21 Apr, 2008

Bahrain Center for Human Rights : Court - Appointed Medical Examiners Confirm Torture

Bahrain: Court-Appointed Medical Examiners Confirm Torture Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Updating information on the unfair trials of a group of 15 activists, including 11 human rights defenders .

SEVERAL Bahrainis arrested last December were beaten in custody, according to court-appointed medical examiners. The doctors' report, submitted as 15 Bahrainis appeared in the High Criminal Court amid tight security on April 16th, was immediately disputed by the Public Prosecution. Riot police ringed the court building as the case resumed, after an earlier hearing was adjourned for three doctors to examine all 15 defendants, following complaints by some that they had been beaten in custody. International Federation of Human Rights delegate George Asaf, based in Lebanon, attended the hearing in a court packed with relatives and supporters of the defendants. A panel of three doctors was set up by Health Minister Dr Faisal Al Hamer to examine all 15 defendants, under an order from the court. The doctors said in their report that some of the defendants were subjected to beatings and harsh treatment while they were in police custody. Public Prosecution head Haroon Al Zayani objected to the report and demanded that the doctors be summoned for cross-examination. The defence lawyers demanded time to study the case file and prepare their defence arguments. They also demanded to study the medical report and that more witnesses be summoned for cross-examination. The High Criminal Court presided over by Judge Shaikh Mohammed bin Ali Al Khalifa adjourned the case until May 11 to give time to the lawyers to prepare their defence arguments, to summon the doctors and other witnesses for cross examination. The defence lawyers demanded once again that the 15 defendants to be released on any guarantee the court deemed suitable, but this was refused and they were further remanded in custody.

For more details on the case please refer to previous reports issued by National and International human rights organizations such as BCHR, www.bahrainrights.org, Human Rights Watch ,Front Line and The Observatory.

Human Rights watch : Investigate Alleged Torture of Activists http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/01/21/bahrai17838.htm

Front line: Torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders in detention http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1327

The Observatory: Ongoing arbitrary detention and ill-treatments of several human rights defenders http://www.fidh.org/spip.php?article5206

18 Apr, 2008

BCHR: Amounting Unrest and Violations in Bahrain

A Second Crackdown on Activists in Four Months: Detainees, Including Minors, are under serious risk of Torture and Unfair Trials 17 April 2008

Amounting Unrest and Violations in Bahrain

A Second Crackdown on Activists in Four Months: Detainees, Including Minors, are under serious risk of Torture and Unfair Trials

17 April 2008

The BCHR has received information about 47 people arrested during the last four weeks in different Shia’ villages. Most of the arrestees are from west cost villages of Karzakkan, Demistan, Sadad and Malekkya who were known in the area for their community activities including; organizing mass seminars on political and economic rights, organizing a “protest picnic” to “Um-el-Na’san” an island claimed by the King, and collecting signatures on a petition calling for the resignation of the 37-years in post Prime Minister. Many of them have been release later alleging being exposed to torture and ill-treatment. However, the following 26 arrestees are confirmed to be still in jail:

Detainees, arrested between 27th March and 8th April, 2008: 1. Sayyed Hadi Hameed Adnan Alawi , 28, Karzakkan 2. Mohammed Abbas Mohammed Ali, 29, Karzakkan 3. Ammar Hassan Ali Hassan Al-Basri, 17, Karzakkan 4. Saleh Ali Mohammed Ali Alseeb, 30, Karzakkan 5. Hassan Kadhem Ebrahim Ahmed, 30, Demestan 6. Ha’med Ebrahim Fardan, 27, Karzakkan 7. Ali Mohammed Habib Ashoor, 31, Karzakkan 8. Ahmed Ali Hassan, 35, Karzakkan

Detainees, arrested between 10th -15th April, 2008: 1. Mohammed Makki Mansoor, 27, Karzakkan 2. Fadhel Abbass Mohammed Ashoor, 25, Karzakkan 3. Kumail Ahmed Ali Abu-Sharaf, Karzakkan 4. Jassim Mohammed Habeeb, 29, Karzakkan 5. Fadhel Abbass Ali Ahmed, 28, Karzakkan 6. Hussain Abbass Ali Ahmed, 24, Karzakkan 7. Sayyed-Sadiq Ebraheem Jumma’ Ma’jed, 26 8. Sayyed-Ahmed Hameed Adnan Alawi, 23, Karzakkan 9. Sayyed-Jawad Hameed Adnan Alawi, 30, Karzakkan 10. Sayyed-Omran Hameed Adnan Alawi, 24, Karzakkan 11. Sadeq Jawad Al-Fardan, 27, Karzakkan 12. Qasim Mohammed Khaleel Ebraheem, 22, Karzakkan 13. Hussain Abdul-Kareem Makki Eyd, 24, Karzakkan 14. Habeeb Mohammed Habeeb Ashoor, 20, Karzakkan 15. Habeeb Ahmed Habeeb Mohammed Abbass, 22, 16. Hussain Ali Dhaif, 28, Karzakkan 17. Hussain Mohammed Khatam Hussain Mohammed, 28, Karzakkan 18. Ebraheem Saleh Ebraheem Jaffer, 22,

Moreover, the BCHR has received information yesterday that Shaker Mohammed Abdulhussain Abdul-A’al, 26, from Hamala, was summoned on 15th April to Hamad-Town police station were he was transferred to an unknown place. Worth noting that Shaker was briefly arrested on the 2nd of February, 2007 for delivering a speech criticizing the government and arrested again in 21st December, along with other members of the Unemployed Committee, in relation to protests, but released one month later and has testified to the BCHR of being subjected to severe torture including being blind folded and handcuffed for several days, hanged by the arms for two days and exposed to electric shocks.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is highly concerned for the safety and well being of the arrestees specially in the first period of detention were they are usually kept in solitary confinement that facilitate torture, as reported in other recent similar cases. The BCHR is also concerned that the detainees will not enjoy the rights of a fair trial, taking in account the partiality of the judiciary and the restrictive security related articles in the 1976 penal Code.

Official justification of the arrests:

The authorities staged the arrest campaign using the state-controlled media to link the wide wave of arrests in the last four weeks to two violent events; the burning on March 6th of a farm belong to a former high official, Abdul-Aziz Attyotalla Al-Khalifa, who is accused of torture in the past period, and the death on April 9th of a Pakistani member of the Special Security Force when his car and other security cars were allegedly surrounded by protesters from nearby villages. The official statement stated that policeman Majid Asghar Baksh was burned to death and two colleagues injured when masked men hurled Molotov cocktails at their patrol car in Karzakan . While Mr Baksh's grandfather and uncle claimed that the Majid, who is a member of the Special Security Force, had been attacked with sharp tools and severely beaten after being pulled out of the vehicle and that he sustained serious injuries to his head, face and left shoulder and bled from the ears, mouth and nose . A passing-by eye witness told the BCHR that when the police force was surrounded by protesters one of the police vehicles hit the security officer who was running out of his car. Background Information:

The situation in Bahrain has deteriorated since December 17, when an activist was allegedly killed by the Special Security Force while participating in a demonstration calling for equity in relation to victims of torture and state violations in the past. Mass protests erupted in the following days resulting in the burning of a police vehicle. The police surrounded villages, specially those inhabited by a majority of Shia’s in the North of the Bahrain Island and resorted an excessive use of tear gas and rubber bullets, leading to the injury and suffocation of many citizens including elderly citizens and children. Video films broadcasted by national and international electronic media documented the use of security armed militia wearing civilian clothes and black head masks to disperse demonstrations forming check points and entering the villages to chase suspect protesters and beating them severely.

In the aftermath, the security police conducted a crackdown arresting around 60 people out of which 18 are currently under trial including 11 human rights defenders under accusations of violence and unauthorized gatherings. Documented testimonies of released persons and of the defendants at court revealed that they were subjected to sever torture including electrical shocks and sexual abuse to force confession related to committing violence. Case files handed to defense lawyers showed that the investigations included demanding information on members and work of human rights groups, such as the Unemployment Committee and confessions to link recent disturbances to political activists and a well-known human rights defender.

