URGENT APPEAL – THE OBSERVATORY New information BHR 001 / 0704 / OBS 054.3 Unconstitutional trial Kingdom of Bahrain October 28, 2004 The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programmer of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) recalls your urgent intervention in the following situation in the Kingdom of Bahrain. New information: The Observatory has been informed that Mr. Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja’s request to be released on bail was denied for the third time by a Bahraini criminal court on October 25, 2004. The executive director of the Bahraini Centre for Human Rights (BHRC) appeared before the 3rd Chamber of the “Junior” Criminal Court for the third time on October 25, following two previous hearings on October 16 and 20, 2004. The hearing lasted only 15 minutes and was again adjourned to November 3, 2004. According to the information received, Mr. al-Khawaja, who is detained in Howdh Aljaf detention centre, is granted access to his lawyers and relatives once a week. The Observatory remains very concerned about his detention and the charges against him, which aim at sanctioning his human rights activities and his freedom of speech. Those acts are a flagrant violation of the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which states in its article 6.c that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”. Background information: On September 26, 2004, the BCHR’s leading activist, Al-Khawaja, was arrested after he had criticized the government’s policy during a symposium on economic rights in Bahrain, organized by BCHR on September 24. He was charged for ” encouraging hate of the state ” and ” distributing falseness and rumours ” on the basis of articles 165 and 168 of the Bahraini penal code and remanded in custody for 45 days in Howdh Aljaf detention centre. Following the symposium, a Committee composed of different governmental institutions was also created on September 26 by Mr. Majeed Al-Alawi, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, with the aim of ” taking punitive and legal actions against the BCHR “. On September 29, 2004, Mr. Al-Alawi declared in a press release that he had issued an order of dissolution of the BCHR the night before, the order coming into force that same day. The official motive behind this decision is that the BCHR would have violated Law No. 21 of 1989 on Societies, without any other precision. On September 30, 2004, the Minister, in a statement published in Al-Wasat, a Bahraini newspaper, threatened to take punitive actions against the board members of BCHR, especially its president, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, if they kept trying to breach the Ministry’s order of dissolution of the BCHR, i.e. campaigning for its rehabilitation and the release of its executive director, Mr. Al-Khawaja, by corresponding with the media or other NGOs abroad. Action requested: Please write to the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain urging them to: i. Ensure that Mr. Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja be granted a fair and impartial trial, so that he be released and that the charges against him be dropped, since they are arbitrary; ii. Rehabilitate the Bahraini Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and put an immediate end to any obstacles to its activities; iii. Conform with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, in particular article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels,” and article 6 (b) above mentioned; iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Declaration and all other international human rights standards. Addresses: Dr. Majeed Al ALAWI, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, P.O. Box: 32333, Isa Town, Kingdom of Bahrain; Tel : +973 687800 – Fax: +973 686954 Mr. Khalid BIN ALI AL KHALIFA, Undersecretary of Justice, PO Box 450- Manama, Tel: +973 17522338- Fax: +973 175 36 343 Dr. Yusuf ABDUL KARIM, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Po Box 547, Manama, Tél: +973 226766- Fax: +973 227 861 Mr. Ahmed Mahdi AL-HADDAD, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Manama; Tel: +973 211935- Fax:+973 214 440 Dr Faisal Al MOUSAWY, Chairman of Shura Council, Po Box 2991, Manama; tel: +973 17716500- Fax: +973 17715715 Dr Faisal FOULAD, Shura Council, Po Box 2991, Manama; tel: +973 17330424- Fax: +973 17335910 Mr. Adel Bin Abdul Rahman AL MAAWDA, Dep Chairman of the Council of Representatives, PO Box 54040, Manama, tel: +973 748458- Fax: +97317644130 – Mission permanente de Royaume de Bahrein auprès de l’Office des Nations Unies پEGenève, 51 Chemin William Barbey, 1292 Chambésy, Genève, Suisse, Fax : +4122.758.96.50 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Paris – Geneva, October 28, 2004 Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply. The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic. To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line: E-mail: email@example.com Tel and fax FIDH 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / 01 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT + 4122 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29
