PreviousMainNext

Five years after the ruler of Bahrain promised to reform the political system of the country, the situation has remained volatile and a new state of tension is developing.. The Economist Intelligence Unit has given Bahrain a low ranking among countries of the Middle East on freedom and democracy.

Bahrain: Five years of lost opportunities

 

 

Proceeding of a  seminar held under the auspices of  Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group  in the House of Lords on 15th December, 2005.

OPENING REMARKS: LORD AVEBURY

 We have subtitled this seminar Five Years of Lost Opportunities, because when King Hamad came to power, he embarked on welcome reforms such as the ending of torture, abolition of the state security courts, an amnesty for political detainees and the return of exiles. It seemed that Bahrain might be moving in the direction of becoming a constitutional monarchy, where the ruler would be titular head of state, with an elected government. Bahrainis were looking forward  to developing their civil society, moving towards greater equality and becoming a model for the region. But the project, if it ever existed, went into neutral and has now gone into reverse.

 Although Bahrain signed up to the Convention Against Torture, they violated it almost immediately by enacting Decree Law 56, which exonerated torturers including the notorious head of the security apparatus, Ian Henderson, and his sidekick Adel Flaifel, from all the crimes committed before 2001. The UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern over this blanket amnesty and the lack of any redress available to victims of torture.

 Worse, the practice of torture itself has not been eradicated and we shall be hearing later on from a very recent victim. Those who committed this crime are not protected by Decree Law 56 and they should be brought to justice.

 

Extremely worrying, too, is the treatment of human rights defenders such as Abdulhaid al-Khawaja, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The police regularly use excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, most recently at the end of  November when they attacked people who were protesting against the government's handling of the unemployment problem.

 There is no opposition press or broadcasting in Bahrain, and only the internet serves as a medium of communication for those who want to criticise government policies effectively. The press law of 2002, passed like the torture amnesty just before the new constitution was promulgated, allows for prison sentences to be passed on anybody who criticises the King or undermines state security, and three writers were detained under this law in 2005. The Public Gathering Code of 1973 which remains in force gives the authorities power to ban public gatherings virtually at their absolute discretion.

There is no mechanism through which the people can articulate their views on fundamental issues of governance, inequality, the abuse of power and endemic corruption which Transparency International says has got worse in each of the last two years and that must be the argument for seminars such as this. We are at liberty to say that a genuine democracy  must allow the people to change their government and you don't make a hereditary  dictatorship into a democracy by creating a  parliament which has been emasculated of most of its important functions. When ministers are all  appointed by the King and most of the important ones are his relations, like the Foreign Minister who until recently was ambassador here in London, there is less of a democracy than we had in Britain in the middle of the 18th century.

 George II was Elector of Hanover, and he did his best to get Britain to serve the interests of the Hanoverians. But he wouldn't have got away with importing Hanoverians to change the demography of Britain in their favour.

 In Bahrain, the ruler claims the right to allow unlimited numbers of Sunni immigrants from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Egypt into the country and to grant them citizenship at his absolute discretion. We have discussed this abuse of power at previous seminars, and it has now been challenged by the International Crisis Group, as well as the US State Department. This secretive demographic engineering, the statistics of which have been given to the Parliament on condition that they are not published is an indication of the distrust felt by the ruling family and of their Shia population.

 Meanwhile, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination castigated Bahrain for pretending that discrimination doesn’t exist in the state and recommends among other measures, the establishment of a national human rights institution; the enactment of effective laws to promote equality; the monitoring of population data by ethnicity, language and religion, and guarantees that public services such as health, social security, education and housing are administered with a view to securing equality between all sections of the community.

 When a group of Bahraini MPs visited the UK last month I had the chance to discuss with them the idea of exchanging information and ideas on the promotion of equality, and they took back with them some information on how we try to do it here. Nobody pretends that UK is perfect, but we have grasped the elementary idea that equality is not realized by a couple of sentences in a constitution; it requires detailed legislation to ensure that employers and public service providers act in ways that promote equality, together with monitoring arrangements to assess their performance.

 According to the US State Department’s Religious Freedom Report 2005, the Sunnis enjoy a favoured status in Bahrain; the Shi’a are employed in lower-paid less skilled jobs, and the educational, social and municipal services are inferior in most Shia neighbourhoods. The report does go on to quote the Bahraini government as claiming to have built lots of subsidized houses which are available to everyone on the basis of need, but obviously this can’t be tested when no statistics are kept.

 When I had an audience with King Hamad in January 2003, I told him that democracy wasn’t to be seen as a set of fixed objectives, but as a system which constantly evolves, always trying to meet the needs of the people and finding new ways to enable them to articulate their own aspirations to the authorities at a local and national level and I thought he agreed.

 Certainly the machinery of state in Bahrain doesn’t satisfy there criteria and can’t do so as long as the ruling family holds all the reins. There must be a road map, to use the fashionable expression, which leads ultimately to a position where power is transferred to the people and the starting point must be the right to speak about  the constitutional issue without being silenced or imprisoned.

 So far, the limited reforms in Bahrain have been handed down from the throne by the grace of the ruler, and not achieved through the peaceful demands of the ruled. It is this transition which has to be managed, if Bahrain is really to become what it already claims to be, a beacon for the region.

Note that people are going to the polls in Iraq; and that process, with all its faults, will produce a government. In Egypt and even in Saudi Arabia, there are movements towards greater democracy too. Bahrain can’t stop where it is, being overtaken by all the neighbours. This would be a recipe for failure.

