004. Fatima al-Baloshi of the Al-Eslah Sunni Society was later appointed minister of social development in January 2005.[46] Moreover, in November 2008 Sheikha May bint Mohammed al-Kalifa became the first woman in Bahrain to be appointed as minister of culture and information. In addition to cabinet posts, women have also been appointed as undersecretaries, college deans, and even as a university president. The first Consultative Council under the current charter, appointed in 2001, started with four female members, and that figure rose to six by 2002. Eleven female members were appointed in 2006, but Houda Nonoo, a Jewish council member, has left her position to act as the Bahraini ambassador to the United States. This leaves only 10 women, or 25 percent of the council's members.

Freedom of assembly in Bahrain is equally restricted for both men and women. It is regulated by Law No. 32 of 2006, which requires persons organizing a public meeting to notify the Department of Public Security. In recent years, women have freely participated in a number of demonstrations and political and social gatherings. However, in a December 2007 demonstration by families of detained political activists, both the Special Security Force and the Women's Police, Bahrain's all-female police force, were accused of dispersing the crowd in a violent and humiliating manner. Journalists were not permitted to take photographs, and some of the women who took part in the demonstration were hospitalized. When one of these women saw her mother faint inside the prison, she was allegedly forced to kiss an officer's foot before she was permitted to help her mother.[47] This type of treatment is not common, especially regarding women and after the adoption of the National Action Charter, but when it does happen, it is not widely publicized in the media.

All NGOs in Bahrain, including women's rights organizations, are supervised by the MSD. Because NGOs are forbidden from engaging in vaguely defined 'political activity,' the MSD can effectively ban work on a variety of controversial topics. Any NGO whose annual budget is over 10,000 dinars (US$26,500) must use an external auditor to monitor its finances. Moreover, all funds and donations from foreign entities are scrutinized by the government, limiting the assistance that NGOs may receive from outside sources and subjecting NGOs to additional government supervision and control.

According to Article 134 of the penal code, citizens may not attend unauthorized meetings, conferences, or symposiums held abroad or contact foreign ministers, representatives, or organizations for the purpose of discussing Bahrain's economic, political, or social issues that may harm the country's reputation. Such actions are punishable by a minimum of three months in prison and/or a fine of not less than 100 dinars (US$265). Although this law existed prior to the sweeping 2001 reforms, it was not strictly enforced until minister of the interior Shaikh Rashid al-Khalifa threatened to do so in November 2008. It is unclear what kind of impact the law's enforcement will have on activists' ability to openly discuss women's rights in Bahrain with various entities outside of the country.

Legal restrictions on press freedoms are also not gender based'the rights of both male and female members of the media are limited. The Press Law (No. 47 of 2002) continues to be used to restrict the coverage of sensitive issues, particularly corruption.[48] In 2007, 15 journalists were referred to the public prosecutor, mainly for alleged defamation of a government official or department. According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, state-owned Batelco, Bahrain's only internet provider, blocked 23 discussion forums in 2007.[49] Although the number of female journalists has steadily risen in recent years, only a few broadcast programs engage in open discussions about women's issues including women's political rights and domestic violence.

Thirty-one percent of Bahraini lawyers were women in 2001, and according to the University of Bahrain's records, most of the graduating and current law students since have been women. These numbers are strong compared with those in neighboring countries, in part because women have been able to act as lawyers in Bahrain since 1976. In 2003, three Bahraini women were appointed as prosecutors, two of whom have since been promoted and replaced by women, and a woman was appointed director of public prosecutions in 2007. In June 2006, Mona al-Kawari was appointed to the High Civil Court as Bahrain's first female judge. A second, Dhouha al-Zayani, was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 2007, and Fatima Hubail was appointed in 2008 as a Lower Criminal Court judge. In total, there are only seven women in the judiciary and none in the Shari'a courts, which hear the cases that most often and most directly affect women.[50] Although a variety of views exist on the matter, most Islamic scholars in Bahrain believe that women may not act as judges in the Shari'a courts.[51] Some, however, suggest that women could be appointed in cases related to women's issues.

Political organizations such as the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society and the Al-Menbar Sunni Islamic Society hardly address women's political rights in their agendas. Meanwhile, the Women's Union and other NGOs advocate for women's rights generally, and although they incorporate women's political rights into their work plans, their political work is limited because they are not registered as political societies. Additionally, because most of the political societies are religious, cooperation between them and women's societies is limited at best, and they often conflict.


