Bahrain: Banning Eid prayers and tearing down Palestinian flag
The government of Bahrain banned Eid prayers on 27 December in two principal areas, Duraz and Sitra. In Duraz, the security forces besieged the grand mosque and the area surrounding Duraz from 5 am till mid-day preventing anyone from entering the grand mosque. A day earlier, the interior ministry summoned Haj Hassan Al-Jarallah and Sheikh Hussain Al-Akraf and interrogated them about the pamphlets distributed in Duraz that called for supporting Palestinians and rejecting the changes to Bahrain’s constitution. Similarly, the security forces prevented the leading scholar, Sheikh Abdul Hussain Al-Setri from performing the prayer of Eid. A day earlier, Haji Yehya, the person in charge of the mosque where the prayer takes place, was summoned by the interior ministry and ordered to close down the mosque. The prevention of Eid prayers marks a new direction in the dictatorial policy of the Al-Khalifa family that has increased its heavy handedness in the past months. In Bori, the security forces launched a campaign to bring down all Palestinian flags from mosques and houses that were raised by the residents to show their support for the Palestinian cause. The foreign forces tore down the flags and intimidated the local population with threats of arrests if the flags were to be put up again. Protesting against such actions, several burnt tyres were placed by citizens on the main Budaya Highway, near Jedhafs, blocking the streets to show their disgust and disapproval of such dictatorial policies. While the people of Bahrain have been prevented from organising seminars on the proposed changes to the constitution, the government started its campaign of misinformation. Placards and banners carrying the signature of the torturer Abdul Aziz Atteyat-Allah Al-Khalifa were displayed in support of his family’s plans for defacing Bahrain’s constitution. The people are outraged that such people are speaking on their behalf while they are being forcibly silenced and prevented from voicing their views on critical matters that are aimed at changing the name, identity and constitution of the country. Bahrain Freedom Movement 28 December 2000 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
Bahrain: Formalisation of a class-based political system
Three innocent citizens who were falsely accused in 1996 and sentenced to death had their hopes dashed when the Amir decided to detain them for life. Ali Ahmed Al-Asfoor, Yousif Hassan Abdul-Baqi and Ahmed Khalil Al-Kattab were accused of burning a restaurant that resulted in the death of seven Bangladeshis. More than fifty witnesses, including a Briton, confirmed that the three were not in the area in any case and one of them was working at the time of the crime. Residents in the area had been bombarded at that time by tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Many in the country suspect that the security forces had set the restaurant on fire themselves. The three innocent citizens had suffered immensely in jail and the Amir’s decision to detain them for life is not good news for the people of Bahrain. They must be freed as they had not received proper trial and all the witnesses were not listened to. On 24 December, at 1.30 am, the house of Abd Ali Al-Sengais, 34, was stormed by a security unity headed by the torturer Khalid Al-Wazzan. Al-Wazzan had been conducting a massive operation to detain as many youths as he could from the area of Sanabis, Daih and Sehla. All those detained are being tortured to confess that they committed arson in 1995 and 1996. Khalid Al-Wazzan was quoted as saying that he is aiming for a prize from the Amir for detaining and torturing the citizens. Abd Ali Al-Sengais is reportedly held in a solitary confinement in Al-Khamis police stations. Other detainees, released on bail, said that Al-Wazzan subjected them to sever torturing and forced them to sign confession before an investigating judge. The detainees confirmed that the rush in the operation is to conclude as many cases as possible before the arrival of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention next February. The government-controlled press is mounting a misinformation campaign to camouflage the ill-intentioned plan for converting Bahrain into a kingdom and transforming Bahraini citizens into subjects of a crown. The so-called national charter that was handed to the Amir on 23 December contained two fundamental changes to the constitution of the country. Debate is banned inside the country regarding the two changes: to rename the State of Bahrain and to create a bicameral parliament to be dominated by appointees. Both changes would result in moving sovereignty from the people to the Amir and in replacing the constitutional framework with the discretionary decrees of the Amir. All these unnecessary changes are coming at a time when the government confirmed that the budget deficit for the two years 2001 and 2002 is estimated at BD314 million (BD154 million for 2001 and BD160 million for 2002). In line with creating a class-based political system that is run by royal decrees, the Amiri Court announced on 25 December that “His Highness the Amir, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, will receive well-wishers on the first day of Eid Al Fitr in the following order: senior members of the Ruling Family, ministers, Chairman and members of the Shura Council, Undersecretaries and religious personalities; dignitaries, senior businessmen, bankers and heads of vocational associations and societies; senior BDF, Interior Ministry and National Guard officials; heads of associations, mukhtars, heads of churches and foreign associations and editors-in-chief of newspapers and magazines; heads of diplomatic missions accredited to Bahrain”. In the past, such a classification of society was hidden but the Amir intends to make an official class-based system that puts the ruling family on the top of everything from chairmanship of sports club to ambassadors, cabinet, military, security and all positions of the State, society and commerce. Bahrain Freedom Movement 26 December 2000 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
Bahrain: Pro-Palestinian demonstrators attacked and repression increased
The security forces attacked a pro-Palestinian march on 22 December at 1.30 pm (local time) in Ras Romman, Manama. Citizens gathered after the end of Friday prayer in Ras Romman grand mosque to mark the Day of Quds. They started their peaceful march chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and calling for an end to Israeli aggression. Two lorries, four jeeps and two other vehicles, as well as several salon cars, fully laden with security forces and intelligence officers, started attacking the citizens with tear and smothering gases. Scores were arrested on the spot and many youths had their identity cards confiscated for further interrogations. On 20 December, Sheikh Hussain Al-Akraf was detained and then tortured by Farooq Al-Maawdah at the Budaya Police Station. Sheikh Al-Akraf had spent many years in detention without charges and was released this year on the condition that he doesn’t participate in public functions. In the past few days he attended a religious gathering and as a result, Farooq Al-Maawdah conducted a severe torturing session against him. He was forced to re-sign pledges that he would not participate in any future function. The torturer Al-Maawdah asserted that he would conduct similar torturing if Sheikh Al-Akraf did not obey the interior ministry, Sheikh Al-Jamri, who is under house arrest since July 1999, was prevented from attending a funeral commemoration session after the death of his sister on 19 December. The interior ministry is punishing Sheikh Al-Jamri because of his refusal to play the games of the regime. An agent for the government has been visiting Sheikh Al-Jamri in the past days in an attempt to force him to concede all his views before the house arrest is relaxed. The so-called charter committee has rubber-stamped the Al-Khalifa intentions to convert Bahrain’s modern constitution into a medieval monarchical one where citizens will be treated as subjects. The hand-picked members of the committee have met in secret for the past three weeks and have accepted to act on behalf of the ruling Al-Khalifa family for changing not only the constitution, but also the history and identity of Bahrain. The document that was handed to the Amir is similar to the original one that was drafted by foreign experts imported by Al-Khalifa to re-write Bahrain’s history. The rubber-stamped document contains gross errors. It refers to Isa bin Ali Al-Khalifa who ruled between 1869 and 1923 as a hero who practised “direct democracy”. It also says that he ruled for 65 years while in fact he was installed by the British in 1869 and removed by the British in 1923, hence 54 years. His son was then made a ruler and he was deposed. His rule was the worst in the history of Bahrain, which was feudally controlled by Al-Khalifa sheikhs who followed no rules other than plundering the properties of the people of Bahrain and committing crimes such as raping and murdering. Many of these cases are documented and can be checked by historians in the British Foreign Public Records. Moreover, the document glorifies the role of the military forces, the national guard and the security forces, thus indicating the true intentions of the Al-Khalifa family who is intent on changing Bahrain into a “kingdom”. The document refers to the “will of the people” while at the same time the people have been prevented from knowing the deliberations and all seminars on the subject were banned. The document also says that its articles are over and above those of the constitution. Hence, the Al-Khalifa can change, and re-change in the future as they wished, and would consider these silly documents above the social contract. Mohammed Mosaed Al-Saleh of the Kuwaiti Al-Qabas newspaper questioned on 21 December the rationale of changing Bahrain into a kingdom. He said “this change is cosmetic and has no meaning and will result in expenditures for changing the paperwork, passports and emblem of the state and hence incurring unnecessary costs for a poor country like Bahrain”. He said that “Bahrain has no sufficient oil resources and depends on other sources for its income and the cost will be a burden”. The Associated Press (AP) reported on 20 December the annul survey issued by “Freedom House”. Of the world’s 192 nations, the study rated 86 as “free,” meaning citizens enjoy a broad range of rights. Fifty-nine nations were rated “partly free,” because of corruption, dominant ruling parties and religious strife. In the remaining 47 nations, citizens are “not free,” because they are denied basic political rights and liberties, the study said. ” The report noted some exceptions; some poorer nations offer high levels of freedom, such as Belize, Benin, Bolivia and Jamaica, and some prosperous nations have high degrees of repression, such as Bahrain, Brunei and Libya”. Freedom House said in its report on Bahrain “despite conciliatory gestures, the government continued to repress Shiite activism, tried and sentenced political detainees en masse prior to Amnesty Internationals visit in order to reduce the number of administrative detainees…” Bahrain Freedom Movement 22 December 2000 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
AFP Report on Bahrain (19 December 2000)
Dec. 19 (AFP): – Bahrain announced Tuesday democratic reforms to restore parliament which was dissolved in 1975 and set up a kingdom, as the exiled opposition called for guarantees to ensure fair elections. A high-level drafting committee chaired by Justice Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khaled al-Khalifa has approved a national charter which will, be put to the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, on Saturday and submitted to a referendum. The plan, without fixing a date for the referendum or the polls, lays down Bahrain’s new status as a constitutional monarchy and calls for an elected parliament and appointed shura (consultative) council as the legislative authority. “We have made our first steps on the road to democracy”, said committee member Ibrahim Bashmi. Last week, the emir announced the plans for Bahrain, a close ally of the neighbouring kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to restore a directly elected parliament, after the house was dissolved in 1975. In a series of popular moves to mark Bahrain’s 29th national day, Shaikh Hamad at the same decided to slash electricity fees and grant an extra month’s salary to state employees. Bahrain introduced an elected parliament in 1972 but it was dissolved three years later for “obstructing the work of government”, The mainly Shiite Muslim opposition has campaigned for it to be restored, sparking unrest that cost at least 38 lives between 1994 and 1999. The unrest eased after Shaikh Hamad took over as emir last year after the death of his father. Kuwait is the only other Gulf Arab monarchy to have an elected parliament, although women do not have the vote. Manama newspapers have said women would be given the vote in Bahrain. Bahrain has since 1992 had an appointed consultative council of 40 members. In September, a new list included for the first time a Jew, four women, one of them a Christian, and a businessman of Indian origin. And the tiny Gulf Arab archipelago can declare itself a kingdom without any change in the ruling system of the constitutional monarchy, a senior official said on December 6. The exiled Bahraini opposition group called Tuesday for national reconciliation before Manama goes ahead with the reforms.. “The opposition demands a national reconciliation, which entails the release of all political detainees and prisoners , and the unconditional return of the exiled”, said the London based Bahrain Freedom Movement (BFM). “The Bahraini people who have not voted for 27 years do not have confidence in the government, and they need guarantees against referenda whose results are known in advance,” BFM spokesman Mansour al-Jamri told AFP. “Credible elections need preparations with the participation of all categories of society, including the opposition, and a referendum in the presence of independent international observers,” he said.
