8 Apr, 2008

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


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



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