Return of State Security Act Practices in Bahrain Government actions over the past few weeks demonstrate without doubt that the authorities have already fallen back on the promises of political reforms. Among the ill-intentioned practices are: 1) Imprisonment of a human rights activist,2) Closure of a centre advocating spread of human rights in Bahrain, 3) The temporary closure of a cultural club, and 4) postponement of planned dialogue session between the government and political societies. At the height of so-called political reforms that started in late 2001 Sheikh Hamad, the ruler, had repealed the notorious State Security Act. The act dates back to 1974 when majority MPs had refused to adopt it, a step that led to the eventual dissolution of the parliament in 1975. Elected MPs opposed the document on the grounds of violating basic human rights, and that it gave the regime the right to imprison any person on suspicion of being a threat for up to three years subject to renewal. Three recent developments suggest that the regime had already reinstated the infamous act. First, in late September, a noted human rights activist, Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja was arrested for 45 days by an order issued by the Prosecutor General, who, himself was the President of the notorious State Security Court. Strangely, the justice ministry does not regulate the prosecution entity, but it reports directly to the ruler. Lately, the case was adjourned until November 3rd, which coincides with the near completion of the 45 days custody. Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja had lived as an exile in Denmark in the 1990s and was amongst the first nationals to return home at the start of the political reforms. He enjoys widespread respect in the country for spreading the culture of human rights as well as speaking his mind. In short, he was unjustly imprisoned for a speech he had made on 24th September during a popular gathering to discuss poverty in Bahrain . Abdul Hadi blamed the policies of prime minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa for prevalent suffering of some 80,000 Bahrainis (or 20 percent of the nationals) who live below poverty line. Certainly, as a citizen, Abdul Hadi had the right to express his views peacefully, which in no way promoted violent means. Second, the regime, through the ministry of labour & social affairs rather than the ministry of justice ordered the dissolution and closure of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Such an order must be issued by the ministry of justice but not in Bahrain where exception is the rule. Third, the famous Al Oruba Club was closed for 45 days in connection with the extraordinary poverty meeting. But the authorities cut short the closure order to 28 days after the Clubs board issued an apology to the premier (who by the way is Bahrains only prime minister since independence from Britain in 1971). This marks the first time that Al Oruba Club was closed in its 60-years history. Fourth, the regime suddenly decided to indefinitely postpone a planned meeting involving officials from the labour & social affairs ministry and four political groups discussing constitutional reforms by citing a unique charge. The story says that opposition officials had held a meeting with the British ambassador to Bahrain , Robin Lamb, to discuss local matters. The regime claims that this amounted to involving a foreign party in local matters. The regime issued no proof to this effect. Indeed, Bahrain authorities have a reputation for blaming foreign parties for their policy failures. In short, the four practices are indicative that the state security act is now in operation in the country, thanks to Sheikh Hamads reforms.Bahrain Freedom Movement
26 October 2004
Bahraini Activist’s Jailing Sparks Protest By ADNAN MALIK Associated Press Writer The Associated Press (AP)20th October 2004MANAMA, Bahrain: Supporters of a Bahraini human rights worker scuffled with police and shouted slogans against the prime minister outside the court Wednesday as a judge denied bail to the activist, who is being prosecuted after criticizing the Gulf nation’s leadership.Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd of about 100 supporters of Abdul-Hadi al-Khawajah, executive director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who was detained Sept. 25 after publicly calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheik Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.Al-Khawajah, who arrived in court in hand-cuffs, pleaded not guilty to charges of inciting hatred against the government and circulating false information about government officials.Judge Syed Mohammed Kafrawi asked al-Khawajah if in his speech last month he had made any personal comments about the prime minister. The defendant replied “No,” and said he expressed only his “political beliefs and thoughts.”Defense lawyer Mohammed Ahmed told the judge that the detention of al-Khawaja was “unconstitutional because it restricts the right of freedom of speech.” But the judge refused the request to release al-Khawajah on bail.The judge adjourned the trial to Monday to give the defense more time to prepare its case.The crowd outside the court building held banners reading “PM: time for you to go” and chanted “Death to Khalifa,” referring to the prime minister.Police scuffled with the protesters as the crowd tried to force its way into the courtroom.One protester managed to squeeze past the police and rushed into the court shouting, “Long live Abdul-Hadi!”The judge stopped proceedings as police hustled the protester out of the court and arrested him.When police fired tear gas, it dispersed the crowd temporarily, but the gas drifted into the court building and caused choking in the corridors. One police officer was overwhelmed by tear gas fumes. Other police officers carried him away for medical attention.Last month Al-Khawajah called at a symposium for the prime minister to step down, blaming him for economic failures and human rights violations.Bahrain is one of the few states in the Gulf where peaceful protests are tolerated. But public criticism of a member of the ruling family is rare. After al-Khawajah’s arrest last month, his supporters have launched an unprecedented series of demonstrations targeting the prime minister.Bahrain’s king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has warned clubs and societies against holding meetings that criticize the country’s leadership. He has also expressed confidence in the longtime prime minister, who is his uncle.Since taking office in 1999, the king has taken bold steps to move Bahrain from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. He pardoned more than 1,000 political prisoners and allowed exiles to return. In 2002, Bahrain held its first parliamentary elections in three decades.But critics charge his reforms do not go far enough toward freedom of expression and democracy.
