Bahrain: NGO for human rights formed In a positive development, the Bahraini government authorized the establishment of the Bahraini Society for Human Rights (BSHR) on 27 February. Only few months ago, 18 citizens who submitted an application for the formation of the non-governmental organization, were told Bahrain “did not need such a society”. The reversal of the decision is another victory for the people of Bahrain who have been celebrating the abolishing of the Sate Security Law and Court. The opposition hopes that the government will not restrict the activities of the newly formed NGO. The BSHR had said that its aims include the promotion of human rights values and the investigation of cases of human rights violations. The situation in Bahrain is still volatile. The opposition is hoping that the reforms initiated by the Amir this month will not be halted. There are fears that the repressive interior ministry would soon return to its old policies and practices. One of the recently released citizens, Sheikh Ali Al-Motghawwi, is being pursued by a car that belongs to the hated intelligence department. The torturer Adel Flaifel is continuing in his position and has recently threatened a citizen of reprisal. The people of Bahrain had hoped that he would stop threatening citizens following what he did on 13 February when he threatened Ms. Ramlah Jawad with re-arrest. In the past few days, he sent a threatening message to a citizens warning him of grave consequences. The continuation of people like Adel Flaifel and Khalid Al-Wazzan in their positions will always cause concern amongst the public. There must be no impunity for these torturers. Some press reports spoke of a minor cabinet change in April. Three ministries that are presently occupied by members of the Al-Khalifa family will be affected. It is expected that the ministries would still be filled with members of the ruling family. The verdict by the Internatiobal Court of Justice in The Hague on the border dispute between Bahrain and Qatar is expected in the coming days. The London-based “Al-Mushahid Al-Seyasi” said in a cover story on Bahrain on 25 February, that the nearing of the verdict in The Hague had influenced the recent changes in Bahrain. The magazine noted that many of the changes started to take place following a visit made by Kofi Annan five months ago. Mr. Annan visited Bahrain and then Qatar carrying with him some indicative news from The Hague, the magazine said. The Qatari Amir was quoted on 26 February stating that a parliament with full powers would be established in Qatar within the next 18 months. He also said that his authority would not be superior to the legislative power, implying that he will share power. This is possibly a reference to the fact that the Amir of Bahrain had been made superior to a bicameral parliament that would be established following the referendum on the national charter on 14-15 February. Bahrain Freedom Movement 28 February 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089 Bahrain: The opposition re-assesses its programmes to address the needs of the new political phase The Amir issued two decrees on 24 February, one for activating the national charter and the other for drafting amendments to the 1973 constitution. The composition of the committee for amending the constitution is not a fair one and the process by which the amendments would be processed is not clear. A spokesperson for the Bahrain Freedom Movement said “we hope that the Amir would stick to his promise that any serious decision will be delayed so that the elected National Assembly could debate the proposals before being implemented.” In Kuwait, Brigadier Abdul Al-Faris of the Kuwaiti intelligence department denied that he or the Kuwaiti authorities had received any request from their Bahraini counterparts for the release of the detained Bahrainis in Kuwaiti jail. The Kuwaiti authorities had persecuted and repressed members of the Bahraini community in Kuwait and several of these were jailed for distributing leaflets demanding the restoration of constitutional rights in Bahrain. In one of the positive developments, around 15,000 people living in Bahrain, are hoping that they would be granted Bahraini citizenship. The government promised to end its discriminatory practice against a section of Bahrain society (so-called Bedoon) and to grant their members the Bahraini citizenship. Mr. Hassan Mushaima’a, one of the recently freed political leaders, stated that the Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain was re-elected as an official spokesperson for the Islamist opposition group inside the country. Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, said that the Islamist opposition group is re-assessing the situation and will declare its plan in the coming period. He said that the group is committed to the national political process and for that purpose three of its number will effectively participate in the Committee for Popular Petition. These are Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain, Mr. Hassan Mushaima’a and Dr. Ali Al-Oreibi. In the first of a series of seminars to be held in the UK following the abolition of the State Security Law, members the Bahraini community and other nationalities participated in an important debate on 24 February. Two personalities, one from Tunisia and one from Saudi Arabia, presented their experiences relating to their attempts to resolve the political crises in their countries. Sheikh Rashid Al-Ghanoushi, the leader of the Tunisian Nahda Movement, explained how in 1987, the Tunisian government was changed an attempt to remedy the then deterioration political situation. He recalled how the Tunisian President, Ben Ali, abolished the state security laws and courts, freed all political prisoners in 1987 and started a dialogue process with the Nahda and other opposition people. Sheikh Al-Ghanoushi said that, with a hindsight, they now realize that the regime’s moves were aimed at releasing the pressure and rearranging the ruling establishment’s mechanisms. In 1989, only two years after the happiness of 1987, the Tunisian prisons were re-packed with four times the number of prisoners and the country went into a period of political darkness worse than the one which existed prior 1987. Sheikh Al-Ghanoushi said “I am not saying that the same thing will happen in Bahrain, but for the political reforms to be serious, it is important to have a programme of deliverables that can be measured so that the government sticks to its promises in the years ahead”. Sheikh Rashid said that target of the opposition in Bahrain should focus on creating and consolidating institutions of civil society to counter the power of the state. He also called for combating sectarianism that has a tendency to disintegrate nations. Sheikh Tawfik Al-Seif of Saudi Arabia, explained how his movement entered into a political dialogue with the Saudi government in 1993 and how the Bahraini experience could learn from the good aspects, as well as the pitfalls, of an experience on its borders. He called on the Bahraini opposition to declare their rejection of despotism of any from and from any source. A despot can be a ruler and can also be a member of the opposition. Both speakers said that for the reform programme to be completed, steps must be taken to amend all the laws that restrict freedom of expression, freedom of association and administration of justice. They reaffirmed that true reforms means independence of judiciary, accountability and transparency, participation in all key decisions and redressing the wrongs of the past. Further functions will be organized in March. On 8 March, Dr. Alaa Al-Yousif will present his views in the Gulf Cultural Club (45 Chalton Street, London NW1), at 6.00 pm. On 10 March, members of the Bahraini community in London will celebrate the abolishing of the State Security Law and Court. On 13 March, the Project on Democracy in the Muslim World of Westminster University will organize a seminar at 6.00 pm. And on 14 March, at 12.00 pm, Lord Avebury will host a special seminar on Bahrain in the Annex to the UK Parliament (1 Abbey Gardens, Westminster, SW1). Bahrain Freedom Movement 25 February 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278
The Economist Bahrain Your kingdom for our rights Feb 22nd 2001 MANAMA Yes, a Gulf country can make a real stab at democracy An unusual pursuit THE 400,000 citizens of Bahrain, a prosperous island emirate in the middle of the Gulf, cannot believe their luck. Their country, a mere few months ago one of the more efficiently oppressive of Arab states, has leapt to being the most liberal. The tale goes like this. For a quarter of a century, the island stifled under the harsh rule of a weak emir and his wily brother, the chief vizier. When the emir’s son came to power in 1999, it was assumed that he would be as weak as his father. But the new emir scrapped censorship, emptied the prisons, publicly embraced his father’s foes, invited exiles to come home, and issued a national charter to turn the country into a European-style constitutional monarchy. Last week, a referendum on the charter won a 90% turnout of voters (including women, for the first time) and 98.4% approval. It is as if “a genie came and granted our wish,” says a bemused newspaper editor, who, like one Bahraini male in ten, has done time as a political prisoner. “The people are very, very happy, but are afraid they may wake up from this dream.” Yet it appears to be no dream. In the few days since the referendum, the island’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, has repealed a 1974 law that allowed the police to throw suspects in jail without charge for three years or more. He has abolished state security courts, ordered that anyone ever fired from a state job for dissent be rehired, and told Bahrain’s 10,000-odd Bidoons—residents who have remained stateless despite generations on the island—that they will be granted citizenship. In moving so quickly, Sheikh Hamad has not only made himself truly popular. He has also pulled the rug from under a singularly embittered and entrenched opposition movement. In 1994, some 25,000 Bahrainis signed a petition demanding reforms. In the following year, 38 people died in violent clashes with the police, and up to 15,000 were arrested. Unrest had simmered ever since. One reason for the opposition’s strength is that Bahrain has a relatively long history of political activism. Its first experiment with democracy, which lasted between independence from Britain in 1971 and the suspension of parliament in 1975, was marked by feisty debate, which included demands to curb the ruling family’s power. Also, unlike other Arab states in the Gulf, a majority of Bahrain’s people are Shia Muslims, whose prime loyalty is often to their religious leaders. The al-Khalifa family, rulers for 218 years, are Sunnis, in the mainstream of Islam, but accounting for only 30% or so of Bahrainis. The 1979 revolution in Iran caused a ferment among Bahrain’s Shias. Not only the local Sunnis but also some of Bahrain’s powerful allies—including both its puritanically Sunni neighbour, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, whose Gulf fleet is discreetly based here—feared the Islamist “infection” might spread into Bahrain. It is no coincidence that the reform comes when Iranian-Saudi relations are warming. Yet even Bahraini sceptics believe that Sheikh Hamad’s motives are home-grown. The less charitable claim that he simply wanted to secure his family’s future. “He granted us our rights, but we have granted him kingship,” says a teacher who was dismissed for signing the 1994 petition. Others point to the economic stagnation of the past decade. Bahrain has little oil, and relies more on services such as offshore banking and tourism. It is rich enough to have attracted some 200,000 foreign workers, but unemployment among locals tops 15%. Without the political stability the reforms may bring, badly needed foreign investment might have stayed away. The prevailing belief, however, is that Sheikh Hamad has a genuine desire for progress. The test of this will come in the next few months, as the country prepares first for municipal voting and then for a general election. Calls for “responsibility” and “maturity” in local editorials suggest an underlying anxiety that radicals—particularly religious ones—may abuse their new-found freedom. But few seem overly concerned that Shia clerics may be a dominant force. “They won’t go and ban alcohol. We make too much money from being the closest bar to the world’s thirstiest country,” chuckles a Bahraini, meaning Saudi Arabia. There is also the question of those, both in the al-Khalifa clan and outside, with vested interests in the old, opaque way of managing the island. Many Bahrainis hint that their last doubts about the government’s intentions will vanish only when Sheikh Hamad’s uncle, who has been prime minister since independence, leaves the stage. So far, the emir has handled his uncle graciously. However, the appointment of the popular, Cambridge-educated crown prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad, to lead the committee that will implement the charter suggests that the exit light is switched on.
