18 Nov, 2008

Minister of Information replaced following TV programme critical of ruling elite corruption

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has learned that the Bahraini Minister of Information, Jihad Bu-Kamal, has been replaced by Shaikha Mai Al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family, after a talk-show program criticising the ruling elite of corruption was aired on TV. Bu-Kamal, a businessman and former member of the Appointed Shura Council, was named Minister of Information just over a year ago in a limited ministerial cabinet shuffle. Bu-Kamal took the place of Mohamed Abdulghaffar, the current Bahraini ambassador to Brussels, after a row over a cultural programme (coordinated by Al-Khalifa, who was then the assistant secretary to the Ministry of Information. The programme provoked the Islamists in Parliament, leading to the creation of a committee, which denounced the programme and its coordinator. Last week, the Bahraini TV programme "Al-Meezan" invited Ibrahim Sharif, Secretary General of the National Democratic Action Society, also known as "Waad," and Abdulnabi Salman, a former member of Parliament and member of the Progressive Democratic Forum Society, also known as "Al-Menbar", to speak about the 2007 Report of the Fiscal Monitoring Bureau. In that TV programme, Abdulnabi and Sharif criticised the fiscal report, pointing to the deterioration of the oversight capabilities of Parliament, and accused the government of hiding detailed information concerning oil revenues, future funds, tenders and the spending of the military and service ministries. Sharif accused the executive branch, led by Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's only prime minister since 1970, of lying and misleading the public with regards to misappropriations of public funds. He further inquired about the inflated budget of the Royal Court, as well as of other state-owned companies. Sharif accused the ruling elite of breaching the Bahraini Constitution, which limited the funds allocated to the Royal Court. Nabeel Rajab, the president of BHCR, stated, "This is a sad and strange act by the Bahraini government, whose public relations endeavours try to portray Bahrain as an oasis of transparency and respect for freedom of expression." The BCHR deplores the reprisal against the Minister of Information for giving members of political societies a single opportunity to express their views on public issues live and without constraints. "The Minister of Information was penalised for not ensuring that the invited TV guests would not express their views in this unapproved manner," Rajab added. Last week, the Bahraini Minister of Interior, a member of the royal family, issued a statement threatening citizens with legal prosecution for any form of contact with foreign agencies or participation in events concerning local issues while outside Bahrain. The Bahraini authorities should refrain from penalising its citizens for expressing their views and should lift all legislative restrictions on any form of expression. BCHR believes that the Bahraini authorities should loosen their grip over TV, radio and the press to enable citizens to express themselves without fear of punishment or legal action.

15 Nov, 2008

IFEX MEMBERS CONDEMN HARASSMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

At a human rights event in Washington, D.C. last month, the head of IFEX member Bahrain Center for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab and two other human rights defenders discussed how Shia citizens of Bahrain are continually shut out - of government jobs, the best education opportunities, the media, places to worship.

When the activists returned home, they were branded "traitors to Bahrain" and "stooges to the United States" in the media - by members of their very own government.

Twenty-four IFEX members and partners are calling for solidarity with the three human rights defenders and government assurances that they are free to carry out their work without intimidation or reprisal.

Rajab, along with Abduljalil Alsingace, the head of the Human Rights Unit of the HAQ Movement of civil liberties and democracy, and Maryam Alkhawaja, a youth activist and member of BCHR, were invited to brief U.S. Congress members on how political reforms are affecting religious freedom in Bahrain.

Since their participation in the 15 October event, they have been exposed to a defamation campaign through state-controlled media and religious venues. Members of Parliament, columnists and editors of local Arabic newspapers, as well as statements and sermons through mosques and religious centres, said their human rights activities were a call for foreigners to intrude in local affairs, and that they should be severely punished. Some have even called for the defenders to be jailed or tried for sedition.

The IFEX members said they were "alarmed" at the language, level of provocation and intimidation in the articles, and said the government was also to blame. "Such a campaign has been encouraged by the silence of the authorities and judicial establishment, which should be expected to respond... as they would if a similar campaign was made against officials, members of the government or the ruling family," said the groups.

Bahrain's Interior Minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla al-Khalifa, has since demanded that Article 34 of Bahrain's penal code be enforced, reports ARTICLE 19. The article says that citizens who attend meetings or conferences abroad or meet with representatives of foreign bodies to talk about Bahrain's internal affairs will face no less than three months in jail and a fine.

"The minister's statement is an attempt to silence human rights defenders and severely impedes freedom of expression in Bahrain. ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about articles in the Bahraini Penal Code which deprive Bahrainis of the right to freedom of expression," said ARTICLE 19.

The case of the three rights defenders is not isolated. According to reports by human rights groups submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in April, "threats, ill treatment, torture, and all forms of intimidation and harassment have been directed towards Bahraini human rights defenders in recent years."