 HASAN ALI MUSHAIMA – GENERAL SECRETARY, HAQ MOVEMENT

I would like to seize the opportunity of your seminar to bring to your attention the situation in Bahrain.

 No one is fit to be master and no one deserves to be a slave. But the Al Khalifas regime in Bahrain used to deal with people as the masters who can do every thing and no body can ask or reject.

 Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is the head of the regime that has no respect for human rights, freedom of speech or the democratic right of his citizens. He and his government by his uncle Sheik Khalifa (Holding the position since 1971) has done lots of harm and were responsible for many atrocities which were done to the citizens of Bahrain during his ruling.

 The recent development in Bahrain has forced many political activists to rethink their strategies and political programmes. The failure of Sheik Hamad’s highly acclaimed “reform initiative” to meet the minimum standards of freedom and democracy had shaken the confidence of people in the ability if the ruling family to adapt to modern standards of government.

 In addition to the tailor-made constitution of 2002, the various repressive laws such as Law 56 that offers immunity to torturers, the press Law, the Political Naturalization Decree (Do you know that the government has imported and naturalized over 100,000 sunnies from Arab and Non-Arab countries and offered them jobs and housing mean while the shia majority suffered from high unemployment and lack of housing), the ruling family imposed the Law of the Societies. This Law has effectively removed the ability of the political societies to lead effective opposition to the regime.

  Among the most controversial articles is the one that forces the societies to re-write their deeds in line with the 2002 constitution. This has removed the ability of these societies to challenge it, and transformed the political since into one of the total submission to the ruling family.

 Many political activists have one decided to challenge the Law of the Societies, and initiated a programme of civil disobedience. Over the past year, several popular commutes were formed outside the official laws, and started their campaigns against the regime. Among these committees are the committee of unemployed, the Committee of Martyrs and Victims of Torture, the committee of the Homeless and others.

 Last month, a group if activists, of various political and religious persuasions, lunched a new political organization to take up the challenges brought about by the doomed political initiative of Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Haqq is the name of the new movement, which translates into “rights”. The new Rights Movement has brought together political figures from various political and religious persuasion of the Bahraini society and infringed the line of sectarians and ideological divisions.

 Haqq is now leading a peaceful civil resistance campaign achieves the goals of the successive political movements and uprising that had challenged the Al Khalifa dictatorship for the past eight decades. Its aims include the eventual creating if a constitutional monarchy, the establishment of democratic system that allows power sharing on the basis of one-man-one-vote the ratification of the international conventions of political and human rights into legislation, the creation of an economic regime that ensures equal distribution of wealth and opportunities, the end of discrimination among citizens on lines of ethnicity, religious affiliation or political stands, and the institutionalizing of human rights as a culture protected by law.

Since its inception, Haqq has been able to mobilize public support to it’s aims, focus people’s energies and effort towards the embitterment of their well-being, and promote a cultural freedom for all, refusing to abide by dictatorial orders issued by the ruling family in the absence of public debate and initiate an era of hope that democratic rule will be achieved through a sustained programme of civil resistance and disobedience. The movement has stood side by side with those who are denied equal opportunities for jobs, housing and decent living. It has taken part in demonstrations, pickets and seminars to present the case of the people of Bahrain within reasonable contexts, both to internal and external audiences. It has also initiated a world-wide campaign to inform western governments of the reality of the political situation in our country, established firm contacts with international political and human rights bodies and communicated with the United Nations on matters relating to the sovereignty of Bahrain, the rights of it’s people to proper governance and the need to establish the rule of law.

 We appeal to freedom-loving people to support our struggle to achieve a good system of government in line with international tendencies towards democracy and just political systems. Our people have scarified with blood to achieve their rights and as we meet here today, we care also commemorating the Day of the Martyrs in 17th December. It was the day in 1994 when the Al Khalifa rule issued the shoot-to-kill policy against peaceful demonstrators. On that day the first two martyrs of the popular uprising were murdered by the Al Khalifa killers.

 I call on you to observe one minute silence of victims of torture, extra-judicial killings in Bahrain and everywhere.

 OBSERVATION OF ONE MINUTE OF SILENCE FOR VICTIMS OF TORTURE, EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS IN BAHRAIN AND EVERYWHERE.

 OMNIOUS SITUATION IN BAHRAIN: ACTIVISTS AT RISK –ABDULJALIL AL-SINGACE

 The State has blundered the national wealth on foreign public relations companies, mainly in UK, who endeavour to polish the image of the regime in the past five years. These attempts could not compete with the flowing reports and studies by human rights and research centres, defacing the image of Bahrain. These reports are reflection to activities on grounds by activists and defenders of rights. This fact has infuriated the State and waged anger of Sh. Hamad and Al-khalifa family, who found these reports damaging to their fame.

 Activists and human rights defenders have played a role in enlightening masses of their rights and the tactics to seek it. They have succeeded in opening channels with the international media and rights organizations to be in close observance to the situation in Bahrain. Furthermore, they have participated in popular activities, showing support and willing to provide sacrifice for the rights and demands of people.

 As a result, people became attached with the activists and realized their values, which made them under a systematic targeting campaign.  In this short contribution, light will be shed on some of the tactics used in an attempt by the State to obstruct and contain activists from being able to continue their role and participation in the advancement of the society.

