CIVICUS

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Bahrain

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Last updated on 02.08.2018 at 09:45

Bahrain-Overview

Bahraini authorities severely restrict civil liberties through an orchestrated campaign of unlawful arrests, revocation of citizenship, enforced disappearances, detention and torture of activists and journalists. This assault on civil society, which began following widespread peaceful demonstrations in 2011, continues despite recommendations made by a state-sponsored commission in 2011.

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UN urges Bahrain to end restrictions on civic space

UN urges Bahrain to end restrictions on civic space

Bahrain reviewed, for the first time, by the Human rights Committee. Concluding observations highlight the committee's concern on the shrinking civic space in Bahrain.

Freedom of association

On 26th July 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee released its concluding observations on Bahrain's first ever periodic report on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Following a detailed assessment of the state report, and reports from civil society, the Committee expressed grave concern about the closure of civic space in Bahrain.

On freedom of association, the committee expressed concern about the broadly worded anti-terror laws which have frequently been used for reasons other than combatting terrorism, to target activists and human rights defenders. The Committee called upon the authorities to revise relevant laws, regulations and practices with a view to bringing them into full compliance with the provisions of the Covenant. 

These problems have also been documented by civil society actors. A report released by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights on 26th June 2018 found that the Law of Protection of the Community Against Terrorist Acts has been used extensively to target civil society organisations and human rights defenders, and the law has been used to violate the freedom of expression and political rights. According to the report, the Ministry of Interior confirms that before this law was amended to impose stricter penalties, only 162 terrorist crimes were reported between 2011 to 2015. However, after the amendment, the number of terrorist crimes recorded shot up to 5,126 in 2017. According to the report, many of these terrorist crimes are in reality just political trials to punish the exercise of fundamental rights.

The committee also highlights reports of restriction and even dissolution of human rights organisations and oppositions groups. The state was urged to refrain from dissolving these groups and to take all measures to re-establish them.

Peaceful assembly

The UN Committee expressed grave concerns about the situation of freedom of assembly in Bahrain, particularly in relation to reports of increasing use of excessive force, intimidation, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention of civilians engaged in peaceful demonstrations in recent years. They also expressed alarm at the number of injuries and deaths of protesters engaged in peaceful protests. Bahraini authorities were called upon to fully investigate allegations of involvement of members of its law enforcement and security forces in these violations and abuses.

Freedom of expression

The high number of arrests and prosecution of dissidents, and the targeting of media outlets, which led to the closure of the country’s only semi-independent newspaper, the Al-Wasat, in 2017 was also highlighted by the committee. 

The committee's concerns were supported by reports of continued violations and abuses committed by Bahrain authorities. A recent statement by the Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) indicates that on 25th June 2018, human rights defender, Najah Ahmed Yousif was sentenced to three years in prison on charges relating to her social media activity criticising the 2017 Grand Prix in Bahrain. Najah had originally been arrested in April 2017 and was interrogated by the National Security Agency (NSA), Bahrain’s chief intelligence body which is known for torturing detainees. While there, Najah was regularly beaten and sexually assaulted.

ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla said:

“Bahrain has effectively closed all civil and political space. Najah Ahmed Yousif’s case is just one of many that showcases the lengths the Government of Bahrain will go to suppress criticism and free expression...The international community must join together to pressure Bahrain to end this appalling and inhumane treatment of activists and call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.”

In a separate but similar incident, 13th June 2018 marked the second anniversary of the arrest of Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s most high profile human rights defender. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, co-founder of both the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights also remains in detention. The Bahraini authorities have repeatedly ignored calls for their release. Both of their cases were mentioned by the UN Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations as issues of concern. 

Association

Even though the Bahraini Constitution guarantees the freedom of association in Article 21, a 1989 Societies Law makes it illegal for any group to operate without a permit. The state specifies the scope of each organisation’s activity and CSOs are prohibited from operating outside of that strictly-defined mandate.

Even though the Bahraini Constitution guarantees the freedom of association in Article 21, a 1989 Societies Law makes it illegal for any group to operate without a permit. The state specifies the scope of each organisation’s activity and CSOs are prohibited from operating outside of that strictly-defined mandate. Authorities also keep a close watch on civil society’s communication with external actors. Activists working in the field of democracy and human rights face particularly serious harassment by security forces. Some human rights organisations have been shut down or taken over by the authorities, forcing them to carry on their activities clandestinely, while others were refused registration in the first place. Such interference in the affairs of organisations is justified under the pretext of maintaining security and stability. The government has also placed several restrictions on receiving foreign funds and to do so prior approval from the relevant authorities is mandatory.


Peaceful Assembly

Public assemblies are banned by the authorities in Bahrain, although protests continue to take place in defiance of the authorities. Even though the right to gather peacefully is protected by Article 28 of the Bahraini Constitution, in practice assemblies are rarely authorised, forcing activists to gather without the protection of the law.

Public assemblies are banned by the authorities in Bahrain, although protests continue to take place in defiance of the authorities. Even though the right to gather peacefully is protected by Article 28 of the Bahraini Constitution, in practice assemblies are rarely authorised, forcing activists to gather without the protection of the law. No gathering can take place near public buildings, and in no part of the capital, Manama. Protests that do occur are regularly met with excessive force and the arrest and torture of protest organisers and participants. Extrajudicial killings of protesters have also taken place. Despite the risks, protests continue on almost a daily basis in an attempt to draw attention to human rights abuses and to commemorate the peaceful uprising in 2011.


Expression

The Bahraini Constitution provides very limited protection for the freedom of expression. According to the law, it is necessary for all publications to obtain government approval. Most media in Bahrain avoids criticism of the Monarchy, particularly following a legal amendment that increases punishment for insulting the King to between 2 and 7 years.

The Bahraini Constitution provides very limited protection for the freedom of expression. According to the law, it is necessary for all publications to obtain government approval. Most media in Bahrain avoids criticism of the Monarchy, particularly following a legal amendment that increases punishment for insulting the King to between 2 and 7 years. Those that attempt to take an independent line risk being targeted or shut down. In August 2015, The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression wrote to the Bahraini authorities expressing his concern at the temporary suspension of Al Wasat, the only newspaper that takes an editorial line that is somewhat independent of the government. Individually, journalists are subject to serious harassment and similar treatment to that meted out to human rights activists. Although over 90% of people access the Internet, social media sites including Facebook and Twitter cannot be used freely, rather, online content is used to level charges against people and arrest them.