Bahrain in Report of Cairo Institute for Human Rights:

Inaccurate Information and Results

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights has released its second annual report on the state of human rights in the Arab Region in 2009, entitled ‘Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform’. The report concluded that the state of human rights in the Arab region has deteriorated throughout the year in comparison with the year 2008. Most international human rights organizations seem to share the same impression and observed that the state of human rights has deteriorated all over the world.

The reason for this can be attributed to the failure of Western countries- especially the United States- to fulfill their commitment to promote human rights principles and democracy in the Third World. Western countries themselves have noticeably failed to comply with international human rights standards especially with regard to wars, prisoners of wars, combating terrorism and supporting dictatorships. This encouraged other regimes to feel free to commit human rights violations.

The Cairo Institute’s report on Bahrain for the year 2009 was mostly negative, contained inaccurate information and used very harsh vocabulary such as the title ‘Bahrain: systematic discrimination against the Shia majority to consolidate the rule of the minority Sunnis’. The Bahrain section of the report was revised and edited by the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights as it is stated on page (6). Almost all the basic information, their background and analysis are derived from one source only, which is the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, for out of 40 references there are 29 were attributed to the Centre and two were attributed to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, which is another face of the Centre. Other nine references were either obtained from sources which were funded by the Centre or were impartial sources. The Bahrain Human Rights Society was only mentioned twice and in the context of some joint statements.

So it is not surprising that the report was harsh and biased; the title itself is problematic as it talks about ‘systematic’ discrimination against the Shia. Although, no one can deny the existence of discrimination, but to say that it is systematic is incorrect, unrealistic and falls into sectarian language. What made matters even worse is the use of inaccurate information such as saying that the percentage of Shia employees in the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and the Royal Court is zero. Also, to say that some Shia born to Bahraini parents are denied their rights to citizenship is not true. The truth is that there were hundreds of families called ‘Bidoun’ who were granted the Bahraini citizenship at the beginning of the reform period, with the exception of a few remaining individual cases.

In addition, some of the obvious mistakes in the report include the claim that ‘Shia freedom to practice their religious rituals is tied to the Government’s decision which restricts freedom of creed’. This statement is untrue as the margin of religious freedom for the Shia and others is very wide. Observers must have seen the level of freedom during the Ashura Day on 26 December 2009. State TV had broadcast programs in the days leading up to Ashura to commemorate the event. However, the evidence which led to the above conclusions relates to the case of al-Sadiq Mosque, which has political dimensions and has nothing to do with freedom of expression, but rather with inciting violence. This case only lasted for a few days.

In most cases, the information which the report is based on contains inaccurate information and generalized conclusions which are out of context, for example the conflict that took place in Ashura of last year between security men and some youths as a result of being incited to violence by a provocative speech by the President of the unregistered Haq movement Hassan Mushaima. With regards to the issue of freedom of expression, the report mentioned the position of the Ministry of Information on websites and the blockage of some of them, an issue which was criticized by the media and human rights institutions at the time despite the fact that some of these websites incited violence and had nothing to do with peaceful political expression, for example al-Sarh al-Watani website.

The report also mentioned Government interrogation of a number of journalists which was discussed in the media at the time and in which the Ministry of Information was criticized for adopting a press law unsupported by human rights organizations such as the Bahraini Journalists’ Federation and the Parliament itself which is considering another bill and has delayed its issuing. This law is expected to respond to the demands of authors and journalists and expand the margin of freedom. The report also made a huge mistake when it described a number of detainees as human rights defenders, which is a description constantly used by the Bahrain Center of Human Rights for any detainee accused of setting fires, vandalizing public properties and throwing Molotov cocktails on the security forces.

With regards to peaceful assembly, it is evident that hundreds of protests and marches take place in Bahrain, most of which are legal. However, extremist parties refuse to obtain permission for their activities as well as refusing to refrain from using violence such as vandalizing properties and setting fires. For this reason, clashes take place and crowds are dispersed. Besides this, anyone can provide many counter examples to prove the existence of a wide margin of freedom.

Many political parties, including al-Wefaq Society and its President have attempted to convince extremists to obtain permission and ensure the peacefulness of their protests. He promised them that if this was the case and the Government still failed to give them permission, he would side with them. But the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and other extremist organizations believe that citizens have the right to protest at any time, and do not need a permit and this represents a clear rejection of the state’s assembly law.

Generally, in documenting a number of human rights violations in Bahrain, authors of the report did not verify information and the analysis did not place events in their real contexts. Hence, conclusions of the report are negative, especially as the report did not provide a balanced assessment of the areas in which Bahrain has progressed or regressed.