January 2001

Case BHR 31010 1The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Bahrain. Brief description of the situation The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Bahrain Human Rights Organisation (BHRO) of the use of tear gas and rubber bullets fired at demonstrators, demanding the restoration of Bahrain’s constitution, by security forces on the night of 18th January.  A number of citizens were also arrested, including two 12 year old boys, Mohammed Abdullah Juma (from Karbabad), and Abdul Shahid Khamis (from Sanabis). Other detainees included Baqir Ibrahim Khamis, Ahmed Al-Motawwa, Jaffer from Arad, Mohmood Isa, Hassan Al-Mulla, and several others. According to the reports, citizens from the areas surrounding Karbabad marched on the main Budaya Highway on 18 January, around 7.30 p.m. denouncing the government’s attempts to deface Bahrain’s constitution. The demonstrators called for the restoration of the 1973 constitution, an immediate end to the siege imposed on Sheikh Al-Jamri and the bringing to justice of those people responsible for torturing and killing citizens. The foreign-staffed security forces attacked the demonstrators with rubber bullets and tear gas. In response, the citizens threw stones and burned car tyres to minimise the effects of tear gas.  Further reports from BHRO, note that on 21 January, several dawn raids were conducted against scores of houses. At 1.00 am units belonging to the interior ministry attacked Karbabad and raided the houses of Mahmood Abdul Nabi Ahmed (18 years old), Ibrahim Radhi Abdul Abbas (20 years), Ali Jasim Ali (20 years), Isa Abdul Nabi Al-Daqqaq (20 years), and Samir Jaffer Habib (22 years). They were accused of taking part in the peaceful demonstration that took place on 18 January. Action requested Please write to the authorities in Bahrain urging them to: i. take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the above-mentioned persons and order their immediate release in the absence of valid legal charges or, if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times; ii. order a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances of these arrests in order to identify those responsible, bring them to trial and apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law; iii. put an immediate end to the use of arbitrary detention of people by the police and abrogate 1974 State Security Law and all national laws which are not in compliance with international human rights standards; iv. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards. Addresses His Highness Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, Office of His Highness the Amir, P.O. Box 555, The Amiri Court, Rifa’a Palace, Bahrain. Fax : + 973 668884. Telex : 8666 Qasar BN; 8500 Qasar BN His Excellency Al-Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister, P.O. Box 1000, al-Manama, Bahrain. Telex : 9336 PROM BN or 7889 PMPO BN. FAX: + 973 533033. His Excellency Al-Shaikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Interior, P.O. Box 13, al-Manama, Bahrain. Fax : + 973 276765 or 290526 or 754303. Telex : 9572 PSMKT BN OR 8333 ALAMAN BN  The Diplomatic Representatives of Jordan in your country. Geneva, January 31, 2001 1Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.  Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT) World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) Organizaciَn Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT) 8 rue du Vieux-Billard Case postale 21 CH-1211 Geneve 8 Suisse/Switzerland Tel. : 0041 22 809 49 39 Fax : 0041 22 809 49 29 E-mail :

