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Holding Back and Confiscating Passports of Migrant Workers and Forbidding Them from Traveling

As A Means of Blackmailing, Forced Labor and Slavery

A Report by: The Bahrain Center for Human Rights 26th September 2005

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is gravely concerned over the increasing phenomenon of holding back or confiscating passports and travel documents of migrant workers by sponsors, recruitment agents or their companies, and forbidding those workers from traveling. Such actions are taken in an attempt to blackmail the workers, force them to achieve illegitimate advantages or concede their salaries and indemnities which were gained through the years, taking advantage of their desperation in seeing their homes and families after years of separation.

According to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the term "migrant worker" refers to a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.

Clause 21 of the same Convention implies that it shall be unlawful for anyone, other than a public official duly authorized by law, to confiscate, destroy or attempt to destroy identity documents, documents authorizing entry to or stay residence or establishment in the national territory or work permits and no authorized confiscation of such documents shall take place without delivery of a detailed receipt. Furthermore it states that: in no case shall it be permitted to destroy the passport or equivalent document of a migrant worker or a member of his or her family. The Bahraini Constitution also prohibits limiting the freedom of movement, unless dictated by the law and states that it should be under judicial supervision.

The phenomenon of holding back the passport began with the inflow of unskilled labors from South and East Asia, at the outset of the 70s. The justification given at the time was that this was necessary for the protection of the employer from the fleeing of some workers back to their countries, in such cases as when they have violated the law and/or committed a crime, which the sponsor would then have to deal with. But this phenomenon increased and became a means of pressuring, blackmailing and punishing many migrant workers by their employers. Many of these victims are migrant women working as domestic helpers.

“I the undersigned ……….., confirm, settling all my rights, dues and indemnity between me and the company I worked for which is ………...…, I confirm that mentioned amount ……. includes all my rights and indemnity.”

This is part of the concession document forcibly written by J Kumar, an Indian national, after more than 1 year of negotiations to get his travel documents. In this document, Kumar concedes his rights and dues, earned over 20 years of work, in order to receive his passport to travel back home in time to be with his ailing mother in her last days. Unfortunately, after all the concessions, he did not reach home in time to see her.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families implies that no migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be held in slavery or servitude or shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labor. Furthermore, the Bahraini Law in turn does not allow forcible work or abuse, however, in reality abuse has been evident, mainly in the cases of migrant women domestic helpers, and persons who are known as free visa workers.

Many of these vulnerable and week segments suffer increasingly, as their passports are confiscated and they are banned from traveling by their employer. Thus restricting their movement and preventing them from reaching the authorities in order to voice their suffering, without the risk of imprisonment or firing.

These workers have no way to reclaim their passports, considering their increased indebtment, but to work under severe conditions which in some circumstances reaches the form of forced labor and slavery, or to forcibly submit their earnings of many years. While some have to pay heavily for the reclaiming of their documents, female domestic workers are subjected to a severer price, in that they are, in some cases, subjected to sexual abuse in order to be allowed to travel back to their countries.

This phenomenon increased with the incoming of a new segment of violators: Employers who come from the same countries as these victims, and hold the same nationality. Those are migrant employers, through obtaining commercial registration from citizens, in return for money

Very often, migrant workers, mainly women, whose country has no diplomatic representation in Bahrain, are subjected to an even worse kind of violation, as there is no safe haven to resort to. Such countries are like Sri Lanka, Indonesia and some African countries.

“To the Director of Administrative and Financial Affairs in the Immigration and Passports Department – Kingdom of Bahrain:

We are a group of …….workers, working for ……. Company. We stopped working and filed a labor case on February 2004, after the employer stopped paying our salaries for four consecutive months. Since we have no other source of earning to live on, and have no desire in working as illegal workers, we request you to address our employer to provide us with our passports and flight tickets”.