Bahrain: Amir speech was a disappointment
Despite containing an implicit recognition of the rights of Bahraini people in the Amir’s statement of 16 December, opposition forces expressed their disappointment that the Amir did not take a brave step to end the political crisis in the country. He did not release all political detainees and prisoners, neither did he say anything about the restoration of the constitution. Instead, he dwelled on the changes to the constitution that aim at changing Bahrain’s modern constitution into a medieval monarchy where citizens would be turned into subjects. Only few political detainees were released. Sheikh Hussain Al-Deihi, Sheikh Sadiq Al-Durazi and Mr. Mahdi Sahwan were released after five to six years in detention. They spoke of the extent of torture they had been subjected to in order to force them to concede to the demands of the absolute dictatorship. Many more people remained in Al-Khalifa jails including Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain, Mr. Hassan Mushaimaa, Sheikh Hasan Sultan and Seyyed Ibrahim Seyyed Adnan. Bahraini exiles staged a protest picket in front of the Dorchester Hotel in London on 18 December and distributed opposition leaflets and statements to those attending a celebration organised by the Bahraini Embassy in London. The exiles called for an end to dictatorship, restoration of the National Assembly, and punishment of the tortures. A statement for the opposition said: “1 – While the opposition welcomes any step to curtail the excessive human rights violations, it remains committed to the rule of law and rejects the policy of running the country by Amiri decrees and personal gestures. 2 – The main demands are clear: the reinstatement of the constitution, the release of all political detainees and prisoners, the unconditional return of exiles, the repeal of the emergency laws (i.e. State Security Law and State Security Court) and the investigation of all human rights abuses committed over the past 25 years. 3 – The people of Bahrain aspire to a new era in which the rule of law is upheld, constitutional governance is respected and pluralism practiced. 4 – Any changes to the Constitution can be processed through the mechanisms prescribed by its articles most notably Article 104 which states that: “for an amendment to be made to any provision of this Constitution, it is stipulated that it shall be passed by a majority vote of two-thirds of the members constituting the Assembly and ratified by the Amir”. 5 – Based on the above, any changes that may be proposed by the government-appointed committee will be considered null and void. If the government opted to enforce these changes it would be acting illegally and would pave the way for more instability in the country. 6 – Bahrain needs a modern democratic system and not an ancient regime. The opposition views with revulsion the proposed change of Bahrain into a kingdom with absolute powers in the hands of a despotic king. 7 – It is difficult to be optimistic as the mechanisms that have facilitated human rights abuses and led to dictatorship remain intact. Unless these tools of repression and despotism (State Security Law and State Security Court) are removed, the situation is unlikely to improve. 8. A way out of the current constitutional impasse is for the government to involve all section of society (including the opposition and their representatives in exile) in the preparation for, and the execution of, a popular referendum to be held in the presence of acceptable independent international observers to ascertain the views of the Bahraini population towards the government’s proposed constitutional changes and the way forward.” On the other hand, BBC Radio 4 broadcast on 18 December the story of Richard Mechan, a Briton who was jailed for 15 years in July this year accused of killing an American. Mechan claimed that he acted in self-defence when Emmons (a US citizen), who, it was claimed, had previous convictions for violence, attacked him twice in his own home in Manama, Bahrain. Richard’s father, Terry Mechan, opened up a web site to inform the world about the case and the progress of the appeal. Terry Mechan revealed that political decisions played a role in fixing the conviction because of the involvement of a US citizen. He revealed that the confessions that were used to convict his son were re-written by a British officer who works for the Bahraini intelligence service. Richard was offered no forensic defence before his original trial. The local British MP was interviewed and the point was made clear that politics and commerce come before human rights whenever there is a case involving a country like Bahrain. Special pleading had to be done at the Appeal stage to obtain evidence normally available at pre-trial disclosures in other more mature judicial systems. However, it will be interesting to see the outcome of the Appeal Court decision given the substance of the evidence presented by the eminent expert witness, Professor Crane which was presented before the Appeal Court Judges today 19th of December. Bahrain Freedom Movement 19 December 2000 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
Lord Avebury’s intervention on Bahrain
Conference on Bahrain (December 15, 2000, Moses Room, House of Lords) Intervention by Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group. It is exactly a year today since we last held one of these seminars, and this year we mark the sixth anniversary of the Popular Uprising in Bahrain. I was looking back at what I said on the last occasion, and since we are criticised by the Bahrian Embassy’s PR representatives, The Policy Partnership, for never recognising any of the improvements in the human rights situation, perhaps I can begin by reminding you that I did welcome the release of some prisoners and the return of a few exiles. This year also I begin by acknowledging that further releases of prisoners have taken place and some more exiles have been allowed to return, and I join with Amnesty International in welcoming the establishment of a human rights body within the Shura Council, and the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture. However, I also share their concern, that the mechanisms which facilitated gross human rights violations in the past remain in place. The power to detain a person indefinitely without trial not only still exists, but is still being exercised. No reason has ever been given for the detention of Abdul Wahab Hussain, though the Minister, Mr Peter Hain, told me on October that over 1,000 prisoners had been released and only a small number still remained in custody. In 1999, the Red Cross said they had visited over 1,300 prisoners the previous year when they published their report in June. This year, at the middle of December they are still several weeks away from announcing the figures, so we can assume that it is large enough to cause them some difficulty with the arithmetic. Peter Hain said there was an ‘ongoing programme of releases of long-term detainees’ , but apart from Abdul Wahab Hussain, several others arrested in January 1966 are still detained including Hassan Sultan, Hussein al-Daihi, Hassan Mishma’a, and Sayyid Ibrahim Adnan al-Alawi. All of them have been pressured to sign a document admitting misconduct and undertaking not to take part in any political activity if they are released. It is no doubt because of their staunch refusal to bend the knee and forfeit their political rights that they are still languishing in prison after nearly four years. You may remember that Abdul-Wahab Hussain, one of the original 14 signers of the 1994 petition to the Amir and a member of the Committee of the Popular Petition (CPP), was released on March 17, 2000 following an order from the High Court of Appeal, but he was rearrested after spending an hour at home. Among others arrested at the beginning of 1996 were Shaikh ‘Ali Mirza Al-Nakkas, a blind cleric aged 50, who died in incommunicado detention in June 1997; Shaikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, Shaikh `Ali Bin Ahmad al-Jedhafsi and Sheikh Ali Ashoor. The latter three detainees were released but under humiliating conditions, forfeiting the right to freedom of expression in a way that violates Article 19 of the ICCPR, because the restrictions imposed on them were not provided by law, but were arbitrarily imposed as an administrative condition of their freedom. Sheikh Ali Ashoor, for instance, was made to sign an undertaking not to take part in any political activity, and in particular, not to ask for restoration of t he Constitution, or to pray in certain areas. Shaikh `Ali Bin Ahmad al-Jedhafsi, who was also made to sign an undertaking when he was released in July 1999 after spending more than three years in detention without charge or trial, was beaten up on the street when he nevertheless continued to preach, and has kept silent for the last year. Now the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is to visit Bahrain at the end of February 2001, a visit which has twice been delayed, and I expect the remaining detainees to be let out by then. If they can hold out, they may be able to avoid the conditions imposed on the others. But the Working Group’s main task will not be to deal with particular cases, if any are still in prison without trial; it will be to secure the rule of constitutionality, under which nobody will be arbitrarily detained in future. The same applies to the practice of exile. Yes, some exiles have returned, voluntarily humbling themselves like a defeated enemy; but other citizens, who tried to go back to their native land, perhaps after hearing of the assurances that were given by the Amir in his National Day speech last year, were stooped at the airport and expelled after varying lengths of detention. Yes, the Crown Prince repeated the invitation to return when he visited Britain at the end of February, though he qualified the welcome back by hinting that some returnees might be liable to prosecution for unspecified offences. Obviously, if any citizen returning would have to obey the laws of Bahrain like anybody else living there and if that was all the Crown Prince said, it was perfectly acceptable. But if he meant that returnees could be prosecuted for their opposition to the hereditary dictatorship during their years abroad, that would be totally unacceptable. One can understand why most exiles prefer to wait until the rule of law has been established in Bahrain before they risk being thrown into prison on or after their arrival, but in the meanwhile I hope that in the Amir’s speech this year he will restore the unconditional right of return prescribed by international law. We have had some curtain raisers for the National Day announcements, so we have some idea already