21 Jun, 2009

Arbitrary Detention of a Citizen for Disseminating Information on the National Security Apparatus

Targeting the President of the BCHR in the same case

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights 8 June 2009

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its deep concern regarding the continuing detention and health condition of the Bahraini citizen Hasan Salman, who was reportedly accused of leaking government information related to the National Security Apparatus. Worth noting that BCHR had issued a report earlier including information, figures and statistics about the National Security Apparatus showing the composition of this Apparatus which is based on sectarian discrimination and reliance on the recruitment of mercenaries, it also shed light on the increased violations committed by this Apparatus.

Hasan Salman (26 years old) was arrested while he was entering his place of work on Thursday 14 May 2009. He was taken to the Criminal Investigation Department building in Adliya area, then to his apartment where his computer was confiscated as well as some CDs and photographs of him and his family. Mr. Salman was accused of possessing and disseminating information without the consent of the organization which that information belongs to. On the same day, he was presented to the Public Prosecution who ordered that he be held in custody for investigation for a week, and then it renewed the detention for twenty days and then renewed for the third time until 21st July 2009 which is the date set for his trial. Mr. Hasan Salman lives in Naim area in the suburbs of the capital Manama. He is married and has a good reputation for his charity and social activity.

The BCHR was informed that during the questioning of Mr. Hasan Salman, the investigators reportedly offered him a bargain in return for his release, on the condition that he signs a statement in which he accuses both Nabeel Rajab – President of the BCHR – and women activist Layla Dishti – administrator of www.bahrainonline.org that they incited and funded him to publish those names, however Hasan Salman refused to do so despite the intense pressures that he was put through. BCHR has been informed that after ten days of arrest, Hasan Salman was transferred to Emergency centre at the Manama Head quarter of the Ministry of Interior for severe pain in his back.

The BCHR fears that the National Security Apparatus is using this case to target Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, and other activists as apart of a campaign this Apparatus is leading against activists and human rights defenders. The BCHR believes that it is now more targeted due to its activity both locally and internationally and its reporting of violations committed by the National Security Apparatus.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, based on a list of names published on the Internet that includes more than one thousand employee working in this Apparatus http://bahrainonline.org/showthread.php?t=230882, had prepared on the 5th of March a detailed report that includes statistics and facts about the National Security Apparatus and its role in the escalation of violence in the recent period. The report revealed that 64% of the workers in this Apparatus are non-Bahrainis, and are mostly from Asian nationalities, and that its composition is founded on a sectarian basis where the percentage of employed citizens from the Shiite sect does not exceed 4% who work in the lower posts as informants.

Nabeel Rajab – President of the BCHR, said: “Such information is becoming vital to reveal and expose the apparatuses that are accused of committing human rights violations. We are taken aback by the arrest of a citizen for published the names of official employees. Those who are affiliated to government intuitions are supposed to be proud in serving their country, and not to feel ashamed. However, it seems that the bad reputation of this apparatus has lead to the detention of a person for calming that he published those names.”

“The arrest of Hasan Salman reveals the danger of the growing powers of the National Security Apparatus and the necessity of confronting it peacefully. The authority’s policy in supporting the role, powers and realm of this Apparatus creates an apparatus similar to the notorious Iranian “SAVAK” which caused wide human rights violations in Iran at the time of the Shah, and was a main cause to the prevalent international criticism and the people’s revolution which ended the Shah’s reign in 1979” he added.

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the following:

1. To immediately release the Bahraini citizen Mr. Hasan Salman, because he has not committed any felony that is worthy of arrest or trial; 2. To put an end to targeting the members of the BCHR or other human rights defenders and to secure safe and appropriate environment for the work of human rights defenders away from interference and threats of the security services; 3. To have a fair and unbiased investigation in the violations committed by the National Security Apparatus and the Special Security Forces affiliated with it, prosecuting those responsible of such violations and eventually dissolve these exceptional apparatuses and return their powers to the regular security system.