ARTICLE 19 mentions Mohammed Abdul Nabi al-Maskati, founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), a youth group designed to encourage fellow young people to learn about and promote human rights in accordance with international standards. He faces six months in jail or a steep fine for "running an unlicensed association" - even though he tried registering the group as an NGO in June 2005. He is due in court in January.

Front Line, an international foundation that protects human rights defenders, has organised a letter-writing campaign to take action on behalf of the Bahraini activists. Copy the letter here and send it to the addresses provided: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1617/action

Also visit these links: - IFEX joint action: http://tinyurl.com/6edpxp - BCHR: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en - ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/5f2z65 - Front Line: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/bahrain -Human Rights watch: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/11/12/bahrai20194.htm

(12 November 2008)

14 Nov, 2008

Bahrain - Call to enforce Article 134 of Bahraini Penal Code threatens human rights defenders

Front Line is deeply concerned following reports received of a statement by the Bahraini Interior Minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa, published in the local Arabic press on 6 November 2008, calling for the enforcement of Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code against any citizen who attends meetings, conferences or seminars abroad or meets with representative of foreign countries, organisations or bodies to discuss the internal affairs of Bahrain, without government authorization.

Further Information posted 12/11/08 The Minister based his statement on Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 which states that “any citizen, regardless of his profession, who attends without government authorization, a conference, meeting or seminar abroad discussing the political, social or economic situation in Bahrain, likely to weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations, is punishable by imprisonment of no less than three months and subject to a fine of no less than one hundred dinars, or both.” The Minister also mentioned that the same penalty applies to any citizen who "deliberately broadcasts false news, statements or rumours on the internal situation in Bahrain which could weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations." Front Line is particularly concerned that Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa´s call to enforce Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code comes at a time of increased state and media harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. On 30 October 2008, Front Line issued an appeal concerning the media harassment of human rights defenders, Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja in which local Arabic newspaper described them as “traitors to Bahrain and stooges of the United States.” This accusation followed their participation on 15 October 2008 in an event in Washington DC on the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain” which the media interpreted as a call for foreigners, specifically the United States Congress, to interfere in local affairs.

On 15 January 2009, human rights defender Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), will face trial on charges of “running an unlicenced association” under the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 and the Association Law of 1989. This charge carries a sentence of a maximum of six months in jail and/ or a fine of five hundred dinars.

Front Line sees the call to enforce Article 134 as part of an ongoing trend of harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain and believes it is directly related to the legitimate and peaceful activities of Bahraini human rights defenders in defence of human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Take Action Please take action on behalf of Bahraini human rights defenders.

Copy the enclosed letter and send it to the address provided.

Thank you for taking action on behalf of Bahraini human rights defenders.

Target adresses: HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, King of Bahrain, Office of the King, The Amiri Court, Rifa'a Palace, PO Box 555, Manama, KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Letter: Your Majesty,

I am deeply concerned following reports received of a statement by the Bahraini Interior Minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa, published in the local Arabic press on 6 November 2008, calling for the enforcement of Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code against any citizen who attends meetings, conferences or seminars abroad or meets with representative of foreign countries, organisations or bodies to discuss the internal affairs of Bahrain, without government authorization.

The Minister based his statement on Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 which states that “any citizen, regardless of his profession, who attends without government authorization, a conference, meeting or seminar abroad discussing the political, social or economic situation in Bahrain, likely to weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations, is punishable by imprisonment of no less than three months and subject to a fine of no less than one hundred dinars, or both.” The Minister also mentioned that the same penalty applies to any citizen who "deliberately broadcasts false news, statements or rumours on the internal situation in Bahrain which could weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations."

I am particularly concerned that Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa´s call to enforce Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code comes at a time of increased state and media harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. Front Line issued an appeal concerning the media harassment of human rights defenders, Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja in which local Arabic newspaper described them as “traitors to Bahrain and stooges of the United States.” This accusation followed their participation on 15 October 2008 in an event in Washington DC on the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain” which the media interpreted as a call for foreigners, specifically the United States Congress, to interfere in local affairs.

On 15 January 2009, human rights defender Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), will face trial on charges of “running an unlicenced association” under the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 and the Association Law of 1989. This charge carries a sentence of a maximum of six months in jail and/ or a fine of five hundred dinars.

I see the call to enforce Article 134 as part of an ongoing trend of harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain and believe it is directly related to the legitimate and peaceful activities of Bahraini human rights defenders in defence of human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

I Urge the authorities in Bahrain to:

1.Repeal the provisions of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976, specifically Article 134, which violate Bahrain´s international human rights commitments on freedom of expression in Bahrain and abroad, in accordance with the human rights of freedom to expression and association as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bahrain acceded in 2006. 2.Take measures to ensure that all human rights defenders in Bahrain, carrying out their legitimate work in human rights, are able to operate free of all restrictions and harassment.