 State tactics to curtail activists' movements

 1)     Laws and Extraordinary Measures

 With the aid of the public prosecution[1] and the State appointed judges[2], new measures have been standardized to combat activities of defenders of human rights. These would include the implementation of Codes devised to curtail liberties and restrict freedoms. Among these codes are the Penal Code, the Gathering and Assembly Code, the Press, Printing and Publication Code, and the Civic Societies Code. In fact, laws introduced, drafted or proposed, by the State following the Charter are even worse. These would include the Political Societies Code, the drafted "Combating Terrorism Code", the drafted new "Gathering, Assembly and Procession" Code, the proposed "National Security" Code. Such codes and others cast serious doubts on the credibility of the so called "reforms".

 The laws have been devised to restrict freedoms and silence activists by giving a free hand and absolute powers to the executive authority. Of these laws still enforced is the Penal Code promulgated in 1976 and its amendments enacted in 1982 (see Appendix A).

 It is true that the previous State Security Law and Court have been revoked. Nevertheless, Article 186 of the Penal Code provides that the crimes set forth in the Articles from 112 to 184, of the same Code, require that their perpetrators must be prosecuted before a special court whose formation and terms of reference shall be determined by an Amiri Order. The aforesaid Articles mention such crimes as the publication of anti-regime news and statements, formation of opposition societies, assemblies and rioting. Thus, the formation of a court that is governed by special procedures for the trial and prosecution of the opposition is still a legal right held by the ruling authority.

Out of the new Codes, the Political Society eliminates any form of opposition by forcing all political societies (parties) to believe in and abide by the unilateral Sh. Hamad Constitution, restricts the societies movement, inside and outside Bahrain, and subject them to severe penalties, should they violate it.

Of the drafted codes is the "Combating Terrorism" which resurrects State Security measures in other severe format considering death and life imprisonment for showing any opposition to Sh Hamad constitution of 2002بهدف تعطيل أحكام الدستور أو القوانين أو اللوائح أو الإخلال بالنظام العام أو تعريض سلامة المملكة وأمنها للخطر أو الإضرار بالوحدة الوطنية أو أمن المجتمع الدولي، إذا كان من شأن ذلك إيذاء الأشخاص أو بث الرعب بينهم أو ترويعهم أو تعريض حياتهم أو حرياتهم أو أمنهم للخطر، أو إلحاق الضرر بالبيئة أو الصحة العامة أو الاقتصاد الوطني أو المرافق أو المنشآت أو الممتلكات العامة أو الخاصة أو الاستيلاء عليها أو عرقلة أدائها لأعمالها، أو منع أو عرقلة السلطات العامة أو دور العبادة أو معاهد العلم عن ممارسة أعمالها..

2)     Tailing and tapping

Activists have been trailed and followed when meeting with media and international human rights organizations inside Bahrain, in hotels and café’s. When meeting 

3)     Threatening messages

The State has used anonymous phone numbers to spread, in a wide scale, romours defaming activists and their families[3]. Activists have also received alarming remarks through messengers[4], considered close to the ruling family. The threat considers the activities of the defenders to have crossed red borders and should refrain from such acts, or face consequences[5].

4)     Job intimidation and harassment

Many activists have been subjected to psychological stress from their employers upon clear instructions from the State Security establishment. Activists have been demoted from their posts, which they qualify for, because of their activities abroad and meetings with international organizations[6]. Others have been sacked from their posts which they excelled because they participate in seminars and exercise their right for freedom of expression[7].

5)     Media containment

The State which owns and dictates stands and views on all newspaper in Bahrain, has played a nasty role in the containment of activists. Their statements, in any media interviews, are either maimed or concealed. State-guided columnists are directed towards activists as part of the State campaign to build a barrier between people and the defenders.

6)     Physical attack and Abuse

The old State tactic was to raid and ransack premises of activists just before dawn, subject them to all forms of torture forcing them to sign a pre-prepared confession enabling imprisonment prosecution by State judges. These are some of the State Security era tactics. Now, this tactic has changed. Activists now are not imprisoned and subjected to behind door torture. As a result of world observance to the human rights records in Bahrain, there aren't any form short term imprisonment of activists. However, they are attacked on the premises in public (Attack on Al-kwajah and his companions on June 19th, July 15th, December 3rd 2005), to cause them severe pain in sensitive areas of their bodies, by trained special forces and mercenaries.

7)     Blackmailing: Threatening of rape and sexual attack

Recently, the State has reverted to the use of blackmail of activists by threatening them and their families of sexual assault. The recent attack of this kind was made to three members of the Unemployed Committee; Mosa Abdali, Hasan Abdulnabi and Sameer Alasfoor. All the three were subjected to all forms of blackmail, harassment and abuse so as to prevent the picketing of the unemployed nearby the Royal Court.

Mosa was abducted by from his home just after midnight under the threat of weapons to a rural isolated area. The attackers, although wearing face mask, identified themselves as security group (Mokhabarat). Mosa was handcuffed, beaten using plastic sticks, stripped from clothes and sexually assaulted. He was given a message to be delivered to other members and activists supporting the unemployed demands. The message was subjecting the activists and their families to similar treatment received by Mosa. Hasan was also abducted from home late at night, blinded and taken to an anonymous place, where he was interrogated, beaten and threatened to face similar treatment received by Mosa. He was released near dawn and order to pass the same note. Sameer was telephoned at about 2am by an anyomous voice identified Sameer and asked him about the age of his wife as well as informed him about his 14years daughter.  

Role of human rights organizations:

Many ideas could be suggested to push for the importance of protecting activists and defenders of human rights. These would include:

1) Petition to be signed by the attendees to be sent to the Embassy of Bahrain in London

Petition by organizations to be circulated world wide

The State of Bahrain (through the embassies, the head of the state sh hamad and his family, issuing condemnation communiqués and showing support to the activists and holding the State for their safety and security.