Even until the time of the writing of this report, and for more than 18 months, the sponsor of the workers who have filed this complaint has refused to give them their passports and pay their salaries and indemnities, or return them home. In addition to their difficult financial circumstances, another factor comes into play, which has further increased their suffering. This factor is the implications that come about as a result of the fact that the local labor law does not allow migrant workers to work without their sponsor or employers permission, thus they remain without any source of income.

What increases the BCHR’s concern is the stance of the paralyzed official institutions of law- enforcement, which are contented in merely watching these violations of the rights of these migrants’ workers, in movement, work and keeping their passports. In consideration with the situation brought about by the implications that arise from the local law in that it does not allow Migrant Workers to work and earn a living without their sponsors, these official institutions fail to provide a shelter during that period, where worker have no source of income to live on, in fact, these institutions avoid taking any measures against the employers, who prevent their workers from traveling and hold their travel documents.

Trade unions and women societies have regretfully not embarked on any serious discussions on the issue of Migrant Worker violations, nor attempting to find any solutions for those workers, who are mainly women. Article no 26 of The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families stipulates that the state should recognize the right of Migrant Workers to take part in meetings and activities of trade unions and of any other associations, with a view to protecting their economic, social, cultural and other interests, and to join them freely, and to seek their aid and assistance.

“We face great problems with law- enforcement institutions, such as the Ministry of Labor , the Immigration and Passports Department, in implementing many laws in relation to migrant workers. Some times, the ministry of labor is reluctant to curry out decisions taken by the ministry itself. Although the principle that travel documents belong only to the holder and his/her embassy is in existence, it is regretfully not working or implemented here”

Zeyad Qayyomji, A lawyer engaged in migrant workers cases

Usually, the ministry of labor would refer labor cases which cannot be solved at the ministry, including the holding of passports, to courts, which involve an immensely prolonged process, perhaps years of waiting. Thus the migrant worker is prohibited from working to earn a living during that period.

This extreme pressure and inhumane treatment resulted in a feeling of hopelessness among this weak segment. Some have, and are continuing in a trend of taking their own lives, or committing suicide. This is highly noted in the suicidal cases which were transferred to the public psychiatric hospitals in 2003, of which migrant women domestic workers were 40% of the total number. Previously twenty two Asian construction workers attempted to commit suicide in 2003, and in the first three months of 2004, 11 Asian workers have committed suicide.

Rights Violations have also resulted in the running away of many migrant workers and their engagement in working illegally, or outside the framework of the law in order to earn a living. Usually they are arrested as “free visa” workers or “runaway(s)” and detained in prison with criminals, to be deported later on.

Article 20 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families stipulates that: No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of failure to fulfill a contractual obligation. And No one shall be deprived of his or her authorization of residence or work permit or expelled merely on the ground of failure to fulfill an obligation arising out of a work contract unless fulfillments of that obligation constitutes a condition for such authorization or permit

Recommendations:

1. To the Bahraini authorities:

  • A. To ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which include their right to live, to have fair judicial measures, receive fair trials, and their right to freedom of expression through legislation, and the reformation of existing legislation in order for them to be consistent with international standards.
  • B. To implement the 2005 recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture and the UN committee on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, specially the parts which refer to the Migrant Workers.
  • C. Sponsors, recruitment agents and companies should be prohibited from holding passports against the wish of the holders, and to emphasize on the punishment of whoever violates the latter. The Ministry of Labor, the Directorate of Immigration and Passports, and Police Stations should take measures to stop violations and not wait until the cases are transferred to the court.
  • D. Ceasing the bringing in of migrant workers from countries without embassies or labor offices in Bahrain, this includes Sri Lanka, Indonesia and some African countries. And this will hold until these countries open offices to serve their citizens.
  • E. Provide shelter to victims of violence and abuse, mainly women who have no other place to resort to or source of income to live on.
  • F. Laws and regulations that protect the sponsor should be established, so sponsors do not need to hold the passport, providing that these laws and regulations do not restrict the freedoms of the migrant workers to move and their right to keep their travel documents.

