Last Updated: Wednesday, 01 October 2014, 14:56 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Bahrain

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Bahrain, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4864668fc.html [accessed 1 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

After improvements in human rights in Bahrain in 2002, a year marked by the release of all political prisoners and recognition of the voting rights of women, calls from civil society during the year 2007 for the continuation of reforms seem to have remained unheeded. Political parties remain illegal in Bahrain. As a result, political "groups", powerful and well-organised, have emerged as substitutes for political parties and are allowed to participate in elections. Furthermore, the border between political associations and human rights associations is sometimes very thin, insofar as the prohibition on the establishment of political parties led some political leaders to intervene within human rights associations. The full recognition of political parties would probably solve this problem.

The relative progress, made possible by an amendment to the Constitution and the Electoral Act of 2002, enabled the Islamist Sunni and Shiite parties to win seats in Parliament. However, amendments to the Constitution and the new Electoral Law – which seek to dilute the weight of the Shiite and the opposition vote – remain strongly contested.

Although the Constitution of 2002 provides for the independence of the judiciary, in practice the executive branch continues to exert pressure on the judiciary. Furthermore, the announcement of the creation of an independent national institution for the promotion and protection of human rights in November 2007, which aims to assist the Government in implementing policies relating to human rights, has still not led to improved conditions for human rights defenders to conduct their activities. Thus, the exercise of freedoms of association, expression, and assembly remains severely restricted.

Refusal to register independent human rights organisations

Act No. 21 of 1989 on Associations provides that any civil society organisation is subject to approval by the Ministry of Social Affairs, and prohibits the associations' involvement in politics. It also provides for a broad spectrum of governmental interference in their activities, such as financial control. In 2007, the Ministry of Social Affairs drafted a new law on civil society organisations that, in late 2007, had not yet been forwarded to the Shura Council and Lower House (the two parliamentary chambers). While it does contain improvements as to the existing law, several articles are contrary to international standards. For example, the Minister of Social Affairs will retain powers such as the right to close any organisation for a period up to 60 days by an administrative decision without providing justification.

In addition, several NGOs continue to face the authorities' refusal to be registered. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) was still unable to secure its re-registration in 2007, and remains closed since 2004. Other groups, such as the Unemployed and Underpaid Committee (UUC) and the Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society (BYHRS), have been waiting since 2005 for registration authorisation from the Ministry of Social Affairs. In this context, Mr. Mohammed Al-Maskati, Director of BYHRS, was charged in November 2007 for "operating an unregistered association before receiving notification of the registration declaration". The trial of Mr. Al-Maskati was postponed to January 21, 2008. A few days before his arrest, members of the BYHRS received a notification from the Ministry of Social Affairs, asking them to halt their activities if they wanted to escape prosecution.

Acts of harassment against human rights defenders

In 2007, several human rights defenders were accused of threatening national security, and judicial harassment and frivolous claims continued. Furthermore, some defenders were victims of physical attacks and abductions to unknown locations, where they were beaten and arbitrarily detained. Activists of independent associations and their families were also monitored and subjected to repeated visits to their homes. They were harassed by telephone and e-mail, such as Mr. Nabeel Rajab, Vice-President of the BCHR, from July 1, 2007. Their communication was under surveillance and their equipment and documents were regularly damaged or confiscated. They also sometimes faced obstacles when communicating with their international partners.

Brutal repression of a peaceful demonstration leading to arbitrary arrests of human rights activists

On December 17, 2007, during a peaceful demonstration commemorating the victims of past human rights violations, Mr. Ali Jessim Meki, a human rights defender working with the Al-Haq Movement for Freedom and Democracy, would have been attacked by special security forces while demonstrating peacefully. He died shortly after being returned home. Riots followed the death of the young man. The authorities seem to have taken advantage of this agitation to conduct, from December 21 to 28, 2007, a large campaign to arrest some sixty activists, including human rights defenders from the BYHRS and UUC who had not participated in the demonstration of December 17, nor in the riots that followed, but who had taken part to various public events in recent years for the respect of economic and social rights, and opposed restrictions on fundamental freedoms. The special security forces forcibly entered the homes of numerous activists, threatened their families, and confiscated their computers. These defenders were subject to detention, their lawyers were not able to attend the interrogations, and they suffered ill-treatment and torture. In late 2007, ten of them remained in detention.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

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