13 Nov, 2008

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: End Threats to Rights Activists

Interior Minister Warned of Criminal Punishment for ‘Foreign’ Contacts (New York, November 12, 2008) – Bahrain’s government should withdraw a threat by the interior minister to prosecute human rights activists for having met with foreign government officials while abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.

Bahrain: End Threats to Rights Activists Interior Minister Warned of Criminal Punishment for ‘Foreign’ Contacts

(New York, November 12, 2008) – Bahrain’s government should withdraw a threat by the interior minister to prosecute human rights activists for having met with foreign government officials while abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a statement published by Bahrain’s official news agency on November 5, 2008, the interior minister, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, threatened Bahraini activists with prosecution for having meetings abroad “for the purpose of discussing internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain in violation of the law,” citing article 134 of Bahrain’s penal code.

“Bahrain points to its membership on the UN Human Rights Council as proof that it’s committed to human rights, then threatens to jail people who exercise them,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North African director at Human Rights Watch. “The kingdom should change laws that violate human rights and stop threatening people who exercise them.”

The November 5 statement did not specify what individuals or groups were involved. But it followed a briefing by members of Bahraini rights groups in Washington, DC, on October 15 to the US Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom. Participants, some of whom are also affiliated with opposition political groups, alleged that the country’s Sunni Muslim ruling family systematically discriminates against Bahrain’s Shia majority.

A section of Article 134 of Bahrain’s penal code stipulates that citizens who fail to obtain government permission to attend any meeting abroad or to meet representatives of foreign states, “with the goal of discussing political social and economic conditions in the State of Bahrain or any other state, which could weaken financial confidence in the State of Bahrain or diminish its stature,” may be subject to jail terms of at least three months, fines, or both.

In his statement, the interior minister warned participants in such events against “disseminating information, statements, or rumors that are false or based on an agenda regarding conditions in Bahrain.” He added: “Continued violation of the law with this conduct ... will lead to taking the necessary legal measures to confront these events and the referral of those involved in them for prosecution.”

Bahrain’s constitution enshrines the right of free expression. Article 23 states that “freedom of opinion and scientific research is secured, everyone has the right to express his opinion verbally, in writing or otherwise, in accordance with the terms and conditions prescribed by the law.”

Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bahrain acceded in 2006, states “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression,” and that “this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Bahrain, a close US ally, provides the base for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet – the naval force operating in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean. ¬The country has a predominantly Shia population, although the ruling family is Sunni. The Shia majority claims it is subject to systematic discrimination in housing, state employment, and access to land. Bahrain’s government rejects allegations of religious discrimination.

Bahrain has previously prosecuted activists for making political statements under other elements of its penal code. In 2007, two activists who distributed leaflets calling for a boycott of elections faced charges in a criminal court for disseminating materials that could “harm the public interest.” The two were sentenced on those charges, but subsequently released.

“The government of Bahrain ought to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of expression by revising broad provisions of its laws that can be used to criminalize dissent,” Whitson said.

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Related Material

HRW Bahrain country page Country Page

8 Nov, 2008

JOINT ACTION: Twenty-four IFEX members and partners call for solidarity with human rights defenders at risk

(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is a joint action led by BCHR:

Signed, Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, Kazakhstan Arab Archives Institute (AAI), Jordan Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt ARTICLE 19, U.K Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), U.S.A. Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), Tunisia Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Kathmandu Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Freedom House, U.S.A. Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova Index on Censorship, U.K. Institute of Mass Information (IMI), Ukraine Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI), Indonesia Maharat Foundation, Lebanon Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Australia Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ghana Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia Media Watch, Bangladesh Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC), Tunisia Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (SPP), Paraguay

A Petition of Solidarity with Human Rights Defenders in Bahrain

The undersigned organisations express their deep concern over the sustained smear campaign waged against three Bahraini activists who participated last month in a human rights event in Washington D.C., USA. They are Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Dr Abduljalil Alsingace, the head of the Human Rights Unit of the HAQ Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy in Bahrain, and Maryam Alkhawaja, a youth activist, former leader of a student organisation and a member of BCHR. BCHR is a member of IFEX.

Since their participation in the event on 15 October 2008 and their return to Bahrain, they have been exposed to a direct defamation campaign through state-controlled media and religious venues. The campaign includes inflammatory articles written by members of the elected house of representatives, columnists and editors of local Arabic newspapers, as well as statements and sermons through mosques and religious centers.