POLICYWATCH  Number Five Hundred and Fourteen January 25, 2001  BAHRAIN’S NATIONAL CHARTER AND POLITICAL REFORM IN THE GULF  By Amy Hawthorne  Bahraini Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa announced January 23 that a national referendum will be held February 14-15 on a National Charter, under which the lower house of a national assembly would be elected in 2004. Sheikh Hamad’s reformist moves are the latest example of a trend in the Gulf kingdoms toward the establishment of representative institutions. However, Bahrain’s proposed reforms are unlikely to be sufficiently far-reaching to address the political and economic discontent among Bahrain’s Shia majority.  Background. Bahrain is the smallest and poorest Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state, although its prestige is enhanced by its role as home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and as the GCC’s regional banking and commercial hub. Its Shia-majority population has chafed under the rule of the Sunni al-Khali fa family, which it blames for its political exclusion and second-class economic conditions, including an unemployment rate as high as 30 percent. Bahrain has a long history of political unrest–especially since 1975, when Sheikh Hamad’s father, Sheikh Issa, dissolved Bahrain’s elected assembly, accusing its members of refusing to cooperate with the government, and issued a much-resented security law. The Bahraini authorities’ response to opposition demands for restoration of the assembly, and to other socio-political unrest, has largely been repression and exile of the movement’s leaders, particularly during the stormy period from 1994 to 1998.  Like the rest of the new generation of Arab leaders, Sheikh Hamad has cloaked himself in the language of reform since assuming power after his father’s death in March 1999. The new emir sought to calm Bahrain’s internal situation, to revive its international image, and–perhaps most importantly–to establish his authority vis-a-vis his powerful uncle, the prime minister, an anti-reform hardliner who had favored his own son for the throne. During the past two years, Sheikh Hamad has released hundreds of political prisoners, and this week ended the house arrest of Shia opposition leader Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri. In national speeches, the emir has often spoken of his intention to restart political life and to hold local elections, the first since British rule. In September 2000, he made history in the Gulf by appointing four women, a Christian, and a Jew to the advisory Shura council created by hi s father in 1992. These gestures have somewhat lessened public tension. Another spur to reform has no doubt been the intense and centuries-old rivalry with Qatar, whose emir scored a major public relations coup with the West when he decreed a local council election, held in March 1999, in which women could vote. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is due to rule soon on the disputed Hawar Islands, claimed by both countries but currently part of Bahraini territory. The emir probably hopes to boost Bahrain’s image and score domestic political points in the likely event that the ruling goes against his country.  Proposed Reforms. Prepared by a select committee of notables in December 2000, the National Charter offers four key reforms amidst many vague generalities. Most important is that a bicameral assembly be formed from an upper house of appointed “experts and scholars” (presumably the current Shura council, plus the cabinet ministers as ex officio members) a n d a lower house of elected deputies. The charter also states that male and female citizens have full suffrage. The National Charter calls for an independent judiciary, an attorney general, and a “public accountability” council. Finally, it describes Bahrain as a “hereditary monarchy,” which suggests the emir will take the title of king–something he is said to want badly. The influential London-based opposition in exile has denounced the National Charter as window dressing. They complain that the National Assembly will be toothless, able only to review, not generate, legislation, and that actions of the lower house will be blocked by the upper house. They dislike the change of the emir’s title to king, which seems to codify the enduring nature of the al-Khalifa family as Bahrain’s ultimate authority. They also complain about the non-inclusive process of preparing the charter and its exclusion of their longstanding demands for release of all political prisoners; legal ization of political parties and labor unions; acceptance of Bahraini Shia into sensitive government and security positions; and return of deported opposition leaders. Also important in the equation is the Bahrain-based Shia religious component of the opposition movement, the ascendant strain in the last decade. Its young Iranian-educated leaders call not only for constitutional democracy, but also for economic justice and the Islamicization of public life–demands not addressed in the National Charter. The heat already generated by the charter suggests that the long-awaited reform process could end up exacerbating, rather than abating, tensions with the government, as high expectations fall short. Despite these criticisms, opposition figures, if elected, are sure to make the most of the limited space afforded by the assembly to press for transparency in governance and better management of the country’s wealth. These are extremely sensitive matters for the leadership–e s pecially for the prime minister, who is certain to be a target of such interrogations. This raises the prospect of major clashes between the opposition and the ruling family, reminiscent of the confrontations and gridlock that led to the dissolution of the previous assembly.  Economic Reform. So far, the proposed political reforms have not been coupled with meaningful economic reform. Unemployment, especially among Shia, is a serious problem. Bahrain’s oil-poor economy continues to depend on subsidies from Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait, whose combined aid is estimated to constitute one-fifth of Bahrain’s revenue. The Bahraini government has not adjusted its spending priorities to focus on what would benefit the lower and middle class the most– namely, the expansion of social services, job training, and private sector development. Instead, the focus is on construction projects, tourism, and banking, which for variou s reasons are not likely to be viable expansion areas for Shia workforce. Another serious problem is that foreign labor comprises 58 percent of the workforce, but many Bahraini Shia lack the relevant skills or are unwilling to accept competitive wages for these jobs.  Regional Factors. Bahrain is the GCC state most exposed to pressures or influence from nearby powerful states. Due to Bahrain’s large Shia population, Iran is a potential disruptive force of which Bahrain must always be wary. Bahrain blamed Iran for plotting overthrow of its government in both 1981 and 1997. With the less aggressive face of Iranian policy in the Gulf under Muhammad Khatami, Bahraini-Iranian relations have warmed slightly. But the long-term challenge of Iran’s influence over Shia in Bahrain will not disappear anytime soon, especially as Bahraini Shia are increasingly emboldened by Iran’s democratic election process. Saudi Arabia provides critical financial support to Bahrain and maintain s close relations with the al-Khalifa royal family, meaning that Bahrain has little latitude for independent action and that whatever reforms it proposes must presumably be carefully vetted with the Saudis. Bahrain’s close security ties to the United States bolster its position somewhat. The Fifth Fleet headquarters is the most visible and well-known U.S. military presence in the region. So far, the Bahraini opposition has not made the U.S. presence a leading public issue, but this could change with the rise of anti-American sentiment in the region and with the space for dissent that the National Assembly will provide.  Conclusion. The al-Khalifa family has proven its ability to maintain power, but if reform is not handled wel
l and substantive change does not occur soon, Bahrain could be in for rough times ahead. The United States should urge Bahrain’s leadership to continue down the path of economic development and political reform despite short-term problems that may arise. How Bahrain manages the challenges of political and economic reform while maintaining its hereditary dynastic character should be closely watched, since it may presage the future of other GCC kingdoms, emirates, and sultanates.  Amy Hawthorne is a Soref fellow at The Washington Institute. 

Bahrain: The opposition slams the government’s misinformation campaign  On 29 January, another session will be held with regard to the court case brought by the hated foreign advisor to the information ministry, Syed Abdul Adhim Al-Babli against the Bahraini journalist Mr. Hafedh Al-Sheikh. Al-Babli treats Bahrain and Bahrainis with contempt and has been responsible for confusion and bad image for Bahrain during the Gulf Air disaster last year. When, Mr. Al-Sheikh criticized him for his misbehaviour, the government firstly summoned Al-Sheikh for interrogation and later transferred him to the court. This case has been followed by the people of Bahrain with keen interest to gauge the attitude of the government towards the people of Bahrain.  On 26 January, the pro-democracy lawyer, Mr. Abdulla Hashim wrote an article in the UAE newspaper Al-Khalij. This is because the government has banned all those who have critical views about the so-called national charter from airing their opinions in the local media or be allowed to address any public seminar. Mr. Hashim said that “the people of Bahrain and the political forces have expressed their concerns and reservation on the way the government wants to force the national charter on the people. The concerns centre on the way the constitution is being changed, outside the due process prescribed by the constitution. Therefore, and mandate emerging from the referendum (to be held on 14-15 February) has no constitutional base.”  Moreover, the “changes are being proceeded in a very short period followed a painful period that extended quarter a century. During the past 25 years the people demanded the reactivation of the constitution, not the changing of it in such a way. The demolition of the strong boundaries of the National Assembly (as proposed by the national charter) means that the number of government-appointed members will be greater than those elected by the people. The political crisis in Bahrain will not be resolved by the unconstitutional changes being processed. Instead, the slogan of the next political phase may take the form of demanding the restoration of integrity of the Bahraini constitution”.  The government is expected to release the political detainees before the arrival of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 24 February. The government is keen to say to misinform the people about the nature of its plans and is intending to wrap-up the changes 24 hours after the 15 February (following the referendum). The opposition believes that the referendum will be rigged and the government is not allowing independent observers to control the process. Whatever the people votes may be, the government has already pre-decided the results of the referendum. The opposition forces have promised to makeclear their position towards the referendum. It is possible that the opposition may call for boycotting the referendum to avoid being used by the government in the ill-intentioned process of changing Bahrain’s constitution.  Bahrain Freedom Movement  29 February 2001  Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089 

