Bahrain in the AOHR’s report

In July 2010, the Cairo-based Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) released its annual report. The following are the main highlights of this report regarding assessment of human rights in Bahrain:

Initially, the report discussed the constitutional and legal developments in the country pointing to the Royal Decree of November 2009 with regard to the establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR). It also presented some of its aims and objectives. The report also mentioned the second Royal Decree issued in April 2010 regarding the appointment of the NIHR members. The report highlighted the names of a number of human rights activists who were given the responsibility of managing the NIHR.

The report of the AOHR reflected the opinion of the Bahraini civil society regarding the NIHR stating that ‘as usual a number of civil society organizations issued many statements doubting the independence of the NIHR’. However, the AOHR believes that ‘judging any national institution depends on its performance and its ability to express society’s interests. This is what we hope the Bahraini NIHR is going to achieve’.

The report also pointed to the ratification of the family protection bill on 22 April 2010 by the House of Representatives.

Under the title of: (Fundamental Rights) the report presented a number of issues including the case where the Supreme Court of Appeal revoked the verdict of a Court of First Instance of 13 October 2009, in which the Court of First Instance acquitted 19 persons accused of killing a security man in what is publicly known as the Carazcan Case. The Court of Appeal sentenced each of the 19 accused to three years’ imprisonment.

In addition to this, the Human Rights Watch report on torture was mentioned and how it ‘triggered controversies which lead to the society demanding that the authority reveal those responsible for these inhuman practices and hold them accountable for their crimes’.

Among the issues that were mentioned in the report was also Issues related to the Anti-Trafficking Law and the establishment of a national committee for combating human trafficking, were also mentioned in the report. The report described this as a ‘positive step’, but highlighted concerns of the Bahrain Human Rights Society that ‘there are no mechanisms to activate the Law especially with regards to oppressed domestic workers’. The report suggested that there is need to establish a fund to protect victims of human trafficking in order to help them financially during their waiting for court rulings or in appointing lawyers or in providing them with a living income during judicial deliberations. The AOHR report also mentioned the visits of the Bahrain Human Rights Society to the women’s detention centre and presented parts of the report, which was issued in May 2009, and its findings and recommendations.

The AOHR covered the issue of the abolishment of the sponsorship system regarding foreign workers, which began in August 2009. Although the step was praised by many, local and international human rights organizations including the AOHR demanded that the Law also include domestic workers.

Moreover, under the title of (Public Freedoms) the report presented some of the debates regarding freedom of expression and highlighted that the Government announced a new legislation for the press in May 2008 and is expected to abolish criminal punishments in most journalistic breaches. However, despite this, the authority continued to use the Press Law (No 47 of 2002) in order to restrict the freedom of journalists and to limit the coverage of controversial issues. The law still provides for criminal punishments for some written and oral comments and can still be used in the case of writings that harm national unity.

The report also said that many journalists were subjected to legal pursuit based on the current law in the context of writing about favouritism and corruption in various Government sectors. It also added that ‘journalists working in Bahrain have complained that they have been contacted by officials from the Ministry of Interior regarding their criticisms of Government policies. At times, the Ministry would even interfere to stop the publication of the information. In April 2009 the authority closed the daily newspaper Akhbar Al Khaleeg with the excuse that it violated the Press Law but removed the ban after 24 hours.

The report also highlighted the legal pursuit of several journalists such as Hussain Sabt who was accused of publically defaming one official. After many court sessions, he was forced to publish an apology in the newspaper. It also mentioned the summoning of the writer Lamees Dhaif to the court who was accused of insulting the judiciary in a chain of articles published in February 2010.

The report stated that restrictions still exist on the use of the internet and the closure of 1040 websites with the excuse of targeting pornographic sites by the Ministry of Information. According to the report, a closer look at these sites showed that some of them were in fact news sites and journals, debate forums and human rights sites.

Comments on the report

1- The AOHR report on Bahrain is balanced in its comprehensive coverage and the variety of issues. The report also attempts to draw attention to the positive and negative elements in the Government’s performance in a professional manner.

2- The report also relies on credible information sources and in many cases the information is correct, although there are some shortcomings. For instance, the Ministry of Social Development prevented a workshop by the BHRS on building human rights skills on 27 -29 May 2010. This was based on the excuse that the workshop program contained some political elements and that the Society failed to publish the full details of them. However, the report failed to mention that the workshop was then given permission to take place on 18-21 June 2010.

3- There are also various ways of analysing these cases. For instance, some of the non- pornographic internet websites, which were shut down, incited hatred and violence. With regards to the authority’s closure of the Bahraini Nursing Society office in Sulaimania Medical Centre on 23 March 2010, the report stated that the reason for this was the fact that the Society planned to organise a meeting that day in solidarity with the detainees of one demonstration. According to the Ministry of Health, the reason for the closure was due to the accumulation of legal and administrative breaches.

Finally, with regards to the difficulties that face Bahraini Journalists, as mentioned in the report, it is necessary to remember the fact that until now no journalist has been detained since the beginning of the reforms and that the current Press Law does not satisfy journalists. However, both the legislative and executive authorities bear responsibility for the delay in the ratification of a new Press Law, which fulfils the requirement of free journalism and abolishes the punishments that restrict journalists.