Bahrain: Pro-reforms demonstration supports Amir’s steps and calls for punishment of torturers A mass demonstration took to the streets of Sanabiss on 20 February in support of the Amir’s decision to abolish the State Security Law and State Security Court. The demonstrators marched to the main centre of Daih and returned back to Sanabiss during which slogans were raised expressing appreciation and support for the Amir and demanding the punishment of the torturers, especially Adel Flaifel, Khalid Al-Wazzan, and others. Several key opposition figures, such as Mr. Hassan Mushaima’a, Mr. Saeed Al-Asbool, Dr. Ali Al-Oreibi, and Mr. Abdulla Hashim led the demonstration and delivered speeches to confirm the principled position of the opposition. Mr. Abdulla Hashim, member of the Committee for Popular Petition (CPP) said in his speech “we wish to say to those who think that the State Security was abolished. It was not abolished, but rather it was brought down by the sacrifices of the people, especially the martyrs”. The Bahraini community in the United Kingdom is organizing several seminars and celebrations on the abolishing of emergency laws. A seminar will take place on 24 February and key speakers will include Sheikh Rashid Al-Ghanoushi (of Tunisia) , Sheikh Tawfik Al-Sheikh (of Saudi Arabia) and Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri. A celebration will also be organized on 10 March during which poems as well as talks will be delivered to honour the martyrs who have paved the way for the victory of the nation. The happiness of the nation started on 18 February when the Amir issued two decrees abolishing the draconian State Security Law and the State Security Court. The lawyer Mohsin Marhoon commented to the local media that the “introduction of State Security Laws was the biggest reason for the Parliament’s dissolution in 1975,”. The ex-MP said “the decrees issued by HH the Amir abolishing the State Security Law and the State Security Court has brought great happiness to the people of Bahrain and represents a great step forward in building a life of democracy,” The CPP issued a statement on 21 February regarding the formation of a committee headed by the Crown Prince to activate the national charter. Another committee was also formed to amend the constitution. The CPP said “we welcome and congratulate the Amir for his courageous steps following the issuance of Law by Decree No. for 2001 abolishing the State Security Law and State Security Court.” The CPP commented on the formation of a committee to amend the constitution saying that the amendments must be processed according to Article 104 of the Constitution. Bahrain Freedom Movement 21 February 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
MANAMA, Feb 20 (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Tuesday that it would grant citizenship to more than 1,000 stateless people who had been born and raised in the Gulf Arab state. State television said Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa ordered the Interior Ministry to take the necessary steps to grant Bahraini passports to over 1,000 people residing in the country. “It is the first stage which will be followed by similar moves in the near future,” the television reported. Bahrain has an estimated population of 666,000, one-third of whom are foreigners. The decision covers people whose families had come to Bahrain from neighbouring countries, mainly Iran, to work and later settled in the island state. Many of them have been living in Bahrain but had not been recognised as Bahraini nationals. Children born to foreign families are also not eligible for Bahraini citizenship. People who were born and raised in the island state but are not Bahraini citizens do not have the right to vote, according to a referendum last week on a national charter. The referendum was part of landmark political reforms in the Gulf Arab state. Bahrainis voted overwhelmingly in the referendum to support the charter, proposed by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, which calls for a partially elected parliament, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. The referendum was Bahrain’s first since independence from Britain in 1971.
MANAMA, Feb 19 (Reuters) – The prime minister of Bahrain pledged to seek the release of an activist jailed in Kuwait in an attempt to meet the demands of the opposition, a newspaper reported on Monday. It said Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa took the decision after talks with four opposition figures, two of whom were released after serving years in jail for opposition activities in Bahrain. “The prime minister promised during the meeting to contact the authorities in Kuwait to discuss the possibility of freeing a Bahraini jailed there,” al-Ayam newspaper quoted Ali al-Araibi, one of the opposition figures, as saying. Bahrain’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has pardoned more than 900 political prisoners and exiles since he took power in 1999 and on Sunday abolished controversial emergency laws as part of landmark reforms, meeting a key opposition demand. Last year, a Kuwaiti appeal court upheld three-year jail sentences against five Bahrainis convicted of plotting against their government. They were arrested in 1997 for distributing leaflets hostile to the Bahrain government and allegedly planning sabotage in the island state at the height of the 1994-1998 unrest, when members of Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite community were demanding political and economic reform by the Sunni-led government. Sheikh Hamad issued a decree on Sunday announcing the immediate cancellation of the State Security Law, enacted just before the dissolution of the elected parliament in 1975. He also issued a decree abolishing the State Security Court which was set up in 1995 after the outbreak of unrest. Hundreds of activists were sent to jail by the court, whose sentences could not be appealed. Sheikh Khalifa has also promised people born and raised in Bahrain the right to obtain Bahraini passports. Bahrain has a population of around 666,000, one-third of whom are foreigners.
The Bahrain Freedom Movement, an exiled opposition group, in a statement on Monday praised the emir for “his courage and fulfilment of his promises.”
By Abbas Salman MANAMA, Feb 19 (Reuters) – A Bahraini opposition leader, who was freed from jail as part of an amnesty earlier this month, pledged his support on Monday for landmark political reforms launched by the emir. Shi’ite Muslim opposition leader Abdel-Wahab Hussain told Reuters in an interview that he had urged other opposition figures in Bahrain and in exile abroad to support a charter on the proposed reforms in a referendum last week. “The Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has undertaken bold reforms and initiatives to get the country out of a dark tunnel,” Hussain said. “He has realised that the security and political situation in Bahrain was in crisis and the only way to maintain stability and prosperity is to take such steps. They are unexpected and bold steps which we should all support,” he said. Sheikh Hamad on Sunday abolished two controversial emergency laws, after pardoning more than 900 prisoners and exiles since he came to power in 1999 on the death of his father. Bahrainis voted overwhelmingly in the referendum to support a charter, proposed by Sheikh Hamad, which calls for a partially elected parliament, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. It was the first referendum in the island state, the Gulf’s financial centre, since independence from Britain in 1971. “We had contacted opposition figures inside and outside the country ahead of the vote to urge them to support the charter,” Hussain said. “We as opposition will provide all necessary support to the emir to make the reforms successful for the benefit of Bahrain and its people,” he said. Officials have said the planned parliament, expected to be set up in 2004, would enjoy legislative powers. Bahrain dissolved its first elected parliament in 1975, only two years after it was set up. The move led to unrest by members of Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite community demanding political and economic reforms by the Sunni-led government. The country currently has a 40-member Shura council, which is an advisory body which assists the government on draft laws before they are sent to the emir for final approval. EFFORTS TOWARDS RETURN OF EXILES Hussain said that earlier this week he had asked to meet Sheikh Hamad in order to help mediate between the government and the exiled opposition, some of whose members were deported by the government during four years of unrest. Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa told opposition leaders during a meeting on Sunday that Bahrainis in exile were free to return, Hussain said. “They are welcome back,” Hussain quoted Sheikh Khalifa as saying. Hussain, who spent more than five years in jail without trial for opposition activities, said many Bahrainis in exile wanted to return home. “It’s a matter of time before they all get back,” he said, adding that he had received many telephone calls from exiles. The London-based opposition Bahrain Freedom Movement praised the emir on Monday for “his courage and fulfilment of his promises.” Hussain said the opposition would raise with officials the issue of alleged human rights violations by security forces. “There are people who have committed crimes against prisoners in Bahrain, and we intend to take their names to the leaders to deal with them,” Hussain said without elaborating.