The organisations listed below are alarmed at the language, level of provocation and intimidation in these articles which are referring to the three activists as "traitors to Bahrain," while considering their human rights activities as a call for foreigners to intrude in local affairs. Moreover, these articles - as well as some state-loyal preachers - have exploited the event by calling for sectarian sedition and encouraging severe action to be taken against these activists. Such a campaign has been encouraged by the silence of the authorities and judicial establishment which should be expected to respond differently, as they would if a similar campaign was made against any officials, members of the government or the ruling family.

The three human rights defenders were officially invited by the "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission" and the "Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom" for a briefing on the "Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain". Nabeel Rajab highlighted areas of discrimination against Shia citizens of Bahrain in high governmental posts which includes banning Shia citizens from recruitment in security and police forces, underlining the many public organisations where there is no Shia presence. Dr. Alsingace discussed the different aspects of religious discrimination against the Shia in Bahrain, covering the allocation of worship premises and maintenance as well as media accessibility. Maryam Alkhawaja told the audience of her personal experience as a result of discriminatory practices against her, her family and friends including the subsequent repercussions of such exposure.

Clearly these activists are being threatened for their ongoing peaceful human rights activities and are being denied the right to free expression without fear of threat, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The undersigned organisations seek the assurance that the security and physical and psychological integrity of Nabeel Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja are not hampered in any way and that they, and other human rights defenders in Bahrain, are free to carry out their activities in the promotion and protection of human rights without any form of intimidation or reprisal.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information contact Nabeel Rajab, President, BCHR, Manama, Bahrain, tel: +973 3963 3399 / 3940 0720 , fax: +973 1779 5170, e-mail: nabeel.rajab@bahrainrights.org, info@bahrainrights.org, Internet: http://www.bahrainrights.org

8 Nov, 2008

Freedom of expression threatened by enforcement of Article 134 of Penal Code, says ARTICLE 19

7 November 2008

SOURCE: ARTICLE 19, London

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Calls to Enforce Article 134 of Penal Code Prompts Fears of Crackdown on Freedom of Expression

ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by a recent statement by the Bahraini Interior minister, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa, reported in the local press, calling for the enforcement of Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code against any citizen who attends meetings, conferences or seminars abroad or meets with representatives of foreign countries, organizations or bodies to discuss the internal affairs of Bahrain, without government authorization.

"The minister's statement is an attempt to silence human rights defenders and severely impedes freedom of expression in Bahrain. ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about articles in the Bahraini Penal Code which deprive Bahrainis of the right to freedom of expression," said Dr. Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976, states that "any citizen, regardless of profession, who attends without government authorization, a conference, meeting or seminar abroad discussing the political, social or economic situation in Bahrain, likely to weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations, is punishable by imprisonment of no less than three months and subject to a fine of no less than one hundred dinars, or both."

The same punishment applies to any citizen who "deliberately broadcasts false news, statements or rumours on the internal situation in Bahrain which could weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations."

This renewed call for the implementation of Article 134 comes amidincreased state intimidation of human rights defenders in Bahrain, described in some local newspapers as "traitors to Bahrain". This accusation follows the participation on 15 October 2008 of leading Bahraini human rights activists, in an event in Washington DC on the "Impact of Political Reform on Religious freedom in Bahrain", as well as increased activity from Bahraini activists raising concerns about human rights in the country.

This climate of increased pressure on human rights defenders in Bahrain is evident in the most recent case of Mohammed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). The BYSHR "encourages and supports young people to learn about human rights and pushes them to participate actively in the protection of human rights cases, and the struggle to promote human rights among young people in accordance with international standards."

Al-Maskati is due in court on 15 January, 2009 on charges of "activating unregistered association before issuing the declaration of registration", under the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 and the Association Law of 1989. This charge carries a sentence of a maximum of six months in jail and/or a fine of five hundred dinars.

This is not an isolated case however. According to reports by various human rights groups submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in April 2008, "threats, ill treatment, torture, and all forms of intimidation and harassment have been directed towards Bahraini human rights defenders," in recent years.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Bahraini authorities to reverse this alarming trend of harassment against human rights activists and to repeal provisions of its Penal Code, specifically Article 134, which flagrantly violate Bahrain's international human rights commitments on freedom of expression in Bahrain and abroad. ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Bahraini government to uphold the human rights to freedom of expression and association as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain acceded in 2006.