Issuing reports assessing the human rights situation in Bahrain and the role of defenders

Sending international observers to Bahrain

LORD AVEBURY: These ought to be taken up by the UN Rapporteur of Human Rights. This is an under-utilised mechanism. People not in the front line can assist the Human Rights Rapporteur by presenting factual narratives out the suffering.

PERSONAL TESTIMONY – MOSA ABDALI ALI

My name is Mosa  Abdali Ali. I am 24 years old, a Bahraini citizen, married with one child. After working for several years in my earlier life, I became unemployed four years ago. Despite continuous efforts to find a job, I am still without work. I spent some time in contact with the Ministry of Labour which is responsible for employment of the citizens. During my daily attendance at the ministry’s headquarters, I came in contact with other youth who were unemployed despite the presence of more than 200,000 expatriate workers.

As a result of my contacts with other unemployed youth, the National Committee of the Unemployed was formed. The committee, which was formed in January this year, undertook many activities, like educational seminars, picketing of the government departments, demonstrations and contacts with officials and trade union activists. The unemployed do not receive any financial support from the Government which has not instituted a social security system.

On 19th June this year, I participated in a peaceful picket near the Royal Court in Rifaa. As we were gathering, we were attacked by a heavily armed contingent of Special Forces. Fifty of the demonstrators, including myself, were arrested, beaten and humiliated at Rifaa Police Station. I was severely beaten and sustained massive injuries to my back and legs. For three months I had to use crutches and I am still undergoing treatment.

As our grievances have never been properly addressed or investigated, we continued our activities.

A picket was organized for 28th November and was to be held at the Royal Court. In the early hours of Sunday, 27th November, I was attacked by a contingent of about 20 heavily armed men who arrived at my house in five cars. I was outside the house taking out some rubbish. I was immediately abducted  after they fired a few shots to frighten me. They all had masks on their faces. I was taken to a secluded area where I was severely beaten on all parts of my body.

After threats to do the same to my family, especially my wife, they threw me on to the ground and I was sexually assaulted by two of them. I was crying and asking them to stop but with no success. After they finished their dirty assault, I was asked to tell my colleagues in the committee and several other activists including Dr Abduljalil Al Singace not to get involved in the affairs of the committee or they would face similar treatment.

I was left in the same place as they left the scene. I contacted my friends who hurried to the scene and took me to the house of one of my friends. They had frightened me to the extent that I was afraid of  going to the hospital to report the attack. After persuasion from my friends, I lodged an official case against the officers. I have hospital reports on the ill-treatment I sustained.

I am currently on a hunger strike, together with my other colleagues in the committee to protest against the ill-treatment by the Bahraini authorities.

Thank you for your kind attention.

LORD AVEBURY: Your case should be referred to the Medical Committee for the Victims of Torture.  And I hope the Bahraini authorities will appreciate that there will be tremendous interest in Mr Ali’s case. We will be looking carefully to see that he does not suffer any repeat of the treatment he has received once he returns to Bahrain.

MOUSA AL-SITRAWI – THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE OF PEOPLE DEPRIVED OF CITIZENSHIP

The Committee was founded by a number of human rights activists in May 2005 to help the citizenship deprived of Bahrainis to regain their right of citizenship they deserve as per Bahrain Citizenship Act of 1963.

The Committee started with 60 cases of deprived citizenship. This number has increased during the last few months and now we have over 160 cases concerning about 500 individuals. In addition to that number, the committee is also sponsoring  the case of Al Sitrawi family, composed of  84 members.

The committee started following up these cases with concerned offices in the Government. The steps taken were:

  • Letters sent to the Royal Court addressed to HM the King of Bahrain attached to it our first list of 60 cases.
  • Telegrams sent to the Royal Court addressed to HM the King of Bahrain requesting for a meeting to discuss these cases.
  • Meetings with members in the Parliament.
  • Meetings with members in the Shura Council.
  • Meetings with the Under Secretary of the Ministry of Interiors, who is also the head of the Directorate of Immigrations and Passport.
  • Meetings with the Head of Legal Affairs in the Directorate of Immigrations and Passport.
  • Participating in the Parallel Conference for the Future Forum that was held in Bahrain and in Qatar in November 2005.
  • Participating in peaceful demonstrations and protests asking for the rights of citizens.
  • Holding seminars and workshops, the latest was held at the Hilton Hotel on the 11/12/2005 titled "Citizens Despite Deprivations".

Despite of all attempts to put an end to the sufferance of this category of Bahraini citizens, no positive response from Bahraini officials, to solve this critical and important issue, was received.

The Committee's demands on behalf of Bahrainis deprived of citizenship:

Granting the Bahraini citizenship to all those entitled to it as per Bahrain Citizenship Act of 1963.

Reinstating the citizenship to the Bahrainis deprived of it, for example Al Sitrawi Family.

The story of Al Hajj Saleh Al Sitrawi and his family are familiar to everyone, but those who know the details of the family’s sufferance and the sources of our pains are very few.

 The family members suffered from emigration, displacement and separation from each other for long years and to more than five countries in all of the world continents. It was also subjected to continuous humiliating security irritations at the hands of the security bodies in some of those countries. Some members of the family were subjected to prison and torture, during the 1st and 2nd Gulf wars, for baseless accusations by bodies of Saddam’s Regime for having Bahraini origins. They were also deprived from the least of living elements like work, study and obtaining food from food supplies during the economical sanction, therefore; they suffered from starvation. The family members were deprived from issuing birth certificates for their new born children or even issuing a death certificates for their deads. Despite all the indefinite tears of sorrow and pain, despite all of this and that, the Bahraini authorities take very slow steps in dealing with our case, even if only from humanity point of view.