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Trial of Bahrain human rights activist overshadows reforms By William Wallis Published: October 19 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 19 2004 03:00 Financial Times The trial in Bahrain of a prominent rights activist and closure of his organisation has cast a shadow on a political transition held up by the US as a possible model for the Gulf’s dynastic autocracies. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was closed late last month following the arrest of Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja, its vice-president. Mr Khawaja was arrested after he launched what was by most accounts a vitriolic attack on Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the long- serving prime minister who is also the king’s uncle, blaming him for holding up reforms. In doing so Mr Khawaja may have overstepped the law, as well as a taboo inhibiting criticism of the royal family. He went on trial on Saturday on charges of defamation and spreading false information that could damage public interests. It is the first such case since Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa released political prisoners and embarked on gradual liberalisation after inheriting power in 1999, and comes when most Gulf states are under pressure to allow greater political and social freedom, while containing the threat from militant Islamists. In Bahrain the pressure for change comes not so much from militant Islam as from a Shia majority dissatisfied with the degree to which the Sunni ruling family has been prepared so far to share wealth and power. Bahrain has a population of only 430,000, of which 65 per cent are thought to be Shias. The kingdom – home to the US navy’s fifth fleet – has made progress towards reducing its dependence on dwindling oil and the generosity of neighbouring Saudi Arabia. But new skyscrapers and luxury resorts sit uncomfortably close to dilapidated villages in Manama’s suburbs where living standards are in decline. Income disparities coincide roughly with the sectarian divide. In the mid-1990s this proved a volatile mix. Pro-democracy demonstrations turned violent and a wave of repression only ended when the former ruler died. There has been a dramatic change in the political climate since then and Bahrainis are now, by Gulf standards, relatively free to speak their mind. But both Sunni and Shia activists argue that change has depended more on the good will of the king than on institutional checks to the power of the royal family. In 2002 partial elections for a legislative assembly were boycotted by the mainly Shia opposition because the constitutional changes were less ambitious than they thought had been agreed. In a region where guns and bombs have often become vehicles for thwarted ambitions, Sheikh Ali Selman, the youthful Shia cleric who heads the main opposition El Wefaq society (political parties have not been legalised), comes across as a voice of moderation. He is sensitive to the danger of upheavals in Iraq raising tensions across the Middle East between followers of the two main forms of Islam and plays down the sectarian aspect of Bahraini politics. Nor does he question the authority of the king. But he believes in the need for an elected assembly with power to legislate in place of the existing one where control is with appointees. Other opposition activists argue more minor reforms might help restore confidence in the transition: the repeal of a mostly dormant but draconian press law or freer distribution of land monopolised by royals. “If Bahrain is already a model as George Bush has said it is, then what incentives are there for them to go further?” asks one reform-minded academic who spent time in jail in the 1990s. “So far political reforms have been handed out like goodies. Khawaja’s arrest has rekindled fears that the old instincts are still alive.” Some pro-democracy activists believe Mr Khawaja’s speech was counter-productive and may have played into the hands of entrenched interest groups who argue that the monarchy itself is under attack. Mr Khawaja’s continued detention may also damage efforts by opposition politicians who want to reach a compromise on constitutional issues so they can take part in elections scheduled for 2006.
“There is growing disenchantment and mistrust. The fear is that if the government cannot strike a deal with the moderates now, hardliners will begin taking over,” says one local journalist.