The BCHR calls upon all concerned to urge the Bahrain authorities: • To release all detainees. • If criminal charges are well-founded against any person he should be treated as innocent until founded guilty by a fair trial according to international standards • To insure rights of detainees including prompt access to relatives, lawyer and impartial medical care. • To put an end to arbitrary detention, torture and unfair trials specially as a tool to suppress the practice of basic rights and peaceful activism • To reform the judiciary, the General prosecution and the criminal laws in order to maintain fair trial • to disband the Special Security Force which is known due to its brutality and which is established on sectarian division and composed overwhelmingly by non-Bahrainis or newly recruited and naturalized mercenaries • To impartially investigate the killing of the activist Ali Jassim which sparked the recent wave of unrest • To react positively to initiatives calling for equity and redress for victims of torture and other violations which is a source of continued rage and anger • To engage in dialogue and take serious measures to decrease tension which have resulted from sectarian discrimination and denial of basic freedoms as well as economic and social rights deprivations and problems which feeds disturbances and distracts human development

------------------------------------------------------------ Akhbar Al-Khaleej, April 13, 2008 Gulf Daily News and Akhbar Al-Khaleej, April 12, 2008

17 Apr, 2008

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

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

Date: 07 March 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed,

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

16 Apr, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 Apr, 2008

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

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

Death Penalty

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

Counter-Terrorism Measures

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

Freedom of Expression

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Assembly

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

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

Freedom of Association

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

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

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

Women�s Rights

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

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

Accountability

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Apr, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

1.Equality and non-discrimination

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

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

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

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

2. Right to life and security of person

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

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

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

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

Our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to:

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

3. Freedom of association and peaceful assembly

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

Therefore, our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to:

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

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

Our organisations call upon the Bahraini authorities to:

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

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

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

4 Apr, 2008

The Economist: Bahrain Not so sunny for Shias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Apr, 2008

THE OBSERVATORY: OPEN LETTER TOTHE KING OF BAHRAIN

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

Re: Ongoing acts of harassment against Ms. Najiya Abdulghaffar

Your Highness,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Souhayr Belhassen Eric SOTTAS