Bahrain: End of Emergency Laws The people of Bahrain celebrated the happiest occasion in recent history on 18 February. This is the day when the Bahraini Prime Minister appeared on national TV to announce that the cabinet had drafted its proposal for abolishing the State Security Law and Court. The Amir is to endorse the abolition following this historic announcement. Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, met with four leading opposition figures, Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, Seyyed Abdulla Al-Ghoreifi, Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain and Dr. Ali Al-Oreibi. During the meeting the Premier informed the opposition figures of the decision to be announced. The opposition figures requested that all Bahrainis (so-called Bedoon) to be granted their Bahraini citizenship. The Premier promised that all “bedoon” would be granted their Bahraini passports. Further, the opposition figures requested that all those who are outside should return, including those who fled Bahrain after escaping from jail. The Premier also confirmed that these citizens could return without harm. The people of Bahrain are celebrating the 18th February as the most important day in the troubled history of the nation. The State Security Law was enacted in 1974 and when the elected national Assembly rejected it, the Premiere withdrew from parliament and on 26 August 1975, the late Amir abolished the elected National Assembly. For the past 25 years the people of Bahrain struggled and sacrificed immensely demanding the abrogation of this unconstitutional law. The BFM welcomed these developments and congratulated and the Amir on his courage and fulfilment of his promises and shares the people of Bahrain their joy and happiness. The BFM believes that non of these achievements would have been possible without the sacrifices of our great nation, especially the martyrs, and the solidarity of human rights and democracy advocates all over the world. Bahrain Freedom Movement 18 February 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
By Abbas Salman MANAMA, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Bahrain on Sunday abolished controversial emergency laws as part of landmark reforms, meeting a key opposition demand in the conservative Gulf Arab state. Two decrees issued by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and read over state television ordered the immediate cancellation of the State Security Law and the State Security Court. The court was set up in 1995 after the outbreak of unrest by the majority Shi’ite Muslim community demanding political and economic reforms from the Sunni-led government. Hundreds of activists were sent to jail by the court, whose sentences could not be appealed. The State Security Law was enacted just before the dissolution of the elected parliament in 1975, only two years after it was set up, following disputes between the government and house members over the emergency laws. Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa said earlier the move followed overwhelming public support for reform in a referendum last week on a charter proposed by the emir which calls for a partially elected parliament, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. “In order to strengthen this valuable trust between the people and his leadership, it has been decided to reactivate the constitution…to achieve accountability, transparency, justice and equal opportunity,” he added, in a speech carried by the official GNA news agency. The emir has amnestied more than 900 political prisoners and exiles and has pledged to pursue the reforms in the regional financial and banking centre rocked by four years of anti-government unrest in the 1990s. REFORMS SEEN BOOSTING DEMOCRACY, RULING FAMILY “The emir’s moves were aimed at setting up a democracy for the prosperity of all Bahrainis and to strengthen the ruling family. The State Security Law and parliament can’t live together,” Abdul-Shaheed Khalaf, a prominent lawyer, told Reuters. Many Bahrainis believe that Sheikh Hamad has gone further and faster than many could have expected, including opposition figures, to reunite the country following the unrest. Sheikh Khalifa on Sunday met four opposition leaders, including Sheikh Abdel-Amir al-Jamri who was pardoned by the emir in 1999, one day after he had been sentenced to 10 years jail for opposition activities. Sheikh said Hamad said earlier that two committees would follow up the reforms and would amend the constitution “to guarantee the restoration of parliament and the people’s involvement in decision-making.” Opposition figures, some of whom had been jailed for years, backed the charter, which for the first time gave women a vote in the referendum. In London, the exiled opposition Bahrain Freedom Movement at the weekend welcomed the results of the referendum, the first since Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971. It called for authorities to continue the reforms by abolishing emergency laws and allowing political parties.
BFM Statement: An Historic Victory for the People of Bahrain Bahrain is entering a new era on 16 February 2001. The people of Bahrain had voted in favour of the National Charter following the confidence building measures adopted by the Amir of Bahrain and following public pledges and promises made by the Amir on 8 February before the leading opposition figures, and announced in the media by the Justice Minister on 9 February. These pledges are: 1. The supremacy of the 1973 Constitution over the National Charter. 2. The legislative power will reside with the elected National Assembly only. 3. The appointed Shura Council will be for consultation only. 4. The powers of the Amir are as prescribed in the 1973 Constitution. 5. The freezing of the State Security Law will be the first step for abolishing it. In addition to these pledges, the Amir had ordered the release of all political prisoners and the unconditional return of all exiles. In view of these development, the people, encouraged the leading opposition figures inside the country, in favour of the National Charter. This historic event is what the people of Bahrain have been waiting for 25 years and the for which thousands of people were imprisoned, exiled and some were killed or tortured to death. The achievements would not have been possible without the continuous and courageous solidarity and support offered by international organizations and personalities active in the field of human rights and democracy, and to them, the people of Bahrain owe a debt of gratitude. The overwhelming majority in favour of this package and the enthusiasm with which the people have participated in the referendum are clear signs that the people of Bahrain are eager for change and therefore the government needs to start implementing the necessary reforms without delay. The BFM believes that the time has come for the government to undertake the following: 1. Announce the abolition of the State Security Law and State Security Court and the dismantling of the apparatus of terror in the Ministry of Interior, 2. Announce a date for election to the National Assembly, 3. Allowing political forces to operate from within the country in line with the constitutional rights, 4. Removing all dictatorial restrictions banning the freedom of expression and association, 5. Facilitating the immediate return of all political exiles without intimidation, 6. Starting a reconciliation and healing process in which the victims of oppression and their families are justly redressed. For the Amir’s programme of reforms to be put into practice fully and faithfully, a similarly motivated people need to be entrusted with its implementation. Bahrain Freedom Movement 16 February 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
MANAMA, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Bahrain on Sunday abolished controversial emergency laws as part of landmark reforms, meeting a key opposition demand in the conservative Gulf Arab state.
Two decrees issued by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and read over state television ordered the immediate cancellation of the State Security Law and the State Security Court.
The court was set up in 1995 after the outbreak of unrest by the majority Shi’ite Muslim community demanding political and economic reforms from the Sunni-led government.
Hundreds of activists were sent to jail by the court, whose sentences could not be appealed.
The State Security Law was enacted just before the dissolution of the elected parliament in 1975, only two years after it was set up, following disputes between the government and house members over the emergency laws.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa said earlier the move followed overwhelming public support for reform in a referendum last week on a charter proposed by the emir which calls for a partially elected parliament, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary.
“In order to strengthen this valuable trust between the people and his leadership, it has been decided to reactivate the constitution…to achieve accountability, transparency, justice and equal opportunity,” he added, in a speech carried by the official GNA news agency.
The emir has amnestied more than 900 political prisoners and exiles and has pledged to pursue the reforms in the regional financial and banking centre rocked by four years of anti-government unrest in the 1990s.
REFORMS SEEN BOOSTING DEMOCRACY, RULING FAMILY
“The emir’s moves were aimed at setting up a democracy for the prosperity of all Bahrainis and to strengthen the ruling family. The State Security Law and parliament can’t live together,” Abdul-Shaheed Khalaf, a prominent lawyer, told Reuters.
Many Bahrainis believe that Sheikh Hamad has gone further and faster than many could have expected, including opposition figures, to reunite the country following the unrest.
Sheikh Khalifa on Sunday met four opposition leaders, including Sheikh Abdel-Amir al-Jamri who was pardoned by the emir in 1999, one day after he had been sentenced to 10 years jail for opposition activities.
Sheikh said Hamad said earlier that two committees would follow up the reforms and would amend the constitution “to guarantee the restoration of parliament and the people’s involvement in decision-making.”