Freedom of speech on trialThe rampage against freedom of speech and civil liberties rose to a crescendo when the authorities in Bahrain arrested Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja last month, thus demonstrating an undisputed violation of international codes. His appearance in the Al Khalifa court yesterday was considered to be the trial of free speech which has hitherto refused to abide by the norms of any form of democratic game.The arrest came as Al Khawaja criticized the Government’s performance and asked for the resignation of the Prime Minister in a public gathering which was convened to discuss poverty and economic rights. Al Khawaja relied on well documented research and figures and warned of a catastrophe if the Government did not take radical reforms in the economy.Al Khawaja added that the Prime Minister and other influential individuals in the Al Khalifa ruling family had taken huge areas of land, some of which are being reclaimed in the sea, while the majority of the population had to wait for over a decade to receive a tiny plot of land to build a future home.On Saturday 16th October 2004, and under tight security, Al Khawaja appeared in court to face charges of destabilizing the country and instigating hatred of the political system. In the court, a huge crowd shouted slogans in support of Al Khawaja and denouncing the Government’s attitude towards the human rights activist.Since the rise of Sheikh Hamad to the throne after his father’s death, the Government claimed to have initiated a new era of freedom of speech and civil liberties. This, however, has been true only when people or institutions expressed pro-government opinions. Political view critical of the Government performance were not entertained, and often were banned in local papers, or TV and radio, which are totally controlled by the Government.Al Khawaja’s imprisonment has shown that the ruling family cannot tolerate the presence of a strong opposition in the country, as that will expose more of their corruption, undemocratic practices and total control of the country’s economy.Al Khawaja will remain a lasting expression of the will of the people of Bahrain in their struggle for democracy and respect for human rights. His steadfastness once again reminds the unjust ruling family that this struggle will continue until justice is done.Bahrain Freedom Movement
17th October 2004
Bahrain: Abdel Hady Al-Khawaja Must be Released Immediately. And The Bahrain Center for Human Rights Must be Re opened Restricting Civil Society will not achieve Democracy (Cairo- October 7, 2004) The undersigned organizations argue the Bahraini government to rescind its order to close one of the leading Arab human rights organizations, The Bahraini Center for Human Rights, and release its executive director Abdel Hady Al-Khawaja.The undersigned organizations assert that the arrest of Al-Khawaja and the closure of the BHRC for criticizing the Prime Minister contradicts with the basic democratic rules and the freedom of expression, without which the talk about civil society’s elements is nothing but claims. Egyptian human rights organizations argue the Bahraini authorities to be able to accept censure and to work on correcting the wrong practices instead of attempting to silence the voices of those who try to unveil them.To immediately release Abdel Hady al-Kahwaja and to allow the BHRC to resume its activity without restrictions, except for those provided by real democratic rules, are steps required to prove wrong what is said about the setback witnessed by Bahrain. These practices recall the Henderson’s age, who had been torturing many Bahraini political and human rights activists for more than 22 years, during which the Bahraini government kept denying these violations till they have been discovered few years ago.Real democracy means the existence of different opinions, criticize, problems as well as the existence of dialogues and discussions to solve these problems, not to silence voices and limit the civil society’s activities.
The Signed Organizations: Association for Human Rights Legal Aid Egyptian Association Against Torture Egyptian Center for the Rights of the Child Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Habi Center for Environmental Rights Hisham Mubarak Law Center National Association for Human Rights and Human Development South Center for Human Rights The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Bahrain’s unemployment state has reached dangerous levels Further to the seminar on poverty which led to the arrest of Abdul Haid Al Khawaja, a new study has confirmed the extent of sufferings of the Bahraini people as a direct result of the Al Khalifa policies. An uncertain future awaits new entrants to the job market in Bahrain. According to a highly respected report, the jobless rate could increase from 16 percent in 2002 to 35 percent in 2013. Undoubtedly, if there is one party that deserves the blame, it is the government of Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa for failing to carry out its job properly. A commissioned study conducted by Dubai office of McKinsey & Company of the US has demonstrated that some 20,000 Bahrainis were jobless as of 2002. Accordingly, the jobless rate amounted to 16 percent of the local workforce. Worse, the study has warned that the number of unemployed could reach as high as 70,000 by 2013 or 35 percent of the Bahraini workforce. Likewise, the study revealed that some 15 percent of new jobs entrants accepted jobs below their capabilities in the period 1990-2002. People throughout the country could see graduates with degrees working in petrol stations or any jobs that could earn them money to sustain their living. More importantly, the McKinsey report suggests that by 2013 as high as 70 of new job entrants could end up accepting jobs below their skill level. As to salaries, the study found that the monthly wages averaged BD420 in 1990 only to decline to BD352 in 2002. Thus, the salaries dropped by 16 percent in the period 1990-2002. Yet, based on existing market variables, the monthly wages could drop by a further 11 percent to BD315 by 2013. In perspective, some 20,000 locals were jobless in 2002 at a time when the workforce stood at merely 108,000 (the figure does not include those working for security services such as defence, interior and national guards). Still, by 2013, the workforce should reach 208,000 but out these some 70,000 could end up being jobless. The study has assumed that the Bahraini economy should create as many as 100,000 jobs in a span of ten years. A professional establishment, not the opposition, has released such disturbing statistics. In fact, for years opposition sources have voiced their concerns about the unemployment but to no avail. However, the regime had accused its opponents of exaggerating the economic woes notably the unemployment debacle. In the light of these facts, the least that the government should do is to submit its resignation. So is the case because undoubtedly the statistics confirm the failure of government policies. Clearly, with Khalifa bin Salman remaining in charge, the unemployment would mostly stay put. Strangely enough, Khalifa bin Salman has served as the state’s sole premier ever since Britain granted Bahrain its independence in August 1971. Bahrain Freedom Movement
5th October 2004