Local NGOs should provide training for female political candidates on how to run successful political campaigns, mobilize popular support, and effectively engage the media. They should also organize networking events in which successful female candidates from other Arab nations could share their election strategies with female political leaders in Bahrain. The government should abolish Article 134 of the penal code so that governmental and NGO representatives, including women's rights activists, may take part in meetings and discussions with foreign entities about issues pertaining to Bahrain without fear of persecution. The government should appoint a larger number of women to the Consultative Council and the judiciary, especially the Shari'a courts, and place more women in decision-making positions. Secular women's rights organizations should initiate a frank dialogue with religious groups. Such a dialogue would enable discussions about religion, women, and politics, and would provide opportunities for strategic cooperation.


The social and cultural rights of Bahraini women are greatly affected by traditional societal norms, which place higher premiums on the rights and preferences of men. As a result, women tend to be treated unequally in diverse areas of social and community life. Within the last five years, however, modifications have been made to housing and unemployment benefits in order to protect both men and women from poverty. The establishment of the Women's Union and greater participation by women's NGOs has further increased women's influence in society, but their power remains limited and they are still absent from municipal councils.

Women and men have equal access to health care, which is provided to citizens free of charge and to resident noncitizens for a low fee. The government has placed great importance on health care rights, which have improved significantly in recent years. Life expectancy in 2006 was 76 years for women and 74 years for men, up from 74 years for women and 72 years for men in 2000. According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate during childbirth is 32 in 100,000, which is significantly lower than the world's average but higher than several other GCC countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.[52]

Although women are legally permitted to make decisions about birth control, they often ask permission from their husbands and may take advice from religious leaders while making their decisions. Sterilization is allowed only with the permission of the husband and may only be carried out in a legally and religiously acceptable manner. Ultimately, the decision depends on the health condition of the woman and whether normal birth control methods will work.

A woman must also secure her husband's permission before she may undergo a Caesarean section delivery unless the surgery is urgent or if the husband is absent. Abortion is only permitted for the health of the mother and also requires a husband's permission. If an abortion is sought for financial or family planning reasons, it will not be permitted, and even in cases of fetal impairment, it is generally not acceptable. Bahrain is one of the first countries in the GCC region to require premarital health check-ups, which include blood screenings for genetic conditions, partly because of the high rate of marriage between relatives.[53]

A woman's virginity is considered an important part of her family's honor, but brides are no longer required to provide proof of their virginity, and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation are not performed in Bahrain.[54] Polygamy is practiced among a diverse minority within the country, including members of different sects and men with varying levels of education. However, the practice is not highly widespread because it requires the husband to have substantial financial resources so that he may support his wives and children. Muta'a (short-term marriages) are practiced by some Shiites, and other types of temporary marriages occur within Sunni communities, but people do not generally discuss these practices and they are not universally accepted.

Unmarried women typically live with their parents or, if their parents are no longer living, with a male relative, and they are expected to look after the old and sick in the family.[55] It is socially unacceptable for a woman to live alone, but it has become more acceptable for multiple related women to live together without a male relative. Single women living with their families may be allotted a separate area of the house which they may treat as their own, effectively living alone within the family household.

In Bahrain, housing benefits were established as early as 1975 to provide suitable homes for families who were unable to build their own. Law No. 12 of 2004 grants divorced women the right to their share of the family home if they can prove that they have contributed to monthly property payments. Families that are unable to afford a house are entitled to benefits if they are: a husband and a wife (polygamy does not give the man the right to more than one house); a single-parent family, whether the lone parent be a man or a woman; or an adult, unmarried son or daughter residing with his or her parents if neither the applicant nor the parents own a suitable home or land that is fit for building a home.[56] Regarding the first category, if only the man pays the premiums, the house must be registered in his name alone. However, if the wife or wives contribute, then the house is registered according to the contributions of each occupant.[57]

Women are better able to participate in and influence community life, policies, and social development at the local level than at the national level. Today, more than 4,000 women constitute over 60 percent of the membership in NGOs, and many have taken leading roles in their organizations.[58] There are 456 NGOs in Bahrain as of May 2008,[59] but only 19 concentrate on women's rights. Twelve of these women's organizations are members of the Bahraini Women's Union, which aims to involve women actively in political life'including decision-making positions in parliament and other government bodies'and fight all forms of gender discrimination. It was officially created in September 2006 after almost five years of political and legal battles surrounding its licensing. The MSD blocked the registration of the Women's Union for many years while SCW remain neutral on the issue. Some have argued that such neutrality was actually an implicit refusal to acknowledge the Women's Union.