Background information: The NSA first appeared in May 2002 as an alternative for the “General Directorate for State Security Investigations” which was part of the Ministry of Interior. Thus, the NSA became a parallel directorate to other government bodies, instead of being part of them. Its authorities overlap the Ministry of Interior and the judiciary system, while it extends its influence to the Central Informatics Organization, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Social Development. The NSA derives its managerial influence from its connection to, and its role as an executive arm of, the Supreme Defense Council which is considered the highest authority in the country, as it consists of the King, the Crown Prince, the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Royal Court and ten others from the King’s family who occupy leading political and security posts in the country. The Royal Decree for the establishment of the NSA stated that “the NSA is a subordinate of the President of the Council of Ministries (the Prime Minister), and its president is appointed by a Royal Decree with a rank of a minister”. In the year 2004, the Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, issued an order regarding the organizational structure of the NSA, where it consists of a number of units and directorate, amongst them: special operations directorate, international affairs directorate, political security directorate, counter-terrorism directorate, central directorate for information and documentation, directorate of information technology, directorate of association and coordination and directorate of legal affairs. The first president for the NSA was Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Atiyat-Allah Al-Khalifa, who was appointed in May 2002, then the NSA was headed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Ali bin Rashid Al-Khalifa since 26 September 2005. The current president is Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdulla Al-Khalifa. Both previous and current presidents occupied the post of an ambassador for Bahrain in the United Kingdom before heading the NSA. The NSA, according to the decree it was established by, specializes in “preserving national security” and in order to do so, “it monitors and detects all activities that harm the national security of the Kingdom or its institutions and systems, or anything that threatens the security and the safety of the country” and also “develops necessary security plans to face all normal and exceptional circumstances in cooperation with the specialized government bodies”. Since its establishment in 2002, the NSA, has been playing an escalating role in penetrating civil society institutions and monitoring and pursuing political opponents and human rights defenders, at home and abroad. The NSA is directly responsible for the death of the activist Ali Jassim Mohammed in December 2007, subjecting tens of citizens to wounds and suffocation due to the use of excessive force and suppressing seminars, demonstrations and other protest activities. Furthermore, it is also responsible for arresting hundreds of human rights defenders and activists, systematic torture which returned to Bahrain again since December 2007, fabricating or exaggerating terror events or plans to justify intensive security measures, running media campaigns in the inside and outside to smear the reputation of activists and to justify arrests, and unfair trials and extreme sentences against activists considered dissidents of the political regime. The NSA supervises the field work of the Special Security Forces (SSF). The SSF is a paramilitary force which adds up to more than 20 thousand, 90% of who are non-Bahrainis, headed by high ranking officers from the King’s family or other Bedouin tribes that are in political alliance with them. There isn’t a single Shiite citizen among these forces. The SSF have been used effectively in the surroundings of the villages or areas where the majority of residents are Shiite. They penetrate these areas with tear gas and rubber bullets, which cause injuries and suffocation of hundreds of people, amongst them women, children, and elderly citizens. Properties, houses and mosques were damaged. The SSF also use armed militias, who sometimes wear civil clothes and black masks. They attack villages and chase the demonstrators and abuse them. According to the international standards, the composition and role of the SSF falls in the prohibition of the use of mercenaries, the non-Bahrainis recruited to the SSF can be categorized as mercenaries as they were brought selectively from outside the country, they are used for security or military purposes outside the regular security and military bodies, they are trained and prepared in a special manner, and they are provided with careers and advantages not provided to other foreign or Bahraini employees, such as housing, travel expenses and family reunifications. Most of them live with their families in “Safra”, an isolated area which lies south of Riffa city where most relatives of the king reside. The majority of these recruits were granted the Bahraini citizenship in order to nationalize them within the hidden ongoing project of demographic sectarian change to marginalize the Shiite citizens in Bahrain. The votes of those mercenaries were used effectively to marginalize the opposition and the Shiite majority in the elections of the council of representatives in 2006. In his comment, Nabeel Rajab – president of the BCHR said, “What increases the danger of supporting the role, powers, influence, and budget of the National Security Apparatus is its full dependence on mercenary men who do not have any relation with Bahrain. This also reveals the policy of the regime to use an external force to face the citizens, which shows its loss of confidence in the country’s native residents, Sunnis and Shiite. Thus, the authority is creating a new suppressive reality, more organized and dangerous than the measures taken in the previous State Security era. Hence, the National Security Apparatus is treading in the same footsteps as the Iranian “SAVAK” Service, which caused wide violations to human rights in Iran during the era of the Shah, and was a main reason for both the wide international criticism, and for the people’s revolution which ended the Shah’s reign in 1979”

20 Jun, 2009

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Navy Fleet's Mideast Home Is Facing Rise in Sectarian Strife

JUNE 20, 2009. By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV MADINAT HAMAD, Bahrain -- On a recent evening, Issa al Jibb climbed the roof of his home and started hurling Molotov cocktails into the adjoining property of the Rawi clan. By the time Bahraini police shot him down with a rubber bullet, Mr. Jibb had managed to burn three cars and part of the building, and inflicted serious burns on two Rawi teenagers.

This was no ordinary feud among neighbors. Mr. Jibb, 46 years old, is a native of this small Persian Gulf kingdom. The Rawis are originally from Syria, were recruited along with thousands of other Arabs and Pakistanis to serve in Bahrain's security forces and eventually rewarded with Bahraini citizenship for their loyalty to the crown.

Hostility between these two communities is on the rise, with several other clashes, car torchings and beatings reported in recent months. "Bahrainis think that we just don't belong, that we're aliens to this area and to this state," says a Syrian-born army officer who lives nearby.

Yaroslav Trofimov/The Wall Street Journal Freih al Rawi, originally from Syria, is one of the thousands recruited to Bahrain to serve in its security forces in exchange for citizenship there. . Once hailed for its democratic reforms, Bahrain -- a strategic island-state that serves as headquarters of the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet -- is increasingly rocked by sectarian and ethnic strife. Though the majority of Bahrain's 530,000 citizens are Shiites, power remains in the hands of a Sunni royal family, the only such minority regime in the Arab world since the downfall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Suspecting its Shiite citizens of loyalty to nearby Iran, the island's former master, Bahrain's royal family has long relied on Sunni mercenaries from countries such as Syria, Jordan, Yemen and Pakistan to staff Bahrain's army, police and security service.

Earlier this decade, as Washington pushed for democratization in the region, Bahrain's King Hamad freed political prisoners and established an elected parliament with limited powers. However, opposition leaders and some independent analysts charge, a parallel program began at the same time, largely ignored by Western nations that depend on Bahrain's valuable naval facilities. The regime, they say, has sharply accelerated its policy of naturalizing Sunni mercenaries, aiming to inflate the size of the Sunni electorate -- and to defuse Iran's growing influence.

"There seems to be a clear political strategy to alter the country's demographic balance in order to counter the Shiite voting power," says Toby C. Jones, professor of Middle East studies at Rutgers University and a former Bahrain-based analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank. "This naturalization stuff is a time bomb."

Bahraini officials deny any such policy exists, and insist there is no discrimination against the country's Shiites. According to Bahrain's interior minister, Sheik Rashid bin Abdullah al Khalifa, only about 7,000 people were naturalized in the past five years. Opposition politicians, however, calculate the naturalization's true pace at some 10,000 people a year, based on voter registration statistics -- a big number in such a small country.

People picked for this naturalization "aren't just Sunnis," but religious fundamentalists "who share the hatred of the Shiites," asserts Hassan Mushaima, leader of Bahrain's Haq Shiite movement who was imprisoned for three months this year for his role in violent street protests.

Not just Bahraini Shiites oppose the naturalization. Initially, the island's Sunnis welcomed fellow Sunni newcomers, says Ebrahim Sharif Alsayed, secretary- general of the Waad secularist movement and a Sunni himself. "But today, most Sunnis are strongly against the naturalization," he says. "It's not about balancing the Shiites anymore -- it's about protecting the indigenous Sunni population from being invaded by foreigners."

Mr. Jibb, the Bahraini who threw Molotov cocktails into his neighbors' home in Madinat Hamad last month, is a Sunni, too. The conflict began in December, when Mr. Jibb witnessed the beating of a Bahraini neighbor by the Rawis and other naturalized Syrians, according to his sister Leila. "The Syrians, they're like a gang trying to control the whole area, bullying the whole street just to show who's the boss," she says.