FIDH President OMCT Secretary General

----------------------------------------------------------------

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

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

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

14 Mar, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Reporters Without Borders 2008

11 Mar, 2008

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

Bahrain Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2007 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor March 11, 2008 Bahrain is a monarchy with a population of approximately 725,000, approximately 430,000 of whom are citizens, according to official figures. King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa is the head of state and all branches of government. The king appoints a cabinet of ministers, half of whom are members of the Al‑Khalifa royal family. The 2002 constitution reinstated a legislative body with one elected chamber, the Council of Deputies, and one appointed chamber, the Shura Council. All political societies participated in the November and December 2006 parliamentary and municipal elections. Trained local observers did not report significant problems during the elections, although there were allegations that the government manipulated general poll center vote counts in some cases and gerrymandered political districts. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices. Although citizens were not able to form political parties, the law authorized registered political societies to run candidates and participate in other political activities. The judiciary lacked independence, and corruption was a problem. Domestic violence against women and children was common, as was discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of expatriate workers remained problems. The Shi'a majority population was routinely discriminated against. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From: a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life There were no reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings. However, on December 17, a 31-year-old man, Ali Jasem, died after participating in a protest where Shi'a activists clashed with security forces. Although the official autopsy reported he died of “acute cardiovascular and respiratory collapse,” local human rights observers alleged his death was linked to inhaling tear gas used to disperse demonstrators. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The constitution prohibits such practices; however, there were reports during the year that security forces employed them. According to a June 1 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, security forces severely beat Ali Saeed Al-Khabbaz and Hassan Yousif Hameed after arresting them on May 21 while breaking up a gathering near the house of political activist Hassan Mushaima. According to HRW, on May 29, Ministry of Interior (MOI) officials informed the two men's families that they were in a military hospital. The hospital declined to give the families any information about their injuries. On May 29, the Arabic daily Al-Wasat published photos of the men depicting swelling and bruising on their faces and heads. According to HRW, Hameed sustained a broken jaw. On June 7, both men were released following a meeting between the minister of the interior and Secretary General of Al-Wifaq Islamic Society Shaikh Ali Salman. There was no investigation into the alleged abuses. Following protests that occurred on December 18 and 20, security forces arrested dozens of protestors and detained them in the Adliyeh detention center. According to HRW, some detainees were reportedly tortured and abused in prison by judicial interrogators that beat and electrocuted them. One detainee, Maytham Badr al-Shaykh, reported that interrogators sexually assuaulted and electrocuted him. Officials denied the allegations of abuse. Human rights activists, including the dissolved Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), continued to demand government accountability for alleged acts of torture committed prior to 2001. Prison and Detention Center Conditions Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards. Unlike in previous years, the government did not permit any visits by international human rights observers. In August 2006 the quasi-governmental Supreme Council for Women (SCW) conducted a visit of the country's women's prison in Isa Town. There was no publicly released SCW report on the visit. In 2005 a Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) team made two visits to Jaw Prison, the country's men's prison. BHRS conducted interviews with staff and 56 inmates. There were reports from some inmates of mistreatment in the detention section where new inmates are first held before being assigned a permanent cell. Although International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials visited the country during the year, they did not request prison visits. Bahrain Red Crescent Society officials reported that ICRC officials had not visited prisons since the release of all political prisoners in 2000. d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. Role of the Police and Security Apparatus The MOI is responsible for public security. It controls the Public Security Force and the extensive security service, which are responsible for maintaining internal order. The Bahrain Defense Force is responsible for defending against external threats and also monitors internal security. The security forces were generally effective in maintaining internal order. A widespread lack of transparency made corruption difficult to assess. The press reported that authorities jailed and/or fined law enforcement officials for misconduct, most often for accepting bribes. During the year there were no known instances of police officers punished for committing human rights abuses. There is no mechanism in place for investigating security force abuses. In practice the MOI responded to allegations of abuse and public complaints by establishing ad hoc investigation committees. There is no evidence that these committees have ever issued public reports of their findings. Arrest and Detention In order to apprehend felony suspects, the police must convince the judge based on evidence to issue an arrest warrant. Police and security forces must transfer suspects to the public prosecutor's office immediately, and generally respect that requirement in practice. Within seven days of arrest, a detainee must appear before a judge in the public prosecutor's office. If the judge decides the suspect is a flight risk or a danger to society, a maximum additional 45 days detention is permitted while the investigation is carried out. This process may continue through subsequent reviews by different judges, but pretrial detention may not exceed six months. Judges may grant bail to a suspect and do so regularly. The 2006 counterterrorism legislation allows the public prosecution to detain a terrorism suspect for a five-day period. Upon request, the public prosecutor may extend this period based on the needs of the investigation for up to an additional 10 days. At the end of this period, the detainee must be transferred to the public prosecution and questioned within three days. The public prosecutor must then decide to issue a detention order or to release the detainee. The detention order may not exceed 60 days. Detainees were generally allowed prompt access to visiting family members. Detainee access to attorneys was often restricted in the early stages of detention; attorneys must seek a court order to confer with clients. The state provided counsel to indigent detainees. After conviction attorneys required the prison director's permission to visit a client in jail. On May 18, the king ordered the public prosecution to drop all charges against Hassan Mushaima, head of the Haq Movement; Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Director of the dissolved BCHR; and Shaker Abdulhussain, a Shi'a activist. Police arrested the men on February 2, and prosecutors charged them with inciting hatred, encouraging law-breaking, and publishing false news. The arrest sparked riots in several Shi'a villages. On September 30, according to the BHRS, police arrested Khalid Nour and Hussain al-Ali for taking an illegal commission and held them for 48 hours before granting access to an attorney. At year's end, the authorities had not announced charges against either Nour or al-Ali, and they remained in detention. On December 24, according to the Associated Press, Hafez Hafez, a lawyer for some of the detainees who were arrested by police following the December 20 clashes between Shi'a protestors and security forces, reported that the government refused to allow the detainees access to legal counsel or family members. Amnesty On February 25, a royal pardon released and dropped all charges against Mohamed al-Sahlawi and Hussein al-Habash. Authorities had charged them with promoting change of the system of the state through illegal means and possessing publications containing false information that "would cause disruption to public security and damage the public interest" in connection with plans to distribute leaflets calling for a boycott of the 2006 elections. On August 1, the government initiated an amnesty for illegal workers. On December 31, the amnesty was extended until Jan 31, 2008. Under the terms of the amnesty, any expatriate living or working illegally in the country may legalize his or her status without penalty or return to his or her home country without paying fines. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not respect judicial independence in practice. Courts were subject to government pressure regarding verdicts, sentencing, and appeals. There were allegations of corruption in the judicial system. The constitution provides that the king appoint all judges by royal decree. The king also serves as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the body responsible for supervising the work of the courts and the public prosecution. The legal system is based on a mix of British civil law, common law, Shari'a (Islamic law), and traditional laws. The judiciary is organized into two separate branches: the civil law courts and the Shari'a courts. The civil law courts, through their criminal and civil branches, adjudicate all civil and commercial cases, criminal cases, and personal status cases involving non-Muslims. The courts of minor cases (the lower courts and the Court of Execution) have one judge with jurisdiction over minor civil, commercial, and misdemeanor cases. The high civil courts have three judges with jurisdiction over larger civil and commercial cases, felonies, and personal status cases involving non-Muslims. The Civil High Court of Appeal has a panel of three judges and hears appeals. Both the civil and criminal court systems have a supreme court of appeal, and a court of cassation, the final appellate court. The Shari'a courts have jurisdiction over personal status cases involving citizen and noncitizen Muslims. There are two levels: the Senior Shari'a Court and the High Shari'a Court of Appeal. At each level is a Sunni Maliki Shari'a court with jurisdiction over all personal status cases brought by Sunni Muslims and a Ja'afari Shari'a court with jurisdiction over cases brought by Shi'a Muslims. The High Shari'a Court of Appeal is composed of a minimum of two judges. In the event of a disagreement, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) provides a third judge, and the decision is based on a majority vote. There are 11 judges in the Sunni Maliki Shari'a courts and 12 judges in the Shi'a Ja'afari Shari'a courts. The Constitutional Court rules on the constitutionality of laws and statutes. The court's membership consists of a president and six members, all appointed by the king. These seven judges serve nine‑year terms and cannot be removed before their terms expire. The court's determination is final and binding, according to the constitution. The Bahrain Defense Force maintains a separate court system that only tries military personnel accused of offenses under the Military Code of Justice. The MOI has a similar system for trying police officials. There were no reports of either court considering cases involving civilian, common criminal, or security cases during the year. Trial Procedures According to the constitution, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Civil and criminal trial procedures provided for an open trial. Juries are not used. By law, defendants have the right to prompt consultation with an attorney of their choice. The state provided counsel to defendants who could not afford to hire an attorney. Defendants are present during trial proceedings, and they have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf and question witnesses against them. No law governs defendants' access to government-held evidence, and the government often reviewed evidence prior to defendants' access to it. Women's legal rights vary according to Shi'a or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law. Political Prisoners and Detainees There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies Citizens may bring civil suits before the court seeking cessation of or damages for human rights violations; however, there was impunity for alleged torturers that the government maintained was granted by the 2001 general amnesty. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The constitution provides for personal freedom and freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence except under the provisions of the law and under judicial supervision; however, the government continued to infringe on citizens' right to privacy. Telephone calls, e-mail, and personal correspondence remained subject to monitoring. Police informer networks were extensive and sophisticated. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The constitution provides for restricted freedom of speech and of the press, but the government limited the exercise of these rights in practice. Both censorship and self-censorship took place. The 2006 association law forbids any speech or discussion infringing on public order or morals. In private settings, individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues. There was considerable freedom of expression on the Internet, in letters to the editor, and occasionally on state‑run television call‑in shows. The government enforced at its discretion the 2002 suspended press law, which provides for restricted freedom of speech and press. The law provides for prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing Islam or the king or inciting actions that undermine state security. The law allows fines up to $5,300 (2,000 dinars) for 14 other offenses, including publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining the consent of the minister of information; publishing any news reports that may adversely affect the value of the national currency; reporting any offense against the head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country; or publishing offensive remarks towards an accredited representative of a foreign country because of acts connected with the person's position. There was no government-owned print media, but the Ministry of Information exercised considerable control over local privately-owned print media. The government generally did not restrict press coverage of international issues and local issues focusing on opposition politics and economic and commercial issues. However, government censorship took place. Representatives from the Ministry of Information actively monitored and blocked local stories on sensitive matters, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, and judges. Journalists also practiced widespread self-censorship. According to some members of the press, government officials contacted editors directly and asked them to stop writing about certain subjects or asked them to not publish a press release or a story. In the runup to the November 2006 parliamentary elections, there were reports that the government paid journalists to represent it favorably. In addition, the Press and Publications Directorate at the Ministry of Information was responsible for reviewing all books and publications that were ready to go to print and issuing printing licenses allowing the authors of these books to publish them. In October Ghada Jamsheer, a women's rights activist and president of the Bahrain Women's Petition, reported that government officials effectively banned her from appearing in the media, due to her calls for the dissolution of the Supreme Council of Women in April. Media officials and editors-in-chief claim there is no ban on her in the media. On March 18, the chairman of the Bahrain Journalists' Association and editor-in-chief of Al-Ayam newspaper, Isa al-Shaiji, filed a complaint at the public prosecutor's office against Member of Parliament (MP) Mohammed Khalid, alleging that Khalid insulted him and his family during a debate in the Council of Deputies on February 20. In May the Legislative Committee refused to withdraw Khalid's parliamentary immunity, effectively preventing the case from proceeding. On April 19, authorities convicted in absentia Dr. Salah al-Bandar and sentenced him to four years in prison and a $265 (100 dinars) fine. In September 2006 authorities deported al-Bandar and accused him of seizing official government documents and stealing private checks, after he distributed a report claiming a group of high-level government officials attempted to manipulate the 2006 election process. At the time, al-Bandar, a British citizen, was an advisor to the president of the Central Informatics Organization, which originally had responsibility for conducting elections. In October 2006 the High Criminal Court issued an injunction against the publishing of any news, commentary, or other information related to the report or the legal case against al-Bandar, including on the Internet. The gag order remained in effect at year's end. On August 29, a prosecutor summoned Isa al-Shaiji for questioning regarding a May 10 complaint filed by Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood preacher Wagdy Ghunaim, who alleged that al-Shaiji published articles critical of Ghunaim's views. The prosecutor released al-Shaiji on bond the same day. On November 14, the government withdrew Ghunaim's residency permit. Ghunaim then hired a proxy to continue pursuit of the case in his absence. At year's end, the case was still pending. The government owned and operated all local radio and television stations and maintained control over the selection of the locally-based Al—Jazeera correspondent. Some public demonstrations were not covered on government-owned television. Radio and television broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi from countries in the region, including by satellite, were received without interference. Satellite television systems provided unimpeded access to international broadcasts. Internet Freedom The government restricted use of the Internet. The government is a major shareholder in the Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco), the country's principal telecommunications company. Batelco prohibited user access to Internet sites considered to be antigovernment or anti‑Islamic. E-mail use was reportedly monitored. The government has invoked the press code to justify the questioning of some journalists and bloggers. The government attempted to block local access to numerous Web sites, including local Web logs and chat sites; human rights Web sites; sites containing information about Arab Christians; and the Wa'ad political society's Web site. Public discussion of blocked Web sites is widespread. Most residents have access to the Internet in the home, workplace, or Internet cafés. The number of Internet users increased by 32.7 per cent in 2006, and at year's end, there were approximately 61,000 Internet subscribers. Most low-wage laborers use Internet cafés. Many users were able to access blocked sites through alternate servers. The government regularly monitored Web sites and blogs maintained by local activists. In late 2006 the government blocked some Web logs until their authors removed any references to the case of Dr. Salah al-Bandar. After the November and December 2006 elections, a number of local bloggers were blocked on the Internet for commenting upon election irregularities. Under the law, Web site administrators face the same libel laws that apply to print journalists, and Web masters are held jointly responsible for all of the content posted on their Web sites or chat rooms. Academic Freedom and Cultural Events The constitution provides for academic freedom, although the government limited this freedom in practice. Academics avoided contentious political issues. There was a disproportionately high number of Sunni professors in universities. The university's hiring and admissions policies favored Sunnis and others who were assumed to support the government. The proportion of Shi'a students was estimated to be close to the approximately 70 percent of Shi'a in the general population, although there are proportionately fewer Shi'a professors. On November 26, press reports indicated that the government began granting licenses for publication of several books pertaining to Islamic history, modern Bahraini history, and democracy for which licenses were previously denied. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Freedom of Assembly The constitution provides for the right of free assembly, but the law restricts the exercise of this right. The July 2006 amendments to the association law codified restrictions on where and when public gatherings or demonstrations can be held. According to the law, organizers must submit requests for public gatherings or demonstrations to the MOI with at least 72 hours' advance notice. The request must be signed by three law-abiding citizens from the area in which the gathering is to take place. If there is no response to the request, the gathering may proceed. According to the law, the head of public security is required to notify the organizers of any public gathering about any changes to the request (such as location, time, or route) at least 48 hours prior to the event. Organizers of an unauthorized gathering may be held responsible for any damage to public or private property, in addition to prison sentences ranging from three to six months. The law prohibits any public gatherings or demonstrations near hospitals, airports, commercial centers, or facilities designated to be security-related by the MOI. Public gatherings and demonstrations are not permitted after 11:00 p.m. or before 7:00 a.m. without written permission from the head of public security or his deputy. The law states that funeral processions may not be turned into political rallies and security officials may be present at any public gathering. Government security forces intervened in some demonstrations during the year. On May 19, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a seminar in support of political activists Hassan Mushaima and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. A number of MPs and Sunni and Shi'a clerics were in attendance. Chairman of the Wa'ad Society Ebrahim Sharif reportedly suffered minor injuries. On May 21, police broke up a gathering near the house of political activist Hassan Mushaima and arrested Ali Saeed al-Khabbaz and Hassan Yousif Hameed. According to a June 1 HRW report, police beat Al-Khabbaz and Hameed while in custody. On June 7, both men were released. On December 17, security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Shi'a activists protesting alleged abuses by security forces during the 1980s and 1990s. Demonstrators threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the security forces. Ali Jassem, 31-year-old Shi'a activist, died directly after the protests. While the official autopsy reported that the man died of “acute cardiovascular and respiratory collapse,” local human rights observers alleged that he died as a result of inhaling the tear gas police used to disperse demonstrators. On December 18 and 20, street clashes between Shi'a protestors and security forces also occurred. On December 20, according to press reports, approximately 500 protestors rallied over the December 17 death of Ali Jassem. The police reported that some attacked and severely beat a policeman and stole his service weapon. Protestors set a police vehicle on fire. Security forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. According to Reuters, during and following the clashes security forces arrested dozens of protestors, including opposition political activists. At year's end, fifteen individuals faced charges of arson, attempted murder of a police officer, and theft of a weapon. The MOI reportedly told the owners of some venues to close their premises to prevent meetings from occurring, primarily at mosques and "ma'tams," or Shi'a community centers. The number of times this happened was unknown. The government limited and controlled political gatherings. The law regulates election campaigns and prohibits "election meetings" at worship centers, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. July 2006 amendments to this law lowered the voting age to 20 years of age and provided for a 10 year loss of the right to vote or stand as a candidate for any person sentenced to more than six months in prison for any crime. The electoral restriction was not enforced in the November and December 2006 elections, as the names of citizens sentenced for more than six months appeared on the voter registration lists. Freedom of Association The constitution provides for the right of freedom of association; however, the government limited this right in practice. Although the government does not allow the formation of political parties, it authorized registered political societies to run candidates and participate in other political activities. Organized groups in the country are either civil society groups registered by the Ministry of Social Development, political societies registered by the MOJ, or labor unions registered with the Ministry of Labor (MOL). Each of these is subject to registration requirements. Based on the proposed by-laws a new group submits, the government decides whether its proposed activities are social or political in