2. To the embassies exporting countries:

  • A. They should take up their responsibility to protect their citizens and provide legal assistance.
  • B. Prior to their traveling to their destination country, Migrant Workers, specially women, should be informed about working conditions and their rights and duties according to the domestic law, and international standards.
  • C. To provide shelter for their citizens, who suffer from circumstances beyond their will and to facilitate their return back.
  • D. To hold accountable their fellow citizens who work with rented commercial registration or with local recruiting agents or as sponsor who are found to violate the rights of these workers.

3. To civil society institutions in the sending and receiving countries:

  • A. The rights of migrant workers are part of human rights and rights of national workers which can not be separated. Hence, local trade unions, as well as rights and women societies and organizations, should take the responsibility to equally defend these workers.
  • B. Governmental and Non-governmental Organization specializing in Human Rights, Labor Rights and Migrant Worker Rights, should be responsible for defending the rights of these individuals.

For more information please contact

Nabeel Rajab Bahrain Center for Human Rights Tel 00 973 39633399 Fax 00 973 17795170

Urgent Appeal: Activist Rajab hospitalized

Five others await proper treastment as a result of attack by state military forces

6th September 2005

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has received today, with concerns, news about a well-known human rights activist, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, who was taken by ambulance to Salmaneyya Government hospital. Mr. Rajab was unable to move a result of severe back pain which he suffered when attacked by the Bahraini military forces while intending to participate into a peaceful demonstration by the Unemployed on July 15th, 2005.

The initial medical diagnosis showed a vertebral slippage in his backbone, which requires surgery. A delicate surgical operation of this kind is a great danger as any failure could result in a total immobility. BCHR demands that the Bahraini authorities to bear its responsibilities and save Mr Rajab from danger by arranging for immediate and secure surgical operation.

It is to be noted that a group of citizens, attacked by Bahraini military forces during gathering to commence a peaceful demonstration for the Unemployed, have been receiving medical treatment n public hospitals, but because of the deficiency of the process, some have reverted to private hospitals irrespective of their downgraded financial situation. These include:

  1. Nabeel Rajab, 1964, Human Rights activist, vertebral slippage in back bone (currently in Salmaneyya Governmental Hospital)
  2. Hassan Ali Fatil Al-sarri, 22yrs, recently employed, suffering from damaged nerves in his right hand (not receiving any treatment)
  3. Imad Husain Abbas Madan, 1983, unemployed, receiving physiotherapy in his neck, difficulty of head maneuver
  4. Yousef Ahemd Husain Ali, 1978, unemployed, still receiving treatment in the lower back bone.
  5. Mosa abdali Ali Mohammed, 1981, unemployed, still walking with crutches, receiving physiotherapy and treatment in lower backbone and right leg.
  6. Abdulhadi Al-khawja, 1961, Human rights activist, still receiving treatment in Salmaneyya Governmental Hospital for broken and malfunction of the upper frontal teeth.

These cases are amongst 94 individuals who were reported to be attacked in peaceful gathering of the unemployed on 19th June 2005 in front of the Royal Court and Riffa police station and on 15th July 2005 near the National Council Building in Manama. Among those attacked were 3 women, 3 human rights activists, 3 journalists. 69 of the victims were youths between 17 and 30 years old.

Although 20 individuals filed cases to the Public Prosecution Office after the two attacks on June 19th, no measures were taken by that office which encouraged the military forces to repeat its third attack on July 15th, less than a month from the previous. The Public Prosecutor has refused earlier to send his representatives to Riffa Police station to collect videos, evidences of attacks and witnesses, an attitude encouraged for the second attack in that station.

Two months have elapsed from the first and second attack, and almost 7 weeks from the third, but the Authorities in Bahrain have not responded to the numerous international appeals requesting an immediate and transparent investigation concluding in showing the facts, prosecuting those responsible, providing medical treatment and rewarding the victims as well as taking measures to prevent reoccurrence in the future.