A few days later, the Rawis attacked Mr. Jibb with a hammer blow on the head, prompting a hospitalization, she says. Members of the Rawi household, headed by retired Bahraini army sergeant Freih al Rawi, and comprising some 40 people, deny they instigated the clash. "We know; there's bad feeling for foreign people here," says one of Mr. Rawi's sons, an army officer.

The night of May 29, Ms. Jibb says, her brother -- who suffered psychiatric problems after the December hammer blow to the head -- found himself the target of taunts by the Rawis again, and simply "lost his mind," unleashing the volley of Molotov cocktails. Ms. Jibb has since fled her house, fearing revenge from the Syrian-born neighbors.

"How can it be?" she wondered indignantly. "I, a pure Bahraini lady, am now homeless in my own country!"

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A9 Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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19 Jun, 2009

The 2009 Annual report of the Observatory :BAHRAIN

THE OBSERVATORY for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders :BAHRAIN

Political context

The review by the Human Rights Council member States of Bahrain’s report during the Universal Periodic Review in April 2008 provided an opportunity for NGOs to launch a public debate on the situation of human rights in the country, particularly on the question of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and the systematic discrimination faced by the Shia majority. Moreover, in May 2008, the Government launched an action plan in the presence of a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in which the Minister of Foreign Affairs affirmed the determination of his country to establish a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), which should begin its work in January 2009. However, since that announcement, several Bahraini human rights NGOs have repeatedly reminded the authorities of the necessity for this national institution to conform with the Paris Principles .

Furthermore, while the Shura Council (Upper House of Parliament) approved a bill abolishing criminal penalties for press offenses , the Government had still not submitted it to the National Assembly by the end of 2008. Press freedom thus remained largely threatened. For instance, on June 28 and 29, six journalists, of which three were working for the news organisation’s political group al-Wefaq and three for the website Awaal.net, were arrested by the police. Similarly, Mr. Abdullah Bu-Hassan, member of the National Democratic Action Society, was arrested on June 18, 2008 for “inciting hatred and insult against the regime”, following an article in which he criticised the political decisions of the Government and denounced its discriminatory practices .

New obstacles to freedom of expression may also arise following the publication on November 5, 2008 of a press release in which the Minister of the Interior called for the strict enforcement of Articles 134 and 134 bis of the Criminal Code against any person who “participates in meetings abroad or with international bodies to discuss the internal affairs of the Kingdom” . This article stresses that “every citizen who participates abroad without governmental permission at a conference or seminar that discusses the political, economic and social situation in Bahrain, which may weaken the economic confidence in the country, its diplomatic relations or its prestige is liable to an imprisonment of a minimum of three months and a fine”. These provisions, drafted in 1976 when Bahrain was under a state of emergency, are considered as liberty-killer by most human rights organisations, which are calling for the drafting of a new criminal code.

Administrative, legislative and judicial obstacles to freedom of association

Freedom of association remained not guaranteed insofar as Act No. 21 of 1989 regulating civil societies made necessary the prerequisite approval of any association, with the silence of the authorities signifying the rejection of that request. Therefore, several NGOs, such as the National Committee for the Unemployed and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) , were still awaiting as of the end of 2008 for the Government’s response to their registration application. Similarly, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), closed in September 2004, had still not been re-opened by the end of 2008. Without legal recognition, these NGOs are threatened with closure and their founders are threatened with reprisals. For instance, Mr. Mohammed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, President of BYSHR, incurs an imprisonment of six months and a fine of 500 Dinars (about 1,040 Euros) for “the activation of an unregistered organisation without prior notification of the registration statement”. He has waited since 2005 for registration permission from the Ministry of Social Affairs. The beginning of his trial was scheduled for January 15, 2009.

Administrative and judicial obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly and reprisals against defenders taking part in demonstrations

Act No. 32 of 2006 regulating public gatherings provides for the mere prior notification of public rallies and meetings. However, taking into consideration the nature and purpose of the gathering, the law instructs the Director of Public Safety to determine whether the presence of police forces is necessary. In addition, the law prohibits organising a rally between sunset and sunrise and prohibits any speech or comment likely to affect public order or moral, without specifying the meaning of these two concepts. In September 2008, two decisions of the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) and the Ministry of the Interior reinforced these restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly by prohibiting students and governmental employees, subject to punishment, to participate in unauthorised rallies.

In 2008, unreported events or events held after sunset were violently repressed by the police, who assaulted demonstrators with tear gas and fire on them with rubber bullets. Several human rights defenders arrested at these gatherings were sentenced to heavy prison sentences. Thus, from December 21 to 28, 2007, 60 young militants were arrested by the special security forces following a demonstration on December 17, 2007 in Sanabis (west of Manama) calling for redress and reparation for victims of torture. They were accused of involvement in “unlawful gathering” and “theft and unauthorised possession of weapons and ammunition”. All those arrested denied the acts of violence and the possession of firearms. In addition, several human rights defenders denounced the continuing use of mistreatment during their detention. Several were detained in solitary confinement, hand-cuffed and blindfolded for long periods of time. Some complained of mistreatment or torture by the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) to coerce them to confess . On July 14, 2008, five of them, namely Messrs. Hassan Abdulnabi and Maytham Bader Jassim al-Sheikh, members of the Unemployed and Underpaid Committee (UUC), Mr. Naji al-Fateel, member of the BYSHR, Mr. Mohammed Abdullah al-Sengais, founder of the Committee to Combat High Prices (CCHP), and Mr. Isa Al-Sarh, member of the Amal Political Society, were condemned by the High Criminal Court of Bahrain to prison terms ranging from five to seven years. Appeal of this conviction was denied on December 28, 2008.

Legislative restrictions on trade union rights and acts of intimidation against trade unionists

According to Law No. 33 of 2002 on trade unions, a union acquires legal personality after the deposit of its statutes with the Ministry of Labour. However, according to an administrative resolution by the CSB, public sector employees are prohibited to form autonomous trade unions. The six existing public sector unions are therefore refused by authorities despite their recognition by the independent General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU).