For further information, contact ARTICLE 19, 6-8 Amwell Street, London, EC1R 1UQ, U.K., tel: +44 20 7278 9292, fax: +44 20 7278 7660, e-mail: info@article19.org, Internet: http://www.article19.org

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of ARTICLE 19. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit ARTICLE 19. http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/bahrain-calls-to-enforce-article-134-of-penal-code-prompts-fears-of-crackdow.pdf

4 Nov, 2008

Human rights defender Al-Maskati facing trial on November 6

Published on Front Line (http://www.frontlinedefenders.org) Bahrain: Human rights defender Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati facing trial on 6 November 2008 By jimloughran Created 2008/11/03 - 19:01 Front Line is concerned by reports received that Bahraini human rights defender Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati will face trial on the 6 November 2008 charged with “running an unlicenced association.” Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati is the founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), which organises training workshops, monitors and documents human rights violations and participates in forming a regional network for young human rights activists in eight Arab countries. Front Line previously wrote to you on 12 December 2007 in relation with this case. Further Information Posted 04/10/2008 On 27 November, 2007, Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati was called to present himself at the Fourth Minor Criminal Court on charges of “activating [...an...] unregistered association before issuing the declaration of registration,” a charge with bears a punishment of a maximum of six months imprisonment and/ or a fine of 500 Bahrainian Dinars (approximately 1,000 Euros). The trial of Mohamed Abdul Al-Maskati was then postponed until 21 January 2008 which was a public holiday. No further action was subsequently taken until he was served with another warrant in June 2008 under a different case number requesting his presence in court on November 6th, 2008.

The BYSHR originally applied for registration as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in June 2005, but has never received an official response from the Bahraini government. Prior to the arrest of Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, the BYSHR received notification from the Ministry of Social Affairs that the organisation's leader would be prosecuted if they did not cease their activities. Such charges are made under the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 and the Association Law of 1989, which require NGOs to register with the authorities. In practice, this legislation affords the authorities the opportunity to impede the activities of human rights organisations and civil society movements. Front Line is concerned that Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati has been targeted as a result of his legitimate work in the defence of human rights. Front Line is concerned that the travel ban forms part of an ongoing trend of harassment against human rights defenders in Bahrain.

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Source URL: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1608

31 Oct, 2008

Frontline: Bahrian - Ongoing governmental and media harassment against human rights defenders

Front Line is deeply concerned following reports received concerning the ongoing media harassment of human rights defenders Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja, since 16 October 2008. Nabeel Ahmed Rajab is the founder and acting chairperson of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Abduljalil Alsingace is the head of Human Rights Unit of the Haq Movement of Liberties and Democracy in Bahrain, and Maryam Alkhawaja is a youth activist and former leader of the student organization. Further Information Posted 30/10/08 - On 16 October 2008, inflammatory articles written by members of the elected house of representatives, writers, and editors of some local newspapers concerning the aforementioned human rights defenders were published in the local Arabic newspapers Alwatan, Al-Ayam, Akhbar Al-Khaleej, Alwaqt and Al-Bilad, as well as in the regional newspapers Al-Khaleej and the Khaleej Times. These articles classified the human rights defenders as “traitors to Bahrain and stooges of the United States,” and interpreted the participation of the aforementioned human rights defenders in a briefing held on 15 October 2008 in Washington DC., USA, concerning the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain,” as a call for foreigners, specifically the United States Congress, to interfere in local affairs. Furthermore, these newspaper articles called for the Bahrainian authorities to take action against Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja.

The briefing of 15 October was open to the public and attended by representatives of human rights organisations, think tanks, the United States State Department, the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom, the Bahrain Ambassador to the United States and members of media.

During the briefing, Nabeel Ahmed Rajab focused on figures echoing the systematic discrimination against Shia citizens of Bahrain on high posts in Governmental and public offices, employment in security and police force, and education opportunities. Nabeel Rajab highlighted the numerous public organisations in which Shia have no presence. Abduljalil Alsingace discussed the different aspects of religious discrimination against the Shia population in Bahrain covering three main topics; worship premises allocation and maintenance, religious education opportunities and limitations, and public and media accessibility for Shia. Maryam Alkhawaja brought her personal experience of being a young Shia in Bahrain, and the subsequent repercussions discriminatory practices have on her, her family and friends. At the end of the session, the delegation put forward recommendations to alleviate the anguish caused to Shia citizens as a result of the discriminatory practices by the local Authorities, stressing the need to intervene to ensure perseverance of rights of Shia to be treated as citizens of equal rights and not discriminated against in any form.

Front Line is concerned that the media harassment against Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja is due to their legitimate peaceful activities in defence of human rights in Bahrain, in particular their participation in the briefing concerning the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain.” Front Line also expresses its concerns for the security and physical and psychological integrity of Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja.

Take Action Please take action on behalf of human rights defenders Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja.

Copy the enclosed letter and send it to the address provided.

Thank you for taking action on behalf of human rights defenders Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja.