of what is proposed. First, there is already a Supreme National Committee, under the chairmanship of the Justice Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalid al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family, which holds practically every important position in Bahraini society, from Ministers to judges to Ambassadors, to the head of the Bahrain Union of Table Tennis just appointed, Sheikha Haya bint Abdul Aziz al-Khalifa. This National Charter Committee has been appointed to produce a new Constitution, and has been discussing a draft written by foreign experts since December 2. The document is to be approved and handed on to a larger group of 3,000 people, also entirely appointed, and presumably it is then promulgated by decree. One problem with these arrangements is that under Article 104 of the existing Constitution, as I pointed out to the Ambassador, amendments can only be made by a two-thirds majority of the Assembly, which of course has not met since 1975. However, if the intention is genuinely to replace a partly elected Assembly, as it was under the 1973 Constitution, with a fully elected Assembly having plenary legislative powers, nobody is going to argue with that Indeed, if that is all there is to the proposal, it is hard to see why no public discussion of the draft has been allowed. Six people resigned from the National Charter Committee after they were ordered not to distribute copies of the draft, and two seminars to discuss the proposals were forbidden by the Government. If the al-Khalifa say they are offering people greater freedom and democracy, it is a paradox that right at the beginning of the process, all debate is silenced outside the closed doors of an appointed Committee. Virgil’s tag, I fear the Greeks, even when they are bearing gifts, has to apply to the offer being made by the Amir, and as I told the Ambassador when we discussed it recently, we need to look at the small print. If the new elected Parliament had unfettered power to enact legislation, and if there is separation of the executive, the Parliament and the judiciary from each other, as was first explained to me, I should welcome the proposed changes. But from what has leaked out, the proposals are not democratic. Why is it necessary in a small country like Bahrain to have the top-heavy structure of a two-chamber legislature? As I said to the Ambassador, the Scandinavian countries all have single-chamber Parliaments. So do many other smaller states such as Guyana, with a population a little bigger than Bahrain’s, or Papua New Guinea, with a population of over three million. Th
is proposal arouses the suspicion that the intention is to create a House like the House of Lords of a century ago, to frustrate the will of the people. I understand that the prerogative of appointing Ministers is still to be held by the Amir, who would thus continue to enjoy powers equivalent to those of a US President, but without the popular mandate. Also, unlike the US, these Ministers would occupy a third of the seats in the lower house, giving the Amir a significant power over legislation as well. In addition, there is a provision that on certain important issues, the two Houses have to meet jointly, giving the appointed members of the upper House and the Ministers in the lower House a built-in majority. The draft contains no proposals for repealing the State Security Law and dissolving the State Security Court, as I had been led to expect. The President of the State Security Court, who is of course a member of the royal family, is also one of the members of the Committee which is expected to rubber stamp the proposals. True, the National Committee suggests that the new ‘democratic system’ should ‘segregate the powers of the executive and the judiciary, and if this means that the State Security Court is to be abolished, I warmly welcome that as a positive development. However, we should note a comment made by In a book published in 1977 by Professor Nathan Brown of George Washington University “if rulers cannot out manoeuvre, mollify, or avoid independent Judges then their authority is truly circumscribed. No government in the Arab world is likely to allow such a situation to develop willingly… Neither an ambitious judicial actor (such as Egypt Supreme Constitutional Court) nor a democratic movement (such as Kuwait parliament) has been able to restrict executive authorities in matters deemed critical by senior executive authorities”. An independent judiciary, with the right to strike down acts of the executive which the courts decide are unconstitutional, would certainly restrict the powers of the executive. If that is what the Committee wants, they should make themselves clear. And if their Constitution is to be based, as they say in yesterday’s Gulf Daily News, on ‘long-standing democracies throughout the world’, it must incorporate basic human rights such as freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, the right to a fair trial, the right to life, the right to freedom of religion including the right to manifest one’s religion. I did not see anything in the Committee’s statement about the human rights content of the new Constitution, or about how citizens who claim their rights have been violated are to be given an effective remedy. Much credit has been given to the Government of Bahrain for establishing a Human Right Committee, including a mention by the FCO in their annual report. I wrote to the Chairman of the Shura Council on September 15 asking him what the Committee had done, and was disappointed not to get a reply, considering that one of the Committee’s functions, as I discovered by asking a Parliamentary Question in lieu of direct contact with the Committee, is ‘activating joint work with similar Gulf, Arab and international committees’. It would be useful if the Parliamentary Human Rights Group could know what the Bahrain counterpart is doing. It apparently has no remit to consider individual complaints, and nor does any other organisation in Bahrain. The Committee does have the responsibility of ‘following up human rights issues’, but as it has done nothing public, one has no idea what these issues are. Has it looked at torture, or freedom of expression, or freedom of assembly? What does the Committee think about the Government’s prohibition of an NGO human rights committee? Eighteen people applied to form a Bahrain Human Rights Society on August 12. After two and a half months the Minister of Labout, Mr al-Shoalla, called a meeting of some of the 18 and told them (a) he thought the government committee was sufficient and (b) this was not the right time. What does it think about the idea that Government should have unlimited power to stop private individuals forming committees or meeting to discuss current affairs? Has it provided any input to the Supreme National Committee? Has it had anything to say about the right of the Committee for Popular Petition to have a say on the new Constitution, and to be involved in the process of examining it? If the Amir claims to have popular support for his scheme of constitutional reform, why not subject it to the test of public opinion, by holding an election under the existing constitution at which there can be a full public debate? If voters like the scheme, they will elect representatives who promise to carry it into effect. The Assembly can then make the constitutional changes in a way that is lawful under the existing constitution. It seems to me perverse to say that you are going to return to an even stricter adherence to constutionality than you had before and then immediately to violate the existing constitution, by using decree powers. Under the existing proposals, there is to be no genuine test of popular opinion. Once the constitutional amendments have been agreed behind closed doors by the 45 persons chosen by the Ruler, now reduced to 39 by resignations, they will be submitted to a gathering of 3,000, also hand-picked, and their task will be to ratify the document without amendment. With that many people, it would be impossible to have a line by line discussion, as would be normal in a constituent assembly which is in effect deciding a brand new Constitution. What can be expected is that a series of speakers will heap extravagant praise on the document and the Ruler, and it will then be passed without a dissenting voice, as in the national forums of communist states. At the same time, there is to be a great extravaganza of fireworks, balloon displays, car and motorcycle displays on what is described as the ‘Well of Death’, exhibitions by various ministries and expatriate communities, and ‘fun games’. Perhaps, like the Roman Emperors, the al-Khalifas hope to distract the people from more serious matters by a cheap circus. I am told, by the PR agency which has been engaged by the Bahrain Embassy, that I should say something positive about the changes which have occurred since Sheikh Hamad succeeded his late father. It strikes me that if Bahrain really had a good story to tell, they would not need to employ PR agents at all, and I deprecate the practice of using lobbyists which is universal in Washington but has happily been avoided in London up to now. I think that it would be in the public interest if these firms were obliged to disclose the amounts they spend on behalf of their foreign clients, including the hospitality dispensed to MPs and peers who visit their countries. I do not believe it is my duty to echo the lackeys for whom everything the al-Khalifas do is wonderful. There are a good many of them, and perhaps one dissenting voice may be permitted. If I cannot make comments which grate on the ears of the royal family in London, what chance is there of an opposition being allowed to develop in Bahrain? And democracy without an opposition would be an antinomy, a philosophical contradiction. But lets be fair, and welcome the decision to give every adult the right to vote. Even if the ‘Parliament’ is unable to pass any legislation that does not meet with the approval of the royal family, it may provide a forum in which opposition voices can be heard. And once people taste the right to vote, their preferences naturally have to be considered by the candidates. The right to elections also means the right to form political parties, to publish manifestos, to hold meetings, to distribute literature, and to have fair access to the media. Therefore however limited the role of the new Parliament may be, it could be the means of allowing the people to come out and express their views on matters that are not within the competence of the Parliament. It would be possible, even, for the CPP to put up a list of candidates. Whether or
not the rules of the game are to be framed so as to allow all this to happen remains to be seen.