Moreover, it remained difficult for trade unionists to defend workers’ rights without retaliation by their employers. For instance, several temporary work stoppages and interruption of salary payments were made against Ms. Najiya Abdulghaffar since her appointment as Vice-President of the postal union in 2003. On March 30, 2008, she was called before a committee of inquiry in order to force her to leave her post. These acts of intimidation occurred following a letter to the Minister of Social Affairs in 2003 and a statement to the press in July 2006 in which she denounced the poor working conditions for employees of the post office. Ms. Najiya Abdulghaffar filed a complaint against the decisions made against her. On December 30, 2008, the court ruled against her and confirmed the CSB decision. Similarly, Mr. Abbas al-Omran, a member of the workers’ union of BAPCO Bahrain Petroleum Company and member of BCHR, was dismissed from his job in September 2008. In 2006, he had denounced corruption within the company. Since then, he had been harassed numerous times and was ordered not to communicate with the media until his dismissal .

Smear campaigns and harassment of defenders who denounced discrimination against Shia people

In 2008, defamation campaigns were launched against defenders who denounced the discrimination faced by the Shia community. For instance, on October 16, 2008, MPs and journalists described Mr. Nabeel Rajab, BCHR President, Mr. Al Abduljalil Alsingace, Head of the human rights office at the political movement Haq for Civil Liberties and Democracy in Bahrain, and Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, former President of the International Association of Students in Economic and Business Sciences (IESEC), as “traitors” and “hostages of the United States” . These charges were the result of their participation in a seminar in Washington on October 15, 2008 organised by thematic commissions of the U.S. Congress on “the impact of political reform on religious freedom in Bahrain”. Similarly, on December 28, 2008, staged confessions by alleged terrorist suspects were broadcast on Government-run Bahrain satellite channel, during which the names of several human rights defenders were mentioned as “instigators of acts of violence” , including Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, former President of the BCHR and Protection Coordinator at Front Line. Human rights defenders’ families were also subjected to acts of harassment. Thus, Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s wife was subjected to threats through postal service, electronic mail and telephone.

Restrictions on the freedom of movement of human rights defenders

In 2008, an increasing number of human rights defenders were restricted in their freedom of movement, both while leaving Bahrain or entering third countries. On December 2, 2008, Mr. Abdulghani Al-Khanjar, Spokesperson for the Bahraini National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, was prevented from entering Qatar while he was at the airport in Doha. The travel ban would be linked to the existence of a list of “political activists” drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior and transmitted to State members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and other allies of Bahrain like Egypt and Jordan, in order to encourage them to refuse entry of persons engaged in defending human rights in Bahrain .Though this list had been drawn up at the time Bahrain was under a state of emergency (1975-2002), it is still in force and is occasionally updated. Other human rights defenders like Mr. Mohammed Majeed Aljeshi, a lawyer working on some cases with BCHR, and Mr. Nabeel Rajab suffered restrictions to their freedom of movement in 2008. For instance, in August and December 2008, the latter was stopped at the airport and interrogated by the Jordanian security services while travelling to Amman .

18 Jun, 2009

U.S. State Dept.Trafficking Report 2009 BAHRAIN:(Tier 2 Watch List)

BAHRAIN (Tier 2 Watch List) Bahrain is a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Men and women from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Eritrea migrate voluntarily to Bahrain to work as formal sector laborers or domestic workers. Some, however, face conditions of involuntary servitude after arriving in Bahrain, such as unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. In addition, women from Thailand, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Russia, Ukraine, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon are trafficked to Bahrain for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. The Government of Bahrain does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government achieved its first trafficking conviction in late 2008 – a conviction for sex trafficking – and instituted a new visa regime in July 2008 allowing migrant workers to change employers. Despite these significant overall efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in providing protective services to victims or prosecuting offenses relating to labor trafficking – the most prevalent form of trafficking in Bahrain; therefore, Bahrain is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. Recommendations for Bahrain: Significantly increase the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses – particularly those involving forced labor – and conviction and punishment of trafficking offenders; institute and apply formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers who have fled from abusive employers and prostituted women, and refer identified victims to protective services; and ensure that victims of trafficking are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as illegal migration or prostitution. Prosecution The Government of Bahrain made modest progress in conducting anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year, prosecuting its first case under its January 2008 anti-trafficking statute. The Law to Combat Trafficking in Persons prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. The Ministry of Interior’s 10- person specialized unit investigated trafficking crimes, particularly those involving sex trafficking. It claimed to have disbanded a prostitution ring and rescued 43 Chinese women believed to be trafficking victims, but BAHRAIN 73 prosecutors reportedly viewed the evidence as insufficient to pursue legal action. In December 2008, the Public Prosecutor obtained the conviction of a Thai woman who was sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment and a $13,250 fine for trafficking three other Thai women into commercial sexual exploitation in Bahrain. During the reporting period, the government reportedly closed several manpower agencies alleged to have confiscated workers’ passports, switched contracts, or withheld payment of salaries. The government also ordered 12 employers to pay back and release their workers. It did not criminally prosecute any employers or labor agents for forced labor of migrant laborers, including domestic workers, under its new anti-trafficking law. The law against withholding workers’ passports – a common practice that restricts the mobility of migrant workers and contributes to forced labor – was not enforced effectively, and the practice remained widespread. The Royal Police Academy provided new police recruits with specific instruction on identifying trafficking victims during the reporting period. Protection The Government of Bahrain did little to improve protective services available to trafficking victims over the last year, though it issued new policy guidance on the employment conditions of migrant workers. The government maintains one floor of its shelter for female migrant workers, but did not provide information regarding the number of foreign workers assisted or the types of care the shelter provided to trafficking victims. The majority of victims continued to seek shelter at their embassies or through the Migrant Workers Protection Society, which in April and July 2008 received a project grant of $15,900 from the Bahraini government to operate its shelter. The government did not have a referral process to transfer trafficking victims detained, arrested, or placed in protective custody to institutions that provide short- and long-term care. There are no shelter facilities or protective services for male trafficking victims in Bahrain. In August 2008, the Ministry of Social Development established a committee to protect trafficking victims as part of its obligation under the anti-Trafficking in Persons law. One of the responsibilities of this committee, as part of the new law, is its approval for trafficking victims to remain in Bahrain pending their traffickers’ prosecution; in the aforementioned case, the Thai victims were offered the option of remaining in Bahrain to work, but all three chose to repatriate to Thailand instead. To address vulnerabilities to trafficking arising from the migrant labor sponsorship system, the government launched a new migrant labor visa regime in July 2008 that allows for workers to change employers and criminalizes the use of “free visas” that often leave workers stranded in Bahrain without a job. These regulations do not, however, apply to domestic workers, which are the migrant workers most vulnerable to forced labor in Bahrain. The government continued to lack a formal procedure to identify victims among vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers who have left their employers or women arrested for prostitution. As a result, potential trafficking victims may have been charged with employment or immigration violations, detained, and deported without adequate protection. Most migrant workers who were able to flee their abusive employers were frequently charged as “runaways,” sentenced to two weeks’ detention, and deported. Employers also sometimes filed police reports against their runaway workers. The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers; however, long and indefinite delays in legal cases, as well as a perceived bias against foreign workers by judges and prosecutors, discouraged workers from such involvement in criminal proceedings against their traffickers. Prevention The government’s efforts to prevent trafficking increased during the reporting period. The Ministry of Interior’s Human Trafficking Unit produced a brochure describing Bahrain’s anti-trafficking law and soliciting complaints to its hotline for investigations; it distributed this brochure to at-risk groups upon arrival in the country. The Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) collaborated with IOM to produce a pamphlet explaining how to legally obtain a work visa, workers’ rights, and how to report suspected violations. Throughout 2008, the CEO of LMRA and the Minister of Labor conducted press conferences to highlight illegal practices, particularly withholding of passports, relating to human trafficking. Despite the increased level of awareness fostered by these campaigns, understanding of what constitutes trafficking remained low. Many people, including courthouse clerks, continued to believe that it is legal to confiscate workers’ passports, despite several instances over the course of the reporting period in which the Minister of Labor explicitly stated that withholding passports is illegal. In March 2009, the government hosted a two-day international conference on combating trafficking in persons. In April, June, and July 2008, the government provided services and support valued at more than $60,000 that enabled IOM to train 315 civil society volunteers, journalists, foreign diplomats, and government officials in the LMRA and Ministries of Interior, Social Development, Culture and Information Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Labor, and Justice. In July, the government requested and supported a training and awareness program for its anti-trafficking 74