The victims of attack have consequently decided to form a committee of their own and commence a campaign starting with meeting the King of Bahrain to furnish complete memorandum enclosing full details, proofs and photos. This is in addition to organizing popular activities to push the authorities to take up their responsibilities towards what had happened and preventing it from its reoccurrence.

BCHR is demanding the Bahraini Authorities to disclose the motives for the excessive force used against the peacefully gathered people, without an excuse, the justifications of using the militants who have been covering their faces with masks, and the names of the officials who gave the instructions. Also, BCHR demands the investigations in what appears to be a collaboration from the Public Prosecution Office, and its short fall in compliance with its duties towards the victims and their complains. BCHR demands the disclosure of the photos and videos which were taken by the authorities or those confiscated from the participants in these peaceful gatherings.

Workshop on Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes in the Middle East and North Africa

Italy - Venice - 21-23 July 2005

Intervention by Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, president , Bahrain center for Human Rights:

I have come from Bahrain, which is the country that is displayed as the model for reform in the region, this was repeated by the American president. I apologize if my speech is not clear for my teeth got broken a month ago in front of the Royal Council in Bahrain, and one of my teeth has fallen off today as you can see. I was also beaten up a week ago on the head and back, I was one of the ten’s of Bahrainis who went on a demonstration in front of the House of Representatives. All this happened while I was contributing in peaceful activities for the unemployed. I would like to mention here the main reason the government gave for closing the Bahrain Center for Human Rights 8 months ago, which was that the Center organized an international petition to demand for political contribution for Kuwaiti women. The Bahraini government regarded this as an involvement in the matters of other countries.

Dividing the countries of the Middle East into open and closed to change and reform is not precise, in reality they should be categorized to countries who oppose the Americans and should be politically changed like Iraq, and others whose governments are allies to the west and they are only subjected to some reforms regarding human rights and economic globalization, and not at all real democracy, Bahrain is a model of this.

In the matter of the election systems, which we are discussing today, I have personally contributed to preparing a study for comparing the election systems in six Arab countries, and Bahrain was relatively one of the best, but here comes the contradiction between the good system which serves the political propaganda for the regime which works within a deformed democratic regime. In Bahrain, according to the constitution which was issued by the new king and blessed by the Americans, the king controls the three branches of government in a direct way, whether its by forming them personally or in its decisions and he appoints the constitutional government officials and the higher judicial counsel and half of the parliament. The other half of the parliament are elected within an unjust division which marginalizes the opposition and the Shiite majority.

And the ruling family in Bahrain controls the main influential positions in the executive authority and the judicial system, and they control the economy, the citizen cannot change the government in a peaceful manner, and there is no party pluralism.

Two days ago the parliament, which is controlled by the government, issued a new law for the political societies. This law puts societies, of which some represent a majority of the people and the opposition, the law puts them under complete control of the government. Control in the formation procedure and restricting its activity and the funding and the party media. And also in regard to the dissolution of the political societies temporarily or permanently. The new law prohibits the societies from any activity outside Bahrain, and also the funding from foreign sources even if governmental or for educating and training purposes.

This arbitrary law has been approved by the parliament, a parliament which was formed with a relatively good election system. The opinions and proposals of the political and other societies were not taken into consideration. The political societies have decided since yesterday to temporarily close in protest to this law, and the biggest societies are considering to dissolve completely.

Concerning the recommendations, in addition to what was mentioned yesterday I would add the following:

  1. We should not exaggerate in looking at the election system and observing the voting at the expense of the revelation of a democratic process reality. Therefore the surveillance reports on election systems must point out the main flaws in the democratic process. For example the citizens right to change the government in a peaceful manner, and party pluralism, and the independence of the judicial system, and the separation of powers, and everything else that is necessary for a democratic process to take place.
  2. Creating strategies and programs to reach to the existing political and semi-political powers which could develop into political parties, taking into consideration that it would be natural for these groups to tend to be of a sectarian, religious or tribal nature during this transition phase due to the nature of the societies in the region. On the other hand, depending on foreign support and funding to implement alternative groups, parties and figures which have no standing in real life, should be avoided. Because that would result in the re-occurrence of what has been happening in the region during the past decades, and will increase the foreign influence but wouldn’t lead to a real democracy, political reform or stability in the long run.