Bahrain: The regime goes ahead with a vague referendum under a State of Emergency  The interior ministry intervened and prevented two pro-democracy personalities from speaking during the forthcoming seminar in Alumni Club due on 5 February. The organizers were told on 14 February that the interior ministry would allow pro-democracy personalities to speak if the government’s individuals were allowed first. Many of those who speak on behalf of the government were allowed to speak during the first two seminars. When the organizers invited Ali Rabea and Mohsen Marhoon to speak during the forthcoming seminar, the interior minister intervened to prevent them. The Amir had promised to allow freedom of expressions but his promises have not materialized.  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 expresses 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.  While the regime speaks about a referendum, more arrests were reported as part of the reprisal crackdown against the citizens who marched to the streets of Karbabad area on 18 January to demand the restoration of the constitution without changes. The following were amongst those arrested: Ibrahim Abdul Nabi, 20 (from Sitra and had been arrested five times in the past years), Seyyed Mortadha from Sanad, Hussain Mahfood, 20, Fadhil Abbas Abdul Hussain, 26 and his brother Hassan Abbsa Abdul Hassan, 19 (both from Karbabad), Ammar Jawad, 18, from Kaebabad.  Bahrain Freedom Movement  27 January 2001  Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089 

Bahrain: Will the Amir listen to the voices of the people?  While the government plans to hold a referendum , the people of Bahrain are expressing their outrage at the mismanagement of their country and the way the government is attempting to change the constitution without recourse to a constitutional due process.  Another opportunity for the citizens to voice their demands was provided during the second public seminar to be organised by the Alumni Club on 23 January. The interior ministry permitted the seminar on the condition that the speakers will only speak about economic and social aspects of the so-called national charter. However, one of the speakers and several people from the audience managed to air the views which he government had been attempting to suppress.  The journalist Ali Saleh said that the national charter couldn’t be endorsed without the existence of a true democratic environment. A true democracy would allow the other views to be heard. But we are prevented from saying anything in the press (very loud applause from the packed hall). He said the only thing that is allowed is to express gratitude for the officials (loud applause). This is why, said Ali Saleh, the press has no credibility amongst the public. The last seminar was reported in away that reflected the official line of not allowing true coverage (loud applause). All the people are asking, “Where is this democracy?” And they say “if this is the beginning; what will the end be?” he said. He also mentioned that there exists a human rights committee (as part of the appointed Shura Council), but it has no real existence and the people know nothing about it. The citizens have a right to form a non-governmental organisation for human rights. “We still do not know the details of the charter, Will there be a lower house of 40 elected and 20 appointed ministers, plus an upper house of 40 appointees? What will their authorities be?” (very aloud applause). He said that Article 86 of the Constitution states that a minister may not trade while occupying his position and cannot practice business while performing public duties, these things cannot be mixed (loud applause). He said that Article 16 of the Constitution states that the army and security forces are to be formed from citizens, while foreigners dominate these services (very loud applause). He said the Constitution bans the exiling of citizens, yet citizens are exiled.  Miss Ramlah Jawad (from the audience) requested to speak.. She said “I agree with Mr. Ali Saleh. I also say where is this human rights committee? I had been arrested, my passport had been withdrawn now for five years and I am unable to get a job (loud applause). The chairman interrupted the lady and attempted to silence her. But she continued to say “scores of those who had been released are without jobs, the fees for the university are beyond the capabilities of normal family’s income and people are not able to live with dignity (loud applause).”  The pro-democracy personality, Dr. Monira Fakhro, said “we demand that the referendum be held on certain articles of the charter, and not on all the charter. There is a crisis of confidence between the government and the people and Article 65 says that we must have a parliament within three months from the dissolution of another one. We are now 25 years behind those three months.” The chairman interrupted Dr. Fakhro, but she continued her statements saying “Who is going to oversee the referendum?” Would it be the executive power or the judiciary? We know that the executive controls everything in the country (very loud applause).” She went on to say “we demand that the civil society institutions be put in charge of the referendum. I would like to ask, what will the government do when the outcome of the referendum comes to be a “NO”? Will the government close down the programme of democracy? I would also like to ask “will the exiled and the political prisoners be allowed to express their views?”  Radhi Al-Mosawi commented on the way the labour ministry deals with the workers and how it is continuing to misinform itself by claiming that unemployment is at a 2.3% rate. He said that the International Monetary Fund states that Bahrain has a 16-19% unemployment rate (loud applause). Farid Ghazi said what we hear these days is a manifestation of the political stagnation that has prevailed in the country for the past 25 years.  Bahrain Freedom Movement  24 January 2001 

Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089 

Bahrain: End of house arrest imposed on Sheik Al-Jamri  The house arrest imposed on Sheikh Al-Jamri since July 1999 was ended this morning (23 January 2001). The police cars that used to besiege the house disappeared in the morning and only one car belonging to the intelligence department remained in the surrounding area.  The end of house arrest followed the demands raised by the citizens who attended the seminar organised by Alumni Club on 14 January. Some news spoke about the release of Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain and his senior colleagues. However, until the morning of 23 January, neither Mr. Hussain nor his colleagues had been released.  The government is keen to clear several key issues before the arrival of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 24 February. The UN team will spend one week (until 2 March) to investigate cases of arbitrarily detained people. There are several hundreds of citizens who had also been sentenced by the unconstitutional State Security Court. These citizens are considered as arbitrarily detained people, since the court has no legitimacy according to both Bahrain’s constitution and international conventions.  It is to be noted that the visit by the UN team was imposed on the government of Bahrain in August 1998 by the UN Human Rights Sub-commission. The visit was supposed to take place in 1999. But the government of Bahrain played with time and delayed the visit to 2000 and then to February 2001.  It is also expected that a delegation of Amnesty International may be visiting Bahrain during the month of February. The remit if Amnesty International (AI) is different from that of the UN team. AI has demanded that it must be allowed to meet with lawyers and civil society organisations to investigate cases of human rights violations.  On 21 January, several dawn raids were conducted against scores of houses. At 1.00 am units belonging to the interior ministry attacked Karbabad and raided the houses of Mahmood Abdul Nabi Ahmed, 18 years old and is physically ill, Ibrahim Radhi Abdul Abbas, 20 years, Ali Jasim Ali, 20 years, Isa Abdul Nabi Al-Daqqaq, 20, and Samir Jaffer Habib, 22 years. These were accused of taking part in the peaceful demonstration that took to the streets on 18 January. The security forces had deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators who demanded the restoration of Bahrain’s constitution without defacing. On the night of 18 January, at least eight people were arrested on the spot, including two 12-yaer old boys, Mohammed Abdullah Juma (from Karbabad), and Abdul Shahid Khamis (from Sanabis). Other detainees included Baqir Ibrahim Khamis and several others that had already been reported by the last BFM press release.  Bahrain Freedom Movement  23 January 2001  Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089 

