Covering events from January - December 2003
In the wake of the wide-ranging reforms of 2001, concrete safeguards for human rights continued to be implemented. Nevertheless, several journalists were prosecuted in connection with articles published. Prisoners went on hunger-strike in Jaw Prison, reportedly against ill-treatment and lack of access to lawyers. One hunger striker died. Protests were organized calling for a 2002 decree relating to impunity to be repealed and for past human rights violators to be brought to justice.
Several demonstrations took place during the year. Demonstrators and police clashed in March when thousands of people protested against the US-led war in Iraq. Scores of people were reportedly injured. In May workers marched to celebrate International Labour Day and to protest against unemployment. In September unemployed teachers demonstrated outside the Ministry of Education to protest against the lack of teaching jobs. Six political groups organized a seminar in July, reportedly attended by thousands of people, to debate a royal decree issued in 2002 granting Bahraini citizenship to nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries residing in Bahrain. Many of those present expressed concern that the decree was aimed at shifting the demographic balance against the majority Shi'a Muslim population.
In February the authorities announced the arrest of five men on suspicion of planning "terrorist" attacks in Bahrain and of having links with al-Qa'ida. Three of the five were released in March and the case against them was dropped in June for "lack of evidence". In July the Supreme Court found Jamal al-Balushi guilty of possessing weapons and sentenced him to five years' imprisonment and a fine. The fifth man, 'Issa al-Balushi, a member of the armed forces, was awaiting trial before a military court. In another case, 'Uday 'Abdul Amir Hassun, an Iraqi national, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment by the Supreme Court in October after he was found guilty of a bomb attack in March near a US Navy base in al-Jufayr.
Women human rights activists repeatedly called for the enactment of personal status laws to protect women's rights, and took part in street protests and other campaigning activities.
Freedom of expression
The Press and Publications Law, which was issued in 2002 and appeared to violate international standards on freedom of expression, remained withdrawn pending amendments. However, several journalists were prosecuted in connection with articles that appeared in the national press.
- In May, 11 Shari'a (Islamic law) judges brought a case before a criminal court against four women – Badriya Rabi'a, Ghada Jamsheer and Fatima al-Hawaj, all human rights activists; and Mariam Ahmad, a journalist – and three men – Anwar 'Abdul Rahman, editor of the daily newspaper Akhbar al-Khaleej; Mohammed al-Mutawa', a lawyer; and Mohammed Sa'eed al-'Aradi, a religious scholar. The seven were accused of defaming the judges in an article in Akhbar al-Khaleej in April that reported a hunger strike by Badriya Rabi'a which she began after a Shari'a court granted her former husband custody of their two children. In October the criminal court referred the case to the Constitutional Court.
- Mansur al-Jamri and Hussain Khalaf, respectively the editor and a journalist of the daily newspaper al-Wasat, appeared in court in June for publishing an article in March about the release of three men arrested on suspicion of planning "terrorist" attacks (see above). The authorities said the article violated the press law and "state security". At the request of the lawyers the case was postponed until 2004.
- Radhi al-Mousawi, editor of the monthly magazine Aldemokrati of the political group National Democratic Action Society, was summoned by the public prosecutor in September after an article in the magazine alleged that a government official was involved in corruption.
Prison hunger strikes
In August more than 200 prisoners went on hunger strike for about two weeks in Jaw Prison, southern Bahrain, and barricaded themselves in parts of the building, reportedly to protest against ill-treatment and lack of access to lawyers and human rights activists. The strike ended after negotiations involving the Interior Ministry, human rights groups and members of parliament. One prisoner, Yassir Jasim Makki, died in March following an earlier hunger strike at the same prison in February, allegedly as a result of not receiving timely medical treatment for his deteriorating health. The authorities indicated in a letter to AI that an investigation had concluded that his death was the result of natural causes involving a blood disease. No details of the investigation were made known.
More than 30,000 people were reported to have petitioned the King in May to repeal Decree No. 56 of October 2002. The decree effectively grants impunity to anyone who had committed or been involved in human rights violations before February 2001. The petition also called on past allegations of torture to be investigated and for victims to be compensated. A former colonel in the Security and Intelligence Service (SIS), 'Adel Jassem Fleifel, who returned to the country in November 2002 and was arrested to face allegations of corruption, was released immediately after his arrest. Hundreds of people demonstrated in the capital al-Manama calling for him to be brought to justice for his alleged involvement in torture of political detainees. In September, two lawyers filed a complaint on behalf of three former political prisoners against several security officers, including 'Adel Jassem Fleifel and Major-General Ian Henderson, a United Kingdom national and former head of the SIS, for their alleged part in the torture of the prisoners. It was not known whether the complaint was taken up in court.
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