http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2009/index.htm

17 Jun, 2009

Amnesty International Report 2009- Bahrain

The authorities failed adequately to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Government critics were briefly detained and several websites were closed down. One person was executed. The government indicated it would decriminalize certain publishing offences, reduce legal discrimination against women and introduce other reforms.

Background There were renewed, violent protests in March and April by members of the majority Shi’a population against what they alleged was discrimination, especially by the police and security forces, and the stalling of political reforms initiated by the King in 2001 and 2002. One policeman was killed and scores of people were arrested. Nineteen faced trial. Thirteen others who were charged with arson and rioting were among a group pardoned by the King in July but still detained at the end of the year. They were reported to have refused to sign official documents authorizing their release because they considered that all charges against them should be dropped unconditionally.

"A number of websites were closed because they contained articles criticizing the royal family..."

International scrutiny and legal developments Bahrain’s human rights record was examined in April under the UN Human Rights Council’s system of Universal Periodic Review.

The government made significant human rights commitments, including to establish a national human rights institution, withdraw reservations made when Bahrain ratified certain human rights treaties, reform family and nationality laws, and adopt new legislation to protect women domestic workers and lift restrictions on the press.

Torture and other ill-treatment Detainees held in connection with violent protests in the villages of Karzakhan and Demestan in March and April alleged that they were tortured and otherwise ill-treated by police. They said they were held incommunicado for a week during which they were made to stand for excessive periods, blindfolded and beaten.

■Fifteen people arrested in December 2007 and accused of burning a police car and stealing a weapon alleged that they were tortured. Five were sentenced to between five and seven years’ imprisonment by the High Criminal Court in July; six were sentenced to one year in prison but were pardoned by the King; and four were acquitted. Among those acquitted was Mohammad Mekki Ahmad, aged 20, who was detained incommunicado for 12 days at the Criminal Investigations Department in Manama, where he alleges he was tortured by being suspended, beaten and subjected to electric shocks. A medical report, requested by the High Criminal Court and submitted to it in April, noted that some of the defendants had marks on their bodies which might have been caused by torture. The government failed to order an independent investigation into the torture allegations.

Freedom of expression The government proposed to amend the 2002 Press and Publications Law to remove imprisonment as a penalty for offences such as criticizing the King and “inciting hatred of the regime”. The Shura (Consultative) Council added amendments in May. All the amendments were submitted to the House of Representatives.

To mark the 6th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay on Friday 11 January 2008, Amnesty International in Bahrain organise an action.© Amnesty International In June, Abdullah Hassan Bu-Hassan was detained for three days in connection with his writings in The Democrat, published by the Democratic National Action Society. The same month, seven contributors to the Awal website and al-Wifaq Islamic Society’s newsletter were briefly detained and accused of “inciting hatred and insulting the regime”. A number of websites were closed because they contained articles criticizing the royal family and the government.

In November, the Interior Minister was reported to have announced that Bahraini nationals, including parliamentarians and NGO members, would be required to seek advance authorization before attending meetings abroad to discuss Bahrain’s internal affairs, and that those who failed to do so could be imprisoned or fined.

Death penalty A Bangladeshi national, Mizan Noor Al Rahman Ayoub Miyah, convicted of murdering his employer, was executed in August.

In December, Bahrain abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

Amnesty International visits An Amnesty International delegate visited Bahrain in October and met government officials, parliamentarians, human rights activists, journalists, former detainees and lawyers. In November an Amnesty International delegate attended a follow-up meeting hosted by the Bahraini government on the implementation of the recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review session in April.