nature. The law prohibits any activity by an unlicensed society and any political activity by a licensed civil society. The law provides the Ministry of Social Development the right to reject the registration of any society if its services are deemed unnecessary, are already provided by another society, are contrary to state security, or are aimed at reviving a previously dissolved society. The law requires all political societies to have bylaws signed by the founders in order to register or maintain registration. The society's principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to either the principles of Shari'a law or the national interest as interpreted by the judiciary. The law requires that societies must not be based on sectarian, geographic, or class identity and have no military or paramilitary wing. When submitting an application for registration, the political society must submit three copies of the bylaws signed by all members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, a financial statement identifying the society's sources of funding and bank information, and the name of who will act as the society's proxy. Upon receipt of an application, the MOJ has 45 days to request in writing any necessary clarifications and/or statements and a total of 60 days to approve or deny a political society's registration request. Approvals must be published in the official gazette; denials must be accompanied by written statements that detail reasons for the denial. The law requires that any civil society organization submit two copies of the bylaw of the association signed by all founding members; two copies of the minutes of meetings of the founding committee stating names of founding members, their professions, their place of residence, and containing their signatures; and a registration fee. The law also requires that all members be 18 years of age or older. The applications are required to be examined by the Ministry of Social Development within 30 days. If after 60 days the ministry has not announced the registration of a society, the application is considered rejected. The society may file a complaint, which the ministry has 60 days to review. If after 30 days the ministry has not responded, the association may refer the application to the High Civil Court, which may annul the decision or refuse the complaint. The Ministry of Social Development has not allowed the National Committee for the Unemployed to register as a civil society group because of the political nature of its activities. The Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society (BYHRS) also remained unsuccessful in legally registering as a civil society organization. The society first applied for registration in 2005. According to supporters of the group, authorities told them that the society failed to meet one of the requirements of the 1989 associations act because some of its members were under 18 years of age. Members of the society also speculate that government officials are enforcing the 1989 law to the letter because of ties between BYHRS and the now-dissolved BCHR. On November 27, the president of the BYHRS, Mohammed Al-Moskati, appeared before a lower criminal court judge to answer charges of "operating an unregistered association" under the terms of the 1989 associations act. Al-Moskati asserted that the act was inconsistent with Bahrain's international commitments as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The judge adjourned the trial until January 2008, and Al-Moskati was not taken into custody. The BYHRS remained active at year's end. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution states that Islam is the official religion and that Shari'a (Islamic law) is a principal source for legislation. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings, in accordance with the customs observed in the country; however, the government placed some limitations on the exercise of this right. Members of other religious groups who practice their faith privately do so without interference from the government. All other religious groups must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJIA) to operate and hold religious meetings. Depending on a group's activities, it may also need approvals from the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Information, and/or the Ministry of Education. The government continued to exert a level of control and to monitor both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, and there continued to be government discrimination against Shi'a Muslims in certain fields. Historically there is evidence of discrimination against Shi'a Muslims in recruitment for the country's military and domestic security services. During the year the Ministry of Defense did not recruit Shi'a for military service. During the year the MOI made increasing efforts to recruit additional Shi'a into nonmilitary security agencies. The Muslim population is approximately 70 percent Shi'a and 30 percent Sunni. Non-Muslims account for approximately 1 percent of the population. There are numerous Christian churches of different denominations, four Sikh temples, and several official and unofficial Hindu temples located in Manama and its suburbs. The only Jewish synagogue has been voluntarily closed since 1948. The government funds, monitors, and closely controls all official religious institutions, including Shi'a and Sunni mosques, Shi'a ma'tams (religious community centers), Shi'a and Sunni waqfs (religious endowments), and the religious courts. During the year there were reports of clashes between the government and elements of the Shi'a majority population, who were often critical of the Sunni-dominated government. Problems continued to exist during the year, stemming primarily from the government's perceived unequal treatment of Shi'a in the country. Many of these incidents involved Shi'a protestors burning tires or throwing Molotov cocktails at security forces. There were reports that the security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas to break up some of these demonstrations, which Shi'a protestors and other local human rights observers alleged lead to the death of a 31-year-old man after a December 17 protest. The government may appropriate or withhold funding to reward or punish particular individuals or places of worship, although reports of this were not common. There were no reported closures of mosques or ma'tams during the year; however, in newer towns such as Hamad Town and Isa Town, which often have mixed Sunni and Shi'a populations, there tended to be a higher number of Sunni mosques. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has not approved applications for the Shi'a community to establish ma'tams in Hamad Town. As an alternative, individuals in the Shi'a community have converted parts of their homes into ma'tams. Sunni and Shi'a waqfs made funding decisions for new mosque construction. Although both Sunni and Shi'a waqfs were reportedly well-endowed and able to fund mosque construction, new mosques were dependent upon government approval of land allocation. The government's approval of land allocation for mosques was not transparent and reportedly not proportionate to the Shi'a community's relative population in the country. There were reports that at year's end the government had not made a decision on a 2005 request by one Christian church to form a second parish and obtain a resident visa for the proposed permanent priest. The government rarely interfered with what it considered to be legitimate religious observances. During the year the government permitted public religious events, most notably the large annual Shi'a holiday of Ashura, but police closely monitored and limited these gatherings. The MOI's policy of providing full media coverage of Ashura events continued this year. There were no restrictions on the number of citizens permitted to make pilgrimages to Shi'a shrines and to holy sites in Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The government monitored travel to Iran and scrutinized carefully those who chose to pursue religious study there. Christian congregations and churches were registered with the government and operated freely. The majority of those who attended Christian churches were expatriates. Events at churches occurred frequently and were advertised regularly in the English press, including the hosting of guest speakers from many countries. The law forbids election speeches in worship centers, but sermons often touched upon political themes. Proselytizing by non‑Muslims is illegal and the government prohibited anti‑Islamic writings; however, Bibles and other Christian publications are displayed and sold openly in local bookstores that also sold Islamic and other religious literature. Churches also sold Christian materials, including books, music, and messages from Christian leaders, openly and without restriction. Religious tracts of all branches of Islam, cassettes of sermons delivered by Muslim preachers from other countries, and publications of other religions were readily available. Christian pastors were permitted to provide literature to Christian inmates and to prison libraries. The MOJIA has repeatedly denied a Baha'i congregation a license to function, although the group has not sought official recognition in many years. The Baha'i community continued to gather and worship freely without government interference. While the MOJIA views Baha'ism as blasphemous and an inauthentic offshoot of Islam, some other government ministries included Baha'i as a religion choice in "drop-down" computer menus for citizens applying for certain government documents. Societal Abuses and Discrimination Discrimination against the majority Shi'a population remained a problem. Sunnis received preference for employment in sensitive government positions and in the managerial ranks of the civil service. The royal family is Sunni, and the defense and internal security forces were predominantly Sunni. Although Shi'a citizens held posts in these forces, with few exceptions, positions were not high-ranking. In the private sector, Shi'a tended to be employed in lower paid, less skilled jobs. Educational, social, and municipal services in most Shi'a neighborhoods were inferior to those found in Sunni communities. In private conversations and in Internet forums, Shi'a consistently complained of discrimination, especially in public sector jobs, positions at the university, and security-related positions. Although the percentage of Shi'a students was close to the approximately 70 percent of Shi'a population in the country, only about 40 percent of university faculty was Shi'a. Shi'a composed a high percentage of the country's unemployed. The Jewish community had approximately 36 members. Travel to Israel is officially prohibited for all Bahraini citizens, although some are able to travel there. One Jewish citizen served in the Shura Council. Some anti-Semitic political commentary and editorial cartoons appeared, usually linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These articles and depictions occurred without government response. Although the one synagogue is not open due to the small size of the Jewish community in the country, Jews practiced their faith privately without interference from the government. The government has not enacted specific laws to combat discrimination. For a more detailed discussion, see the 2007 International Religious Freedom Report. d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons The constitution provides for freedom of movement, except as modified by law and judicial decisions. Citizens were free to move within the country and change their place of residence or work. The law provides that the government may reject applications to obtain or renew passports for reasonable cause, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. There is no definition in the statute of the phrase "reasonable cause." In practice authorities rely on determinations of national security when adjudicating passport applications. The constitution permits the government to revoke citizenship only in the cases of treason and other such cases "according to the law." The government has not revoked the citizenship of any person under the 2002 constitution. Opposition groups claimed that the naturalization process was politically driven to manipulate demographics for voting purposes and to keep Shi'a out of the police and defense forces, which are allegedly dominated by naturalized Sunnis. Although naturalization requirements are clearly defined in law, adjudication of naturalization applications was neither transparent nor impartial. The government reportedly was more lenient with naturalization requests from expatriates in the security forces. Shi'a and non-Arab applicants reportedly experienced longer delays in the processing of their cases. The government occasionally granted citizenship to Sunni residents from neighboring countries. The government stated that some of the Saudis who had received citizenship were the grandchildren of Bahraini citizens who had immigrated to Saudi Arabia. According to the country's nationality law, these persons have a legal right to citizenship. No official statistics regarding naturalization cases were available. The constitution prohibits forced exile, and there were no reports of forced exile or return from exile during the year. There is no official requirement for women and children to have their husband's/father's permission to travel abroad, and there were no reports of women or children facing restrictions on travel. Protection of Refugees The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status to persons who meet the definition in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection or status to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where there is reason to believe that they feared persecution. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens do not have the right to change their government or their political system; however, the constitution provides for a democratically elected Council of Deputies, the lower house of parliament. The king appoints the prime minister, who then proposes cabinet ministers who are appointed by the king. Members of the royal family held all strategic cabinet ministry positions and approximately half of all ministerial slots. The bicameral National Assembly consists of the 40-member popularly elected Council of Deputies and the 40-member appointed Shura (Consultative) Council. The Office of Legal Affairs drafts the text of laws, not the Council of Deputies or the Shura Council. This office had been part of the prime minister's cabinet until July 2006, when it was made a quasi-independent body linked to the MOJIA. The king may veto laws passed by the National Assembly, which in turn may override a veto by a two‑thirds majority vote. If the legislature overrides a veto, the king must promulgate the law within one month. No veto has been exercised, and no law has been enacted that was proposed by a member of the legislature since the constitution was adopted. The king may dissolve the Council of Deputies at his discretion, and he retains the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws. Either council may question government ministers, and the Council of Deputies may pass a two‑thirds majority vote of no confidence requiring a minister's resignation. The Council of Deputies may also introduce a resolution indicating it cannot cooperate with the prime minister. Both the elected and the appointed chambers of the National Assembly would then have the option to pass the resolution by a two‑thirds majority that would require the king to either dismiss the prime minister or dissolve the Council of Deputies. The situation of a no-confidence vote has never arisen. Elections and Political Participation Bahrain held parliamentary and municipal council elections in two rounds in November and December 2006. Voter participation in the first round was 73 percent of all registered voters. In second round runoff races, 69 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Although a small group of eligible voters boycotted the elections, all political societies, including the four that boycotted the 2002 elections, participated in the elections. Although no international observers participated, the government permitted nine local civil society groups, including the BHRWS and the Bahrain Society for Public Freedoms, access to poll stations to observe voting. Bahrain Transparency Society and the BHRS joined efforts to form the Election Monitoring Joint Committee (EMJC) and trained over 200 local observers. The government asked a foreign political party training and election observation organization to leave the country during the campaign process and elections. In its final report issued on February 10, EMJC reported that there were no reports of widespread attempts to influence the outcome of the elections. Official polling station observers did not report significant problems during the voting process, although there were allegations that general poll center vote counts were manipulated in some cases against opposition candidates in close races. In the first round of elections, officials in the 40 district polling stations announced results to observers and candidate representatives immediately following ballot counting. However, votes from the 10 general polling stations were taken to central facilities and folded in with those of other general stations before vote counts were made public. After the first round, EMJC presented this lapse in transparency to the High Commission for Elections. Election administrators corrected this problem in the runoff elections and announced all vote counts prior to moving ballot boxes. EMJC reported other violations, the most serious being that candidates did not cease campaign activities 24 hours prior to the polls as required by law. Campaign volunteers continued to pass out fliers and lobby voters in the vicinity of polling stations on election day. In addition observers reported many campaign posters and billboards moved closer to polling stations than allowed by law just prior to the election. Most other violations were minor and procedural. The government drew the unified electoral districts for both the municipal council and the legislative elections to protect Sunni interests by creating several districts with small populations likely to elect a Sunni candidate. In contrast districts where a Shi'a candidate was likely to win were drawn to include large numbers of voters, a formula that diluted the voting strength of the Shi'a community. According to voter lists for the elections, divergence in the electoral population per district is significant—the number of eligible voters per elected representative can vary by as much as a factor of 13. The election law prohibited speeches at most public locations and limited the areas where campaign material could be placed. The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but 15 political societies, which received some government funding and operated somewhat like political parties, chose candidates for parliamentary and municipal elections, campaigned for political office, developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. The 2005 Political Societies Law provides political societies legal authority to exist and defines guidelines within which they can operate. Political societies were highly critical of provisions in the law requiring them to notify the MOJIA before contacting political groups abroad. The law also prohibits foreign funding or training, raised the minimum membership age from 18 to 21; and gives the MOJIA the authority to reject an application for registration. Since the government began recognizing political societies in 2002, it has not refused or deferred an application. Although the law prohibits civil society groups from engaging in political matters, the government permitted such activity at its discretion. Women have the right to vote and run for public office. On April 24, the government appointed the first female member, Dr. Dhuha al-Zayani, to the Constitutional Court. In the legislative elections 18 women ran, and five ran in the municipal elections. One woman, Latifa al-Qa'oud, was unopposed in her district and became the first female MP. None of the other women candidates were elected. The government did not release percentages of voting by gender. While Shi'a amounted to approximately 70 percent of resident citizens, and both Shi'a and Sunni citizens have equal rights before the law, Sunnis dominated political life. In December 2006 the king appointed one Christian and one Jewish member to the new Shura Council. Eighteen Shura Council members were Shi'a Muslims and 17 were Sunni. Six of the 23 cabinet ministers were Shi'a, including a deputy prime minister. Government Corruption and Transparency According to the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators, government corruption was a problem. The Penal Code provides specific penalties for various forms of official corruption. Significant areas of government activity continued to lack transparency. However, new legislation increased transparency in central bank transactions and activities and increased disclosure responsibilities for the 39 companies listed on the local stock exchange. The annual National Audit Bureau report released on August 26 analyzed the accounts of state-owned entities and was made available to the public. The Council of Deputies called ministers to appear at public sessions to respond to questions from MPs. On June 27, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce filed a complaint with the public prosecution accusing nine employees of embezzlement. A few days later authorities arrested the individuals. The case remained pending at year's end. There was no law providing citizens with access to information held by the government. There was no law requiring financial disclosure on the part of government officials. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights Restrictions on freedom of association and expression hindered investigation or public criticism of the government's human rights policies. There were approximately 400 NGOs registered in the country, most of which were sports clubs and charitable organizations. NGOs must report to the Ministry of Social Development when their members participate in international NGO events. There were three major human rights NGOs that reported on issues of concern: Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS), and former members of the dissolved Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). BHRS was independent from the government. BHRWS considered itself independent, although members of its leadership were also members of the royally appointed Shura Council. In recent years the government has allowed increased interaction between local civil society groups and international human rights organizations. During the year citizen members of Amnesty International (AI), who have not registered as an NGO with the Ministry of Social Development, carried out several activities without interference by the government. AI members coordinated with the Bahrain Society for Public Freedoms to observe the elections and monitor media coverage during the 2006 election campaign. On June 26, the High Court issued an order enjoining the National Democratic Gathering Society from holding meetings or conducting any other activities for three months. The order resulted from an internal conflict over the administration of the society involving the former secretary general, Abdullah Hashim, and the newly-elected secretary general, Fadhel Abbas. On August 27, the MOJIA approved the results of the society's general assembly meeting held on July 24, in which Fadhel Abbas was elected as the new secretary general. The society resumed its operations at that time. In 2004 the Ministry of Social Development dissolved the BCHR, an umbrella human rights organization that had been active since 2002. Beginning in 2003 government ministries warned the center against conducting activities that were outside its bylaws such as criticizing the government or specific government officials. The government locked the center's rented office space and froze its bank accounts. The BCHR challenged its closure in court but lost the case and its subsequent appeals. Individual members continued to conduct activities and write reports about issues of concern in the name of the center. The BHRWS, established in December 2004 and led by a member of the Shura Council, conducted a number of human rights activities. Although foreign NGOs were prohibited from registering with the government, the government generally did not interfere with their activities, so long as these activities were not perceived as interference in the political system. In previous years, the government has provided written warning to foreign NGOs it believed to be interfering with internal political matters. In at least one previous case, the government declined to renew the residence permit of an NGO chief who had become the focus of controversy, with the result that the NGO's local operation had to close down. On October 30, a foreign organization previously asked by immigration authorities in 2006 to leave the country returned to conduct activities. On July 12, the organization signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bahrain Institute of Political Development (BIPD), in which the two organizations agreed to work together. Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons The constitution provides for equality; equal opportunity; and the right to medical care, welfare, education, property, capital, and work for all citizens. However, these rights were protected unevenly, depending on the individual's social status, sect, or gender. Women No government policies or laws explicitly addressed violence against women. Spousal abuse of women was widespread, particularly in poorer communities. Since 2005 the Batelco Care Center for Family Violence has offered free medical, psychological, legal, and social assistance to victims of violence, primarily women and children. The center runs a hotline that abused persons can call for assistance. The center recorded 669 cases involving domestic abuse during the year: 407 from women, 178 from children, and the remainder from men. Violence against women, especially by family members and spouses, is believed to be pervasive. Women rarely sought legal redress for violence, and there was little public attention towards or discussion of the problem. Incidents usually were not brought to the attention of authorities. Rape is illegal, and the press reported cases of men arrested for the crime. The law does not address spousal rape. There was no information on the number of rape and sexual assault cases brought to the public prosecutor or any resulting convictions. Reports of foreign women working in domestic positions being beaten or sexually abused by their employers and recruiting agents were common. Numerous cases were reported to local embassies, the press, and the police; however, most victims were too intimidated to sue their employers, although they had the right to do so. Courts reportedly allowed victims who registered complaints to sue for damages or return home. If the victim brings a suit against the employer, the plaintiff cannot leave the country for the duration of the case. Since its inception in 2002, the Migrant Worker Protection Society (MWPS) has supported several victims who have taken their cases to court, but compensation to victims was reportedly very low. During the year MWPS withdrew its court cases, including three rape cases, citing a complete lack of success in the courts. There is no specific law that prohibits female genital mutilation (FGM). According to the Batelco Care Center for Family Violence Cases, there have never been any cases of FGM. Prostitution is illegal; however, the press reported arrests of prostitutes and their managers. During the year cases of prostitution were referred to the public prosecution for investigation. Sentences for individuals who "encouraged the practice of prostitution" varied between 10 days and two years in prison. Sentences for those who "managed an establishment for the practice of prostitution" ranged from prison sentences of three months to three years. Sexual harassment is prohibited but was a widespread problem for women, especially foreigners working as domestics and in other low‑level service jobs. The press reported a number of cases of men arrested for sexually harassing women. Women's legal rights vary according to Shi'a or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law. Shi'a and Sunni women have the right to initiate a divorce; however, religious courts may refuse the request. Women of either sect may own and inherit property and represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shi'a women may inherit all property. Sunni women without a direct male heir inherit only a portion as governed by Shari'a; the balance is divided among the brothers or male relatives of the deceased. In practice, better‑educated families used wills and other legal maneuvers to ameliorate the negative effects of these rules. In divorce cases, the courts routinely grant mothers custody of daughters under age nine and sons under age seven. Custody usually reverts to the father once the children reach those ages. Regardless of custody decisions, the father retains guardianship, or the right to make all legal decisions for the child, until the child reaches the legal age of 21. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father. A Muslim woman legally can marry a non‑Muslim man if the man converts to Islam. By law foreign women who marry citizens are eligible for citizenship after five years of marriage. Foreign men who marry citizens, however, are not entitled to citizenship, and neither are their children. During the year the Bahrain Women's Society (BWS) registered more than 800 families where children (infant to age 21) were born to citizen mothers but do not have citizenship. In September 2006 King Hamad issued a royal decree granting citizenship to at least 372 children of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers. However, this action did not change the legislation, so any children born in the future under such circumstances would face citizenship difficulties. Labor laws prohibit discrimination against women; however, discrimination against women is systemic in the country, especially in the workplace. The influence of religious traditionalists sometimes hampered women's rights. According to the Central Bank, women constituted 13 percent of the private sector workforce and 42 percent of the government workforce. The government was a leading employer of women. A 2005 law granted women working in the public sector 42 days maternity leave, not including weekends. Women in the private sector are entitled to 45 days maternity leave, including weekends. Children The government generally honored its commitment to children's welfare through enforcement of related civil and criminal laws and an extensive social welfare network. However, children born to citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers are not entitled to citizenship and are not eligible for certain social services. According to the 2005 Education Act, education is free and compulsory for all children, including noncitizens, ages six to 15. In recent years, authorities did not enforce compulsory education rules. However, the act imposed fines on parents whose children failed to attend school and outlined other measures to encourage school attendance. The state provided limited medical services for infant and preadolescent citizens. Noncitizen adults and children paid a fee for each visit for care at public health centers. Boys and girls enjoyed equal access to medical care. According to the BWS, child abuse was common. There has been an increase in public discussion and in press reporting that covers child abuse. The BWS "Be Free" Campaign, which has posted a Web site for victims of child abuse since 2002, reported that during the year it received on average between 300 and 400 emails per month mostly from youth and adults, from inside and outside the country, reporting to have been victims of child abuse. Many calls have originated from older adults, reporting abuse they endured as children. Child prostitution is illegal and there were no reported cases during the year. Trafficking in Persons The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons. Workers from Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Horn of Africa, and the former Soviet Union reported conditions that amounted to trafficking, such as withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, and physical or psychological intimidation to work. Some victims reported being forced into commercial sexual exploitation; however, the most common forms of trafficking in persons involved unskilled construction laborers and domestic workers. There were approximately 70,000 foreign housemaids working in the country, and labor laws did not fully cover domestic workers. According to government statistics, foreigners make up 59 percent of the workforce. Up to half of low and unskilled expatriate workers were subjected to illegal contract substitution, whereby workers agreed to a contract in their home country but were required to agree to and sign a different contract upon arrival, nearly always for less pay and often for different work. Victims of trafficking experienced nonpayment of salaries; inadequate meals; physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; absence of rest days; and/or extremely long working hours. The primary traffickers were employment agencies operating in the source countries. These agencies approached workers in their home countries and offered visas at prices in the range of $3,975 (1,500 dinars), payable after arrival. Upon arrival at the airport, the workers' passports were taken from them, ostensibly to facilitate customs; however, the passports frequently were not returned. Frequently, traffickers, including some from influential families, tricked new workers into paying for fraudulent visas and nonexistent jobs, leaving stranded workers vulnerable to trafficking due to their illegal immigration status in the country and high debt in their home country. The MOL nearly doubled its number of labor inspectors to approximately 65 to investigate reports of visa abuse. Prostitution is illegal, but during the year there was evidence that a number of foreign women, particularly Thai women, were forced into commercial sexual exploitation through deception or intimidation. Although many Thai women traveled to the country voluntarily, traffickers reportedly used false job offers and physical force to traffic some of them into commercial sexual exploitation. In cases of forced prostitution, the government reportedly prosecuted the victim and often the victim's sponsor or employer but did not provide any specific information on cases of forced prostitution it pursued during the year. The fear of deportation or employer retaliation prevented many foreign workers from making complaints to the authorities. Many foreign workers were unaware of their rights under the law, such as the right to change employers without the consent of the original employer after working two years in a position. The government can fine employers guilty of forced labor up to $2,650 (1,000 dinars) and/or sentence them for prison terms not to exceed two years. The rules require sponsors to put up a deposit of $265 (100 dinars) for each runaway worker. The government published pamphlets on expatriate workers' rights in several languages, provided manuals on these rights to local diplomatic missions, and operated a telephone hotline for victims. The government did not provide direct assistance to victims. During the year there were approximately 500 labor cases involving a total of over 650 expatriate workers sent from the MOL to the Public Prosecution for investigation and prosecution. Under the sponsorship system, an expatriate worker could not seek employment while a case was in court. Because in past years MWPS has been unsuccessful at resolving cases against sponsors in the courts, MWPS recommended that individuals instead attempt to resolve cases through mediation between their foreign embassies and the sponsors. Most of these mediations resulted in the payment of back payments followed by repatriation. Workers also sought assistance from their embassies. The Pakistani embassy reported that it successfully resolved 200 cases through mediation between the sponsor and the worker, referred 135 to the MOL, and 40 to lawyers. The Pakistani embassy repatriated over 750 workers. On June 13, a Sri Lankan housemaid sought assistance from the MWPS after running away from her Bahraini sponsor's allegedly abusive family. The housemaid claimed her sponsor's wife and two elder children abused her on daily basis. She was allegedly made to work seven days a week and paid a salary of approximately $132 (50 dinars) a month. The maid's sponsor denied the allegations but after police questioning agreed to end his legal sponsorship, and the housemaid was repatriated with the assistance of MWPS. In July the Ministry of Labor began investigating a complaint lodged by the MWPS on behalf of a number of housemaids based on reports that a leading labor recruitment agency was complicit in the abuse of individuals it had recruited. The investigation was ongoing at year's end. Between July 16 and July 21, working in concert with an international NGO, a government shelter focused on female victims of domestic abuse and trafficking assisted the return of two trafficking victims to their home countries. In September the MWPS assisted an Indian housemaid who was severely beaten with a cricket bat by her sponsor and suffered a broken leg. She was in the hospital and out of work for more than two months. The Indian embassy filed a complaint against her sponsor for the beating. At year's end the investigation was ongoing, and the housemaid was out of work. Between January 7 and 18, the government partnered with a foreign organization to train a special, multidisciplinary antitrafficking unit. Several NGOs provided assistance in the form of housing, basic health care, education, and transportation to trafficking victims with the government's approval, including the MWPS, the Art of Living Foundation, the Indian Community Relief Fund, and the BHRWS. Persons with Disabilities The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and a variety of governmental, quasi‑governmental, and religious institutions are mandated to support and protect persons with disabilities. On June 4, the cabinet approved the formation of the High Committee for Disabled Affairs. The committee, chaired by the social development minister, consisted of representatives from the government and civil sectors. On May 8, an official at the Ministry of Social Development announced that 4,055 disabled persons each received financial support of $132.50 (50 dinars) from the ministry's disability funding. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or access to health care. Children with learning disabilities, physical handicaps, speech impediments, and Down syndrome were enrolled in specialized education programs in public schools. Since 2005 new public buildings in the central municipality must include facilities for persons with disabilities. The law does not mandate access to nonresidential buildings for persons with disabilities. The government is required by law to provide vocational training for persons with disabilities who wish to work. The law requires any employer of more than 100 persons to hire at least 2 percent of its employees from the government's list of workers with disabilities. However, the government does not monitor compliance. The government placed persons with disabilities in some public sector jobs. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities The law grants citizenship to Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 15 years and non-Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 25 years. However, there was a lack of transparency in the naturalization process, and there were reports that the citizenship law was not applied uniformly. For example, there were allegations that the government allowed expatriate Sunni Arabs who had served less than 15 years in the security services to apply for citizenship. There were also reports of Arab Shi'a who had resided in-country for more than 15 years and non-Arab expatriates who had resided more than 25 years who had not been granted citizenship. The MOI has acknowledged the naturalization of 5,000 people between 2003 and 2006. Some Shi'a activists have claimed that considerably more have been naturalized, but there is no evidence to support these claims. In past years the government offered citizenship to several thousand minority stateless "Bidoon" persons, mostly Shi'a of Persian origin. However, according to Freedom House, Bidoon and citizens who speak Farsi as their first language continued to encounter discrimination in the society and work force. Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination The law does not criminalize homosexual relationships between consenting adults of at least 21 years of age. Reports of crimes in the media did not regularly specify if a victim of a crime was an alleged homosexual or had HIV/AIDS. While discrimination was not common or apparent, both attributes are socially taboo and not widely covered in the media. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association The law grants workers, including non citizens, a limited right to form and join unions. Public sector workers may join private trade unions and professional societies, but public sector unions are illegal. Five public sector trade unions were recognized by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) but declared illegitimate organizations by the government's Civil Service Bureau. Union membership was 26 percent in the private-sector labor force. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively. Unions can be formed at establishments of any size. The 2002 trade union law established a union federation, the GFBTU, which all unions were required to join. New legislation in 2006 allowed for the establishment of additional federations. The law also provides protection to workers terminated for their union activities and requires extra compensation for workers who are not paid their salaries on time. Members of the military are prohibited from joining unions. The law allows union membership for private sector, civil service, and maritime workers. Seven public sector unions have been formed and have registered with the federation, but they are still not recognized by the government. The law prohibits unions from engaging in political activities. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively. Employers and the government are required to treat unions as independent judicial entities. The law holds the right to strike is a legitimate means for workers to defend their rights and interests; however, this right was restricted. The law requires arbitration before a vote to strike and a two-week notification that a union intends to strike. The law stipulates a simple majority vote of a union's members. Although government sources report that the arbitration provision will not preempt the right to strike, the text of the law does not clearly specify that a union may proceed to a strike vote if it disagrees with the arbitrator's decision. In November 2006 the prime minister issued an executive order with language expanding the 2002 Labor Union Law vital sector definition. Under the order, additional sectors in which strikes are not allowed include the oil, gas, and education sectors. Health centers, pharmacies, and bakeries are also specified under the new order. On July 22, Batelco fired two trade union organizers, including the union's vice-president, for engaging in what it deemed to be a work stoppage that violated the Trade Union Law, which bans industrial action in the telecommunications sector, even though the union did not call for nor attempt a strike. Approximately 500 Batelco employees engaged in a work slowdown to protest the firings and reiterate demands for a pay raise. On July 24, the minister of labor stated that the firings were unjustified and called on Batelco to reinstate the two workers. Batelco had not reinstated the two individuals at year's end. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but there were reports that such practices occurred, particularly in cases of domestic workers and those working illegally. There were no reports of forced or compulsory child labor. Foreign workers, who made up 59 percent of the workforce (78 percent of the private sector workforce), in some cases arrived in the country under the sponsorship of an employer and then switched jobs while continuing to pay a fee to their original sponsor. This practice made it difficult to monitor and control the employment conditions of domestic and other workers. In numerous instances employers withheld salaries from their foreign workers for months and even for years, and refused to grant them the necessary permission to leave the country. The government and the courts generally worked to rectify abuses if they were brought to their attention, but they otherwise focused little attention on the problem. The fear of deportation or employer retaliation prevented many foreign workers from making complaints to the authorities. Labor laws do not fully cover domestic workers. There were numerous credible reports that domestic workers, especially women, were forced to work 12 to 16 hour days, given little time off, were malnourished, and were subjected to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape. Between 30 to 40 percent of the attempted suicide cases handled by the government's psychiatric hospitals were foreign domestic workers. According to foreign embassies and NGOs, it was estimated that there were 70,000 foreign domestic workers in the country of predominantly Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Indian, and Filipino origins. During the year, there were several incidents of seriously abused domestic workers reported in the press. Domestic workers who have no embassy representation in the country were often subjected to the worst types of physical and sexual abuse. With no diplomatic mission to represent them, runaway domestic workers had few places to turn for support. d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment The law protects children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits forced and compulsory child labor. The government enforced this prohibition effectively. The minimum age for employment is 16 years of age. Rare exceptions can be made for juveniles between the ages of 14 and 16 who have an urgent need to assist in providing financial support for their families. These exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis, and the minors must obtain official authorization from the MOL to work. Minors may not work in industries deemed hazardous or unhealthy by the Ministry of Health. When employed, minors may work no more than six hours a day and may be present on the employment premises no more than seven hours a day. These regulations do not apply to family-operated businesses in which the only other employees are family members. MOL inspectors enforced child labor laws effectively in the industrial sector; child labor outside that sector was monitored less effectively, but it was not believed to be significant outside family‑operated businesses. Even in such businesses, it was not widespread. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work There is no national minimum wage. Unskilled foreign laborers in particular did not earn as much as the guidelines suggested. The law allows employers to consider benefits for foreign workers such as annual trips home, housing, and education bonuses as part of the salary. The labor law is enforced by the MOL and mandates acceptable conditions of work for all adult workers, except domestic workers, including a maximum of 48 hours per week. Except for Muslims during Ramadan when work should not exceed six hours per day and 36 hours per week, workers are entitled to one day of rest after six consecutive days of work and to annual paid vacations of 21 days after one year of service. The labor law for the private sector permits 12 hours of overtime per week that is to be paid at a rate of 25 percent above the normal wage if conducted during the day and 50 percent if completed at night. Special MOL permission is required for anyone working more than 60 hours per week. The Labor Inspectorate conducts periodic, comprehensive inspections of private sector enterprises, including verification of employee hours and wages. Work place safety standards are very low. The MOL set occupational safety and health standards and sporadically enforced them by performing workplace inspections. A team of 25 inspectors, in conjunction with ministry officials, had the authority to levy fines and close work sites if employers did not improve conditions by specified deadlines. During the year the press reported several workplace deaths owing to a combination of inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of those procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment but exact figures were not available. According to a press release, there were 30 workplace deaths at Aluminum Bahrain, the largest manufacturing facility in the country. The MOL enforced the labor law through both planned and unannounced periodic inspections and routine fines for violators. In 2005, 10 safety and health inspectors covered approximately 34,000 active work places. During the year the ministry increased the number of safety and health inspectors to 25 and the number of active work places increased to approximately 35,000. Trained inspectors visited labor camps to verify if workers' accommodations met required safety and hygiene standards. During the year, inspectors visited 1,307 labor camps, of which 78 failed the inspection because of safety issues such as gas and electricity problems, overcrowding, poor hygiene, and the general state of disrepair. Inspectors cited poor hygiene in warnings issued to 100 camps, as well as part of their rationale for the closure of 21 camps. The inspectors were only authorized to inspect premises that had a commercial registration. Inspectors were not authorized to inspect private homes where most domestic workers reside and work. When a worker lodges a complaint, the MOL opens an investigation and often takes remedial action. The MOL reportedly received 3,426 complaints during the year, including those from domestic workers. On average there were nine complaints from domestic workers per month. Ministry officials said that they were able to resolve more than half of these cases through mediation in the ministry. The remaining cases were taken up by the Public Prosecution for investigation. The Fourth High Civil Court consists of three labor courts and has jurisdiction over cases involving alleged violations of the labor law. Complaints brought before the MOL that cannot be settled through arbitration must be referred to the court within 15 days. The law provides for fines and jail sentences for private sector employers who failed to pay wages as required by the law. The law applies equally to employers of citizens and of foreign workers. Although the practice is illegal, many companies transported expatriate workers in open trucks on benches, and accidents, sometime fatal, resulted. In December 2006 MOL officials announced that a ban on the transport of workers in open trucks would be enforced. Enforcement of the ban has been erratic and many companies continue to transport expatriate laborers in open trucks. Press reports have called for stricter enforcement amidst continued fatalities. The press reported the deaths of several workers at construction sites during the year. Numerous workers reportedly suffered injuries on the job. On June 24, the cabinet approved an MOL recommendation to ban outdoor work between the hours of noon and 4:00 pm during the months of July and August. According to the MOL, 283 companies employing approximately 8,000 registered workers faced fines of approximately $132 to 785 (50 to 300 dinars) per worker for allegedly violating the ban during the year. Despite the ban, health officials reported an increase in the number of heatstroke cases from 948 cases in 2006 to 1,087 because of the increase in construction and the above average temperatures during the summer