Case BHR 150900.1 Follow-up to Case BHR 150900 Geneva, 18th January 2001 The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Bahrain. Brief description of the situation The International Secretariat of OMCT and the Bahrain Human Rights Organization (BHRO) wish to express their grave concerns over the continuing arbitrary  detention of a group of four political prisoners in Bahrain, held since January 1996 without charge or trial. They are: Abdul-Wahab Hussain, Shaikh Hassan  Sultan, Hassan Musheima, and Sayyed Ibrahim Adnan al-Alawi. The four, all prominent figures, were arrested on 22 January 1996. Their arrest followed mass protests against the closure by security forces of a number of mosques where prominent opposition leaders, including the above-mentioned, had been peacefully calling on the government to restore the parliament and reinstate the 1973 constitution. According to information from the BHRO, Abdul-Wahab Hussain, a member of the Committee for Popular Petition and opposition activist, was released on 17 March 2000 following an order by the State Security Court but was rearrested after spending an hour at home. Other prominent leaders arrested at that time included Shaikh Abdul-Amir al-Jamri, Shaikh Ali Ashur, Shaikh Ali bin Ahmad al-Jeddhafsi, and Shaikh Hussain al-Daihi. Shaikh al-Jamri was pardoned and released in July 1999 After he had been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, but he has been under house arrest since then, and was prevented from attending a funeral commemoration session after the death of his sister on 19 December 2000. Shaikh Ali bin Ahmad al-Jeddhafsi was released on 26 July 1999, after three and a half years of detention without charge or trial. Shaikh Ali Ashur was released at the beginning of September 2000 after more than four and a half years of detention without trial. Whereas Shaikh Hussain al-Daihi was released on 15 December 2000, but since then he has been under a threat from the government  not to take part in any political activities. All four were required to sign statements apologizing for their past political activities and committing themselves not to be involved in any political or social activities in the future. Abdul-Wahab Hussain and the other three prisoners still in detention have reportedly been put under pressure to sign similar statements but have so far refused to do so. In the last few months they have been placed in solitary confinement as a means of punishment for their rejection. The International Secretariat of OMCT is gravely concerned by the prolonged detention of Abdul-Wahab Hussain, Shaikh Hassan Sultan, Hassan Musheima, and Sayyed Ibrahim Adnan al-Alawi. According to the BHRO, 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. According to the BHRO, there are many Bahrainis still in detention under the State Security Measures, which has been in force since October 1974. These measures empowers the Minister of the Interior to detain individuals without charge or trial for up to three years. This practice clearly violates international human rights standards and Bahrain’s constitution. OMCT and BHRO have repeatedly called for the unconditional release of all political prisoners held in Bahrain, including the four men mentioned above. Action requested Please write to the authorities in Bahrain urging them to: i. take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the above-mentioned persons and order their immediate unconditional release; ii. put an immediate end to the use of arbitrary detention and abrogate 1974 State Security Law and all national laws which are not in compliance with international human rights standards; iii. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards. Addresses His Highness Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, Office of His Highness the Amir, P.O.Box 555, The Amiri Court, Rifa’a Palace, Bahrain. Fax : + 973 668884. Telex :8666 Qasar BN; 8500 Qasar BN His Excellency Al-Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister, P.O. Box 1000, al-Manama, Bahrain. Telex : 9336 PROM BN or 7889 PMPO BN. FAX: + 973 533033. His Excellency Al-Shaikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Interior, P.O. Box 13, al-Manama, Bahrain. Fax : + 973 276765 or 290526 or 754303. Telex : 9572 PSMKT BN OR 8333 ALAMAN BN Geneva, January 18th, 2001 Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal In your reply.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE 22 January 2001 AI Index MDE 11/001/2001 – News Service Nr. 12 Bahrain: Amnesty International urges the unconditional release of four Prisoners of conscience. On the fifth anniversary of their detention without charge or trial, Amnesty International today urged the Bahraini Government to release four prisoners of onscience. “These four individuals have been imprisoned for five years without charge or trial for their non-violent political and religious activities and their detention must end,” Amnesty International said. The four detainees, ‘Abd al-Wahab Hussain, Sayyid Ibrahim ‘Adnan al-‘Alawi, al-Shaikh Hassan Sultan and Hassan Msheima’, all prominent Shi’a Muslim figures, were arrested on 21 and 22 January 1996. They were among a number of well-known Bahraini Shi’a figures arrested at the same time. Their arrest followed mass protests against the closure, by security forces, of a number of mosques where they and others had been peacefully calling on the government to restore the parliament which was dissolved since 1975. The four detainees have reportedly been put under pressure to sign statements apologizing for their past political activities and committing themselves not to be involved in any political or social activities in the future before they could be released. However, they have reportedly refused to sign such statements. Other Bahraini nationals, including al-Shaikh ‘Abd al-Amir Mansur al-Jamri, who were arrested at the same time and held without charge or trial,  have been released over the last 18 months. Amnesty International has welcomed their release and the release of more than 900 political prisoners and detainees in Bahrain after being pardoned by the Amir, Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa, who assumed power in March 1999 following the death of his father. ENDS public document **************************************** For more information please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW web :