16 Jun, 2009

The Media Line: BAHRAIN BACKTRACKS ON WORKERS’ RIGHTS REFORM

Bahrain Backtracks on Workers’ Rights Reform Written by Rachelle Kliger Published Monday, June 15, 2009 Bahrain has decided not to revoke a system that has been criticized for violating the rights of foreign workers.

The Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) said it would not be canceling the sponsorship system, which stipulates that foreign workers in the Gulf country must be sponsored by an employee in order to obtain a work visa and cannot switch jobs freely.

The decision to cancel the sponsorship system was announced last month and was praised by human right activists and labor organizations. But the BCCI is now saying the sponsorship system will remain intact. Under discussion instead are considerations that will allow workers to switch employers more freely, the BCCI said.

“There’s a lot of pressure from the business community and many of the business [people] are big officials in the government,” Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told The Media Line.

Contrary to some reports, Rajab said the sponsorship system was never abolished but said “the government tried to market it that way.” Restrictions were alleviated to make it easier for the workers to change employers and this was indeed welcomed by human rights organizations, he said.

“We welcomed the decision of the government to give more freedom to migrant workers to move from sponsor to sponsor, and any going back on that will not serve Bahrain’s reputation as a member of the Human Rights Council and as a country trying to market its respect for human rights,” Rajab said.

Under the sponsorship system, known as kafala, the work visa and immigration statuses of migrants are tied to their employers. This system empowers employers as it prevents their workers from switching jobs or leaving the country. Human-rights organizations said this system also fueled abuses such as unpaid wages, exploitative working conditions and forced labor in Bahrain and other countries in the region.

Human Rights Watch welcomed last month’s announcement by Bahrain’s Labor Minister that as of August 1, the sponsorship of migrant workers would be transferred from employers to the government’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority. Majid Al-‘Alawi said this would enable migrant workers to change employers and would help the government supervise the number of workers entering the country.

The reform was also hailed as it provided an incentive to employers to improve their employees’ working conditions, as the workers would have more opportunities to choose where to work.

Bahrain, along with other countries in the Gulf, has become reliant on foreign workers, who flock to the region to gain employment, mostly in construction.

Many of the Gulf countries do not have an adequate legal infrastructure to protect the rights of their incoming workers. Rights organizations complain that foreigners are often mistreated and that the hold employers have over their workers presents many openings for abuse.

By Rachelle Kliger on Monday, June 15, 2009

7 Jun, 2009

The Bahraini Authorities Recruit of Mercenaries from Makran Town, Pakistan

The Bahraini Authorities Recruit of Mercenaries from Makran Town, Pakistan: The Bahrain Government's use of foreign mercenaries to oppress Bahraini people with legitimate demands and grievances leads to a growing hostility towards foreigners The Bahrain Center for Human Rights

6/6/2009 The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its deep concern and dismay regarding the news received from Baluchistan Province in Pakistan regarding the presence of a Bahraini security delegation in the Pakistani town of Makran. The security delegation is said to be working to recruit men from this city, who belong to the Baluch tribes in Pakistan, to work as mercenaries in the Bahraini security services.

In his statement to News Online, Mr. Basham Baluch - Official spokesman for the Baluch Liberation Front (BLF) – appealed to the Baluchi people, saying, “The Bahraini army is currently recruiting members of the Makran area in Baluchistan. Under the current circumstances, we call upon the Baluchi nation not to become part of any tyrant or oppressive army, at a time when the Baluchi nation is living in a state of war and is going through a critical period. Instead of turning the young Baluchestanis into hired killers, they should join the national armies (Baluch Liberation Front, Baluchistani Liberation Army, the Baluch Republican Army (BLA)), to make the independence of their homeland a reality.” He added, “We warn all these institutions and demand that they put an immediate end to the recruitment process in Makran area. We are in a status of war, and are struggling against the tyrants ourselves, and we do not want the Baluch people to be used and turned into mercenaries.” The Baluch Liberation Front (BLF) has people’s support among the Baluch in Pakistan and the rest of the Gulf countries, and is engaged in a resistance to separate their province from Pakistan.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that the recruitment taking place in Makran aims to bring in more Baluch soldiers to join the Bahraini National Guard as well as the Special Forces that belong to the National Security apparatus. Both of these groups are made up of mostly foreign mercenaries, and used to suppress local movements petitioning for greater rights. The National Security apparatus supervises the work of the semi-military forces on the field, which are made up of several thousands of individuals – almost 35% of whom are from Pakistani Baluchistan and were brought to Bahrain earlier, within alternating periods. These units are usually headed by an officer from the Al-Khalifa ruling family or by the tribes that are politically allied with it. Among these forces, there are no Shiite citizens.

These Special Forces, who are almost exclusively Sunni from a different countries, have been used to suppress the population of villages and areas where the majority of residents are Shiite (since Shiites make up the majority of the Bahraini population). Typically, these forces raid the Shiite villages after besieging the entrances and exits, and use tear gas and rubber bullets on all the residents, which has led to the injury of hundreds of people - among them elders, women and children who were wounded subject to suffocation. As well as this, several properties including houses and mosques have been damaged during sieges. The Special Security Forces are also joined by groups of armed civilians affiliated with it. The armed civilians are of different nationalities, some are Baluch and others from some tribes in Jordan, Syria and Yemen. At times these forces dress in civilian clothes with black masks and attack villages, pursuing and abducting demonstrators and activists, and assaulting them. According to the international standards on the prohibition of the use of mercenaries, the foreigners associated to the Special Forces are identified as mercenaries. They are brought selectively from abroad to be used in security or military issues outside the regular security and military services. They are trained and equipped, in particular, and are provided with features job-wise and materialistically, which the normal security employees - foreigners and citizens - do not get, such as housing, travel and family reunification. In Bahrain, the majority of the mercenary forces live with their families in areas isolated from the rest of the citizens, such as “Safra” area, and which is a remote area to the south of Riffa town. Most of those were granted the Bahraini citizenship, as part of the government's demographic change project which aims at changing the demography and turning the Shiite citizens in Bahrain to a minority. Documented reports indicate show that naturalised mercenaries have been used effectively in previous elections to marginalize the liberal opposition and the Shiite majority, as detailed in the documents of the Al Bandar report http://www.bahrainrights.org/node/528 and http://www.bahrainrights.org/node/610 . The actions of these forces and the violations committed by them have been condemned by International human rights organizations in the past.