Women's participation in NGOs directly relates to their success in local and national elections because female candidates depend on support from their groups' members. Only five female candidates ran in the 2006 municipal elections as compared to 31 candidates in 2002, perhaps because highly qualified women preferred to run in the parliamentary elections instead.[60]

The media today plays an important role in people's lives, and Bahraini women have always been steady but underrepresented participants in this field. Women constitute 30 percent of employees at the Ministry of Culture and Information, and 13 percent of these play an active role in the functioning of their respective media outlets. Twenty-one percent of Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation employees are women, the majority of whom are broadcasters. In addition, women make up 50 percent of print editors, and there are twice as many female students as male students in the Information Department at the University of Bahrain. However, not many media outlets produce quality programming on women's rights.

Radio, television, print, and internet media cover traditionally female topics such as family, fashion, beauty, and cooking. For instance, an English-language women's magazine called Women this Month focuses on beauty, fashion and similar issues, while websites and online magazines such as WomenGateway.com cover a variety of subjects including business, legal rights, and news concerning women. Moreover, the SCW issues an Arabic-language magazine that focuses on news from the SCW, conferences, and new royal decrees related to the benefits of Bahraini women.

Although Bahrain has produced only a few movies, several television series are produced each year, many of which depict violence toward women as an accepted societal practice rather than raising awareness about women's issues. On the rare occasions when serious issues regarding domestic violence or human trafficking are highlighted, the viewership tends to be low and many complain about the program in the newspapers.

The government attempts to protect both male and female citizens from poverty, and the kingdom ranks third among Arab countries and 41st worldwide in the UNDP's 2008 Human Development Index. Laws and policies have been altered in an effort to raise the standard of living for all citizens, and women in particular have benefited from these changes. Monthly assistance is now offered to orphans and widows, female government workers are granted social allowances,[61] and unskilled labor contracts reserved for Bahraini citizens include workers of both genders.[62]

The National Employment Project was established in 2005 to increase employment opportunities for Bahraini nationals and provide training programs for those seeking jobs. Women account for 74 percent of those who registered for this project. In December 2007 the first eligible Bahraini citizen was paid under the Unemployment Insurance System. Of the 7,810 citizens eligible for this plan, 81 percent were female.[63] Some citizens, including a large number of women, allegedly register for unemployment benefits even though they never intend to apply for a job.

Human rights standards, including women's rights, have the potential to improve in accordance with the commitments that the kingdom made by becoming a member of the UN Human Rights Council. The effectiveness of women's rights NGOs, however, continues to be constrained by the rules of the MSD, which monitors their work and limits their international funding. In particular, NGOs are not permitted to accept funds from or donate money to foreign organizations without permission from the MSD. Religious scholars also advocate on behalf of women, but their intentions and purposes differ greatly from those of NGO members and other women's rights activists.


Women should be permitted to make all decisions regarding their health independently, including whether to have a cesarean section at childbirth. The government, national and international organizations should sponsor television programming and other media content that appropriately addresses'whether directly or indirectly, or in dramatic, documentary, or talk-show formats'problems like domestic violence and human trafficking, as well as subtler social obstacles faced by women. Moreover, the government should withhold all state funding from programming that portrays violence against women as socially acceptable. The government should extend housing benefits to broader categories of applicants, such as single or separated women, to accommodate individuals escaping abusive households or pursuing economic and social independence. The Women's Union should establish a website that addresses women's issues in Bahrain and raises awareness about women's rights on all levels. This website should contain links to websites that address women's issues worldwide.


Dr. Dunya Ahmed Abdulla Ahmed is an assistant professor and lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Bahrain. She completed her PhD in social work at the University of Warwick, specializing in gender, disability, and Islam. She is the first person to hold a PhD in social work in Bahrain and concentrates mainly on gender equality and the rights of people with disabilities. She is also an active member of several NGOs.



[1] Cabinet Affairs Minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Ateyetala, as quoted in A. Glass, 'Bahrain accused of population cover-up,' in Arabian Business, 6 February 2008, www.arabianbusiness.com/510464-expatriates-rob-bahrain-nationals-of-jobs?ln=en.

[2] I. Glosemeyer, 'Political Parties and Participation: Arabian Peninsula,' in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, 551'553; M. Seikaly, 'Women and Religion in Bahrain: An Emerging Identity,' in Y. Haddad Yvonne and J. Esposito, eds., Islam, Gender, & Social Change (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 169'189.