Bahrain: Tear gas and rubber bullets fired at demonstrators Citizens from the areas surrounding Karbabad marched on the main Budaya Highway on 18 January, around 7.30 p.m. denouncing the government’s attempts to deface Bahrain’s constitution. The demonstrators called for the restoration of the 1973 constitution, an immediate end to the siege imposed on Sheikh Al-Jamri and the bringing to justice of those people responsible for torturing and killing citizens. The foreign-staffed security forces attacked the demonstrators with rubber bullets and tear gas. In response, the citizens threw stones and burned car tyres to minimise the effects of tear gas. Several people were arrested on the scene. Amongst those known to have been detained were Ahmed Al-Motawwa, Jaffer from Arad, Mohmood Isa, Hassan Al-Mulla, as well as four others.  The government intends to silence the people of Bahrain during February. During this month, two important visits will take place. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will visit Bahrain on 25 February (until 2 March) to investigate cases of arbitrary detention. There are hundreds of people who had arbitrarily been sentenced by the unconstitutional State Security Court and all these are considered as arbitrarily detained people.  Moreover, there will be another visit by Amnesty International (AI) during the month of February. In 1999, AI’s delegation was prevented from meeting lawyers and civil society organisations. The government may be planning to use some of its individuals (in the appointed Shura Council) to divert the attention of outside observers. There are thousands of citizens (men, women, boys and girls) who had been ill-treated and abused (including sexual assaults) and the perpetrators are well-known to the victims and to the government. The government will attempt to prevent people from reaching out to the international observers during these visits.  The government-controlled media are attempting to misinform the public about the nature of the so-called national charter. Following the first public seminar held in 14 January, it is expected that Al-Oroba Club may organise another seminar on 30 January. The government was stunned by the strength of the feeling and the depth of awareness amongst the attendees of the first seminar. During the meeting of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) in Rabat (Morocco) last week, the participants in the general meeting condemned the government of Bahrain for curtailing public freedoms and basic rights of citizens. A petition carrying out the demands of the people of Bahrain was signed by 98 international human rights personalities calling on the Amir of Bahrain to restore the parliament and 1973 constitution without defacing the binding social contract between his family and the people of Bahrain. The pro-democracy personality, Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Nuaimi, wrote an important article in the London-based Al-Quds on 19 January on the labour movement in Bahrain. He outlined the methods used by the tribal government for denying the people Bahrain their rights Bahrain Freedom Movement  22 January 2001  Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089 Email: 

Bahrain: A new campaign of intimidation and terror deployed by the interior ministry On 16 January, the pro-democracy leaders detained since January 1996 completed their fifth year without charges or trial. The mass gathering that attended the seminar organised by the Alumni Club on 14 January called for the release of these people, particularly Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain, Mr. Hassan Mushaimaa, Sheikh Hassan Sultan, Seyyed Ibrahim Adnan. Security personnel belonging to the interior ministry started a new campaign of intimidation and terror against pro-democracy leaders. The aim of this campaign is to punish opposition personalities and to silence them. One such personality is the lawyer Abdullah Hashim. On 14 January, he heroically stood in front of the torturer Abdul Aziz Atteyat Allah Al-Khalifa and demanded the abrogation of the State Security Law, the ending of the house arrest imposed on Sheikh Al-Jamri and the redressing of the government’s wrongdoings since 1994. Hence, on 16 December, a group of security officers operating on orders from their seniors poured a hazardous acid inside the car of the lawyer. Few days earlier, the terror group smashed all the windows of the lawyer’s car. Intimidation of different kinds is also being implemented against other personalities. Sheikh Hussain Al-Deihi, who had been released recently, was threatened that he will be put back in jail if he meets with people. Few days ago, a group of intelligence officers raided the houses of four (married) sisters of Sheikh Hussain Al-Deihi. The intelligence officers confiscated the passports of Al-Delhi’s sisters. The sisters were interrogated about the movements of their brother, Sheikh Hussain Al-Deihi, and whether he uses their houses for meeting people secretly. Sheikh Ali Ashor, also recently released, is under 24-hour surveillance. Three to four cars filled with intelligence officers pursue the scholar wherever he goes. They park their cars in front of the house of Sheikh Ali Ashor and intimidate him and his family. On 14 January, security officers, led by the torturer Nader Al-Dowseri, stormed the house of Ahmed Muftah in Tobli and ransacked its contents. They then arrested the 17-year Sami Ahmed Muftah and nothing is known about the whereabouts of the teenager. He had been arrested on 16 June 1996 when he was only 13 years old. He had then been tortured at the Dry Dock Prison for one year and eleven months. He was later released without charges or trial. Then on 10 January 1998 he was again arrested and taken to detention and tortured by Abdullah (Abo Rashid) for eleven month. He was again released without charges on 18 December 1999. In January 2000, the security forces re-attacked his parent’s house, but the young man was not there. Since then he had been in hiding until the crackdown on his parent’s house on 14 January 2001. This case is a manifestation of the “reform” programme being talked about by the new Amir! On 14 January, one further session was held with regard to the case brought by the advisor to the information minister, Seyed Abdul Adhim Al-Babli, against the journalist Hafedh Al-Sheikh. Al-Babli considers himself above criticism and would not accept that a Bahraini citizen could ever criticise his mishandling of the Gulf Air disaster last year, during which he stained the image of Bahrain by his unprofessional behaviour. Bahrain Freedom Movement 18 January 2001

