CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Bahrain

Live rating: Closed

Last updated on 26.02.2019 at 07:52

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.

read more

from the news feed

view the news feed
Prominent HRD Nabeel Rajab's sentence upheld

Prominent HRD Nabeel Rajab's sentence upheld

Association

The Bahraini authorities continue to clamp down on civic and political space in the country. On 22nd January 2019, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation upheld a ruling which dissolved the opposition group National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) and confiscated its assets, according to Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Bahraini government had initiated the proceedings to shut down Wa’ad in March 2017. The authorities the country’s leading secular, leftist opposition society, of “incitement of acts of terrorism and promoting violent and forceful overthrow of the political regime.” After the closure of political opposition society Al Wefaq in July 2016, Wa’ad was the only functioning opposition organisation.

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB said:

“The Bahraini government’s continued crackdown on civil and political society and freedoms of expression and association is deeply troubling.... The ruling by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation shows the kingdom has no intention of lifting restrictions. Formal opposition groups and other means of peacefully voicing criticism are essential to the Bahrain’s stability.”

Expression

On 31st December 2018, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation, the court of last resort, denied prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab’s appeal. The ruling upholds his five-year prison sentence for social media posts published in 2015 which were critical of the Bahraini government. This was the final appeal for Rajab, and the ruling means he will remain in prison until 2023. The decision by the court was strongly condemned by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who called upon the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Rajab and  

“ .... ensure that all Bahrainis are able to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression without fear of arbitrary detention". 

As previously reported on the Monitor, Rajab was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment on 10th July 2017 for “disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status". On 5th June 2018, Bahrain’s Court of Appeal upheld the five year sentence, hence his final appeal to the Court of Cassation.

In January, Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, together with other imprisoned human rights defenders, members of the group known as the Bahrain 13, were informed that all future family visits would be carried out behind a glass wall. This practice violates international best practice standards for the treatment of prisoners. The imposition of this separation barrier during family visits has a serious impact on the psychological health of prisoners. Similarly, the use of glass barriers is unjustified in the case of peaceful human rights defenders who pose no immediate threat to visitors. According to the GCHR, “imposing the glass barrier on human rights defenders is a form of collective punishment that violates human rights law such as the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules), since criminal sanctions are only for the violator and should not be applied to everyone.”

Rajab’s and Al-Khawaja’s cases were highlighted at a protest at the Irish parliament on 24th January 2019, organised by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) alongside human rights partners, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Amnesty International, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and Front Line Defenders.

Maureen O’Sullivan TD, Niall Collins TD, and Seán Crowe TD; members of Dáil Éireann (the lower house, and principal chamber, of the Oireachtas (Irish legislature)), participated in the gathering and showed their solidarity with the people of Bahrain by calling for the immediate release of all detained human rights defender and other activists.

Protestors also called for the release of other human rights defenders currently in detention in Bahrain including Naji Fateel, a human rights defender serving 25 years in prison, who has been on hunger strike for over two months and is in very poor health. 

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.