[3] 'Four Bahraini Business Women 50 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen,' Al-Waqat Newspaper (Bahrain), 23 May 2008, 823.

[4] Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Law No. 17 of 2002, Article 5(b), www.pogar.org/publications/other/constitutions/bahrain-02e.pdf.

[5] Bahraini Citizenship Act (last amended 1981), 16 September 1963, Article 5, www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3fb9f34f4.html.

[6] Habib Toumi, 'Children of foreign fathers get Bahraini citizenship,' Gulf News, 20 September 2006, archive.gulfnews.com/articles/06/09/20/10068736.html.

[7] Bahrain Penal Code, Articles 339, 344-1, 345-1, 346-1, 347, 348, www.womengateway.com/arwg, in Arabic.

[8] Bahrain Penal Code, Article 353, www.womengateway.com/NR/exeres/73F00D14-DE0A-41E1-86CF-55E18761850D.htm, in Arabic.

[9] Bahraini Penal Code, Article 334, www.scw.gov.bh/media/pdf/Initial-Second-Periodic-Reports.pdf, in Arabic, and www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/47ea235f2.html, 104, in English.

[10] B.P. Pradeep, 'Mum caught up in hotel vice raid,' Gulf Daily News (Manama), 2008.

[11] 'The Supreme Council for Women in Bahrain Established,' Bahrain Brief (London: Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies) 3, No. 4 (2002).

[12] Bahrain National Action Charter (2001), www.pogar.org/publications/other/constitutions/bahrain-charter-01e.pdf.

[13] H. Kholoussy, 'Marriage Practices: Arab States,' in Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures, 250'252.

[14] Munira A. Fakhro, Women at Work in the Gulf (Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 1990).

[15] Trafficking in Persons Report (U.S. Department of State, 4 June 2008), www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2008/105387.htm.

[16] S. S. Grewal, 'Bahrain Removed From U.S. State Department Blacklist On Trafficking,' All Headline News, June 2008, www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7011168940.

[17] Sigma Huda, Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children: Mission to Bahrain, Oman and Qatar (New York: UN General Assembly, Human Rights Council, ed., 2007), www.universalhumanrightsindex.org/documents/847/1131/document/en/pdf/text.pdf.

[18] G. Bew, 'Lanka clamp on maids to Bahrain,' Gulf Daily News, 2008; Sigma Huda, Report of the Special Rapporteur. . . ; Suffering in Silence: Domestic Workers Need Legal Protection (United for Foreign Domestic Workers' Rights [UFDWR], 14 April 2008 [accessed 8 August 2008]), http://ufdwrs.blogspot.com/2008/04/suffering-in-silence-domestic-workers.html; G.M.-F. Chammartin, Domestic Workers: Little Protection for the Underpaid, April 2005 [accessed 8 August 2008], www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?id=300.

[19] Suffering in Silence (UFDWR), http://ufdwrs.blogspot.com/2008/04/suffering-in-silence-domestic-workers.html.

[20] Chammartin, Domestic Workers, www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?id=300.

[21] Bahrain: Domestic workers' shelter seeking cash support (Manila: Scalabrini Migration Center, 2008 [accessed 8 August 2008]), www.smc.org.ph/amnews/amn060131/middleast/Bahrain060131.htm; S. Al-Moayyed, 'Law blind to maids' agony,' Gulf Daily News, 13 July 2008.

[22] Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, 12 June 2007), www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2007/82805.htm.

[23] Combined initial and 2nd periodic reports of States Parties: Bahrain (New York: UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW], 12 November 2007), 104, www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/47ea235f2.html.

[24] 'Domestic Violence,' in Domestic Violence (causes and solutions) (Bahrain: Information Center for Women and Children, 2008).

[25] Human Rights: Bahrain (U.S. Embassy Bahrain), manama.usembassy.gov/bahrain/hrarabic.html; 'Bahrain human rights practices 1994,' Human Rights Report (U.S. Department of State, February 1995), dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/democracy/1994_hrp_report/94hrp_report_nea/Bahrain.html.

[26] 'Domestic Violence Is Doubled in 2008,' Al-Ayam, 21 June 2008, Bahrain, 1'2.

[27] Law 40 of 2005; 'Bahrain legislation has lack of incrimination codes on women violence,' Al-Waqt, 8 March 2008, 747.