Bahrain Government Refers BCHR Activists To The Public Prosecution And Threatens Them With Legal Penalties

The BCHR insists on continuing its activities and urges all concerned to interfere

13 June 2005

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) followed up with concern the statement made by the Minister of Social Affairs to Al-Ayam daily newspaper, where she said that “the Center has gone beyond the limits in sending a delegation to Geneva, and organizing a seminar in Belad Al-Qadeem on the events in Geneva”. She had added that “the Centre officials had broken the law through involvement in activities without having a proper legal status. Their case had been referred to the Public Prosecution, and there is a legal penalty for these violations”.

On the other hand, the high court of appeal will give its final decision tomorrow, June 14 2005, on the case submitted by the BCHR against the Government’s order on Spt. 2004 to close the Center. The decision by the BCHR’s general assembly to raise a case was a bid to test the extent of reforms and independence of the judiciary. International reports issued recently, including the report by U.S. State Department and the recommendations of the Committee Against Torture, stated that the judiciary in Bahrain is not independent, especially in cases involving the government.

The BCHR urges all defenders of freedom and those concerned with the protection of human rights defenders to interfere immediately. It also warns that the success of the authorities in curbing the Centre’s activities will leave all other civil society institutions under the mercy of the government, and this will never be in the interest of reforms or the protection of rights and freedoms.

Background:

Despite a government decision to close the Bahrain Center for Human Rights for organizing a seminar on economic rights and corruption, the BCHR has continued its activities including submitting alternative reports and participating in the Geneva meetings of the U.N. Committee Against Racial Discrimination and the Committee Against Torture. Government delegations in those meetings faced questions on the closure of the BCHR. Recommendations by those international committees were clear in lifting all restrictions facing the activities of human rights organizations and the necessity of cooperating with them. The two committees had reiterated that the non-government activists who participated in their meetings and provided them with information should not be subjected to any kind of threat or pressure.

The position of the BCHR’s general Assembly:

In replying to the Minister’s statement on the legitimacy of the Centre and its activities, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) reiterates that it does not intend to back track on the decision passed by its general assembly to continue its voluntary activities since this is a right and a responsibility shouldered by the members.

Members of the BCHR obtain their right in pursuing their activities from a natural right stipulated in the international human rights conventions in general and the international agreements to which Bahrain has become a member in particular, and which are now a part of Bahraini laws. All these conventions state clearly that the right of individuals to form associations is an original right which must not be restricted except within a democratic mechanism in such a manner that does not jeopardize this right. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain stipulates that the law must not jeopardize the essence of the rights stipulated in the Constitution. For all the above, the Law on Societies which was issued in the absence of democracy, does not enjoy any legitimacy both in terms of issuance or content. Therefore, it must not be used to restrict the activity of societies, and is not suitable as a framework for the activities of human rights associations.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights was established with the will of its founders and its general assembly. Its fate is, therefore, decided by its general assembly and not by any government body, especially since the role of the Center is to monitor the government and not to be controlled by it. The founders had agreed at the outset to register the Center within the provisions of the Societies Law, because of penal pressures on one hand, and the promises to amend the law on the other. Now, since the law has not been amended, but used arbitrarily to close the Center, the members of its general assembly have decided to bear all the pressures and disconnect the Center from the Societies Law.