Opposition figures, some of whom had been jailed for years, backed the charter, which for the first time gave women a vote in the referendum.
In London, the exiled opposition Bahrain Freedom Movement at the weekend welcomed the results of the referendum, the first since Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971. It called for authorities to continue the reforms by abolishing emergency laws and allowing political parties.
RIYADH (Feb. 16) XINHUA – The final result of a referendum on the National Charter of Bahrain showed that 98.4 percent of the voters have voted for it, Minister of Justice Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalid Al-Khalifa said on Friday.
The minister was quoted by Bahrain’s Gulf News Agency as saying that there are 217,579 eligible voters in Bahrain, among them 196, 262 cast their ballots.
Among the 194,888 valid votes, 191,790, or 98.4 percent, voted for the charter.
The charter stipulates the shape of Bahraini society and its basic pillars, the system of government, the economic fundamentals, national security and the two-chamber parliamentary system – the House of Representatives and the Shura (Consultative) Council.
The charter also covers Bahrain’s international relations, especially with other Gulf countries.
By OMAR SHAMA Associated Press Writer MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrainis have overwhelmingly endorsed a pro-democratic charter with a 98.4 percent “yes” vote, according to official figures released Friday. Bahrain’s official Gulf News Agency said that of the country’s 217,579 eligible voters, 196,262 cast their votes in the Wednesday-Thursday referendum on the “national charter” that would give the tiny Gulf state its first elected parliament since 1975. The turnout is an impressive 89.4 percent. A total of 191,790 voters voted “yes,” or 98.4 percent of those who polled, The agency said. There were 1,374 invalid ballots and a total of 3,098 voted “no” to the charter. The yes-or-no plebiscite presented Bahrainis with a new national charter in which the emir, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, pledges to devolve more power to the people, starting with the main demand of the Shiite Muslim uprising of the mid-1990s — an elected parliament. The charter also provides for women voting and running for office – a novelty among the Gulf Arab states, an independent judiciary independent and a body to investigate complaints from the public. The changes envisioned in the charter are expected to take effect by 2004 at the latest. Such wide-reaching democratic reforms would make Bahrain unique in the oil-rich region where political freedoms are limited. People streamed to take part in the two-day referendum, forming long lines in front of the 94 polling stations set up across the island nation. Since succeeding his late father in 1999, Sheik Hamad has chosen the path of reform, commissioning the drafting of the charter and pardoning more than 1,000 political prisoners and detainees. Shiites, who form a slight majority on the island, have wielded little political power in Bahrain, where the ruling family is from Islam’s mainstream Sunni sect. Shiite frustration boiled over into riots, bombings and arson in the mid-1990s in which more than 40 people died. In proposing an elected parliament and equality among all Bahrainis regardless of their sect, the charter addresses the primary grievances of a Muslim Shiite majority. Bahrain’s ruling family is from Islam’s mainstream Sunni sect; Shiites are a slight majority on the island but wield little political power.
There are concerns, though, that the referendum is vague about how much real participation in government is guaranteed. The emir will remain the final authority. OS/hh
By Abbas Salman A’ALI, Bahrain (Reuters) – Bahrainis turned out to vote Thursday in the country’s first referendum in 30 years, with women exercising their right to vote in the conservative Gulf Arab state for the first time ever. “It’s the first time for many years that the people of Bahrain have had the chance to express themselves in polls and to turn a page of history,” a Western diplomat said. Some of the women, many wearing the traditional Muslim veil, walked nearly a mile and a half to the village south of the capital Manama to vote in the referendum, the first since independence from Britain in 1971. Women have been given the right to vote for the first time, a rarity in the Gulf Arab region, as the island state votes on a charter that calls for a partially elected parliament, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. “It is my first time, but I am proud to vote ‘yes’ for the charter to support the emir,” Jalila Shebar told Reuters. “We have nothing to lose by voting for the charter. Instead the step could help increase security in Bahrain.” “I thought the polling station would be empty, but when I went there it was full. I voted for the charter because I felt it was our duty to encourage such moves in Bahrain,” Sanaa Radhi said. There was a strong turnout in the two-day referendum in which 217,000 Bahrainis over the age of 20 are eligible to vote. Voting ends Thursday. Bahrain’s first elected parliament was dissolved in 1975 after just two years, triggering years of simmering opposition among the majority Shi’ite Muslim community, which demanded political and economic reform from the Sunni-led government. The country, the Gulf’s financial and Banking hub, currently has a 40-member appointed Shura Council, which has no legislative powers and mainly advises the government on draft laws before they are sent to the emir for final approval. Political parties are banned. “Certainly the referendum will increase confidence in Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The result will encourage Sheikh Hamad to continue the process,” the diplomat said. Sheikh Hamad, who came to power in 1999 on the death of his father, pardoned more than 900 political prisoners and exiles earlier this month. “There are no longer any prisoners in Bahrain held for crimes linked to national security. The prisons have been emptied of them,” Information Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Mutawae told the daily Gulf Daily News. Many Bahrainis, including opposition figures, believe that Sheikh Hamad has gone further and faster than many could have expected.
The opposition has backed the charter after Sheikh Hamad visited Shi’ite areas that were once trouble spots in the 1994-98 anti-government unrest and met opposition leaders, some of whom had been jailed for years, to discuss their demands.
By Isa Mubarak MANAMA, Feb 15 (Reuters) – Bahrain has released all political prisoners under an amnesty in the Gulf Arab state where citizens voted for a second day on Thursday in a referendum on landmark political reforms. “There are no longer any prisoners in Bahrain held for crimes linked to national security. The prisons have been emptied of them,” Bahrain’s Information Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Mutawae said. Mutawae, in comments published by the English-language Gulf Daily News newspaper, also said a large number of Bahraini exiles had also returned home under the amnesty by the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The minister did not give figures. Bahrain this month announced an amnesty for more than 400 political exiles and detainees held on security charges, ahead of the referendum on a national charter that calls for an independent judiciary, a partly elected parliament and constitutional monarchy. “The last 19 political prisoners were freed on Tuesday and there are no more left in Bahrain,” the newspaper quoted senior opposition leader Abdul Wahab Hussein as saying. Hundreds of people were arrested in the 1994-1998 anti-government unrest by the island’s majority Shi’ite Muslim community demanding political and economic reforms. Demands to restore the islands’ parliament, which was dissolved in 1975 after just two years, were the main reason behind the unrest. OPPOSITION BACKS CHARTER The opposition has also backed the charter, after the emir visited Shi’ite areas that were once trouble spots and met opposition leaders to discuss their demands. The referendum, the first since Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971 also allows women the right to vote for the first time — a rare move in the Gulf Arab region. Around 217,000 Bahraini nationals above the age of 20, including women, are eligible to vote in the two-day referendum. The country currently has a 40-member appointed Shura Council which has no legislative powers and mainly advises the government on draft laws before they are sent to the emir for final approval. Political parties are banned. Sheikh Abdel-Amir al-Jamri, prominent in the unrest and pardoned by the emir in 1999 after being sentenced to 10 years for opposition activities, has urged the emir to press ahead with reforms. Many believe the emir, who governs with the help of the Shura Council, has gone further and faster than even the opposition could have expected.
Bahrain has a population of 666,000, about one-third of them foreigners.