[28] L. Ahmed, Women and gender in Islam: historical roots of a modern debate (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1993); L. Abu-Lughod, 'The Marriage of Feminism and Islamism in Egypt: Selection Repudiation as a Dynamic of Postcolonial Cultural Politics,' in L. Abu-Lughod, ed., Remaking women: feminism and modernity in the Middle East (Princeton, N.J., Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1998).

[29] Fakhro, Women at Work in the Gulf; I.M. Maclagan, 'Food Preparation: Arabian Peninsula,' in Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures, 107'108.

[30] Statistics on Bahraini Women (Bahrain: Supreme Council for Women, 2007), 1'24, www.scw.gov.bh/media/pdf/statistics-Bahraini-Women.pdf.

[31] 'The Role of Rehabilitation and Training in the Empowerment of Women and Employment' in Third Arab Conference for Human Resources Development and Labour Ministry in cooperation with the Arab Labour Organization (Kingdom of Bahrain, Management Studies and Research, 2008).

[32] J. Esposito and N.J. DeLong-Bas, 'Women in Muslim family law,' Contemporary issues in the Middle East, 2nd ed. (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2001); A. Al-Hibri, 'Muslim Women's Rights in the Global Village: Challenges and Opportunities,' in F. Afzal-Khan and N. El Saadawi, eds., Shattering the stereotypes: Muslim women speak out (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2005), 158'178.

[33] Combined 5th, 6th and 7th periodic reports of States parties: Bahrain (UN CEDAW, 6 June 2008), 19'20, www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/48bbec292.html.

[34] 'Study: Bahrain Working Women are Ill-Treated,' Women Gateway, www.womengateway.com/enwg/Research+and++Studies/working+women.htm.

[35] 'Hurdles for Working Women,' Bahrain Tribune, 11 August 2007.

[36] H.H. King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain (2002), 50; Laws Regulation, Night Work (Women) (Kingdom of Bahrain: Civil Service Bureau, ed., 2007); 'The Role of Rehabilitation and Training in the Empowerment of Women and Employment,' Third Arab Conference for Human Resources Development and Labour Ministry in cooperation with the Arab Labour Organization (Kingdom of Bahrain, Management Studies and Research, 2008).

[37] World Development Indicators (World Bank 2008), web.worldbank.org

[38] Author obtained information from a client and member of Bahrain Women Union.

[39] 'The Role of Rehabilitation and Training in the Empowerment of Women and Employment' in Third Arab Conference for Human Resources Development and Labour Ministry in cooperation with the Arab Labour Organization (Kingdom of Bahrain, Management Studies and Research, 2008).

[40] 'Will women be election sure-bet?' Bahrain News Agency, 17 November 2006 [accessed 8 August 2008], http://english.bna.bh/?ID=53081.

[41] 'The Role of Rehabilitation and Training in the Empowerment of Women and Employment' in Third Arab Conference for Human Resources Development and Labour Ministry in cooperation with the Arab Labour Organization (Kingdom of Bahrain, Management Studies and Research, 2008).

[42] 'Social Welfare in Bahrain,' Bahrain Brief (London: Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies) 6, No. 8 (2005); D. Isa, 'Activists: alimony fund Bahraini important step but the 200 dinars inadequate,' Al-Waqt, 2 January 2007; 'Activists not happy with the Alimony Fund,' Women Gateway, December 2007.

[43] 'Bahraini women and unionism,' Women Gateway, 2007, www.womengateway.com/NR/exeres/1B893363-8305-4B4A-905B-DF20D7575166.htm.

[44] 'The Role of Rehabilitation and Training in the Empowerment of Women and Employment' in Third Arab Conference for Human Resources Development and Labour Ministry in cooperation with the Arab Labour Organization (Kingdom of Bahrain, Management Studies and Research, 2008).

[45] H.H. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifah, Bahrain National Action Charter, 2001.

[46] Glosemeyer, 'Political Parties and Participation: Arabian Peninsula,' in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, 551'553; 'Pioneer Bahraini Women,' Bahrain Brief (London: Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies) 7, No. 7 (2006).

[47] G. Jamsheer, 'Women's Petition Committee condemns the attack on Women at the General Prosecutor's,' Bahrain Eve, 1 January 2008 [accessed 9 June 2008] http://bahrain-eve.blogspot.com/2008/01/womens-petition-committee-condemns.html.

[48] 'Reporters Without Borders: Bahrain'Turning promises into reality' (Manama: Bahrain Center for Human Rights, 2007 [accessed 8 August 2008]), www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/1920.

[49] Bahrain: Country Summary (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2008), 1'5.

