In the Light of the Recent Incidents:
Are Human Rights Deteriorating in Bahrain?
International and regional human rights organisations were surprised
by the recent arrests of individuals who have been accused of inciting
violence and terrorism in Baharain. The surprise related to the
performance of the security forces during the first days of their
detention and the public statements regarding what had occurred.
However, for close observers the arrests were expected for some
time because of the political dimension of the escalation of violence
and riots. Hence, there had to be a time when the Government would
take firm steps to put an end to it.
This escalation attracted the attention of many international
human rights organisations including Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch, the British Bar Association, the Committee to Protect
Journalists, the International Federation for Human Rights, the
World Organisation Against Torture, the Arab Program for Human Rights
Activists and Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies. All the statements
of these organisations are similar in content and objectives, although
some were stern and inaccurate. For example, Amnesty International
stated on 18 August 2010 that the ‘The latest arrests mark an increased
clampdown on opposition and civil society activists’.
The reactions of these human rights organisations raised several
1-The legal framework for detention:
Since the first days of the arrests, there has been discussion
over the Government’s violation of the law when dealing with the
detainees. The statements of both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch
highlighted that the detainees must be released or be brought before
the Public Prosecutor within 48 hours of arrest as required under
the penal code.
No one expected that the recent security measures were based
on the Law ‘to Protect Society from Acts of Terrorism’ which was
passed by the Parliament in 2006. This Law was criticised by human
rights organizations inside and outside the country. According to
this Law, the security forces have the right to detain individuals
for a maximum period of 15 days before bringing them before the
Public Prosecutor or releasing them. Hence, the fact that the detainees
were prohibited from contacting their families or legal representatives
was covered by this Law.
What caused a misunderstanding is that the security authorities
failed to clarify the law it based its procedures on. Human Rights
Watch stated that the authorities did not point to the Law for Combating
Terrorism regarding the recent arrests. However, after some delay,
on 21 August 2010, a security source announced that the arrests
were in fact based on this law. Within the required legal period
of 15 days, on 26 August 2010, Abdul Jalil al-Singace was brought
before the Public Prosecutor, allowed to meet his lawyer and his
detention place was revealed. This was the issue which was raised
by Amnesty on 18 August 2010, which called upon the authorities
to reveal the whereabouts of the detainees.
2- The relations between human rights organizations and the
authorities in Bahrain:
International human rights organizations expressed their concern
regarding the future of human rights and providing detainees with
their legal rights in Bahrain. Although Bahraini authorities have
constantly announced that they will adhere to the law and guarantee
fair trials, this has not had a positive effect on the reactions
of human rights organisations. This has made Bahraini officials
feel that these organisations do not accept information provided
by them. And since these organisations do not search for varied
information sources, this renders their prospective inaccurate and
imbalanced. Therefore, the Government considers their reports to
be biased and exaggerated.
It is feared that the Government’s increasing sense of disappointment
will reflect badly onto its relationship with international human
rights organisations. If the policy of openness and cooperation
with international human rights organizations has been neglected
by some actors from within Bahrain, this will weaken relations with
such organizations and will eventually lead to ignoring their reports.
According to the Government and some observers, the international
human rights organizations did not understand the nature of the
political change taking place in Bahrain as well as the available
margin of freedom. They also did not understand the aggressive nature
of the opposition’s work and the harm that they could inflict upon
the country. This issue is not related to freedom of expression
or with practicing peaceful political activities.
3- The future of human rights:
There are many questions relating to what has already been discussed
such as: are human rights going to deteriorate in Bahrain, especially
if relations with international organizations are weaken? Is the
Government less keen on adhering to international human rights standards,
the Constitution and the local law? Will the existent security campaign
continue for a long time and stop human rights from developing and
These are some valid and worrying questions and not merely hypothetical.
Some of these questions have been raised by prominent human rights
figures during the last three weeks and by those who have been following
the current situation closely. We would like to emphasize that the
worsening of the relations between the Government and human rights
organizations is not in the best interest of the country. We do
not think that human rights in Bahrain are deteriorating or that
Bahrain is moving towards becoming a police state or to retract
the achievements it made at the political and human rights arenas.
We also do not think that the stability of the country can only
be maintained if its accomplishments are undermined.
Moreover, despite the Government’s disappointment regarding the
lack of appreciation of international organisations for its accomplishments,
we think that there is a strong will to continue with the reforms
started a decade ago. The excitement over the reform project is
probably not going to be the same as before due to the constant
violence and the limited trust between politicians and between the
Government and international human rights organisations. A mature
performance by all politicians and activists will play an essential
role in developing Bahrain politically and on a human rights level
in the near future.
This time, it is most likely that the Government will not be
lenient with violence advocates. However, it is also likely that
it will not decrease the available margin of political and civil
freedoms. Human rights activists inside and outside Bahrain are
demanding more adherence to human rights standards when confronting
violence and riots.