 During the last 20 years, the family sent more than 90 petition letters to the Bahraini authorities and authorities of different countries in which the family resided. Also, many highnesses, Excellencies, members of the Bahraini and Kuwaiti parliament and other officials had spoken for the favor of the family, but the answer for the reasons of depriving the family from restoring their Bahraini nationality were always ambiguous and vague.

One of the reasons stated, as officials claimed, that Al Hajj Saleh Al Sitrawi had tried to separate Sitra Island from the mother island. This is obviously a faked claim and the history can prove this. Let us, blindly, suppose that this claim was right, is it fair to punish three generations for it? Is it fair to displace three generation because of it? Is it fair to naturalize hundreds of foreigners who never were related to Bahrain and hold back Al Sitrawi’s case who is attached to Bahrain by land and family? 

We appeal to H.M. King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa to take his direct, firm and final decision in this case. Either H.M. orders to restore the Bahraini nationality to the family or to order to finalize this case and admit, officially, that the Bahraini nationality is not our right to end long years of pain and hope.

We have the right to ask H.M. to put an end for this case, as we have the right to obtain dignity and respect for our fate after long years of procrastination and messing around with our hope and future by others. 

 Appendix A: extracts from Penal Code

 

(Promulgated by Decree Law No.15 of the Year 1976, with the most significant amendments introduced by Decree Law No.9 of the Year 1982)

 The Bahrain Penal Code restricts basic rights and freedoms in violation of basic norms stipulated for in the constitution, and in conflicts with the international standards that the Government has undertaken to comply with. This law incriminates and imposes prison sentences and fines on anyone who viewed by the State to have attempted or performed the following: 

v deliberately releasing abroad, what viewed to be, false or malicious news, statements or rumors about domestic conditions in the State (Article 134).

attending abroad, without permission, any conference, public meeting, seminar or takes part in its deliberations with the aim of discussing the political, social or economic conditions in the State of Bahrain or other states (Article 134 bis.). 

establishing, setting up, organizing or running a society, organization, group or branch thereof aiming at the overthrow or changing the political, social or economic system of the State, promoting or favoring such action, where the use of force, threat or any other illegal method is noticed (Article 159). 

v  promoting or favouring, in any manner, the overthrow or changing the political, social or economic system of the State with the use of an illegal method (Article 160).   

v  establishing, setting up, organizing or running in the State of Bahrain, without a license issued by the Government, international societies, organizations or institutions of any kind whatsoever or branches thereof (Article 163). In the cases set forth in Articles 159 and 163, the Court shall order the dissolution of the aforesaid societies, organizations and institutions, closing their premises and confiscation of their monies and assets (Article 164).  

inciting, with the use of one of the publication methods, hatred of the ruling regime or showing contempt towards it (Article 165).

v  willfully broadcasting any false or malicious news reports, statements or rumors or spreads adverse publicity, if such conduct results in disturbing public security, terrorizing people or causing damage to the public interest. The same penalty shall be inflicted upon any person who possesses, either personally or through others, any documents or publications containing anything provided for in the preceding paragraph, if they are intended for distribution or reading by others and upon any person who possesses any publishing, recording or promotion device intended, even on a temporary basis, for printing, recording or broadcast of any of the above (Article 168).

promoting, by one of the methods of publication, non-compliance with the laws or making a presentation to improve something that is deemed a crime (Article 174). 

taking part in a demonstration in a public place where at least five persons are assembled with the aim of committing crimes or acts intended to prepare or facilitate the commission of such crimes or aimed at undermining public security, even though for the realization of a legitimate objective (Article 178). 

offending by any method of expression the National Assembly, or other constitutional institutions, the army, law courts, authorities or government agencies (Article 216). 

Furthermore, the Penal Code threatens with deportation those who are still deprived of Bahraini citizenship. Article 64 bis. Provides that if a foreigner is convicted of any of the crimes set forth in the law, the judge, may order in his judgment, for his deportation from the State of Bahrain.   

The most serious article in the Penal Code is Article 168 which authorizes the setting up of state security courts. It provides that for the crimes provided for in Articles from 112 to 184 of the Code their perpetrators shall be tried before a court whose formation and procedures shall be determined by an Amiri/Royal order.

LORD AVEBURY: If there were a national institution of human rights it would be the right body to deal with such a matter. It’s the lack of machinery by which you can see redress for these complaints which affects not just your particular group but anybody else who has a grievance against the state for which they can’t get any remedy. I think in the particular case of people who are deprived of citizenship unjustly the UNHCR has a responsibility  to deal with any question of statelessness which arises when people are deprived of their citizenship. It may well be worth asking  for their assistance. Maybe here in London we could play a small role in facilitating a dialogue between your committee and the UNHCR to see if there is any way they could be of some assistance. Now we will open the discussion to the floor of any of the papers you have heard.

 

HUGH CANNIVER: My name is Hugh Canniver, I work for the Bahraini government. I am here in a personal capacity.  We have been presented with a totally one-sided story. There are two sides to this.

          Mr Mousa has made very serious allegations about the Bahraini government recently. The government has taken these extremely seriously. A few days ago the Minister of the Interior came to his house and visited him to speak about his case and to launch a  criminal investigation into the matter. He has also invited human rights groups to participate in a transparent process.  This meeting is giving us a very biased picture of events. I think this is one example of many.