Bahrain: A women's rights activist faces trial and imprisonment

Bahrain Center for Human Rights Ref: 05060301

3/06/2005: The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned about three criminal charges made against women's rights campaigner Ms. Ghada Yusuf Jamsheer, accusing her of foul language, abusing a shari'ah family court and a former shari'a judge. (The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights)

According to restrictive laws, Ms. Jamsheer could face a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment. She will face three trials in June and July 2005. BCHR appeals to national and international organizations to intervene urgently and to do whatever neccesary.

Ms. Jamsheer has been campaigning for reforming the General Prosecution and shari'ah family Courts. There are many recent cases where the authorities used restrictive laws, such as the Penal Code of 1976 and Law on the press of 2002, to bring activists and journalists before the courts. BCHR states that another of their concerns is that the General Prosecution and the judiciary in Bahrain are far from independent.

Hence, BCHR considers the criminal charges against Ms. Jamsheer as related to freedom of expression and peaceful activities, and an effort by the authorities to keep pressure on Ms. Jamsheer to cease her activities. The BCHR Appeals to drop all charges against Ms. Jamsheer, to decrease pressure on activists concerning women rights and to amend laws which hinder activism and criminalize the practice of basic rights.

Background

Ghada Yusif Jamsheer is a Bahraini business woman, aged 38, lives in Muharraq. She is the president of Women's Petition Committee (WPC) which has been debating complaints and cases violating the rights and dignity of women in the shari'a family courts, and calling for urgent need to appoint qualified shari'a Court Judges. She is also the president of the Bahrain Social Partnership for Combating Violence Against Women which is under the supervision of Amnesty International.

For the last four years, Ms. Jamsheer has continuously organized protests and vigils in support of reforms of shari'a family jurisdiction in Bahrain. A call by Ms. Jamsheer to dismiss the General Prosecutor Sheikh A. Rahman Bin Jabr Al Khalifa, who was the head of the abolished State Security Court, could be the real reason behind the current cases. The call was declared in a statement issued when Women's Petition Committee (WPC) members and supporters gathered outside the Justice Ministry in a show of solidarity against discrimination.

The First Case

The General Prosecution has forwarded Case 8610/2005 to the higher penal Court and allocated a hearing commencing 4 June 2005. The trial has been rescheduled for 1 July 2005. The General Prosecution charged Ms. Jamsheer for committing criminal acts during the period commencing from October 2002 to June 2003 as follows:

  1. She has criticized publicly the shari'a judges in Bahrain as "Corrupted, Personalized and Un-Qualified" through a publication distributed to the Public;
  2. She has criticized a judge of the higher shari'a Court, named Jassim Mutlaq Al Thawadi, for his rudeness and not being fair during practicing his duties;
  3. She abused the above mentioned shari'a Judge, during his practices of his task, by using abusive language as per records of documentation.

Accordingly, the General Prosecution decided that Ms. Jamsheer has committed a crime which is should be penalized according to articles No 2/76, 3-1/92, 107/item 1, 216, 222/1, 365/1, 3-1/366 of the Penal Code and article 70/B from Law decree No 47 for the year 2002 on Press and Publishing.

The Second Case

Case No. 1793/2005 was raised against Ghada Jamsheer by one of the shari'a Judges for abusive language with reference made to articles No 2/92 and 2/1/365 of the Penal Law in front of the Primary Penal fifth Court. A session for litigation has been appointed for the forthcoming date 15th June 2005.

The Third Case

Case No. 3938/2044 which was raised against Ghada Jamsheer through the General Prosecution by an ex-husband of a divorced woman whose case was adopted by the Women's Petition Committee (WPC) headed by Ms. Jamsheer. Criminal charges were based on articles No 2/92 and 2/1/365 of the Penal Law. Litigation date will be on 19th of June 2005 in front of Primary First Penal Court.

Furthermore, an older case which was raised by eight of shari'a court judges against a group of journalists and activists including Ghada Jamsheer is still pending.