Press Conference on Bahrain at the British Parliament (House of Lords, Moses Room, 15 December 2000)
Press Conference on Bahrain at the British Parliament (House of Lords, Moses Room, 15 December 2000) – Lord Avebury’s intervention: (See above) – Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri: Bearing in mind that what happened recently in Bahrain was swift and came into the open in a sudden way on December 2nd. Bahrainis came to know that within three weeks the identity of Bahrain will be changed, its history will be changed and the constitutional framework will be changed, all in a secret way. In fact there have been a lot of secret plans going on in the past months. There was the definition of boundaries for constituencies. We are getting to know these boundaries and they reflect the nature of the mentality of the ruling family. They are always afraid of the public and Bahraini society and the way they have distributed the constituencies is a very strange one. It will be another recipe for a lot of the political jokes that are now spreading in the Gulf and inside Bahrain. In fact Bahrain has been turned into a laughing stock in the Gulf states. In Saudi Arabia people there are manufacturing jokes by the minute about what is going on in Bahrain. There has also been a massive programme to import people from Syria and Jordan and the Al Dawasir tribe from Saudi Arabia. The heads of the tribe visited Bahrain, met the Amir and they are all now holding dual nationalities. Their vote will be counted one way or the other through the secret processes that are being established. I don’t know how the Saudis will react because the press statements released on behalf of Al Dawasir tribe said that they “only know one ruler in their lives, Al Khalifa.” I don’t know if Saudi Arabia would allow a tribe that says their rulers are Al Khalifa. There has also been a programme to change the history of Bahrain. A committee from the University of Bahrain and others has been working very hard to re-write the history of Bahrain in a way that is non existent. I believe and I trust it will fail. They have re-written the history and new books are being published here and there claiming that, for example, Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, the grandfather of the present Amir was a patriotic fighter and that he was anti-British. But in fact all the documents show the letters and agreements etc and the pledges he signed with the British. He was prepared to commit himself and the generations to come to be obedient servants of the crown. He cared about nothing but taking the properties of the people and reselling them. Even the ruling family was made into parties within a party and that resulted in the intervention of the British in 1923. He then started to contact the French and his private doctor was French. The British did not want the French to enter the Gulf and his erratic and despotic behaviour led to his removal at the end of the day. Now they are re-writing this history. This is just an example of what is going on. These programmes really come to one thing. That this ruling family since it came to Bahrain over two centuries ago never felt at ease with itself. It always felt estranged and dealt with Bahraini society as if it were an outsider, an invader, a conqueror, hence “Al Fateh.” Al Fateh is a very bad political term that was used in the past. People stopped using it in the modern age but in the medieval age Al Fateh referred to the entry by a Muslim into land which is non Muslim. When the Ottomans went to Constantinople they called themselves Al Fateh. It is a very bad term when you use it concerning Bahrain. So basically they did not belong to the same Muslim sect of the majority of Bahrainis at that time, hence considered themselves Al Fateh. The Al-Khalifa live in an excluded area called Al Rafah Al Gharbi and nobody is allowed to go there. Everything about them is so different from the rest of the Bahrainis. For that purpose they have always maintained a division between the Bahraini society. Sunnis and Shias are kept apart. They have imported lots of minorities to act as buffer-zones. Another reason why the Al-Khalifa can not accept democracy is being afraid of accountability. The business empire of the prime minister, the Unitag group, was established in 1975. He has created an empire which dominates Bahrain’s business. The chief executive is Jamil Amin Wafa, who recently celebrated 25 years of running the business for the prime minister. Any accountability and transparency would reveal the corruption of such empire as well as other illegal and corrupt practices. If you combine all these factors, you come to two conclusions. Firstly, this ruling family never felt at ease with Bahraini society. The only years when it came to recognise that it could become part of Bahraini society was between 1973 – 75 : only two years within more that 200 years of their presence in the country. The second thing they are afraid of accountability. There are wide-spread corruption, nepotism, financial misdealing and insider trading. Usually business in Bahrain could only be processed successfully without difficulties if it were to be connected with a member of the Al Khalifa family, who will get a free-of-charge share or commission. If there were a state project, the prime minister must get his share. And they do it in a very fantastic way. All the deals are done behind closed doors. You can only succeed and you can only become part of that circle if you accept to deal with them in the same way. Or if you accept to be a servant kissing their hands and getting the remnants or the peanuts or act on their payroll. Before they took the drastic action to change the constitution, they sacked nine columnists who they knew were against the manoeuvre which the government was going to attempt. The columnists were told not to write anymore. They have also rejected the requests by the Committee for Popular Petition for submitting any letter to the Amir. They have rejected the formation of a non-governmental human rights committee, they have banned any sort of seminar, meeting or writing in a critical way about the plans of the government. Lump these all together and you conclude that this is a plan from a party which does not feel it is part of society. It is a plan from a party that feels it is afraid of accountability. What are they trying to do now? They are trying to create, what Mahtama Ghandi once termed, a “parasitic class”. Ghandi was referring to a class of Indians created by the British crown in India. They dealt with the parasitic class to suppress the Indians. What the Al-Khalifa are trying to do is to create a parasitic class to act as yet another buffer between them and the Bahraini society. They are now inviting about a thousand people to attend a gathering on 23rd December. How are they collecting them? The son of the Interior Minister, Fawaz Al Khalifa is writing to all clubs and ordering the president to come along with four people. These people have never seen anything, they were never allowed to debate anything. They are going to go to a gathering and sit there, clap their hands and say “horoorah we are going to have a monarchy” and “long live his majesty the king of Bahrain.” Nobody has been allowed to talk about anything. These selected people were ordered to attend for ceremony to clap they hands. And if you object and don’t go, and you are the president of a club the son of the Interior Minister will just inform his father and your future will not be as you want it to be. I will stop here. Maybe we have questions. – QUESTION: What is happening to the State Security Law? – Lord Avebury: I understood that the process of bringing together 1000 people was the final stage and that there was no question whatsoever of submitting it to popular approval by the electorate. Nor in fact would there be any means of doing so because at the moment there is no such thing as an electoral registrar in Bahrain. When they get around to voting for the parliament they will have to start from scratch recording the names of the people who are entitled to vote. There has been no suggestion that the registration of electors could be carried out in the near future so that everybody could participate in approving or
otherwise the document. I feel that the right way to have done this if they were going to embark on a totally new constitution would have been to publish the document and then allow everybody to discuss it in their clubs and their various groups. But that was vetoed. They could not even have a private seminar to talk about the proposals in a small group yet along have it published in the newspapers and debated by the whole population. There was never intention when the document was first handed over in secret to the 45 people on December 2nd to allow participation by the people as a whole in the whole process. As regards the State Security Law, I regret to say that because of the absence of any mention of this provision they are not going to repeal it as part of this charter and it will continue to remain in force through the process they are about to embark upon including when the new parliament is elected. I think that is highly incongruous. I do not see how you can on the one hand say these matters are being promulgated in order to create a state of law and on the other hand have these courts which are the very negation of the rule of law which have been roundly condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Bar of Great Britain. If they really genuinely wanted to reform these laws and bring them into conformity with international practise then I am quite certain that advise could be offered by the British or anyone else they might like to bring in. It would not be difficult to abolish the State Security Law and to make arrangements to deal with any criminal offences. As you probably know the State Security Law has a much wider remit than was originally intended in 1974-5. It covers many things which are ordinary criminal offences and they have dealt with before in courts where there is a right of appeal, where you can bring witnesses, where you can see your lawyer in advance of the proceedings. All these things which are not permitted in the State Security Courts. Tribunals which have no resemblance to courts in the outside world must be removed. There could be technical assistance for that process if Bahrain wanted it but unfortunately, there is no sign of that happening in the document. – Mansoor Al-Jamri: The State Security Law is being practised and we are reporting arrests taking place around the country. Before I came today there was another report of arrests taking place around the country under the provisions of the State Security Law. The President of the State Security Court is a member of the Al Khalifa family and is also a member of the so-called Charter Committee. The latter has appointed a subcommittee to summarize discussions and passes it on in secret to the gathering later on. This subcommittee is spearheaded by Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, who in 1995 published poems (and I have copies of them for anyone who is interested), insulting the Shia of Bahrain saying that they are “all illegitimate children.” Now, if