          In Bahrain the political situation is changing. The main opposition party has split. There are no members of Al Wifaq here. There are a few members of the far-right Islamist party Al Haq.  There is a duality going on in terms of what people are stating here.

          Bahrain has an active civil society and the right to demonstrate is accepted. What is not accepted is people coming armed with rocks and stones and going on the rampage. No government in the world is going to tolerate this and Bahrain is no exception.

          There are constant demonstrations in Bahrain even at the media centre which was organised for foreign journalists who came to the Forum For The  Future.  Mr Al Khawaja was sitting there waiting to meet journalists and nobody tried to restrict that.

          There is another point to be made about civil society. There is a civil society in Bahrain. A case in point is one of the campaigns in which three of the gentlemen here were involved in.  They were sitting with Al Wifaq, the main Shia Islamist organisation in Bahrain. They launched a campaign to force gender segregation on Bahrain in the universities. What you had was one demonstration backed by these gentlemen calling for a complete segregation in universities. And you had students opposing this.   Fortunately for them 300 people turned up at the counter demonstration.

 

SAEED SHEHABI: Which campaign are you talking about?

 

HUGH CANNIVER: I am talking about the campaign you, Al Wifaq, which you are a member of………

 

SAEED SHEHABI: I am not a member of Al Wifaq. I have never been a board member of Al Wifaq, do not tell lies.  I am a member out of 72,000 members.

 

HUGH CANNIVER: This was the policy of your party?

 

SAEED SHEHABI: Which policy and which party?

 

HUGH CANNIVER: We have a duality going on here. These people have come to London to present themselves as human rights activists but in Bahrain they have a different agenda – an anti women agenda and essentially. I would like to say to Lord Avebury that this meeting was organised by the Bahrain Freedom Movement. But are you aware of the Bahrain Freedom Movements agenda? Are you aware that they have two names and if so do you know what the alternative name is? Why do they need  to two names?

 

LORD AVEBURY: To answer your leading question, this meeting was convened, as a number of meetings have been in the past,  to talk about human rights in Bahrain. We normally invite distinguished speakers both from the communities in Bahrain and from the United Kingdom. We have done the same thing this year. The credentials of the people who spoke at this meeting speak for themselves. They have been activists for many years for human rights in the front line in Bahrain.

 

HUGH CANNIVER: Are you aware they have to names? Are you aware what their second name is?

 

LORD AVEBURY: This meeting is being held under the auspices of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group of which I am the vice chair.

 

ABDULJALIL AL-SINGACE: The UN intervened last  night to protect nine human rights activists were picketing outside United Nations house. They were secured by a special convoy of the UN.  These cases are based on reality. We are not here to fake stories. These are true stories. I have examples of each of these cases in which there were attacks on human rights activists. These  people have the right to demonstrate and to talk freely. I don’t know how you  from a British origin can talk about democracy  not allow people to demonstrate freely. And not only that. Is attacking people and sexually assaulting them part of democracy. This is what is happening in Bahrain. We have  full respect for human rights in Bahrain and we want it to be achieved. During the demonstrations of 2002 everybody was respected but this has not continued.  A peaceful man is taken in the night, abducted and physically and sexually assaulted and what you want to say is that what has been done is okay. This is not okay.

 

ABDUL MALIK:  This is very basic. In the case of Abu Mousa. These physical and sexual attacks are  completely and absolutely forbidden by the Sharaih and all Sunnis and Shias would agree to this. Is there any mechanism in the Gulf Co-Operation Council, of which Bahrain is a member whereby you can complain about this at the highest level? This is very serious, it is very disturbing.

 

 

ABDULJALIL AL-SINGACE: I don’t see any possible avenue in the whole Arab world, not only in the GCC.  That is why we come here and speak about human rights.  When Mousa made his case to the public prosecutor his lawyer was prevented from attending. He was interrogated as if he is a criminal. So this is within the country.

 

LORD AVEBURY: Having said that there was a case recently which I read about  where somebody who was killed with a rubber bullet did bring proceeding and it was amazing that the courts found in his favour.  The incident happened in 2002 but it only just came before the courts recently and his family were awarded  compensation for his loss of life.

 

SAEED SHEHABI: What  happened to the person how shot him? Nothing! You can buy the silence of people by giving them money. But the problem is not giving victims of torture money. If you want to prevent torture you have to take the torturers and bring them to account for their actions.  Hugh said that the minister went to see him. That is not an addressing of the grievance.

 

ABU JAFFAR: You are ignoring what should be done.

 

LORD AVEBURY: In the normal course of events in a society where the rule of law functions  the atrocity which was committed against Mousa would have been investigated by the police.  They would have referred it to the prosecution service and there would have been proceedings against those responsible. You don’t need a minister to do that. You need an effective and impartial police force who take action against wrong doers.

 

ALL PARLIAMENTARY BAHRAIN GROUP: We have to remember that Bahrain only gained its independence from the British in 1971.   In this day and age human rights violations are practised in virtually every country in the world. That does not excuse them.  What exactly are we asking the Al Khalifa’s? are we asking them to give up everything they have in  matter of months and years that say the British monarchy took centuries and centuries to give up.  We are set in a hall, in the House of Lords. People are not elected to the House of Lords, they are appointed. This is not democracy as some might see it.