Women's rights activist to face trial and imprisonment

Urgent Appeal

25 May 2005

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has received with grave concern the appealing of the General Prosecution of three Criminal cases against women's rights campaigner Ms. Ghada Yusuf Jamsheer, accusing her of foul language abusing a shari'ah family court and a former shari'ah judge. According to the restrictive lows, Ms. Jamsheer could face a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment. She will face three trials, on the 4th, 15th and 19th of May 2005. BCHR appeals to national and International organizations to intervene urgently and to do whatever neccesary.

Taking in consideration that women rights activist Ms. Jamsheer has been campaigning for reforming the General Prosecution and shari'ah family Courts, ..and based on many current cases where the authorities used restrictive lows, such as the Penal Code of 1976 and Law on the press of 2002, to bring activist and Journalists before courts, ..and as the General Prosecution and the judiciary in Bahrain are far from being independent,

Hence, the BCHR considers the criminal charges against Ms. Jamsheer as related to freedom of expression and peaceful activities, and as an effort by the authorities to keep pressure on Ms. Jamsheer to cease her activities. The BCHR Appeals to drop all charges against Ms. Jamsheer, to decrease pressure on activists concerning women rights and to amend laws which hinder activism and criminalize the practice of basic rights.

Background:

Ghada Yusif Jamsheer is a Bahraini business woman, aged 38, lives in Muharraq. She is the president of the Women's Petition Committee which has been debating complaints and cases violating the rights and dignity of women in the shari'ah family courts, and calling for urgent need to qualify shari'ah Court Judges. She is also the president of the Bahrain Social Partnership for Combating Violence Against Women which is under the supervision of Amnesty International.

For the last four years, Ms. Jamsheer has continuously organized protests and vigil in support of reforms of shari'ah family jurisdiction in Bahrain. A Call by Ms. Jamsheer to dismiss the General Prosecutor sheikh A.Rahman Bin Jabr Al Khalifa, who was the head of the abolished State Security Court, could be the real reason behind the suit cases. The call was declared in a statement when Women’s Petition Committee members and supporters gathered outside the Justice Ministry in a show of solidarity against discrimination.

1. The First Case:

The General Prosecution has forwarded Case 8610/2005 to the higher penal Court and allocating a session for the date commencing 4 June 2005. The General Prosecution charged Ms. Ghada Yusuf Moh'd Jamsheer for committing criminal acts during the period commencing from October 2002 to June 2003 as follows:

    a. She has criticized publicly the shari'ah judges in Bahrain as "Corrupted, Personalized and Un-Qualified" through publication distributed to the Public.

    b. Through a telephone call, She abused a judge of the higher shari'ah Court named Jassim Mutlaq Al Thawadi for his rudeness and not being fair during practicing his duties.

    c. She abused the above mentioned shari'ah Judge, during his practices of his task, by using abusing language as per records of documentation.

Accordingly, the General Prosecution decided that Ms. Jamsheer has committed a crime which is should be penalized according to articles No 2/76, 3-1/92 , 107/item1, 216, 222/1, 365/1, 3-1/366 of the Penal Code and article 70/B from Law decree No 47 for the year 2002 on Press and Publishing.

The Second Case:

Case No. 1793/2005 was raised against Ghada Jamsheer by one of the shari'ah Judges for abusive language with reference made to articles No 2/92 and 2/1/365 of the Penal Law in front of the Primary Penal fifth Court. A session for litigation has been appointed for the forthcoming date 15th June 2005

The Third Case:

Case No. 3938/2044 which was raised against Ghada Jamsheer through the General Prosecution by an ex-husband of a divorced woman whose case was adopted by the Women’s Petition Committee headed by Ms. Jamsheer. Criminal charges were based on articles No 2/92 and 2/1/365 of the Penal Law. Litigation date will be on 19th of June 2005 in front of Primary First Penal Court.

Furthermore, an older case which was raised by eight of shari'ah court judges against a group of journalists and activists including Ghada Jamsheer is still pending.