17 Feb DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Bahrain should not have held this week’s referendum on a pro-democracy charter in an area claimed by Qatar when the World Court in the Hague was still looking into the dispute, a Qatari newspaper said Saturday. Al-Watan newspaper, in a front-page article, said that allowing the vote in Hawar islands is “considered a step that aims to impose a new fait accompli on the islands.” This “aims to confuse the court’s judges and precede their verdict in a way which indicates that the brotherly state (Bahrain) is sticking to these islands even if the Hague abolishes its sovereignty over them,” it added. There was no official Qatari comment on the referendum, but the media in the energy-rich state welcomed it as a new page in relations between Bahrain’s government and opposition. In addition to the Hawar islands, the two Gulf states have been feuding over the Zubara land strip in Qatar, where the Bahraini ruling family lived 200 years ago. An overwhelming majority of Bahraini voters endorsed the charter in a yes-or-no vote held on Thursday and Friday. If implemented, the charter would give Bahrain its first elected parliament in 25 years and introduce a wide range of political reforms. str-bm/hh
LONDON, Feb. 15 (UPI) — Bahrain is preparing to make probably the most important changes of its modern political history after it gained independence from British rule in 1971. Some 217,000 Bahrainis are set to participate in a referendum this week that could lead to the abolition of a 25-year state of emergency and the return of parliamentary life in a democratic royal state as promised by the country’s Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa al-Khalifa few days ago. However, achieving this goal and making it a success is not necessarily guaranteed and remains linked to many complicated factors that are internal, Gulf, regional and international. Undoubtedly, it is extremely difficult to predict the impact of these factors on the future of this tiny Gulf country, which is deprived of abundant oil but is strategically vital to the United States as was clear during the 1991 Gulf War. Bahrain is located in a very tense region in the world at the crossroads between Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, a country only 15 kilometers away and linked to Manama by a bridge. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Bahraini government and opposition are adopting calculated and realistic steps to successfully conduct the two-day referendum scheduled to begin on Wednesday. The new charter proposed by the emir includes vital reforms such as restoring the parliament dissolved in 1975, and establishing a constitutional monarchy, an independent judiciary system and a free press. The charter was to be fully implemented by the year 2004 and was meant to open a new page in the political life of Bahrain which has witnessed dangerous disturbances that have left at least 38 dead in five years. In the past few days, the emir also issued a general amnesty under which some 400 political opponents were pardoned, including all prisoners and opposition members living abroad. These steps were taken to fulfill a request by the opposition to improve political climate in the country so that the referendum would succeed. The general amnesty has always been one of the opposition’s main demands and a pre-condition to taking part in the new political life which the emir promised would be based on sharing authority and respect for “freedom, justice and equality without discrimination because of race, religion or sex.” Among those who were released were opposition leader Abdel Wahab Hussein, a former teacher who was arrested in 1996 and sentenced to prison on charges of taking part in inciting anti-government actions which were led by the Shiite opposition who demanded the restoration of parliamentary life. The parliament, which was elected in 1973, was dissolved two years later by late ruler, Sheikh Issa bin Salman al-Khalifah. Accelerated developments in the past few days have indicated that the new emir and his government on one hand, and the Bahraini opposition with its various factions on the other, are moving towards this goal in a realistically responsible way new to the Gulf and even Arab countries. Although the main opposition group, the Movement to Free Bahrain, expressed doubts about the referendum, it soon announced its appreciation of the emir’s measures, only focusing criticism on the National Charter project in arguing it was not up to the people’s aspirations. The organization called for abolition of the emergency law and the participation of international observers in the referendum but opened the door to dialogue with the government by hinting that it was ready to ease the tone of its opposition. For his part, the emir visited one of the prominent Shiite religious leaders, Sayyed Ali al-Ghoraifi, in a move described by the government as aiming at consolidating national reconciliation. Ghoraifi praised the emir, saying his “initiative to reactivate democracy during the past two years is being blessed by all, principally the religious leaders.” For sure, the economic difficulties facing Bahrain and its continued budget deficit (reaching $1 billion); the dispute with Qatar over a number of islands in the Gulf; decreased Iranian threats against the legitimacy of al-Khalifa Sunni regime in a country of a Shiite majority; and the focus of the Bahraini opposition on political means in their struggle against the government have played essential roles in developing this important political overture in the region. The Qatar-Bahrain dispute involves the two oil-rich islands of Howar and Skhour al-Fasht, controlled by Bahrain and the Zobara sector on the Qatari coast, claimed by Manama. It dates back to 1939 when Britain –then the ruling mandatory power in the region — decided to grant Bahrain the Howar island. Qatar never accepted the decision, and the dispute turned into an armed struggle until Saudi King Fahd finally intervened to calm the situation. However, despite their old conflict, Qatar and Bahrain maintained normal diplomatic ties. The Bahrain authorities have been engaged in a bitter struggle with the opposition that turned bloody and violent in 1996 when police confronted demonstrators protesting death sentences against three opposition members — Ahmed Abdallah al-Asfour, 30, Youssef Hassan Abdel Baqi, 31, and Ahmed Houbay, 30 — on charges of bombing a restaurant that killed seven people. A number of opposition members fled the country while others were jailed. International human rights groups organized campaigns to defend the political prisoners estimated at many thousands at the time, who were reportedly subjected to torture by Bahraini security services. Bahrain then accused Iran of being behind the disturbances which eased after the new emir came to power following the death of his late father, Sheikh Issa bin Salman, nearly two years ago. Mansour al-Jamri, leader of the Movement to Free Bahrain, and the leftist leader Abdul Rahman Nuaimi, who has lived in Syria for 25 years, welcomed the new charter and expressed hope that it would be the beginning of more reforms. Al-Jamri, who lives in London, said the Manama government finally realized that the Bahraini problem does not require “a security solution,” noting that there are between 300 and 400 opposition members living abroad while the number of political prisoners varies between 400 and 500. Bahrain has a population of 650,000 with the majority Muslim Shiites and 40 percent foreign descendents.
Human Rights Watch 12 February 2001 Bahrain’s National Charter Referendum Human Rights Watch Backgrounder February 2001 On February 14-15, Bahraini citizens will cast “yes” or “no” votes for a National Charter drafted late last year on the instructions of the country’s ruler, or amir (prince), Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The Charter, a lengthy document that most observers expect to be approved overwhelmingly, calls for the establishment of a two-chamber legislature, with one chamber chosen by popular vote, and for Shaikh Hamad to become the country’s first king. Much of the National Charter, including the proposed elevation of the ruler’s title, has excited little controversy. Support for the key proposal, a popularly elected assembly, has been strengthened by the Amir’s February 5 announcement of an amnesty for more than 400 persons detained or facing charges for security-related offenses – a category that covers most of Bahrain’s remaining political prisoners – and permission to return for some108 persons who have been exiled. Equally significant is the relatively open debate and discussion about the ruler’s initiatives in numerous meetings of social clubs and professional associations, and in the press. While this discussion has been dominated by pro-government voices, for the first time in a quarter of a century critics of the government have been able to publicly speak their minds — and show up the next day and do it again. At first glance, such a concession to the principle of popular political participation would put Bahrain far ahead of any other Arab state in the Persian Gulf. Even in Kuwait only a small portion of the population–men who are “first-class” citizens–can vote or run for office. In Bahrain all women and men citizens over the age of 20 will be eligible to vote in the upcoming referendum–an estimated 217,000 persons–and the same franchise would presumably extend to elections for the proposed National Assembly. Overall, these steps are a most welcome departure from the Bahraini government’s recent history of intolerance for criticism and opposition. At the same time, there is a worrisome ambiguity in the language of the draft National Charter which suggests that it may be intended to secure popular endorsement for consolidation of Al Khalifa family rule and privilege rather than for a form of “constitutional monarchy.” The country’s constitution, promulgated in 1972 immediately after Bahrain’s independence from Britain, already stipulates a partially-elected National Assembly. That Assembly was dissolved by ruling family decree in 1975 and those articles of the Constitution requiring an election for a new assembly within two months were unilaterally suspended. The National Charter does not specify the role of the new, proposed elected assembly vis-à-vis the 1972-era appointed chamber, or the role of the legislature as a whole in relation to the executive. The Charter is silent about existing legislation, notably the State Security Law of 1974, which allows for arbitrary and incommunicado detention and grossly unfair trials, and the 1976 Penal Code amendments that have been used systematically to prevent Bahraini citizens from exercising peacefully their rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression. Lastly, bodies such as the Special Investigation Service, the Criminal Investigation Directorate and the Public Security Force remain in place under the control of Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman, the Amir’s uncle who has been prime minister for nearly three decades. Shaikh Khalifa is widely regarded in Bahrain as a strong opponent of meaningful political reform. He and his immediate family are considered to have the most to lose in any serious parliamentary inquiry into corruption and influence-peddling. Human Rights Watch welcomes the steps taken to release political prisoners and allow those in enforced exile to return to Bahrain. But further steps urgently need to be taken to ensure that Bahraini citizens are able to enjoy the basic civil and political rights endorsed in the National Charter and guaranteed in the country’s constitution and international law. These steps include: 1. Abolishing the State Security Court and ending the practice of trying detainees before any tribunal that is closed to the public and in which basic fair trial standards are not guaranteed. 