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Bahrain: First public seminar raises the voice of the people
The first public seminar to be allowed by the interior ministry following
the decision of the government to change the Bahraini constitution must
also the biggest embarrassment for the regime. The seminar was held on the
evening of 14 January at the Alumni Club. The interior ministry had
rejected key speakers and imposed its own people. Yet, the seminar
uncovered the true views of the people of Bahrain. These are the views that
were banned by the government but surfaced at the first opening to be
The government-backed individuals presented weak and shy presentations.
However, the interventions, questions and answers from the floor in front
of a massive audience gave way to the voice of  people.
Jasim Fakhro said there would not be a normalisation of political
environment unless three conditions are met. These are the issuing of an
amnesty for all political prisoners, return of political exiles and the
repeal of the State Security Law. Without these conditions, Bahrain will
not have a true democracy. Jasim Murad, Abbsa Helal and Ali Sayyar
supported Mr. Fakhro. Mr. Sayyar said that attempts to change the history
of Bahrain and to claim things that hadn't taken place will not serve well
the country.
The journalist, Aqil Swar reiterated the demand for the release of all
political prisoners. He said that the Amir's amnesty has not been
forthcoming and it seams that it had been frozen in the same way as the
articles of the constitution had been frozen (loud applause from the
audience).  He said that it is time to repeal the State Security Law that
had stained the image of Bahrain all over the world (louder applause).  He
went on to say "we call on the Amir from this floor to listen to our
Mr. Kamal-u-Din said "how could anybody claim that we have a democracy when
there are political prisoners, political exiles and above all when we have
the State Security Law?"
The prominent lawyer, Abdulla Hashim said, "without proper treatment of the
suffering incurred in the past five years, there would be no democracy. I
add to the demands mentioned earlier that the siege on our father Sheikh
Al-Jamri must be ended (loud applause for a prolonged period)." He said
that "Article 104 of the country's constitution does not allow anybody to
change the constitution without the reconvening of the elected National
Assembly. Any change without the due process is unconstitutional."
The pro-democracy personality, Dr. Monira Fakhro said, "all those who had
been dismissed for political reasons, must be returned to their positions
(loud applause)." She called for freedom of press and opinion to be
guaranteed as stated by the constitution.
The prominent figure and member of the dissolved parliament, Mohammed Jaber
Sabah detailed the reservations of the opposition vsv. the changes that are
to be imposed on the nation. He said that "to say Bahrain is a kingdom is
an abuse of the constitution since no such change can take place without
the convening f the elected national Assembly as stated by the
Other speakers from the floor called for an end to the ban on prayers in
certain mosques, the opening of closed mosques, the return of all dismissed
students and pupils to university and schools, the release of prisoners,
return of exiles and the end of house arrest imposed on Sheikh Al-Jamri.
Amongst the attendees were government's officials and the government's TV
crew that filmed the event and recorded all the speeches. The opposition
hopes that the Amir would listen to the voices of the people and would heed
the rational call for a true political reform.  The attendees presented a
just case and if the government ignores these views and attempts to impose
changes through a rigged referendum or unconstitutional process, then it
would not achieve any stability for Bahrain.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
15 January 2001
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089

Bahrain: Government media run a cheap campaign of misinformation The Gulf State Newsletter covered in its latest issue (Vol 25, No. 652, 8 January 2001) the plan of the government to change Bahrain’s constitution for the purpose of crippling the legislative power. The newsletter said that opponents feel that the Amir “lacked the self-confidence to challenge (his uncle and prime minister) Sheikh Khalifa, who has consolidated his power through the long years of authoritarian rule. Sheikh Khalifa’s sons hold crucial positions including Sheikh Ali as Transport and Telecommunications Minster and Sheikh Salman as deputy chief executive of Bahrain Petroleum Company”. The opposition is disappointed that the government is rushing major changes to the constitution without proper debate or process. The government banned all types of discussions and seminars on the subject. When the Alumni Club applied to be allowed to organise a seminar for the evening of 14 January, the interior ministry banned several key speakers from delivering talks. Moreover, the ministry imposed certain individuals on the panel of speakers to ensure that only its views are delivered. However, the opposition has called on people to attend the first ever public seminar on the subject and to present questions to those who speak on behalf of the government. It is the view of the opposition that the majority of people reject the medieval changes to the constitution which aim at transferring all important powers to an executive and unaccountable monarch while at the same time crippling the elected National Assembly by superimposing an appointed Shura Council on its authority. Furthermore, the government is refusing to abandon the state of emergency laws that were imposed on the country after the dissolution of the National Assembly in 1975. These emergency and repressive laws range from the State Security Law and the State Security Court to the penal code, the exceptional laws of 1996 and restrictions on freedom of expression and association. The government is attempting to whitewash its dictatorship with cosmetics by repeating that it wants to emulate advanced democracies such as the UK. But the fact of the mater is that Bahrain is going in the reverse direction and even the elected National Assembly would be crippled. While in the UK the government is elected and political parties are allowed to function with independence of judiciary and freedom of press. Furthermore, the royal family in the UK does not occupy half the cabinet, does not occupy all important positions of the State and the economy and the Queen does not run the country through decrees. So, the talk of emulating the UK is nothing more than a cheap joke repeated by the government-controlled local Arabic dailies for public consumption purposes only. Bahrain Freedom Movement 14 January 2001 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089

Bahrain: Government speakers imposed on the first public seminar on the changes to the constitution The Alumni Club of Bahrain applied to the government to be allowed to organise a seminar on the so-called “national charter”. The government rejected most of the speakers who hold views that are different from the government. Independent persons with less critical views were allowed, but more the government imposed its own speakers to dominate the panel. Regardless of the government-imposed panel of speakers, the opposition is calling on the people to attend the first public seminar to be organised following the decision of the Al-Khalifa family to change the constitution of Bahrain. The seminar will be addressed by Jasim Murad, Abbas Hilal and several other speakers who had been vetted and in some case imposed by the government. The seminar will take place at the Alumni Club on Sunday 14 January, at 8.00 pm. More than a thousand intellectuals signed their names on a letter prepared by the Committee for Popular Petition (CPP) and addressed to the Amir. The letter calls on the Amir to reactivate the country’s constitution without changes to the legislative power. It is expected that the Amir will ignore all communications that are not in line with the plan of the ruling family to change Bahrain’s constitution. The opposition personality, Mr. Ahmed Al-Thawadi, wrote an important article in Al-Quds of London 8 January, in which he detailed the reservations expressed by the opposition and civil society institutions in Bahrain with regard to the changes to the country’s constitution. He said that the constitution is a pillar of all democratic societies and no changes to such a pillar could take place without a free and genuine debate amongst all parties representing the nation. The regular column of the Bahraini journalist, Mr. Hafedh Al-Sheikh, did not appear in Akhbar Al-Khalij as usual. Instead, it appeared in Al-Shraq newspaper of Qatar on 9 January. Mr. Al-Sheikh has been writing a series of columns about the policy of the government to import people from the Syrian Desert and to grant them free citizenship in an attempt to change the demography of Bahrain. Al-Quds newspaper of 9 January revealed that the director of the Bahraini premier’s office, Dr. Abdul Latif Al-Rumeihi, had visited Israel in the past days in a secret mission. The paper said that the Bahraini official met with his counterparts in Israel and discussed matters that had not yet been revealed. Bahrain Freedom Movement 10 January 2001 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089