Draft law to prevent using the media to protect detainees

3 May 2005

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) followed up with great concern the approval of the Cabinet on the draft law criminating the publication of names or pictures of suspected criminals by the local media or providing the international media with information before the issuance of the final verdict on the suspect.

A few years back, the BCHR objected over the government’s manner in publishing the names or pictures of those arrested for political or security reasons, accusing them of vandalism or harming stability before imposing charges or transferring them to the courts. This was considered as clear violation of their rights, and contradictory to the principle that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Journalists, members of parliament and the civil society protested against this matter.

Nevertheless, the BCHR is worried that the new law aims not at protecting the interests of the suspects but instead a way to prevent the families of the suspects, lawyers and human rights activists from benefiting from the local or foreign media to reveal any violations. Especially since some of the clauses of the state security law are still valid, and the authority continues to use other laws that restrict and punish practices of basic freedoms, such as freedom of press, expression and gathering. Additionally, the executive power continues to control the public prosecution and judiciary, in particular in cases of freedom of opinion and of activists whom the government considers as its opponents.

The cabinet’s decision stipulates legislation of the new law by amending clause no. 5 of chapter 246 of the penal code, issued by decree by-law no.15 for 1976. The draft law has been submitted to the Shura and Representatives Councils. Both Councils have failed over the past three years in amending articles of the state security law of the penal code or any other laws that violate freedoms.

The Center calls on the authorities, and the Shura and Representative Councils to be transparent in publishing details of draft laws, specially those related to freedoms and human rights. The Center demands actual activation of criminating the government for publishing the names or pictures of suspects before the issuance of the judicial verdict, but not preventing those acting to protect the rights of the detainee or defendant from using the media.

Shadow report to the UN Committee Against Torture

Shadow report prepared by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture for its 34th session in Geneva (12 - 13 May 2005).

About the report

Given the absence of a regional human rights mechanism in the Middle East, the United Nations was the main body monitoring Bahrain’s compliance with its human rights obligations. Bahrain’s decision to accede to the Convention against Torture in 1998, bringing its domestic law and policies under the examination of the Commission Against Torture, is of major importance because Bahrain is not yet a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, Bahrain’s first state report to the Committee against Torture is long overdue. Even though Bahrain has not yet acceded to the individual right of petition to the Committee against Torture, Bahrain has withdrawn its reservation under Article 20 of the Convention. This empowers the Committee to initiate an enquiry where it has reason to believe that “torture is being systematically practiced” in Bahrain.

This report highlights the most important violations to the Convention Against Torture as well as focusing on the impunity that has been given to the perpetrators whom are accused of practicing torture.

We gave specific of victim’s cases that had been tortured before and after Bahrain acceded to the Convention.

The full report can be dowloaded from the link below.

Clarification statement on the serious unfounded accusation by the Bahraini minister of labour

March 4, 2005

I was gravely disturbed for the serious accusation made by the Bahraini Minister of Labor against me in his closing statement today during the session of CERD Committee.

The minister accused me of calling for the death of the Bahraini Prime Minister in my speech in a seminar after which I was arrested in September 2004. While the fact is that, in my speech, I connected deterioration of living condition in Bahrain to corruption of the government headed by the Prime Minister.

I also mentioned in my speech that most people in Bahrain see the current government as an obstacle for economic reforms, they hold him responsible for gross violations of human rights during the previous era.

What the Labor Minister accused me of today was not even apart of the charges I faced at court. The charges were “instantiation of hatred and disseminating rumors by accusing the Government and the Prime Minister of corruption”. (Reference could be done on the case to reports by amnesty International, OMCT, FIDH, Frontline and Human Rights Watch)

In addition, the Minister said his statement as an answer to a question about the reason behind his decision to close the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which was officially connected to a seminar on discrimination in 2003 and has nothing to do with what I said in the last seminar on poverty.

I would like finally to thank the distinguished experts for their efforts and good work.

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja President Bahrain Center for Human Rights