The United Nations has repeatedly condemned the countries which have allowed or tolerated recruitment, use of, financing and training of mercenaries. It has even expressed its concerns regarding the danger activities of mercenary groups poses to civil peace and security in small states, regardless of the way the mercenaries are used or the form they take to acquire some legitimate position, such as resettling or naturalization or other. Bahrain, until now, has not signed the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, 4 December 1989.

In the course of his comment, Nabeel Rajab – president of the BCHR – said, “We appreciate and respect the Baluch people, for these people have a history and civilization and are conscious of their rights due to the sufferings and oppression which their people have faced. These people also have their contributions in building our country Bahrain just as in the rest of the Arabian Gulf States. However the security institutions in Bahrain are taking advantage of the economic situation and poverty that these Baluch are undergoing in their country, and are recruiting more of its youth as mercenaries in a way that violates international law, and are throwing them and risking their lives in battles against the residents of the country who are demanding their rights. We believe that the majority of those recruits are ignorant of the role they are playing and the violations they are committing by accepting these jobs. Most of them do not know that mercenarism is internationally prohibited and condemned, besides creates a lot of hatred for the people of this country.” Rajab added, “We call upon human rights organizations, political parties and civil societies institutions in Baluchistan province to work on educating young people about the risks of getting involved in such internationally prohibited and condemned work”.

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights renews its demands for the following:

1. To put an end to the policy of bringing and using foreign mercenaries to work for the security services and Special Forces to confront the peaceful public protests and local movements for greater civil and human rights

2. To dissolve the National Security apparatus and the Special Security Forces and to return their powers to the regular security institutions.

3. To end the decree of laws that violate rights, institutions and practices which restrict and suppress public liberties, and to guarantee and maintain civil and political rights and public freedoms, especially those related to expression, peaceful gathering and organization.

4. To end the continuous violations, pursuits, and abductions of human rights defenders and political activists, and to guarantee a healthy and appropriate environment for the work of the human rights organizations and civil institutions away from constraining regulations, interference and threats of the security services.

5. The members of the parliament should work on drafting laws that criminalize recruiting of mercenaries and should question those responsible for the security institutions for all the violations, and which includes recruiting and using mercenaries for internal disputes.

6. To initiate a genuine reconciliation between the ruling elite and all the people of Bahrain, with all their various sects and ethnicities, and to pave the way for true reforms where the government does not need to use foreigners against its own citizens.

4 Jun, 2009

Forty local and international orginisations protest attacks on free expression in Bahrain

(BCHR/IFEX) - Free expression advocates from around the world gathered this week in Oslo, Norway, at the IFEX General Meeting. Forty IFEX members signed on to the following statement, calling on the Bahraini authorities to address recent attacks on free expression in that country:

In the past few months and since the posting of the new Minister of Information and Culture, Mai Al-Khalifa, the Bahraini authorities have taken severe measures to clamp down on all forms of freedom of expression. This includes preventing access to hundreds of websites, blogs and internet outlets - even those concerned with human rights and non-subversive issues.

Authorities have waged a campaign against free expression, prosecuting writers, journalists and bloggers for practicing their profession, and preventing human rights defenders, activists and dissidents from addressing the public through media, internet and other fora. Moreover, the authorities have led defamation campaigns, through its controlled media, against activists and human rights defenders who express their dissenting views and openly discuss public affairs.

Abusive laws, like the Penal Code of 1976, the Press Code of 2002 and the counter terrorism laws of 2006, have been used to further legalize the aforementioned human rights violations and have been instruments by which biased judiciary organs have prosecuted and imprisoned dissidents and human rights defenders.

In voicing our protest against the stifling of all forms of freedom of expression in Bahrain, the signatories below, as members of the international NGO community, call on the authorities to refrain from breaching their recent commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to uphold Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly given Bahrain's membership on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

We, the undersigned also call on Information Minister Mai Al-Khalifa and her government to make good on promises and proclamations made before the international community about Bahrain's commitment to uphold the right to freedom of expression. We respectfully appeal to the government to stop current practices of monitoring, policing and harassing individuals, groups and organisations that exercise their rights to free association and expression. Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Phone: +97 33 9633399 Fax: +97 31 7795170 Arab Archives Institute ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo de Investigação Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Cartoonists Rights Network International Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Center for Media Studies & Peace Building Centre for Independent Journalism Comité por la Libre Expresión National Center for Social Communication Federation of Nepali Journalists Foro de Periodismo Argentino Freedom House Freedom of Expression Institute Globe International Index on Censorship Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety Instituto Prensa y Sociedad International Press Institute Journaliste en danger Media Foundation for West Africa Media Institute Media Institute of Southern Africa Media Rights Agenda Media Watch Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Mizzima News Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création Pacific Freedom Forum Pakistan Press Foundation Public Association "Journalists" Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay South East European Network for the Professionalization of the Media Southeast Asian Press Alliance Thai Journalists Association World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters World Association of Newspapers

30 May, 2009

The Associated Press: Bahrain's Shiites push for rights

By REBECCA SANTANA – 23 hours ago

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — It seemed like a moment of reconciliation in this Gulf island nation's bitter sectarian divide, when Sunni Muslim rulers suddenly released a group of jailed Shiite activists. Shiites, who days before had been burning tires in protests, cheered in the streets.

But it was a short-lived hope. Since the activists' release a month ago, there's been no sign the government is pursuing any dialogue with Shiites.

If that doesn't change, Shiites warn, more turmoil could be ahead.

Bahrain is tiny with only 530,000 citizens in an island nation smaller than New York City. But it is a key U.S. ally, home to the Navy's 5th Fleet, in the strategic and oil-rich Persian Gulf.

It also lies on a fault line in the standoff dividing the Middle East, where Sunni Arab governments fear any sign of the growing power of Shiite Iran.