Please Take Action Target adresses: HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, King of Bahrain, Office of the King, The Amiri Court, Rifa'a Palace, PO Box 555, Manama, KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Letter: Your Majesty,

I am deeply concerned following reports received concerning the ongoing media harassment of human rights defenders Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja, since 16 October 2008. Nabeel Ahmed Rajab is the founder and acting chairperson of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Abduljalil Alsingace is the head of Human Rights Unit of the Haq Movement of Liberties and Democracy in Bahrain, and Maryam Alkhawaja is a youth activist and former leader of the student organisation AIESEC-Bahrain.

On 16 October 2008, inflammatory articles written by members of the elected house of representatives, writers, and editors of some local newspapers concerning the aforementioned human rights defenders were published in the local Arabic newspapers Alwatan, Al-Ayam, Akhbar Al-Khaleej, Alwaqt and Al-Bilad, as well as in the regional newspapers Al-Khaleej and the Khaleej Times. These articles classified the human rights defenders as “traitors to Bahrain and stooges of the United States,” and interpreted the participation of the aforementioned human rights defenders in a briefing held on 15 October 2008 in Washington DC., USA, concerning the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain,” as a call for foreigners, specifically the United States Congress, to interfere in local affairs. Furthermore, these newspaper articles called for the Bahrainian authorities to take action against Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja.

The briefing of 15 October was open to the public and attended by representatives of human rights organisations, think tanks, the United States State Department, the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom, the Bahrain Ambassador to the United States and members of media.

During the briefing, Nabeel Ahmed Rajab focused on figures echoing the systematic discrimination against Shia citizens of Bahrain on high posts in Governmental and public offices, employment in security and police force, and education opportunities. Nabeel Rajab highlighted the numerous public organisations in which Shia have no presence. Abduljalil Alsingace discussed the different aspects of religious discrimination against the Shia population in Bahrain covering three main topics; worship premises allocation and maintenance, religious education opportunities and limitations, and public and media accessibility for Shia. Maryam Alkhawaja brought her personal experience of being a young Shia in Bahrain, and the subsequent repercussions discriminatory practices have on her, her family and friends. At the end of the session, the delegation put forward recommendations to alleviate the anguish caused to Shia citizens as a result of the discriminatory practices by the local Authorities, stressing the need to intervene to ensure perseverance of rights of Shia to be treated as citizens of equal rights and not discriminated against in any form.

I am concerned that the media harassment against Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja is due to their legitimate peaceful activities in defence of human rights in Bahrain, in particular their participation in the briefing concerning the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain.” I also wish to express my concerns for the security and physical and psychological integrity of Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja.

I urge the authorities in Bahrain to:

1.Conduct a prompt and impartial inquiry into the source of these media attacks and other forms of intimidation directed towards Nabil Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Alkhawaja, with a view to publishing the results and, where appropriate, bringing those accountable to justice; 2.Adopt measures to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of the three defenders and other human rights defenders in Bahrain; 3.Ensure that Nabil Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace, Maryam Alkhawaja, and other human rights defenders in Bahrain, are free to carry out their activities in the promotion and protection of human rights without intimidation or reprisals.

Yours sincerely,

29 Oct, 2008

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY : Slandering campaign

October 28, 2008 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), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain. Description of the situation: The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about a media campaign waged against Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Dr. Abduljalil Al-Sengais, Head of the Human Rights Unit of the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy in Bahrain, and Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, former leader of the student organisation .

According to the information received, on October 16, 2008, a media campaign was launched by members of the elected house of representatives, writers, columnists, and some editors-in-chief of national newspapers[1] as well as regional ones[2], following the participation of the three human rights defenders in a briefing in Washington held on October 15, 2008 about the “Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain”.

The above-mentioned media as well as some preachers have been qualifying Mr. Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Sengais and Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja as “traitors”, “not loyalists to Bahrain” and “stooges of the United States”. The media further considered the briefing as “a call for foreigners to intrude in local affairs”, stigmatised the briefing as a call for sectarian sedition, and have been encouraging the authorities to take action against the three activists.

This briefing was organised by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission - recently created within the United States’ Congress - and the Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom. In the course of this event, Mr. Rajab insisted on the systematic discrimination faced by Shia citizens in high-ranking Government and public offices, as well as in the police and security forces. He also pointed out the unequal access of Shia to education. Dr. Al-Sengais addressed the religious discrimination in Bahrain, focusing on problems faced by Shia as regards the allocation of worship premises, education and access to public media. Ms. Al-Khawaja addressed the discriminatory practices suffered by Shia in Bahrain.

Recommendations were put forward at the end of the briefing, demanding the end of discriminations against Shia in Bahrain.