          It seems to me that there are some quite serious problems in communication. King Hamads accession to the throne was accompanied by a lot of expectations about reform.  However we are now apparently in this antagonistic stance with protesters against the monarchy.

          We also have to remember that Bahrain is not the UK, it is not the USA, it is not  France and it does not have a gradual democratic history that has taken so long. There has not been this history of gradual change in Bahrain. So I don’t think we can talk about simplistic parallels about what should be done.

          We should think a bit more about how we should go about this: an approach that is indigenous to somewhere like Bahrain. After all accelerated changes in unstable regions, as we all know, can make matters worse.  Do we expect the king who has been three for four or five years to give up everything. We are going to have a situation where the country will  not be able to cope with that kind of change without things degenerating.

          My question to those who would like to answer is is this kind of antagonistic stance, meeting in the House of Lords, not exactly talking to the king, is there a possibility that this will  aggravate the situation. Human rights violations are taking place, people are on two different sides and there is no real fruitful dialogue going on. Is there not space to acknowledge that there are ways to change the way we approach the problem on both sides, given the situation in Bahrain.

LORD AVEBURY: I will start to answer this as the question was really addressed to me as the convenor of this meeting. I hold a lot of meetings of this kind. I have held meetings recently on China, on Bangladesh etc Nobody says that these meetings which obviously do make suggestions about reforms are in some way irregular. I am not sure that we make a tremendous impression on the Chinese President who was here the other day. Every little shove along the road to reform is somehow helpful.

          I  look  at Bahrain in the same way. Obviously we have a minor role  play  in what happens in Bahrain but we should be positive and constructive and I think we are.

          We are not saying that the king should suddenly abdicate and hand over power to the elected assembly. But what I did suggest in my introductory remarks is that there should be a road map and that road map could be as short or as long as you say indigenous conditions would justify. I think this road map would have to include concomitant measures such as the development of equality mechanisms. I do not think this is being impractical or a foreign concept which is somehow being foisted onto the people of Bahrain. When I discussed it with the Bahraini MP’s who were here last month I found them quite receptive and they thought it would be possible to engage in a dialogue between the people in Bahrain and the UK about how you bring about equality. In Bahrain you have a sentence in the constitution which says there shall be equality. But there doesn’t seem to be an acknowledgement by the authorities that just be writing this in the constitution you bring it about.  So I agree with you, there should be an indigenous approach, what we do in this country is not necessarily a role model for the Bahrainis, they have to develop their own democratic mechanisms.  But as I said to the king when I had the honour of talking to him – democracy is not a static process, it is not something say this is what we are going to do, we have done it and it is over.  It is an evolving process, it is something which never comes to an end. But unless you have means by which people can articulate how a particular democracy should develop then you have the risk of coming to a full stop and people seeing barriers  to further progress.  This makes them frustrated and angry. The reason why people are demonstrating is because they  don’t think there is any sign of further movement along the road to a genuine democracy. When you look at the constitution of Bahrain where the king appoints all the ministers and the ambassadors, the judges etc that this is an  absolute monarchy. It is called a constitutional monarchy but you don’t make it that by just giving it the name. That is why people are frustrated in Bahrain and the manifestations like the committee for the committee of martyrs and victims, the committee of the unemployed are all facets of this.  I do not see that there are mechanisms within the process of government for these problems to be addressed in accordance with the will of the people and that is why there are these frustrations and problems.

 

Hassan Mushaima: If it took a country two or three hundred years to develop a democracy does it mean that we must also take the same time to reach it?  You are talking about five or six years and we are talking about more than ten years.  We have a very bad memory of Al Khalifa. We are talking about 100 years of voicing the same demands. In 1934 we first asked for a government. And you want as to wait another 100 years.

          You think we did not speak to the king. We talked with the king. We tried at different times. I am the vice president of Al Wifaq and we tried from the beginning to talk to the king. Let us discuss all the problems. But in Bahrain nobody is listening to you in Bahrain.#

          If the king says this is what I give you now half of the glass and we will fill it later, we agree. But he said that he would give the full glass of water and he gave nothing. Nowadays we feel that we are going back. The constitution of 1973 was better than this constitution. After 30 years instead of moving forward we are moving back.  You ask us to wait five or six years. We will wait if the government and the regime is honest with the people and they say this is what we can give you now.

          The original people of Bahrain see that those who are coming from Syria and Yemen get a house directly and they find them jobs. And the original people are waiting for 20 years to get a house and have to protest to get a job. But those people who just came now and have no relationship with the country are given 350 dinars because they work in jobs  which are not allowed for Bahrainis. Unfortunately you are not living in Bahrain. If you would like to know the truth please visit Bahrain, but do not go with the government. Please feel that you are looking for the truth and just meet the people. You are here and you are making this kind of speech but if you meet the people it would be different.

 

Lord Avebury: I know that when you take delegations of MPs they stay in five star hotels, they meet the king, they meet the royal family. They do not get out into the villages and see the problems, suffering, hardship and destitution of the ordinary people.  Talk to the unemployed, talk to the victims of torture.  Do members of these delegations ever do that. Of course not, they are too busy enjoying themselves in the five-star hotels.

 

Abdul Malik: Another problem with delegations is that the delegation members do not speak Arabic.

 

Saeed  Shehabi: Just regarding what you mentioned about five star hotels. I think the gentleman is aware of the article that was written in the  Birningham Mercury.

          The other thing about dialogue. I take your point that dialogue should be there but not at any single time has there been a serious dialogue between the king and senior representatives. They may  send a person like a messenger but they do not talk. They do not believe in debates.