Bahrain's Shiites say they have nothing to do with Iran and are only seeking equality in a country where they are the majority. But their demands are seen by many Sunnis as a stalking horse for Tehran's regional ambitions.

"The question now that the Arab world is facing is the question of loyalty — how you identify yourself," said Mustafa Alani, a security expert at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.

Other Arab nations with Shiite populations watch Bahrain closely. If Bahrain's sectarian divide gets out of control, it could inflame tensions in other areas where Shiites advocate for more rights such as Saudi Arabia.

"If the scale of things escalates in Bahrain, it's going to escalate elsewhere," said Toby Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East history at New Jersey's Rutgers University who studies Bahrain.

Shiites make up as much as 70 percent of Bahrain's population, according to a 2008 State Department report. But the country is ruled by a Sunni elite headed by the ruling Khalifa family.

Shiites have complained of discrimination for decades. They say Sunnis get the best government jobs and housing, while Shiites are barred from high posts in the military and security forces and suffer from higher rates of poverty.

Shiites say the situation is only getting worse. The percentage of high-level government posts held by Shiites has fallen to 13 percent in 2008 from between 25 and 30 percent in 1999, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Wefaq, the only Shiite group in parliament, has 17 of the elected lower house's 40 seats — a low proportion that Shiites blame on gerrymandering of districts to favor Sunnis.

Far from the modern glass office buildings of downtown Manama, Shiite villages are easily identified by crumbling apartment buildings, now blackened with char marks from tires burned in recent protests. Posters of opposition leaders and graffiti bashing Bahrain's royal family plaster the walls.

Shiites also accuse the government of trying to change the sectarian balance by giving citizenship to Sunnis from Yemen, Pakistan, Syria and Jordan, a claim the government denies.

Sunnis, in turn, accuse Shiites of secret loyalty to Iran.

"The Shia — they are with Iran," said Noora al-Fadhel, a 21-year-old Sunni woman at a shopping mall. Iran, she said, is trying to stir up Shiites against Sunnis.

Ghanim Fadhul Al Buainain, a Sunni lawmaker from the pro-government Al-Asala party, contends Iran definitely has "some influence" among the country's Shiites.

Iran, which contends it has historical claims to Bahrain, hasn't helped. Earlier this year, a senior Iranian cleric referred to the Gulf island as Iran's 14th province, drawing outrage from Arab leaders. Egypt's president flew to Bahrain in support, while Morocco severed diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Shiites dispute the accusation they get orders from Iran. They point out that most Bahraini Shiites turn for spiritual leadership to Iraq's most prominent Shiite cleric — Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani — not Iran's supreme leader.

But fears of Iran's influence could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, said rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja. "If the ruling family keeps the same policies, cornering the Shia, marginalizing them, while Iran is gaining regional influence, there will come one day when most of the Shia in Bahrain will revert to Iran," he said.

Earlier this year, protests exploded in Shiite areas after a number of top Shiite opposition leaders were arrested. The detainees were put on trial in February, accused of seeking to overthrow the government through terrorism.

In mid-April, the king issued a surprise pardon that freed 22 of the arrested Shiites, along with around 150 other prisoners held on security charges.

Since then, however, ties have remained strained. Some Shiites say they don't think the government was seeking reconciliation, but merely wanted to quiet protests ahead of a high-profile annual Formula 1 race in April.

Nazar al-Baharna, a Shiite who serves as state minister of foreign affairs, denies any government discrimination and says protests are not the way to solve problems. "If we are a country of law, then they have to go through the proper channels," he said.

But many Shiites say frustrations are growing. Young protesters "think their future is lost before their eyes. They see themselves as without a job," said human rights activist Naji Fati.

Hassan Mushaima, leader of the mainly Shiite opposition Haq movement, among those arrested and then released in the pardon, says the activists' release is a "last chance for everybody to think really seriously about the dangers that are coming."

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

26 May, 2009

Special security forces prevent people from holding public seminar

26 May 2009 (BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its concerns over the deterioration in the level of freedom of expression as exemplified by the deployment by the local Authorities to Special Forces to prevent people and organizers from attending and holding a public seminar on16 May 2009. The seminar was focusing on what is locally dubbed as "political naturalization in Bahrain" referring to granting the Bahraini nationality on a wide scale to achieve a political agenda. The organizers are six political societies, namely the National Democratic Action Society "Waad", Progressive Forum, Al-Wefaq, Amal, National Coalition and Al-Ekhaa. The seminar was supposed to be held in Arad village, in the premises of the "Waad" branch in Muharraq Island. The Special Forces were present at the seminar venue early in the afternoon, besieging the building where it was to be held at and preventing organizers, participants or any of the audience from entering the building. The exception was for "Waad" members who showed their membership identification. It is worth mentioning that this is the second public seminar prevented by the use of force on the grounds that "no permission was granted to the organizers" to hold it. The last banned seminar was on 22 April in "Waad" headquarters, on the theme of "National Dialogue".

In a press communiqué signed by the six societies and released late on the evening of the ban, they stated that: "Based on the decision to ban the seminar on 'Combating Political Naturalization' and the threat of use of force to prevent the occurrence of the event, the six political organizing societies studied the implications of the decision which is considered part of infringement procedures on freedom of opinion and expression in the time of reform."

The president of BCHR, Mr Nabeel Rajab, commented on this episode that: "We are really surprised of this act by the Authorities which coincided with the arrival of the UN Secretary General - Ban Ki-moon - to Bahrain to participate in a world event on Disaster Risk Reduction. " He added: "Over 300 representatives of the international community who include the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the World Health Programme Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, GCC secretary-general Abdurrahman Al Attiyah and other senior officials and foreign delegates, were present in Bahrain to attend the launch of UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. This high profile public activity did not deter the Authorities from using Special Forces to ban people from peacefully organizing and participating in a seminar about public issue, like the political naturalization".

The Bahraini Authorities are not only using laws, like the Gathering Code, a locally as well as internationally condemned law, to suppress all forms of assembly and freedom of expression, but also blatantly breaching the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain signed in September 2006. "This is too disappointing," Mr Rajab concluded.