you are in authority, how can you insult a section of the society, how can you call them illegitimate children etc. The poems are written in non-Bahraini language and are in extremely bad taste and have been signed by the author and distributed all around the country. So these are the type of people who are handling the pre-prepared charter now. They are attempting to force on the nation a fraudulent history that never existed in Bahrain. – QUESTION: What is going to happen to the constitution? – Mansoor Al-Jamri: I understand that tomorrow (16 December) the Amir is going to announce that he has received the secret report and deliberations of the so-called charter committee and on the 23rd December these recommendations will be announced in front of 1000 people. They were hoping for 3000, they are saying 1000 and I am hoping no one will attend. These people will sit there and the Al-Khalifa will say these people have said to the Amir that the constitution will have to change. He will then issue a decree and before the end of the year the constitution might be changed. It will be changed to allow for all the dictatorial decrees that have been passed on Bahrain to be part of an illegally changed constitution. – QUESTION: Will the Al Khalifa Amir become a king? – Lord Avebury: I always thought that the title king was foreign to the Islamic world. I thought that the title king was never used at all in olden times and the first usage of it was when the British hoisted the Amir Faisal on the fledgling state of Iraq in 1921. Prior to that time the title of king was not used in the Arab or the Islamic world so it really is a Western construct. It has struck me that the change of title meant nothing at all. What was important was the power that the emir would exercise. The implication could be two fold. One is that if the transformation is from an absolute hereditary dictatorship into a constitutional monarchy, that was being if you like exemplified in the changing of the title of the ruler, as if was relinquishing some or all of his powers to the legislature to the new parliament he was adopting a different title in order to emphasize that his role in the constitution was being changed. Or you could look at it the other way and say he was demanding the more abject loyalty of the population of Bahrain, notwithstanding any allowance of the people to exercise any limited responsibility through the ballot box. I rather took the former view that the title meant very little and we need to look at what powers he is relinquishing and how much parliament is able to do. – QUESTION: What do think the Amir’s plans and how do they correspond to Bahrain’s history? – Mansoor Al-Jamri: I think this is the Amir’s programme, it is not the prime minister’s programme. If you read the charter it says the handpicked people “give unlimited power” to the emir – he is given lots of discretionary power. At the moment Bahrain is run though decrees. If there is a problem amongst the ruling family they go to the ruling family council. The Minister of Justice is really the father-figure of the ruling family and his daughters are half married to this branch and half married to that branch. The long term plan as we are hearing through leaks from those who consider themselves close to the Amir, that he is waiting for the death of his uncle and after that he will deal with his sons. The two sons of the premier are very powerful. They both dominate the economy of Bahrain. One of them is running telecommunications and transport that bring Bahrain revenue. The other is the deputy chief executive of the Bahrain Petroleum Company. So the economy’s important sectors are in the hand of the prime minister. So all the leaked statements say he is waiting for his uncle to die and he will deal with them. When he is king by then, he could issue decrees because the king could issue new protocols through prerogatives. They are trying to bring new protocols which are very alien even to Bahrain. For example people dressed in the colours of the flag and dancing and shaking themselves in a certain way as the Amir passes by. They are just trying to shape some rituals, some protocols. He is trying to bring some customs. But we never had a tradition of a kingdom. Bahrain has never been a kingdom. The writers of the so-called charter are alien to Bahrain and they did not understand the history of Bahrain. Bahrain was part of a bigger part of eastern Arabia until 1521. This was from ancient times. Bahrain constituted all the land from Oman to Basra. All this was called Iqleem al-Bahrain (the Province of Bahrain). When the Portuguese came in 1521 they separated the land that is called now as Bahrain. Bahrain could not live on its own. That is why it was part of a bigger area. The Portuguese stayed in Bahrain for 80 years and after that they were expelled following an uprising. Bahrain could not remain on its own, as it needed a strategic depth. Bahrain then came under the protection of the Iranian Safavid empire. The Iranians ruled Bahrain more a thousand years ago before this time (before 1602). So it was before Islam the Persian empire ruled up to Yemen, par
t of that was Bahrain. Then the Persian empire disappeared and returned after the disappearance of the Portuguese occupation because the Arabian peninsula was all a mess at that time with piracy and wars between tribes and the system was collapsing. Bahrain was maintaining its status to be part of a bigger security zone but the day-to-day administration remained in the hands of the natives. So before the Portuguese occupation it was called Iqleem al-Bahrain, the Province of Bahrain. Read all the history books that are available. History is now a science. Any person with a degree in history will find the truth. They say in the so-called charter that there was a kingdom of Dilmun. This is wrong. Dilmun was the place when the Sumerians in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) sent their king’s dead bodies because they thought if they were buried in Bahrain they would live forever. Dilmun meant the paradise of eternity. It didn’t mean kingdom. – QUESTION: This meeting is a development as it is not talking about human rights, and we need to recognize the improvements made by the Amir in the past 18 months. – Lord Avebury: Thank you for that contribution. My own remarks were directed largely to the proposals which we understand are going to be made as part of the Amir’s speech. The initiative began on December 2nd. I would not like you to think that human rights are not as important as they have been in the past. I refer you to the recent statement by Amnesty International of their continuing concern. They speak about torture, they speak about detention without trial and all of the rest of the panoply of abuses which still continue to occur. Although we recognize that prisoners have been released as I said and that there are fewer reports of torture than there used to be at the height of the uprising a few years ago that doesn’t mean to say that these things no longer exist. And I take the opportunity of expressing hope that as part of this change we expect in Bahrain that the Amir will not only invite the UN Working Group on Arbitary Detention to visit Bahrain but also the rapporteur on torture, Sir Michael Rodney, the rapportuer on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers who I would say have a very big role to play in Bahrain. And also the rapporteur on children who would be able to investigate the numerous allegations we receive about the unlawful detention of young people for varying periods of time without notification of their parents and frequently they get beaten up while they are in custody. So I do not think you should be allowed to think that the human rights problems of Bahrain no longer exist simply because a few prisoners have been released and there are fewer allegations of torture. There is very much work still to be done. And that can only be accomplished if there is a real change to allow people not only to exercise the vote but to have real freedom of expression to say what the think needs to be done including a discussion of human rights. – QUESTION: What did the opposition do? Mansoor Al-Jamri: The CPP issued a letter which was distributed inside and outside Bahrain. The opposition forces including the BFM, the Islamic Front, the nationalists, and other leading oppositionists have stated their opinion in various articles in Al Quds and Al Khalij newspapers as well as by their statements. We are demanding an end to all human rights abuses. We are demanding the dismantling of the state security law and the state security court. We are demanding that the national assembly should be there as it was outlined in the constitution. It is the only due process allowed by the constitution through which changes may take place. We are also aspiring for equality before the law. There is inequality before the law and there is no accountability for the practices of the ruling elite inside Bahrain. We are really hoping for a democratic Bahrain where everyone will live in peace, where everybody will be participating in the development and progress of Bahrain regardless of his or her background, race, colour, creed or religion. There is now a new currency in the world, the currency that is understood by people all around the world. It is the human rights currency. If the ruling family wants to deal with a currency other than human rights they will have to find a different world than today’s world. Today’s world deals with a certain language and certain basic rights and if they want to abandon it and change the constitution of Bahrain to a medieval constitution then we have the right to call for that constitution and to develop it to become a pluralistic one for everybody to be equal before the law in a modern framework for the state. – Lord Avebury: That seems to be the one hope. Once, once you give people the vote, the people themselves will insist on taking that process further even if they have extremely limited powers. Parliament may be a clock behind which the Amir is exercising all legislative and other authority. But if you tell people you go to the polls and this is going to give you a say in your affairs and they find that that say is only a very little one they are going to say if we are voting we want something more than this. This gives them a voice because you can hardly have elections if you don’t allow free speech. I think the future may have the seeds of a later development which allows people to genuinely express themselves. I may be wrong about that, I hope I am not but I think we should test it. – Lord Avebury: I would like to thank everyone for participating in the discussion. I think we have a useful debate about the proposals which we think will be announced tomorrow. I am grateful to you all for your presence and I am sure this will not be the last of these meetings which we will hold. We look forward with enormous interest to what is said tomorrow and I can guarantee that from a distance we will express our opinions as we have always done in the past without fear. We articulated some of the anxieties and concerns we know are being felt by the people of Bahrain which they cannot express for themselves.