Bahrain: Opposition figures and intellectuals call on the Amir to end the ban on freedom of expression Hundreds of intellectuals inside Bahrain are calling on the Amir of Bahrain to lift the ban imposed on freedom of expression so that a genuine debate can be conducted on the so-called national charter. The Al-Khalifa appointed a committee last month to rubber-stamp a document (so-called a charter) for changing Bahrain’s constitution through unconstitutional means. The changes are aimed at consolidating the dictatorial policies that have been imposed on the country since the suspension of the legislative power 25 years ago. The Al-Khalifa are aiming to turn Bahrain into a medieval kingdom with Bahraini citizens treated as mere subjects. All seminars on this dangerous proposal have been banned and no journalist is allowed to criticise the government’s plan to change the constitution. On of the leading Bahraini religious and political personalities, Sheikh Isa Qassim lambasted the so-called national charter. In an important statement, Sheikh Qassim said “the charter is inferior to the constitution of Bahrain on all counts”.  He presented a detailed comparison between the articles of the constitution and those of the charter. In each case, the 1973 constitution provided a better option for a modern and democratic political life in Bahrain. He called on the government to release all political detainees and to allow exiles to return home without pre-conditions. Dr. Yaquob Al-Janahi, one of the Bahraini personalities, wrote an important article in the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 5 January.  He said that despite some of the positive aspects of the charter, its main deficiency lies in the fact that it will strip Bahrainis from their most important achievement after independence, namely their true legislative power. The Amir’s proposal to create an appointed council to share the legislative authority means that the people will be stripped from their only avenue to the echelons of power. On the question of referendum, he said that the plan of the government is not a proper one. The referendum must be held with international monitoring. And for a meaningful referendum, the question must be phrased out very clearly to reflect the reality of the situation. The question that must be put to Bahrainis: “Would you want to change the legislative power by creating an appointed council in parallel with the elected one”. In such a case, the people would be able to state their mind and international observers would verify the outcome. Otherwise, the government plan is nothing but a sham. The government of Bahrain sent its “information advisor”, Al Sayyed Al-Babli, on 4 January to London to meet with the BBC staff in an attempt to influence the reporting of the influential Arabic Service. Al-Babli is one of the most hated people in Bahrain and recently he filed a case against one of the Bahraini journalists, Mr. Hafedh Al-Sheikh, who criticised him following the blunder caused by Al-Babli in the aftermath of the Gulf Air crash last year. Al-Babli was imported from Egypt for writing the official statements relating to such issues as the demands of the opposition. Bahrain Freedom Movement 7 January 2001 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089

Bahrain: Pace of “Khalfanisation” increased in the New Year

The 21st Summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) concluded in Manama on 31 December without discussing the important issues that concern the citizens of the Gulf countries. The citizens expected from their leaders to solve their borders’ dispute and to address the question of democratisation. Instead, the people of the Gulf were told that defence pact that was talked about since the early 1980s has now been signed. The GCC had aimed in the 1980s to sign several pacts that included security, economic and defence. Non of the agreements have materialised apart from the security arrangements between several of the Gulf countries to combat political opposition. The defence pact is aimed at fending off external attacks. However, the GCC failed to defend Kuwait when Iraq invaded it a decade ago and it does not address the threats that are posed by member states against each other. The Bahraini government had in the past months mobilised its forces and resources in a war-like environment against a fellow member state, Qatar. Last week, the Bahraini government leaked a report to the Kuwaiti newspaper “Al-Watan” that it intended to propose a “union” between Bahrain and Kuwait during the GCC summit. Al-Watan also provided some clues as to the intents of such a proposal. However, no one seems to take the suggestions of the Bahraini government seriously. It was the same government that mobilised its resources against Qatar while at the same called for a union between the two countries. It is the belief of many people in the Gulf that the future would be better with a unified regional structure, however, such a unity would require the consent of the public and hence more democratisation. Yet, democracy is still an alien topic to most Gulf rulers. While much is being said in the summit about a better future for the Gulf, the situation on the ground is much different. The ruling family that wants to convert the country into a medieval kingdom is cheating the people of Bahrain. Moreover, members of the ruling Al-Khalifa family are being installed as heads of everything in the country, from ministries, to ambassadors, to corporate executives and chairpersons of sports’ associations. The latest high profile appointment was announced at the beginning of the New Year. The local newspapers reported on 1 January that “The Bahrain National Gas Company (Banagas) board of directors chaired by Sheikh Hamad bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa has appointed Dr Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa bin Daij Al-Khalifa as the company’s new chief executive, effective this month. The appointment comes after a period of two and half years which Dr Sheikh Mohammed spent with Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) as administration general manager.” This process of “Khalfanisation” has been increased on all levels since last year when the new Amir assumed power following the death of his father. The Daily Telegraph reported on 29 December the case Richard Mechan, “a British computer expert jailed for 15 years .. for manslaughter”. The newspaper said that he “will learn next month if his father’s campaign to have the sentence overturned has succeeded.” Richard Mechan, 35, who earned £75,000 a year as information technology manager for the Aramco oil company, says he acted in self-defence when he killed Marshall Emmons, 31, an American. Mr Mechan, a former pupil of King’s School, in the grounds of Gloucester Cathedral, stabbed Mr Emmons with a kitchen knife in January (2000). He say he acted to protect himself when the American, who was visiting him at his six-bedroom villa in a housing compound in the Gulf State of Bahrain, launched an unprovoked attack on him after drinking heavily. Terry Mechan, 59, a retired communications engineer, launched a one-man crusade to overturn his son’s 15-year sentence. He commissioned Prof Jack Crane, state pathologist of Northern Ireland, to review prosecution forensic evidence. Mr Mechan hopes that Prof Crane’s conclusions will persuade the appeal court in Bahrain that his son, who has a weak heart, acted lawfully in self-defence because he feared his life was threatened.” The case has been a political one since its start and the accused had his confessions re-written by a British officer (Fernon Barry Wamsley) who works for the Bahraini intelligence department in order to satisfy the political pressure. This case shows that the judiciary in Bahrain is a political process influenced by decisions taken outside courts. Bahrain Freedom Movement 1 January 2001