          The people of the republics of the former Soviet Union did not have to wait 200 years  for democracy. We have never asked for a full democracy in Bahrain. We have never asked to replace the government of Bahrain. We ask to be recognised as people on a one to one basis. When you end up with the same prime minister for 34 years I think democracy is farce.  Out of 22 ministers 11 are from the royal family I think that speaks for itself about the degree of democratisation that we have undertaken.

          We are worse than before. Before in the 70s and 80s we had five ministers from the Al Khalifa, five Sunnis and five Shias. Now you have 11 ministers from the Al Khalifa, six Sunins and five Shias.

          It is not only me who is saying we have gone back. The EIU put Bahrain down to number 15 out of 20 in the Middle East in terms of democracy. Oman and Qatar are  given a higher ranking.

 

Comment:  The protest in Bahrain is violent protest, smashing cars. Intelligence reports tell us that three is a fifth column working for Iran.

 

Saeed Shehabi: This is a very old story.

Comment: The international community has isolated Iran as a piarah state and will not allow a  satellite state of Iran.  If you look at the economy of Bahrain it lives on subsidies from Saudi Arabia and the UAE – we have not seen a Marshall Plan from the West.

 

Peter Laurie, Bar Human Rights Committee:  We have to monitor Bahrain from afar and through our contacts internationally  because Bahrain has habitually refused entry to our representatives.

          I wish to address some comments to the gentleman who his here as an apologist for the Bahraini government.  Ours is a completely independent organisation, we have to be very careful about what we say and the organisations we become involved with. We know for a fact through our information that Bahrain is not what you can refer to as a civil society.  It is not somewhere where you can be free to demonstrate  and Bahrain is somewhere where torture is widespread. You come here to tell lies and it is not the practical reality. We have seen in many regimes around the world acting in the same way. First there is a blanket denial, then some form of investigation which is usually ineffectual because it does not address the underlying causes of human rights violations and then it goes on to accuse others who are activists of being  politically motivated. Of course people will be politically motivated if their human rights are violated. If the Bahraini people want to demonstrate in the streets with weapons  it is my opinion as a lawyer that they are perfectly entitled to because they are being tortured. We are aware that demonstrators are being attacked by militaristic police, we are aware of targeting of human rights defenders. Those to us are all tell tale signs of a state which has the highest category of repressive regime.

          I also want to add my voice to events recalled by friend at the front: the demonstration outside the UN House in Mamama. Our information indicates that nine human rights activists picketed there. They had to protected from the police by a UN convoy It was clear through contacts and information that once they had started their protest they were going to be attacked. This happens regularly and habitually in Bahrain and has happened frequently, recently.

          I am constantly struck by an analogy with Turkey as Turkey has had in the past an authoritarian regime and militaristic police and a penal code which seeks to  control its population and has habitually targeted human rights defenders.  We do not have the same regional legal protection which we have been able to apply to Turkey. We do not have a carrot to offer Bahrain as we do with Turkey – entry into the EU. We have seen the same kinds of apologist come forward who deny that these things happen.

 

SAEED SHEHABI: There is also the movement of judges against women. Five judges were  removed for misusing their powers. The government was forced to remove them. There is a growing women's movement in Bahrain which is tries to institute a middle way.

 

LORD AVEBURY: The Ahmado Bello University in Nigeria has put out a publication on Shariah and Women's Rights which deserves wide circulation.

 

HUGH CAVANNAH: Regarding the Personal Status law there were both pro and against demonstrations. There are demonstrations every day in Bahrain. They are allowed. What is not allowed is people coming armed with stones.Mr Carter, the President of the Bar Human Rights Group said there was a misunderstanding at the airport in Bahrain.

 

ABU JAFFAR: I can show you pictures of peaceful demonstrations.

 

SINGACE: Daily demonstrations are a true reflection of the genuine problems of all aspects of human rights in Bahrain.

 

COMMENT: Most of the police are foreigners. When foreigners are given jobs and the local people do not have jobs violence will arise.

 

LORD AVEBURY: This is not a recipe for racial harmony if the police are foreigners. Nobody at this meeting is encouraging violence. Change must come about through peaceful means.


[1]  Abdulrahman Bin Jabr, the present public prosecutor, was one of the judges of the ex-State Security Court

[2]  Of Sh. Hamad numerous empowers stipulated in his Constitution is the appointment of the public prosecutor and judges

[3] The State has recently used this approach also against high profile figures and clergymen like Sh Isa Ahmed Qasim, Sayyed Abdulla A-ghuraifi, Sh Ali Salman, Mr Hasan Mushaima, Mr Nabeel Rajab, Mr Abdulhadi Al-khawaja and others.

[4] These would include some of the figures in the municipality’s councils, and some legal advisors.

[5] Sh Abdulaziz Atteyatullah Al-khalifa, ex-head of torture committee during the nineties, met with some opposition figures and passed these remarks about some known activists few months ago, when he chaired the National Security Council.

[6] President of University of Bahrain, a member of Al-Khalifa family, said to Dr Abuljalil Alsingace, after his trip to Washington in December 2004, before being demoted from the post of chairman of mechanical engineering department:" had you been to Mozambique, it would have been ok. Traveling to Washington is not acceptable." Dr Alsingace was demoted last April.

[7] Early this month Jalal Fairooz has been officially dismissed from his posts as chief engineer at the Bahrain National Gas Company. Jalal is the head of liberties and Freedoms directorate at Al-Wefaq National Society, the biggest political society in Bahrain.

 

 

top