Bahrain: The Al-Khalifa emulate Bokassa and turn Bahrain into a laughing stock of the Gulf
“Bahrain has been made a laughing stock in the Gulf”, so commented a political observer from Saudi Arabia. Political jokes in the Gulf countries have in the past days been reserved for the Al-Khalifa who have stunned all people by the way and the content of their document (so-called National Charter) for converting the modern constitution of Bahrain into a medieval monarchy. The Amir of Bahrain is emulating Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the ex-president of the Central African Republic (1966-1979) who in 1966, assumed the presidency, and then in 1976 declared the country the “Central African Empire” and himself “Emperor Bokassa I”. His Erratic, opportunistic, and violent characteristics led to his downfall in 1979. While funny jokes are being made outside Bahrain, the political environment inside the country is so depressing that people are re-examining every word uttered by the Amir with suspension. The majority of Bahrainins are now becoming more concerned that their future looks very grim. Following the resignations of several honourable personalities from the so-called National Charter Committee, the Amir appointed six other persons as replacements. However, the Kuwaiti Al-Watan (which is leaking the actual Al-Khalifa views to the outside world) said “the Amir of Bahrain did not accept the resignations of the personalities from the committee, although he appointed replacements for them”. The pro-democracy personality Abdul Rahman Al-Nuaimi wrote an article in the London-based newspaper, Al-Quds, on 9 December exposing the fictitious history stated by the Al-Khalifa document. He also pointed out that Bahrain is sliding towards a bleak future as the Al-Khalifa silenced all debates and are processing their changes through an iron-grip policy that has no respect for anybody. Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, will be hosting a press conference on “Bahrain: Unfulfilled Promises”, on Friday 15th December 2000, at 11.30 am (Venue: Palace of Westminster, House of Lords, Moses Room, London SW1). Lord Avebury said “Since the Amir of Bahrain came to power in March 1999, he has promised to undertake political reforms to end years of internal strife. Those promises have remained largely unfulfilled. Human rights violations have continued according to Amnesty International’s latest report on Bahrain. The opposition accuses the ruling family of attempts to deface the Constitution and change the state of Bahrain to a kingdom, while freedom has been curtailed. What is really going on? You may join us and participate in the debate.” Bahrain Freedom Movement 11 December 2000 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
PRESS CONFERENCE ON BAHRAIN
Date and Time: Friday 15th December 2000, at 11.30 am Venue: Palace of Westminster, House of Lords, Moses Room, London SW1 (Nearest Underground Station: Westminster). Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, invites you to a Press Conference on “Bahrain: Unfulfilled Promises” Since the Amir of Bahrain came to power in March 1999, he has promised to undertake political reforms to end years of internal strife. Those promises have remained largely unfulfilled. Human rights violations have continued according to Amnesty International’s latest report on Bahrain. The opposition accuses the ruling family of attempts to deface the Constitution and change the state of Bahrain to a kingdom, while freedom has been curtailed. What is really going on? You may join us and participate in the debate. For further information please contact; Lord Avebury on 020 7274 4617
Bahrain: Resignations from the so-called “National Charter Committee”
Six people tendered their resignations from the so-called “National Charter Committee” on December 6th. These are some of the 45 people appointed by the Amir of Bahrain for changing the country’s constitution and for declaring a “kingdom for the Al-Khalifa family” by 23 December. The six people are Ali Al-Ayyobi, Hassan Radhi, Abdulla Al-Shamlawi, Abdul Ghaffar Abdul Hussain, Jasim Fakhro and Abdul Aziz Obol. They submitted their resignations to the Justice Minister, who also chairs the appointed committee. The minister had been negotiating with the six personalities all yesterday in an attempt to convince them to withdraw their resignations. The Al-Khalifa commissioned a group of foreign advisors to draft a 37-page document that is based on fictitious history and dark-ages concepts. The document was given to the appointed committee on 2 December. They were asked to rubber-stamp it so that it can be passed to another appointed body scheduled to meet on 23 December for changing Bahrain’s constitution and declaring the “kingdom”. The six personalities were stunned to find out that they were being used for an ill-intentioned plan that aims to convert the modern constitution of Bahrain into a medieval kingdom, and to convert the citizens of Bahrain into “subjects of Al-Khalifa”. The Al-Khalifa banned all debates on this document and prevented the 45 members from distributing it to the people. When Al-Orobo Club organized a meeting on 4 December to discuss the document, the interior ministry intervened and banned the function. Similarly, few days earlier a seminar at Samahij Club was banned and the Club’s secretary was arrested. The 37-page document being forced on the nation has nothing to do with the people of Bahrain. It is foreign in its language and its style. It is based on a history that no one ever knows or identifies with. Books and professors of history would falsify the claims made by this foreign document. Bahrain Freedom Movement 7 December 2000 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
Bahrain: Al-Khalifa family plans to deconstruct the “State of Bahrain” by end of December
The ill-intentions of the Al-Khalifa ruling family were exposed following the release two days ago of the so-called “National Charter” to the committee appointed by the Amir for rubber-stamping. The committee members were ordered to keep the document to themselves. It is evident from the document that the Al-Khalifa intends to appoint a congress (to be called the Popular Congress) in the coming days. Following the rubber stamping by the recently appointed committee (already dominated by senior members of the Al-Khalifa family and government officials) the congress (yet to be appointed and announced) will further rubber-stamp the document on 23 December. The BFM managed to obtain a copy of the plan, which speaks about many things including the following. 1. The history of Bahrain has been changed and the Al-Khalifa members were made as God-like figures, without whom Bahrain would not have existed. The document repeats the names of Al-Khalifa many times, to be followed by the word “kingdom”. The document made several erroneous statements, and declared that Bahrain had always been a “kingdom”!! 2. The document to be debated in closed doors and then presented to an appointed popular congress to ratify it on 23 December. Then the Amir (who might declare himself a “king” before end of the year) will issue decrees to change the constitution after the meeting of the appointed congress on 23 December. 3. The document calls for the establishment of a bicameral parliamentary system, a lower house made-up of 40 elected members plus about 20 ministers who will become ex-officio members. Then, there will be an upper house appointed by the Amir (or king!). The two chambers must meet on all critical issues in combined sessions. The Al-Khalifa had thought about what happened in 1975 when all the then 30 elected members of the National Assembly united against the imposition of the unconstitutional Stated Security Law. By having two houses with 60% appointed members, even if all the elected members voted against a law, their opposition will be ineffective. 4. The document refers to the Al-Khalifa as the “kings” of Bahrain and Zubraha in Qatar. 5. The document states that “the popular congress delegates all powers to the Amir who can take any measure he wishes to match the development of the country with time”. The Amir (or king to-be!) will be the source of authority and will grant himself unlimited powers to issue decrees as he sees fit and according to his plans. 6. The document will confirm the present status quo, particularly the continuation of the State Security Law and State security Court. The National Assembly was dissolved in 1975 when all the elected members united against this very law. The president of the State Security Court (who is also a senior member of the Al-Khalifa family) is one of constituent members of the appointed committee, which is expected to rubber-stamp the ill-intentioned plan. Members of the committee were ordered to keep all discussions to themselves only and to prepare themselves for speedily rubber-stamping every word so that the appointed popular congress meets on 23 December to pave the way for changing the constitution, the name and identity of Bahrain. All these plans are being conducted behind closed doors and unconstitutionally. The Al-Khalifa family plans to create a parasitic class of people (the so-called Committee of National Charter and Popular Congress) to act as a buffer between the ruling family and the people of Bahrain. The people of Bahrain are being disenfranchised and a “feudal” constitution is to replace the modern existing one. The changing of the constitution violates the due-process prescribed by Bahrain’s constitution and therefore these changes have no legitimate mandate. Those who sign and go along with these ill-intentions will be committing a crime against the history and people of Bahrain. Bahrain Freedom Movement 6 December 2000 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
An Open Letter to the Amir of Bahrain issued by the Committee for Popular Petition (CPP) in Bahrain on December 4, 2000