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January 2001 Editorial

Extra-constitutional changes by the Al-Khalifa:

A testimony for inability to rule with honour
Imposing extra-constitutional changes on the 1973 Constitution has, once again, illustrated the inability of the Al-Khalifa ruling family to honour its pledges and commitments. The Constitution is the only source of legitimacy of the hereditary rule and is a binding contract between the people of Bahrain and the Al-Khalifas. Article 104 of the Constitution stipulates that “Notwithstanding the provision of Article (35) of this Constitution, 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”. Thus the initiative adopted by Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa to impose certain changes to that historical document outside its remits is a gross violation of its articles. The changes were prepared by the Al-Khalifa and presented to a 46-member committee handpicked by the ruling family to rubber-stamp them. When it became clear that the intention was to change the Constitution, several members of the committee withdrew in protest. The Al-Khalifa had already made up their mind and were not ready for any discussion of those changes. The committee held several meetings before announcing their endorsement of the changes, which was in clear violation of the tenets of the Constitution. On 2 December, members of the committee were handed a document and were told that by 23 December, they would be required to undersign the so-called charter so that another appointed body, a “popular congress”, appointed by the government will ratify the changes. Soon after, it became clear that the government had an ill-intentioned plan. All seminars were banned and no journalist was allowed to criticise the arrangement. In fact, the members of the committee were told to keep all papers confidential. The opposition provided the people of Bahrain with details of the so-called charter. It became obvious to the people of Bahrain that the Al-Khalifa had decided to re-write the history of Bahrain and to change the constitution. The changes were to create a bicameral parliament with an upper appointed chamber and a lower house that will also contain the ministers as ex-officio members. The two houses will need to meet for any issue pertaining to critical matters. It will mean that the government will have some 60% of the two houses appointed with only 40% directly elected. Moreover, the Al-Khalifa want to convert Bahrain into a kingdom and hence a new language started to surface. “The Amir and his loyal people”, “the Amir and his ministers”, etc. The source of legitimacy is not the people and there is no constitutional framework as the so-called charter states clearly that the 46 members are “presenting the draft changes” and they leave it “to the discretion of His Highness the Amir to decide the way forward”. This statement is the kingpin of the so-called charter. It is up to the Amir’s discretion to do what he sees fit in whatever shape he wants. It is a testifying statement for the entire exercise where the source of legitimacy is to be officially moved from the people to the Amir (or future “king”) and where the constitutional framework is replaced with the “discretion of His Highness”. The outcry of the public and the resistance mounted by the opposition to these flagrant moves have resulted in minor changes. These were the changing of the introduction of the so-called charter, which contained erroneous references to Bahrain’s history, the cancellation of the popular congress on 23 December and its replacement with a vague promise to hold a referendum for the people to express their opinion. In societies, which had experienced political upheavals, the norm has always been to go through a national reconciliation process. This would include a serious dialogue between the government and the opposition, releasing political prisoners, allowing a degree of freedom and debate on all issues of contention and bringing the society back to a degree of normality. None of these conditions have yet been met. The prisons contain political detainees some of whom have been behind bars for more than five years because of their political opinion. Bahraini opposition figures are prevented from returning to their country from exile. The emergency laws are in force while public freedoms are curtailed. Any discussion of the future of the country is therefore a futile exercise. The ruling family has exploited the resources of the country to impose its will on the people, and attempted to rob them of their basic freedom and human rights. The so-called national charter only represents what the Al -Khalifa want while ignoring the aspirations of the people of Bahrain. To start the process of reconciliation with a serious unilateral breach of the only binding contract is certainly not a good start. The feelings of the people are running emotionally high as they view these changes as a reflection of the evil intentions of the ruling Al-Khalifa ruling family. Furthermore, the imposition of restrictions on the movement on former detainees and curtailing their liberties is a serious breach on individual freedoms. Almost all opposition figures that have been released since Sheikh Hamad came to power had to forfeit their natural rights. Accordingly, they are banned from engaging in political or religious activities of any kind. Those who attempted to exercise their constitutional rights have been summarily detained, tortured and made to sign on more stringent conditions. Last month several people were subjected to ill-treatment at the hands of the torturers and threatened with further abuse if they did not obey the orders. Restrictions on freedom of expression meant that no real debate took place on the main topics affecting the people. Open discussion of the charter was prohibited and all journalists were warned against taking up the issue. When the Amir delivered his speech on 16th December, it brought little comfort to the population that was waiting for courageous steps by a man whose media have exaggerated his “reform” programme. Independent analysts have argued that a bicameral parliament may suit large countries like the UK or the USA but not a small island with native inhabitants numbering less than half a million. Furthermore, the Amir wants to become a king. This tasteless move has infuriated not only the people of Bahrain but also others in the Gulf Certainly, the ruling family has been advised by their friends to heed the calls for reforms if they wanted to retain a degree of stability in the country and safeguard their hereditary rule. British officials have repeatedly stated their policy of “constructive engagement” with the Al-Khalifa, while offering political support. It is not yet known who has encouraged the Al-Khalifa to change the country into a kingdom, or to distort the country’s Constitution to suit their agenda, but it is widely believed that the Al-Khalifa would not act beyond what their backers allow them to do. The hope is that these backers will act to stop the excesses of the Al-Khalifa, prevent them from mistreatment of the people of Bahrain, uphold the 1973 constitution and abandon their dream of turning Bahrain backward. Meanwhile, the Bahraini people and opposition will work to ensure that the country does not slide into more tyranny and despotism.

Bahrain Freedom Movement January 2001

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