2. Announcing that all those living in involuntary exile are free to return to the country unconditionally. 3. Ending the practice of detaining persons for unlimited or extended periods, without charge or trial, for vaguely defined “acts” or “statements” construed to threaten “state security.” 4. Allowing Bahraini human rights activists to establish independent non-governmental groups and to exercise those rights essential to the defense of human rights, including freedom of association and the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information inside and outside Bahrain. BACKGROUND: PROTESTS AGAINST SUSPENDED CONSTITUTION Bahrain, a small island state of some 700,000 persons, about a third of them expatriate workers, serves as the major port for United States naval forces in the Persian Gulf. The country experienced serious domestic unrest throughout much of the 1990s. The ruling Al Khalifa family resorted to torture, forced exile, arbitrary detention, and secret security court trials to contain the unrest, and exploited fears of the dominant Sunni minority that demands of the Shi`a majority for a share in political and economic power would lead to an repressive theocracy. The key demand shared by virtually all the opposition has been restoration of the partially-elected National Assembly established by the Constitution of 1972. In August 1975, after the National Assembly refused to approve a law that would allow for arbitrary arrest and imprisonment for undefined “acts” or “statements” that could be construed to threaten “state security,” the government dissolved the assembly by decree and suspended the provision of the constitution stipulating elections for a new assembly within two months. Additional decrees expanded the jurisdiction of the state security court and eliminated in practice virtually all the civil and political rights enumerated in the constitution, making Bahrain a country where citizens risked search and seizure and extended incarceration without trial for criticizing the government. Communications were monitored and the media heavily censored. Freedom of association and assembly have been tightly restricted, and political parties banned. Abuses categorically forbidden by Bahrain’s constitution, as well as international law, such as torture and forced exile, were practiced routinely as matters of state policy. State security court trials were closed to the public. Judges routinely convicted on the basis of confessions obtained under duress during extended periods of incommunicado detention and did not meet the most elementary international fair trial standards. Bahrain’s intifada, or uprising, erupted at the end of 1994, after efforts to petition the government peacefully on issues of political reform and discriminatory social policies seemed to reach a dead end. The opposition refused to accept a newly formed appointed Shura (Consultation) Council as an acceptable substitute for the elected assembly. Street clashes between demonstrators and security forces led to thousands of arrests, and Shi`a neighborhoods and villages were put under extended periods of siege. Those the government considered to be key leaders of the protests were in some cases held for more than five years without trial, and in several cases forcibly deported. In March 1996 the state security court was expanded from one to three chambers to cope with increased numbers of persons charged under the state security law. By mid-1997 the last remaining international news agency bureau, the German Press Agency, was forced to leave the country. By early 1998 extensive street clashes between demonstrators and security forces had subsided, though several thousand persons remained in jail on loosely defined security charges. Arrests and security court con
victions continued, though at a lower rate. NEW RULER, NEW INITIATIVES Shaikh Hamad, 50, took over as Amir in March 1999 on the death of his father. He began to identify himself in very general terms with aspirations for political reform. His most tangible initiative was the release of more than 800 political detainees and convicted prisoners in several stages from June 1999 through late 2000. There was also a noticeable decline in the use of the state security courts. A handful of convictions in early 2000 appear to be the last on record. Until the campaign for the National Charter commenced, however, the government continued to restrict public meetings and to harass and detain its most vocal critics when they attempted to speak out. Several Shi`a leaders who had been arrested with Shaikh al-Jamri in January 1996, such as community activist and teacher Abd al-Wahab Hussain, remained in detention because they refused to sign written apologies or commitments to refrain from political activity. Defense lawyers faced harassment for attempting to fulfill their duties on behalf of their clients in political cases, and were forbidden from providing information about arrests and security court trials to the press or to international human rights monitors. This September, a university economist and writer on Gulf affairs for the Economist Intelligence Unit, Jasim Ali, was arrested and his computer files seized, apparently as a result of his writings and contacts with the Bahraini opposition abroad. Some of the limits of the new Amir’s program were especially evident around human rights issues. The government has not allowed Bahraini citizens to monitor and report on human rights issues in the country, and has not allowed international rights organizations to visit the country to investigate abuses. In October 1999, the Amir authorized the establishment of a human rights committee within the Shura Council, but the committee has taken no public initiatives and there is no indication that it has done any more behind the scenes than pass on individual complaints to relevant ministries, with no effort at follow-through. In October 2000, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs rejected the application of a dozen Bahraini citizens to establish an independent non-governmental human rights monitoring organization on the grounds that it would only duplicate the work of the Shura Council committee. In late 1999 the Amir announced that local municipal elections would be held and that women would be allowed to vote and stand as candidates, but no date for these elections was ever set. In May 2000 he announced that the Shura Council would become an elected body in 2004. In September he appointed a new Shura Council, keeping some former members but also including as new members several women and representatives of non-Muslim communities. In late November he appointed a forty-six-member Supreme National Committee, headed by Minister of Justice Shaikh Abdallah bin Khalid Al Khalifa, a member of the royal family, to draft a national charter that would then be submitted to “a general congress” of two thousand citizens representing “all social sectors,” also to be appointed by the government. Six members of the Supreme Committee resigned in early December, reportedly over the Amir’s insistence that the Charter reflect his desire to be elevated to king. Some elements of the draft were leaked to the press following criticism of the closed-door drafting process. In his annual National Day speech on December 16, the Amir outlined his proposal for a two-chamber legislature with one elected and one appointed body. The Amir’s plan elicited outspoken criticism from Bahraini critics at home and abroad, who pointed out that in democratic countries both houses of bicameral legislatures are elected or, as in Britain, the unelected body has limited and well-defined powers. The decision to submit the Charter to a popular referendum appears to have been taken in response to these criticisms. Critics have hinged their support for the Charter on the Amir’s addressing three demands. Two of these demands — release of all remaining political prisoners and permission for political exiles to return home — appear to have been largely met by the February 5 amnesty mentioned above. The amnesty did not include some twenty to thirty persons convicted of murder or attacks that resulted in serious injuries, but did include Abd al-Wahab al-Hussain and three other Shi`a leaders who had spent more than five years in jail without trials. A week earlier the government had relaxed the heavy surveillance and restrictions around the home of the elderly and ailing Shaikh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri, who had been released earlier but kept under house arrest. The amnesty also did not include hundreds of other political exiles. Officials have indicated that they too would be welcome to return once they had indicated their acceptance of the existing order (nizam)–i.e., the monarchy–and legislation. Many of the exiles insist that the state security law, which they contend is unconstitutional, be repealed before they make any such commitment. Critics also asked the government to provide assurances that National Charter would not supplant the 1972 constitution. The text of the charter actually appears to be fairly clear: the preamble states that “implementation of some of the essential ideas included shall require constitutional amendments,” and specifies in particular those articles pertaining to the composition of the legislature. Instead, the problem is that the Charter is disturbingly vague when it comes to the role and powers of the legislature. It neither proposes nor assigns numbers to either chamber, nor does it indicate how differences between them will be resolved. It also does not set a target date for elections. And while it proclaims to promote a checks-and-balances type of division between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, it also stipulates that the Amir-become-King is in charge of all the branches, including the appointment and dismissal of the prime minister and the cabinet. It is not clear what power, if any, will reside in the legislature. Reform advocates fear that what citizens will get will be essentially two advisory bodies, one elected and one appointed. To these critics, the Amir’s son, Crown Prince Salman, asserted on February 4 somewhat implausibly that “nowhere in the world” does an appointed chamber have the power to block the will of an elected body. He urged Bahrainis to vote “yes” in order to lay the foundations of a new political framework. “It will give the Amir a mandate to act on concepts described in the Charter and, stage by stage, they will be implemented in their entirety by 2004,” he said. “Specifics still have to be gone into.”