His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the Amir of Bahrain Greetings; In response to your call for the expression of views with regard to the proposal for drafting a National Charter to develop a programme for political and constitutional reforms; And as a result of your true intentions for administrative reforms to positively influence the political, economic and social frameworks; And emanating from the historical legitimacy that bonded independence with the national unity and popular consensus that reaffirmed the status of Bahrain as an Arab State through the United Nation in 1970; And on the basis of the political experience of the Bahraini people following the election of the Constituent Assembly and the issuing of the country’s Constitution in 1973; And reaffirming the democratic principles prescribed by the 1973 Constitution that established the concepts of hereditary rule, the separation of legislative, executive and judiciary powers, and the sovereignty of the people; And on the basis of the elections to the National Assembly that established the legislative power in 1973 for the first time in Bahrain’s history according to the principles of democracy, political participation and pluralism; The Committee for Popular Petition (CPP) would like to reaffirm the importance of preserving the constitutional and national achievements that had been founded during the era of the late Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, may God bless his soul; The CPP considers those foundations to be the basis for any reforms that will be included in the National Charter. The CPP calls for the following: 1. All parties must abide by the country’s Constitution, in letter and spirit, especially with regard to the definition of the political system and the separation of the executive, the legislative and juridical branches of the government. 2. That all parties must vow to protect the democratic system and defence of the constitutional legitimacy, and that no changes will be made to the Constitution without the due process prescribed by the Constitution. The legitimate process calls for any changes to be made through the elected National Assembly alone. 3. That all parties to believe in democracy for all the nation and that all relations between the State and Society must be based on sound bases without discrimination on sectarian, ethnic, ideological or cultural grounds. The CPP believes that the proper application of democracy will put an end to the use of force, to violence and counter violence. 4. The Charter must guarantee the public rights and freedoms that are prescribed by the Constitution. Amongst these are the freedom to form societies and unions, the freedom of religious processions, freedom of expression, press and publication as stated in Article 31. The latter prescribes that under no pretext shall any of these freedoms be curtailed. The CPP calls for observance of Article 30 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). 5. That all should abide by the international declarations and treaties especially the UDHR and the covenants on political, civil, cultural, social and economic rights. 6. That a Constitutional Court should be formed to arbitrate on differences of views between the legislature and executive power and to assess the constitutionality of the laws that were decreed during the absence of the legislative power; or those decrees and laws that will be issued in the coming future. 7. That all should promote a pro-democratic environment in schools and universities as well as in political circles. 8. To activate the articles of the Constitution that prescribe the equality of all citizens before the law. All citizens should be treated on the basis of their abilities without discrimination on the basis of race, sex or religious sect. 9. That the State should endeavour to provide job opportunities for all citizens as per Article 5 (b) that calls for social security for the unemployed until they find jobs. 10. The State should follow a policy for housing citizens according to Article 9 to assist families with limited incomes. 11. The State should implement Article 16 that calls for the prevention of filling public (sensitive) positions by foreigners. ِAlso the State should activate Article 30 that calls for military service to citizens and not to allow the use of foreign employees unless under exceptional cases, as stated by the constitutional law. 12. The abolition of the General Prosecutor Office that is attached to the Interior Ministry and its replacement with a set-up attached to the Justice Ministry as per Article 101 (c). A law should be enacted for the formation of Supreme Council of Judiciary as per Article 103 (d). We also call for placing the supervision of prisons under the Ministry of Justice. 13. That women must be guaranteed equal rights in par with men. 14. The formation of National Audit Office that must be independent and under the supervision of the National Assembly according to Article 97. 15. The strengthening of civil society organisations and the lifting of all restrictive laws that are hampering the work of voluntary associations. Your Highness; The CPP is eager to support the National Charter and the consequent developments. The CPP believes that there are pre-requisites for the success of such a project, including: 1. Allowing a free political debate for the participation of all tendencies. This requires a. a general amnesty to all political detainees and prisoners, most importantly b. the release of Abdul Wahab Hussain and Hassan Mushaimaa. c. the return of all political exiles d. the end of house arrest imposed on Sheikh Al-Jamri The above would bring about a national reconciliation that is critically needed for the success of any reform. 2. The CPP calls for compensation of all those who had suffered during the events that erupted in the 1990s. Such compensation would assist in winning the support of the large number of people who had lost confidence in the political system. 3. The abolition of the State Security Law and all other unconstitutional laws. 4. Respecting the public freedoms prescribed by the Constitution, especially freedom of expression and the encouragement of debate on the important reforms being proposed. 5. The activation of the Human Rights Committee that was created in the Shura Council and allowing the formation of a non-governmental human rights organisation as had been applied for by a group of citizens. The CPP believes that the above would help to activate a lively social environment which Bahrain had experienced in the early 1970s and would release the constructive energies of citizens for the re-establishment of confidence in the country’s political system. Your Highness The CPP’s efforts and attempts to establish dialogue with the political leadership are well known to your highness. The CPP wishes to discuss the demands included in the 1994 Petition, principally the return of the National Assembly and reactivation of the Constitution. In accordance with the above, the CPP calls for giving the priority to reforms through the constitutional mechanisms to establish a National Charter. May God provide you with guidance and health. The Committee for Popular Petition Bahrain December 4, 2000
Bahrain: Camouflage of “reforms” exposed by pro-democracy personalities
The citizens of Bahrain are baffled by the twisted approach adopted by the regime vsv the country’s constitution. While the government-controlled press speaks of a new phase in Bahrain’s history, the citizens are not being allowed to know the type and contents of such a phase. Seminars have been banned and columnists were dismissed from the two dailies so that the debate becomes a one-way direction. The pro-democracy personality and member of the dissolved parliament, Mohammed Jaber Sabah wrote an important article in the London-based Al-Quds newspaper (2 December). He assessed the statements released by the government’s press in which it was said that Bahrain’s constitution has “aged” and that it is “time to change it”. Mr. Sabah wrote the article for publishing in the local press but he was banned from expressing his views inside Bahrain. Mr. Sabah debated the rationale of the government and explained that the constitution was not allowed to function. That the constitution contains the basics for human and civil rights which are non negotiable as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He exposed the contradictions of the regime’s approach and questioned the true intentions of those who are speaking about a new phase while virtually all voices are being silenced. Inside Bahrain, the remaining free voices are finding themselves cornered by the restrictions imposed by the unconstitutional laws that restrict freedom of expression. Mr. Ali Saleh continued to express some of the views aired by the public, but at the same time, the controlled press is engaged in glorification of Amir’s plans for changing the constitution. Dr. Abdul Hadi Khalaf, the Bahraini sociologist and pro-democracy personality, wrote an article in Al-Quds on 30 November stating that the Amir “will soon discover that changing titles and images are easier that building a modern state”. He said that Bahrain is now led by “two heads”, the Amir and his uncle the premier. And all Bahrainis are told that they will have to stay hostages to the prime minister until his life expires. He questioned the seriousness of the Amir in affecting change that do not require any more than eliminating discrimination amongst the population and respecting the basic rights stated in the constitution. Meanwhile inside Bahrain, the interior ministry intensified its clamp down on the population. Sheikh Mohammed Al-Rayyash, who spent some four years in jail without charges, was told that an informer will accompany him when he goes to mosques and community centres to ensure that not a single “political” word is uttered by the scholar. Members of the intelligence department attacked Senabis ten days ago and arrested Jami Jaffer Al-Sabbagh. Earlier, Bader, the brother of Jamil had been arrested. Then the third brother, Fadil was taken away by the torturers. Abdul Nabi Al-Hashash was also arrested, and later on, members of the intelligence department ransacked the houses destroying many items. Abdul Nabi was seen in Al-Khamis Police Station unable to walk due to the amount of torture he had suffered in the past ten days. Several attacks were mounted against houses ion Tobli on 18 and 20 November. The following youths were detained: Abdul Qadir Abdul Hussain, 21, Ali Jaffer Al-Hendi, 20, Seyyed Jaffer Mohammed Hashim, 21, and Seyyed Jaffer Abdulla Sharaf, 20. Also, an attack was carried out against the house of Sami Ahmed Moftah. Since he was not at home, members of the intelligence department took his father as a hostage. No information is yet available about he continued detention of the father. Sami is still at large. On 25 November, more attackers were carried out against Tobli resulting in the arrest of Adel Ibrahim Khalil, 28. While the citizens are taken for torturing, the prime minister celebrated the 25th year of the creation of his business empire, the Untig Group. The chief executive of the group is a Palestinian person named Jamil Amin Wafa how has been given a diplomatic passport for running the corrupt empire. The creation of the corrupt business empire coincided with the dissolution of the parliament in 1975. It can easily be understood why the prime minister would stand against the return of the parliament. Any accountability would result in the exposure of all the corrupt practices of the Unitag Group. Bahrain Freedom Movement 3 December 2000
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Human Rights Watch – 2001