The Observatory is highly preoccupied with this hostile campaign targeting Mr. Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Sengais and Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, and urges the Bahraini authorities to ensure that an end be put to the harassment against them, in line with Article 12.2 of the of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

Actions requested :

Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to :

i. Ensure that the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Al-Sengais and Ms. Al-Khawaja be guaranteed in all circumstances;

ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment against them as well as against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

iii. 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”, 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”, and Article 12(2) mentioned above;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

Addresses:

· Cheikh Hamad bin Issa AL KHALIFA , King of Bahrain, Fax: +973 176 64 587

· Cheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tel: +973 172 27 555; Fax : +973 172 12 6032

· Cheikh Khalid bin Ali AL KHALIFA, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Tel: +973 175 31 333; Fax: +973 175 31 284

· Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: info@bahrain-mission.ch

***

Paris-Geneva, October 28, 2008

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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[1] Such as Al-Watan, close to the Royal Court, Al-Ayam, property of the King’s advisor, Akhbar Al-Khaleej, close to the Prime Minister, Al-Waqt and Al-Bilad.

[2] Such as Al-Khaleej and Khaleej Times.

22 Oct, 2008

BCHR:Nabeel Rajab's participation in congress breifing Religious Freedom for Shi’a in Bahrain:

Religious Freedom for Shi’a in Bahrain: "Systematic Suppression and Marginalization" Bahrain has a population of 1,050,000, according to a January 2008 government statement. The citizen population is 99 percent Muslim; Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Baha'is constitute the remaining 1 percent. Muslims belong to the Shiite and Sunni branches of Islam, with Shiite’s constituting an estimated 70 percent of the Muslim population . 1. Participation of Shi’a in the Political system:

While Shiite’s amount to approximately 70 percent of residential citizens they occupy only 13% of the high ranking positions in government institutions . The low percentage of Shiite’s in political institutions and high ranking positions does not reflect their entitlement amongst the top 30 high level graduates of public high school, which was 78% in 2007/2008 . It also does echo the proportion of Shiite’s in University of Bahrain, which was estimated to be close to 70 percent of Shiite’s in the general population .

Establishment Percentage of Shiite’s The Supreme Defense Council: The (SDC) is the highest level of decision making in regards to national defense and security . It consist of 14 members of the ruling family, who are the most influential personalities in the system including; the king, the Crown Prince, the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Royal Court and the heads of sovereign ministries . According to a report in 2006 by a former government consultant, Dr. Salah Albandar, the Supreme Council is responsible for the creation and supervision of a secret national security plan which considers Shiite’s as a major threat to the regime and establishes a secret web working on marginalizing Shiite’s in all aspects of life . 0% All high ranking positions at the: 1. Bahrain Ministry of Defense, 2. Bahrain Ministry of Interior, 3. Bahrain Ministry of the Cabinet Affairs, 4. General Organization for Youth and Sports, 5. Central Informatics Organization, 6. Survey and Land Registration Bureau, 7. Bahrain Royal Court and 8. Crown Prince Court 0% The Bahrain National Guard and the Special Security Force: The SSF consist of around 15,000 most of whom are newly naturalized tribal-Sunnis recruited from Yemen, Jordon, Pakistan and Syria, who are used mainly in suppressing demonstrations and protests in Shiite villages. 0% The Judiciary: The civil law courts, through their criminal and civil branches, adjudicate all civil and commercial cases . The criminal branch and the Attorney General Office are used affectively against Shiite activists. 5% The high ranking positions in the public sector: (Shiite proportion dropped from 18% in 2003 to 13% in 2008) 13% The Constitutional Court 18% The Executive Power - the cabinet: Only 4 out of 24 ministers are Shiite, while 12 (50%) of them are members of the ruling family including the prime minister and the heads of sovereign ministries. It is a further setback from 2002, when 7 out of 24 ministers were Shiite and 9 were members of the ruling Family. 17% The Legislative Power: the Council of Representatives: 17 Shiite’s out of 40 members who were elected based on gerrymandering and the use of the votes of thousands of newly neutralized non Shiite’s. As a result, Shiite representatives got 42.5% of seats despite the fact that they collected 62% of total votes. In 1973, the Shiite members in the National Assembly were 57%. Due to constitutional changes introduced by the current king, the Council of Representatives has no real legislative or monitoring power. 43% The Legislative: Shura Council- (19 Shiite’s out of 40 seats) appointed by the King. 48%

2. Geographic Sectarian Apartheid:

As a clear practice of segregation, Shiites are prohibited from inhabiting one of Bahrain's largest districts, Riffa, which consists of more than 40% of Bahraini land, in which a majority of the ruling family members reside . The Directorates of Muharraq city and the Capital Manama have declared restrictions on selling and buying lands in the old Muharraq and Hoora district in order to combat wider influence of Shiite’s.