Bahrain: Celebrations proliferate following release of the remaining prisoners The Amir issued a new decree on February ordering the release of the remaining political prisoners. The released prisoners were received by the people as heroes who have suffered injustice and ill treatment. The release is a realisation of the pledge made by the Amir to the four opposition personalities who met with him on 8 February. The steps taken by the Amir were unexpected, and are being warmly received by the people of Bahrain. The opposition expressed appreciation for the courageous decisions taken by the Amir. The opposition has also called on the Amir to use his good relations with the Kuwaiti authorities to release Mr. Adel Al-Hayki, who is in a Kuwaiti jail because of the events in Bahrain. A spokesperson for the opposition said “it would be unfair that Mr. Al-Hayki spends another 18 months in jail while prisoners in Bahrain have been freed. The Amir visited Muharraq and Sitra as part of a campaign ahead of the referendum to be held on 14-15 February on the national charter. He was warmly received by the people who had not been accustomed to such practices. The Bahrain Society of Human Rights (BSHR), which is in the process of re-applying for permission to function as a non-governmental organization inside the country, issued a statement on 10 February stating its positive response to the steps taken by the Amir. The BSHR (whose electronic mail is email@example.com) emphasised that it considers “the charter to be an initial step for consolidating the constitutional elements,”. The BSHR welcomed the informal freezing of the State Security Law and called for its abolition through the issuance of a decree in the Official Gazette. It also called for reviewing all other laws and unwritten practices that are based on discriminatory policies. The London-based Arab News Network (ANN) Satellite channel hosted a 2-hour programme on Bahrain on 10 February. Participators in the debate included Dr. Saeed Shehabi, Sheikh Ali Salman, and Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri. The main participators were joined by callers who contributed to the debate from various angles. Mr. Ali Rabea and Mr. Abdulla Hashim, both from the Committee for Popular Petition inside Bahrain, explained the position of the opposition with regard to the recent developments. Sheikh Mohammed Ali Al-Mahfoodh, Dr. Alaa Al-Yousif and Ms. Ramlah Jawad explained the various views on the on-going debate. Ms. Jawad, a political activist, who had been jailed and tortured together with her father, spoke heroically about the struggle of the Bahraini women and their preparedness to meet the challenges of participating in the future parliamentary elections as candidates and as voters. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeerah TV will be hosting a special programme on the referendum in Bahrain. The programme (Opposite Direction) will be aired on the evening of 13 February (one night before the referendum on 14-15 February). Two person, one representing the government and another representing the opposition will be facing each other in the debate. Bahrain Freedom Movement 12 February 2001 Tel/Fax: + 44 207 278 9089
BFM Statement Concerning the New Political Developments Taking Place on 9 February 2001 Following up from the Statement issued by the Bahrain Freedom Movement on 8 February calling for a “no” vote during the referendum that will take place in Bahrain on 14-15 February on the national charter; And following on from the meeting on 8 February that took place after the issuance of the BFM Statement, between the Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, and four leading personalities, Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, Seyyed Abdulla Al-Ghoreifi, Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain and Dr. Ali Al-Oreibi, during which the Amir had affirmed that the legislative powers will be in the hands of the elected council and that the appointed Shura Council will have no legislative powers, that the 1973 Constitution will remain to be the source of legitimacy, and that the State Security Law has been informally frozen; And following the publication of a statement by the Justice Minister in the local media on 9 February confirming the intents stated by the Amir with regard to the role of the elected and appointed councils; And following on from the statement issued on 9 February during the Friday Prayer at Duraz Grand Mosque by Sheikh Al-Jamri, Seyyed Al-Ghoreifi, Mr. Abdel Wahab Hussain and Dr. Ali Al-Oreibi, confirming the discussions that took place between them and the Amir on 8 February following the issuance of the BFM Statement of 8 February; And following on from the statement issued by the Committee for the Popular Petition on 9 February supporting the position adopted by the four personalities who met the Amir, and calling for a positive response with regard to the voting on the national charter; And on the basis of our commitments for the martyrs and the sacrifices of our great nation; And believing in the concept of popular sovereignty; The BFM has decided to withdraw the Statement issued on 8 February calling for a “no” vote. We believe that every citizen has in front of him/her all the facts, and he/she will be able to cast his/her vote for the satisfaction of his/her conscience. The BFM pledges to continue serving the nation utilizing all its capabilities for the common good of the present and future generations. Bahrain Freedom Movement 10 February 2001 Tel/Fax +44 207 278 9089 Bahrain: The BFM calls for a “no” vote on 14-15 February The Bahrain Freedom Movement has called on the people to vote “no” on 14-15 February referendum on the so-called national charter. The BFM regretted that it had to take this position as the government refused to clarify the vagueness shrouding the remits of the national charter. The BFM said “we had hoped to join the Amir in his drive for political reforms, especially as he seems to be determined to wrap-up the ugly episode of the past 25 years. He made people happy by releasing most of the political prisoners and detainees and he ordered the interior ministry in the past few days to stop intimidating the people why they express their happiness while reuniting with their freed relatives and friends.” The BFM called on the Amir to order the interior ministry to release the remaining 25 political prisoners whose families are feeling extra pain as they see other families enjoying the reunions with their loved ones. The release of the remaining 25 prisoners will send a clearer message about the long-term intentions of the Amir. The prime minister is staying out of the country and is spending his time in Thailand while Bahrain is going through its most critical period for the past quarter of a century. His absence is not missed by the people who had suffered most from his draconian policies. In its statement, the BFM noted the positive gestures and measures taken by the Amir in the past few days since 5 February and hoped that this attitude will continue after this month which is witnessing two major events. The first one is the referendum on 14-15 February on the charter proposed by the Amir and the second one is the visit of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in the period between 24 February to 3 March. The UN team’s visit is the first of its kind and it had been scheduled to take place since August 1998 fir investigating cases of arbitrary detentions in Bahrain.. The BFM provided the following justifications for calling for a “no” vote: 1. The charter proposed by the Amir contradicts the country’s constitution and falls short of the demands raised by the people for the past 25 years. Article 32B of the constitution states that the Amir shares the legislative and executive powers, while the charter states that the Amir is over and above the legislative, the executive and the judicial powers. This means that the Amir will have an unlimited mandate that is contrary to the spirit of the Islamic jurisdictions and modern mankind experiences. 2. The charter contradicts Article 104 of the Constitution, which states that any changes must be processed through the elected National Assembly. Bypassing and disrespecting the constitutional law will not be a good start for establishing the rule of law. 3. The charter specifies the creation of an appointed council that will share and is bound to restrict the constitutional powers of the elected national Assembly. 4. The referendum is being processed while all the laws of emergency are still in place. The State Security Law has not be revoked and the government-run media has been advertising a “yes” campaign while banning anyone to explain the various reservations and to present a non-official view. 5. While the BFM values the recent gestures by the Amir, it is evident that the political environment is still suffering from the lack of confidence between the ruler and the ruled as a result of a prolonged period of repression. It is therefore necessary to include international and neutral observes to monitor the voting and counting of votes. This demand was ignored by the government. Due to all the above facts, the BFM called on the people of Bahrain to cast a “no” vote during the referendum of 14-15 February. Bahrain Freedom Movement 8 February 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
Bahrain: The Amir ought to clarify matters before the referendum; otherwise the opposition might call for a “no” vote The Amir of Bahrain announced on 5 February that he ordered the release of political detainees and prisoners as well as allowing exiles to return. The decree included may exceptions that were not clear. A follow-up statement by the interior ministry said that it would release 289 prisoners and detainees and would allow 108 exiles to return. The number of exiles is much higher than figure of 108 and it is not yet known if some prisoners would or would not remain in jails. A spokesperson for the BFM welcomed the step and commented that the release of detainees and prisoners is a long overdue step. The spokesperson hoped that the all citizens will be freed as promised, without any exception. As for exiles, the spokesperson hoped that the government would allow all of them without exceptions and without conditions. More worrying was a condition stated that the exiles must abide by the law. This usually refers to the draconian State Security Law, which has been condemned by all major international human rights organisations. While the opposition welcomes the Amir’s step, it must be stated that the people of Bahrain were persecuted and ill-treated because they demanded their basic rights and there is no way that the opposition would agree to the State Security Law. The opposition clarified that these steps were taken ahead of a visit by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 24 February, and ahead of the 14-15 February referendum that has been staged by the government to change the Constitution of the country. The changes are being processed outside the remits of Article 104 that calls for the elected National Assembly to vote on any changes. Debate has been curtailed and the government has been staging one-way commercials and talk-shows in favour of the changes. On 4 February, the Crown Prince held a press conference in his capacity as Heir Apparent and Acting Prime Minister inside the premier’s court. The premier has left the country for South East Asia and is staying outside the country during these critical days in a clear sign that what is going on is not his policy. The Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa, said that details about the changes included in the so-called national charter won’t be clarified before the referendum. While he stated several positive points he never mentioned the emergency laws that have been smothering the political environment since 1975. He did not comment on the demand raised by the people that all these emergency laws be revoked before the holding of the referendum The Committee for Popular Petition (CPP) issued an open letter to the Amir on 4 February saying that for the people to say “yes” to the charter, it is important that the following matters are clarified: 1. The relationship between the elected National Assembly and the appointed Shura Council must be crystal clear. The Constitution states clearly that the National Assembly is the only body that has the authority to legislate and this must be included in the charter. 2. That the issues included in the charter must be segregated so that the people can vote on each items rather than as a lump sum. 3. It must be made clear that the ultimate change will only be processed after presenting them to the elected National Assembly as stated in Article 104 of the Constitution. 4. The charter says that the Amir is over and above all authorities. It must be made clear that the people are the source of sovereignty. 5. Since the referendum is an historic event that is taking place after a troubled period, we demand that international observes be allowed to monitor the voting to ensure that votes are not rigged. The CPP demanded also the abrogation of the State Security Law to provide a proper environment for free debate. Moreover, the CPP warned that if the government refuses to clarifies the above issues then the citizens might be forced to vote “no” in the referendum on 14-15 February. Bahrain Freedom Movement 6 February 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