– The issue of refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons was prominent throughout the year. Palestinian activists in the region and beyond initiated a right-of-return campaign that was well-grounded in international human rights law, but the problem of statelessness for Palestinian refugees in host countries in the region, Syrian-born Kurds, and Bidun in Kuwait and Bahrain was largely unaddressed or addressed in unsatisfactory ways. The region as a whole accounted for millions of refugees-officially acknowledged and otherwise-and internally displaced persons who, along with similarly high numbers of migrant workers, endured violations of basic rights at the hands of indifferent or worse government officials and abusive private employers – Shaikh Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s ruler, announced on October 2 that he envisaged “a new organizational and constitutional concept of our state,” but it was not clear if he intended to institute such changes through mechanisms specified in the constitution of 1973, whose provisions for a partially elected parliament were suspended by decree in 1975. The government continued to hold without trial five opposition activists arrested in January 1996 in connection with their campaign to reinstate the 1973 constitution. One of the five, Abd al-Wahab Hussain, was released on March 17 following an order by the High Court of Appeal but was rearrested after spending about an hour at home.Others who had been released in 1999, including Shaikh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri and Shaikh Ali Ashoor, had been compelled as a condition of their release to refrain from speaking out or engaging in political activities. On April 3, Peter Hain, the British foreign minister responsible for the Middle East, responding to a query from a member of parliament, said that Abd al-Wahab Hussain was being held in “a flat on Ministry of Interior property” and that “the decision to renew the detention order was again made on public security grounds.” In Bahrain, individuals as well as associations and organizations with views critical of government policy continued to face severe restrictions. According to the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement (BFM), for example, in late December 1999 the authorities intervened to prevent a planned meeting at the prestigious Uruba Club on the subject of human rights. On August 8 security officials intervened to force the cancellation of a long-scheduled public speech that evening at the Al-Ahli Club by Hassan Radhi, a leading defense lawyer, on the subject of constitutional rights. The BFM also reported that on July 4 speakers at the Al-Ahli club publicly criticized the ruling family’s refusal to revive the partially elected National Assembly. Bahrain’s government maintained its policy of providing no information concerning the numbers or identities of persons arrested, tried, convicted, acquitted, or released under the State Security Law or brought before the State Security Court, where procedures do not meet basic fair trial standards and verdicts were not subject to appeal. The government announced the release of several hundred prisoners during the year, but the opposition BFM charged that there were numerous new arrests and state security court trials. – Workers rights were limited or nonexistent, particularly in Gulf states that employed large numbers of foreign workers. According to the annual report of the International Labour Organization released in May, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were among the few countries anywhere that prohibited outright any type of labor organization, while Bahrain and Qatar allowed only committees or councils “whose freedom of action is tightly constrained and which therefore do not have attributes of independent workers’ organizations.” – In Bahrain this year labor activists made an effort to win the right to establish an independent trade union body. The International Center for Trade Union Rights, an independent London-based nongovernmental organization, reported in August that the executive committee of the General Committee of Bahraini Workers (GCBW), set up by the government in 1981 as an alternative to independent trade unions, requested government permission to reconstitute itself as an independent union in accordance with ILO and Arab Labor Organization principles. Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, prime minister and uncle of the amir, reportedly summoned the executive committee to a meeting where he rejected the request and said that there would be grave consequences if they persisted with such demands. The minister of labor and social affairs subsequently instructed the committee to postpone GCBW general assembly elections scheduled for November 2000 to choose a new executive committee. – Information about human rights developments in Bahrain remained difficult to access but there were several indications from high government officials that they were taking human rights issues more seriously. In October 1999 the amir announced the formation of a human rights committee comprising six members of the Shura Council, an appointed advisory body with no legislative or other authority. According to Bahrain Brief, a London-based pro-government newsletter, the committee’s duties were to “scrutinize legislation,” investigate reports of abuses, and “raise awareness within society that the government considers the protection of human rights a priority.” Bahrain Brief also reported that in February the committee was asked to examine the treatment of foreign workers. As of October, no further information was available regarding the committee’s activities or the results of any investigations it may have carried out. On August 2 the amir told Cable News Network (CNN) that he was ready to allow international human rights groups free access to the country. “I am ready to carry them on my private aircraft and they can meet any group,” he said. A two-person delegation from the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited Bahrain in late October to discuss technical assistance and human rights teaching. The delegation reportedly met with the ministers of education, justice, and the interior as well as the chairman of the Shura Council’s human rights committee and the president of the University of Bahrain. On a less positive note, however, the government deferred once again a visit by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that was initially planned for 1999 and most recently scheduled for October 2000; the visit was rescheduled for February 2001. On October 28, according to the Bahraini daily Al-Akhbar al-Khalij, the minister of labour and social affairs denied the August 8 written request of eighteen Bahraini citizens for permission to set up an independent human rights committee.
EDITORIAL – DECEMBER 2000
Awaiting the 20th GCC summit in Manama Different atmosphere, same realities
As the leaders of the Gulf Co-operation Council prepare for their 20th summit in Manama, some of them may wonder what changes have taken place in the country which had hosted their summit six years earlier. In December 1994 the GCC summit in Manama was overshadowed by the events of the popular uprising against the Al Khalifa government. Sounds of cylinder explosions were heard by the journalists covering the summit at the Meridien in Manama. The atmosphere was gloomy and the escalating conflict was threatening the foundations of the regime.
At the end of this month, the GCC leaders are unlikely to encounter a similar situation. The Amir is preparing a different image of the country to show his guests. He has decided to present an extravaganza of events and shows during the two weeks prior to the summit. In mid-December, on the eve of Martyrs Day, he is expected to deliver a speech outlining his intentions with regards to the long-awaited reforms. So far, he has failed to deliver on his promises that he had made when he assumed power last year. Apart from superficial steps, the main demands of the Bahraini people have been largely ignored by the ruling family. Over the past year some prisoners were released and a Government-controlled human rights committee was formed. The Amir has not committed himself to the constitution, and his rule is largely viewed as lacking the necessary constitutional procedure.
Sheikh Hamad has tried to create an atmosphere of calm, but this has been hampered by the intermittent attacks by the vicious security service created and run by British officers. The legacy of Ian Henderson is still in the air, with a sadist British torturer, Colonel Donald Brian, carrying on from where Henderson stopped.
Human rights organisations have maintained their scrutiny of the Government of Bahraini. Last month, Amnesty International published a comprehensive report on human rights violations in Bahrain over the past two years. It concluded that although some progress had been made, the main mechanisms that facilitated human rights abuses remain in force. The State Security Law of 1974, the State Security Court and other penal articles present ideal environment for human rights abuses. Furthermore, the government has not taken any step to curtail the activities of the torturers. In March this year, Sheikh Hamad, himself, presented medals to well-known torturers such as Ian Henderson, Donald Bryan, Abdul Aziz Atiyyatullah Al Khalifa and others. The Government has failed to take steps to contain the human rights abuses on any level. When a group of 18 people put a request to the government for an independent human rights organisations, their request was swiftly rejected. And when Amnesty International requested a visit to Bahrain last month they were told to wait “until the time was right”.
In the light of these facts, the future of the political situation in Bahrain is not expected to be bright. The opposition is determined to press ahead with its demands. The Government insists on its own agenda. Its new tactics aim at gaining time and delaying reform. One such step is the formation, by an Amiri decree, of a committee to process changes to the constitution under the pretext of preparing a national charter. Its members were carefully selected to achieve two things: endorsing the government’s line on future policies and wooing some nationalist elements. Its membership is dominantly anti-constitutionalist and its mandate is blurred. Once it endorses the government policies, its “recommendations” will go to a hand-picked congress to endorse them. The government believes it will then be able to establish a new political framework for the country. The Constitution has been totally side-lined by these proposals and is likely to be scrapped or dramatically defaced to legalise repression and despotism. This is in contrast to progress in other Gulf states. Kuwait had reinstated its constitution after its liberation in 1991; Qatar is legislating for a democratically-elected parliament after it had adopted municipality elections. Oman has been advancing its form of Shura with the inclusion of women and electing its members in a certain way. Saudi Arabia is likely to introduce more reforms.
The Al Khalifa of Bahrain are the only ruling family in the Gulf in many aspects. First it is the only government that consciously adopts policies less advanced than the policies it had thirty years ago. Secondly, it is the only regime that employs forcible exile to punish the citizens. Thirdly, it is the only tribe that refuses to engage in political dialogue with the people of the country. Fourthly, they are the only government in the Gulf that seeks to force a demographic change in the country, displacing its native inhabitants and importing mercenaries from the Syrian desert and elsewhere. It is also the only tribe that lacks the feeling of attachment to the land or the people and believes that it had invaded Bahrain and gained power through sheer force. They see any compromise with the people as the first step to total annihilation of the tribe.
In contrast, the opposition is one of the most moderate and respected in the Middle East. For decades, many members of the opposition have been forced to live in exile. Those outside have presented a strong case to the world opinion for which they gained a great deal of respect and have not wavered in their commitment to their constitutional cause. It is therefore expected that the unconstitutional approach of the Government will eventually fail to protect the regime from the wrath of the international opinion. The Al Khalifa have sought to defend their stands by allying themselves with the big powers. Bahrain is the main base of the US fifth fleet, and the government hopes these facilities will shield them from outside and even inside upheavals.
The Amir may try to score a point here and another one there, but the overall rating of his rulership is not seen to have fundamentally changed the situation. He has remained faithful to the legacy of his father and to his uncle the prime minister, and has not honoured his constitutional commitment. The repression continues, so does the peoples resolve and determination.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
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