3. Shiite children, at schools, are taught against their beliefs:

Islamic studies are mandatory part of the curriculum in government for all public and private schools. The Maliki school of Sunni jurisprudence forms the basis for the decades-old curriculum, which does not include the Ja'afari traditions of Shiite Islam . . As a result, Shiite children are obliged to learn Islamic studies according to another theology which labels Shiite as nonconformists. In May 2006, the minority Shiite members of the Council of Representatives (CR), made an attempt to reform the Islamic studies curriculum to include all schools of Islam, but was rejected by the Government and the majority of CR members.

Other Facts Regarding Discrimination against Shiite citizens :

4. The right to practice religious beliefs:

In new towns, which often have mixed Sunni and Shiite populations, such as Hamad Town and Isa Town, number of Shia mosques are disproportionate to their population. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has not finalized practical steps to respond to over two-decade application for the Shiite community to establish their only Ma'tam (community Center) in Hamad Town. As an alternative, individuals in the Shiite community have converted parts of their homes into Ma'tams.

Not all Shiite waqfs (Endowments) are well-endowed and able to fund mosque construction. New mosques are dependent upon government approval of land allocation. The government's approval of land allocation for mosques was not transparent and reportedly not proportionate to the Shiite community's relative population in the country.

During the year, the government permitted public religious events, most notably the large annual Shiite holiday of Ashura, but police closely monitor and limit these gatherings.

5. Job opportunities:

Discrimination against the majority Shiite population remains a problem. Non-Shia receive preference for employment in sensitive government positions and in the managerial ranks of the civil service. The royal family is Sunni, and the defense and internal security forces are predominantly Sunni. Although Shiite citizens hold very few posts in these forces, with few exceptions, positions are not high-ranking. In the private sector, Shiite’s tend to get employed in lower paid, less skilled jobs. Educational, social, and municipal services in most Shiite neighborhoods are inferior to those found in other communities. Although the percentage of Shiite students is close to the approximately 70 percent of Shiite population in the country, only about 40 percent of university faculty is Shiite. Shiite’s compose a high percentage of the country's unemployed.

6. Demographic Engineering:

There were many reports indicating that the naturalization process, resulting in the abnormal increase in the population, is politically driven to manipulate demographics for voting purposes and to keep Shiite’s out of the police and defense forces, which are dominated by naturalized Sunnis. Although naturalization requirements are clearly defined in law, adjudication of naturalization applications is neither transparent nor impartial. The government reportedly is more lenient with naturalization requests from expatriates in the security forces. Shiite’s and non-Arab applicants reportedly experience longer delays in the processing of their cases. The government occasionally grants citizenship to Sunni residents from neighboring countries. The government stated that some of the Saudis who had received citizenship were the grandchildren of Bahraini citizens who had immigrated to Saudi Arabia.

7. Gerrymandering: Manipulation of the Election:

The government drew the unified electoral districts for both the municipal council and the legislative elections to protect its interests by creating several districts with small populations likely to elect a Sunni candidate. In contrast, districts where a Shiite candidates are likely to win, were drawn to include large numbers of voters, a formula that diluted the voting strength of the Shiite community. According to voter lists for the elections, divergence in the electoral population per district is significant—the number of eligible voters per elected representative can vary by as much as a factor of 13. The election law prohibited speeches at most public locations and limited the areas where campaign material could be placed.

The law grants citizenship to applicants who have resided continuously in the country for 15 years, for Arabs, and for 25 years, for non-Arabs. However, there is a lack of transparency in the naturalization process, and there were reports that the citizenship law is not applied uniformly. For example, there are allegations that the government allows expatriate Sunni Arabs who had served less than 15 years in the security services to apply for citizenship. There are also reports of Arab Shiite’s who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab expatriates who had resided more than 25 years who have not been granted citizenship. The Ministry of Interior has acknowledged the naturalization of 5,000 people between 2003 and 2006.

8. Unrest and Violations of Civil Rights- during 2007:

During the year, there were reports of clashes between the government and elements of the Shiite 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 Shiite’s in the country. Many of these incidents involved Shiite 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 Shiite protestors and other local human rights observers alleged lead to the death of a 31-year-old man after a December 17 protest.

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 Shiite villages.

However, on December 17, a 31-year-old man, Ali Jasem, died after participating in a protest where Shiite activists clashed with security forces. Although the official autopsy reported that he had died of “acute cardiovascular and respiratory collapse,” local human rights observers alleged his death was linked to inhaling tear gas used to disperse demonstrators.

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 Shiite protestors and security forces, reported that the government refused to allow the detainees access to legal counsel or family members.

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 Shiite 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 1st Human Rights Watch report, police beat Al-Khabbaz and Hameed while in custody. On June 7, both men were released.

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 Shiite community centers. The number of times this happened was unknown.