[50] W. Al-Masry, A comparison between the Kingdom of Bahrain and Human Development Report for the actual position of women, (Bahrain: Supreme Council for Women, round table discussion, 2008).

[51] A.A. Khamis, Report of the United Nations fact-finding mission in Saudi Arabia over the judiciary and lawyers (Saudi Arabia: Saudi Centre for Human Rights, ed., 2002), www.saudiaffairs.net/webpage/sa/issue07/article07l/issue07lt03.htm, in Arabic.

[52] WHO Statistical Information System (World Health Organization [WHO]), www.who.int/whosis/en/.

[53] Law 11 (2004); 'Electors want more health facilities and adequate training. Developing health services top the priorities of voters who are looking forward to high standard health infrastructure including high tech equipment and qualified staff,' Bahrain News Agency, 14 November 2006 [accessed 14 February 2008], http://english.bna.bh/?ID=53078.

[54] R.B. Serhan, 'Virginity,' in Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures, 457'458.

[55] M. Poya, Women, Work and Islamism: Ideology and Resistance in Iran (London, New York: ZED Books, 1999).

[56] Ministerial Decree No. 83 of 2006.

[57] National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 15(a) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1: [Universal Periodic Review]: Bahrain (Geneva: United Nations, 2008), 28.

[58] 'Bias against women continues,' Bahrain Tribune, 15 December 2007.

[59] 'Janahi: NGO law with MB's,' Al-Waqt, 23 May 2008, 823.

[60] W. Al-Masry, A comparison between the Kingdom of Bahrain and Human Development Report for the actual position of women (Bahrain: Supreme Council for Women, Round table discussion, 2008).

[61] Decree No. 27 (2003).

[62] Cabinet Decree No. 1156-01 (October 2001).

[63] S. Baby, 'Accept all jobs plea to women,' Gulf Daily News, 25 May 2006, 66.

Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, Gulf Edition

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Original URL: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=384&key=170&parent=16&report=76 Printed: March 18, 2009 Freedom House 1301 Connecticut Ave. NW FL 6, Washington, D.C. 20036

17 Mar, 2009

Union members Rola Al-Saffar and Ibrahim Al-Demistani face defamation charges

(BCHR/IFEX) - The High Criminal Court, presided over by Sheikh Mohammed Al-Khalifa, a member of the ruling family, has said that it will come to a decision on 24 March 2009 regarding the case brought by officials from the Bahrain Ministry of Health against Rola Al-Saffar, the president of the Bahrain Nursing Association (BNA), and Ibrahim Al-Demistani, the BNA's secretary.

The Public Prosecutor's Office accused the two union members of publicly defaming officials from the Salmaneyya Medical Complex, the main public hospital in Bahrain, in articles published in local newspapers. Al-Saffar and A-Demistani have denied the charges against them before the court. According to Osama Al-Osfoor, the director of the Public Prosecutor's Office, a complaint was received from some senior members of the medical complex's staff against Al-Saffar and Al-Demistani, claiming that they had published articles in the local press containing a smear campaign and defamatory language against them.

The BNA is known for its work in striving for improvements in the status and financial position of nurses in the past few years, but has faced harsh treatment from the authorities. The Social Affairs Ministry has led the reprisals against the BNA by administratively dissolving it and appointing its own manager, a move that was rejected and ignored by Al-Saffar and Al-Demistani, who represent the position of the general assembly of their association.

The BCHR expresses its concerns over this move by the authorities to silence union members when they are forced to resort to using the media in order to inform the general public about the issues they are confronting.

In 2008, the BCHR reported on the similar treatment of a number of union members, including members of the Postal Union and others, who were also prosecuted on charges of defaming governmental institutions and "addressing the public."

Nabeel Rajab, the president of the BCHR, said: "These types of actions are becoming daily occurrences in Bahrain. Any activist, journalist or human rights defender who expresses views that are critical of the authorities is likely to be prosecuted." He added:" The High Criminal Court is clogged with cases prosecuting dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists, union members, members of non-government organisations and others for expressing themselves. This is, no doubt, an alarming situation."

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to authorities: - calling on them to dismiss the charges against Al-Saffar and Al-Demistani and ensure that they do not suffer any reprisals for expressing their views - urging them to stop penalising union members for expressing their views and allow them the opportunity to freely advocate for labour rights - calling on them to provide protection for union members who advocate publicly for labour rights - urging them to introduce changes to the legislation such that government employees are not prevented from freely expressing their views

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.


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; Facebook: English Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=44138766349, Arabic Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=50727622539