Amnesty International New Zealand Section 2 Feb 200 1His Highness The Amir of Bahrain Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa Sir, During the last two years I have learnt much about Bahrain. I have heard of the Bahraini peoples’ strong desire for a Democratic Government, and their joy when, after the British witdrew from the Island, they were able to formulate a Constitution guranteeing the Rights of all. This Constitution was ratified with delight and gratitude by all the people. I have learnt that over the years since 1975, this Constitution has been dishonoured by the continual abuse of Bahraini citizens, many of whom have been imprisioned without trial like Mr. Abudl Wahab Hussain and his companions, for over five years, have been tortured and even killed, and many have even been deported from their own country! Now some in authority are planning major changes to this Constitution without the consultation or debate. These changes, I hear, are being rushed through despite the protests and pleas of the Bahraini citizens. I draw your attention to these flagrant breaches of Human Rights, and ask you to use all your power and authority to stop these great injustices. Through your actions in opposing these shocking and disgraceful breaches of Human Rights may Bahrain stand tall amnogst the nations of the world, proud before all the world of the way she treats her people. Sister Maria O Connell RSM For Jusice & Peace Group ST. Peters Beckenham Newzealand
Bahrain: Guaranteeing basic rights of citizens are the benchmarks for true reforms The Amir is expected to deliver a speech on 5 February while the government is planning to hold a press conference on 4 February. Opposition forces pledged to clarify their position following the Amir’s speech. The opposition hopes that the Amir will remedy the situation and will turn a new page in Bahrain history. Such a task would entail taking the following step: 1- The abrogation of the State Security Law, State Security Court, the exceptional laws of March 1996, and all the other laws curtailing freedom of expression, publication and association 2- The affirmation that the Shura Council proposed by the so-called national charter will not have legislative powers and that the final say will be with the elected National Assembly. 3. That no law will be allowed to continue or to be enacted that may contravene the 1973 Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and/or the two International Covenants on Civil, Political, Cultural, Social and Economic Rights. 4- The freeing of all political prisoners and detainees, and the unconditional return of all exiles. A spokesperson for the BFM said that the opposition will take its decision vsv. the so-called national following the Amir speech on 5 February and will use the above criteria as a benchmark. The pro-democracy personality, Mohammed Jaber Sabah, wrote in Al-Quds on 1 February highlighting the main issues discussed inside Bahrain with regard to the so-called national charter. He said thee is no place for “whitewashing the negative aspects of the national charter just because the charter contains other positive points. To do so would be self-cheating and would not foster a sound basis for the future. The government is running a commercial-promotional campaign for advertising its views while at the same it has been preventing those who hold other views from presenting their case… “Bahrainis cannot continue to live under the State Security Law that had stained the image and life of Bahrain. It is necessary to release all political prisoners, most importantly Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain. All political exiles must be allowed to return home so that they can express themselves and to enrich the political debate. We believe that the people are the source of sovereignty and the people must be allowed to express themselves without fear or reprisals… “For the government to call for respect of law, it must abide by the constitution. Article 104 requires any changes to the constitution must be presented to the elected National Assembly. We call for the reactivation of Article 65, which was suspended in 1975…. “The national charter states that the Amir is over and above the three powers: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. This contradicts Article 32(B) of the Constitution which states that the Amir is “part of the legislature”. The same article states that the Amir shares the legislative power with the National Assembly, and shares the executive power with the cabinet. The charter places the Amir over and above all the powers rather than sharing them. Moreover the Constitution states that the judiciary practice its role and merely issues the rulings in the name if the Amir. It does not say that the Amir over and above the judiciary…. “The national charter states that the legislative power is to constitute an appointed Shura Council that plays its role alongside the elected National Assembly. Paradoxically, the charter says that the appointed council will increase people’s participation. This is rather playing with words. The 1973 Constitution provides a greater role for people’s participation as the legislative power is in the responsibility of the elected members.” Bahrain Freedom Movement 2 February 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
The opposition calls for a truth and reconciliation process Beyond the whitewashing exercise The Amir of Bahrain has expressed a willingness to undertake political reforms in the country. A so-called “National Charter” was drawn by his aides and a referendum date was set foe 14-15 February have it approved by the people. The Charter has fallen short of the people’s expectations and is seen as an attempt to impose changes in the Constitution outside the mechanisms prescribed by that Constitution. The ruling family aims to secure a popular applause for the Amir. Beside being un-Constitutional, the referendum is being imposed in a climate that is not suitable. The people have been prevented from discussing the imposed Charter; no independent seminars or meeting to discuss it are allowed, and the local media was not allowed to discuss it openly except in ways of endorsing and praising it. The interior ministry intervened and prevented two pro-democracy personalities from speaking during the forthcoming seminar in Alumni Club due on 5 February. The government set the dates of 14-15 February for a referendum on turning the State of Bahrain into a monarchy and on changing the structure of the legislative power. The government also set 12 February for those outside the country to cast their votes at the compounds of Bahraini embassies abroad. Official said that the result would be announced 24 hours after voting ends. Voters will be asked to cast a “yes” or “no” vote on a so-called “national charter” under which a bicameral parliament will be created. The upper chamber is to be an all-appointed body while the lower one will have two-thirds elected members (there will be 20 ex-officio ministers). The so -called “National Charter” was pre-drafted and handed to an appointed 46-strong body on 2 December 2000. On 23 December, the appointed committee returned the charter back to the Amir without affecting any change to the two principal changes that had been pre-drafted. The process adopted for changing the constitution contravenes Article 104 of Bahrain’s Constitution which states that if “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 [National] Assembly and ratified by the Amir”. The National Assembly was dissolved in 1975. The government was initially going to hold a convention of some 1000 appointed people on 23 December to proclaim acceptance of the government-drafted national charter. The opposition protested that this was an undemocratic way of changing the country’s constitution and challenged the government to allow free debate without the existence of emergency laws that prevent freedom of expression. While believing in the sovereignty of people and generally pleased about the concept of referendum, the opposition demands that any popular referendum must meet acceptable international standards of fairness and transparency. The government has not given enough details of how it will be held. The Bahrain Freedom Movement expressed serious concerns about the government’s approach. Such concerns include: 1- The government has said that only those men and women “over 21 who have not had criminal convictions and (…) will be allowed to vote.” Who these people are and how many? Has the government set the age of 21 years in order to exclude a very large number of people at the between the ages of 18-21? The only ones to be excluded should be the recently-imported mercenaries 2- Government sources said that 217,000 citizens would be entitled to participate in the referendum process, that the citizens will be asked to present their identity cards for registration and that the passports of the citizens will be stamped in the last page to indicate who had voted. The BFM believes that this is not a good way for dealing with citizens. In advanced countries, citizens would receive special voting papers that have been pre-registered. Moreover, the stamping of passports may be used by the government to single out people who may have objected to participating in a process that essentially violates the country’s constitution. 3- How will the referendum question be phrased out? The government has refused to provide any details about the nature of the changes and is concentrating on other aspects that are already guaranteed by the constitution. The main vague points are the extent of discretionary powers to be granted to the position of the “king” and the nature of relationship between the appointed and elected members of the two chambers of the proposed parliament. 4- Who will observe the referendum to ensure that the government does bot cheat in the votes? Will the government allow independent international observers to attend and witness the process? 5- What if the people of Bahrain want the constitution without changes? Is the offer of the government (so-called national charter) the only option? 6- Will the State of Emergency (State Security Law, etc) be repealed before the referendum to allow people to freely express themselves? 7- Will the Amir embark on an initiative for national reconciliation before such a critical step? Due to all the above reservations, the opposition would call for the rejection of the so-called charter unless the Amir takes remedial steps to ensure that the will of the people will be properly represented through the agreed constitutional framework. The opposition has called for the reinstatement of the Constitution, the release of political prisoners, unconditional return of exiles, repealing of the notorious emergency laws such as the State Security Law and the State Security Court. Up to now, the government has failed to launch a reconciliation process, knowing that such a process would require taking to task those responsible for the black era. The country is therefore passing through a difficult time, having to struggle with what appears to be an attempt to introduce political reforms, but without facilitating a proper discourse that will help to formulate public opinion towards reconciliation. Friendly countries to the Al-Khalifa are duty-bound to make it clear to them that the time has come to take serious steps to involve the opposition in the reconstruction of a new political era and eradicate dictatorship. Bahrain Freedom Movement February 2001 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089