“The Economist”, 6 Decembe 1997.
“By Ordering the trial of eight leading Shia Muslim activists, Bahrain’s prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa al-Khalifa, may have put paid to any early hope that the country’s four-year-old troubles can be settled peacefully.
At the end of last month, a state security court sentenced the eight in absentia (five of them live in London) to prison terms of five to 15 years. The charges were that they had spied for an unnamed foreign country (meaning Iran) and wanted to see the Sunni rule of the al-Khalifa family overthrown. Such charges are hard to refute. In any event, the eight were denied legal representation.
Sheikh Khalifa in effect runs Bahrain, although his elder brother, Isa al-Khalifa, has been ruler since 1961. He may have decided on the trial to undermine his nephew, Sheikh Hamid al-Khalifa, who is the ruler’s heir. Sheikh Hamid, who hopes to inherit a less troubled little island-state, had been encouraged towards a political settlement by Sheikh Zayed, the president of the United Arab Emirates.
The crown prince and the UAE’s ruler share many interests, including camel racing and Arab verse. So Sheikh Hamid was disposed to listen when Sheikh Zayed urged reconciliation with the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement –and offered, if this happened, to help Bahrain’s impoverished countryside.
Before Iraq disgraced itself by invading Kuwait, Sheikh Khalifa tended to look to Saddam Hussein as model. Sheikh Hamid, fearing that his uncle’s hard line will radicalise the opposition’s still relatively restrained call for political rights, prefers to look for example to Jordan’s King Hussein. But mounting international criticism, most recently by the European Parliament, of the regime’s repressive methods has small effect on a government that banks on support from America (Bahrain is host to the Fifth Fleet) and Saudi Arabia, itself anxious about Shia radicalism”.
1 Dec: Between 70-100 people have been arbitrarily arrested in the past few days. Hoora Police Stations is fully crowded with citizens dragged every day from their houses or taken away from the main streets for torture, intimidation and ill-treatment. The head of the station, Abdul Salam Al-Ansari, is personally directing and participating in the torture of citizens. Clashes, burned tyres, and/or loud gas-cylinder explosions were reported in many areas in the past few days. Wall-writings have intensified with “Week No. 99” spreading all over the country. The number “99” refes to the number of weeks since Sheikh Al-Jamri and his colleagues were re-detained.
3 Dec: The unconstitutional State Security Court sentenced the following citizens. Seyyed Hussain Saleh Kadhim, 16 year old, received one year term; Ibrahim Salman Haider, 16, one-year term.
5 Dec: The security forces attacked the residents of Bilad al-Qadim on 5 December, at 2.00 am (after mid-night) and arrested many people including five brothers Abbas Salman, 21, Maitham Salman, 19, Zakaria Salman, 17, Abdul Zahra Salman, 16, and Husain Salman, 14. The residents went out in a spontaneous demonstration by uniting against the dawn raiders.
5 Dec: Some 500 detainees in the Dry-Dock Prison Camp were attacked by the riot police deploying tear gas for breaking up a protest by prisoners marking the third anniversary of the uprising. The riot police attacked the detainees in Block “C” and dragged the youths to the outside, tearing their cloths and torturing them in groups.
One of the political prisoners, Mr. Ali Sangoor, had been transferred to hospital suffering from wounds inflicted on him during intensive torture sessions. Events started when one of the torturers, Mohammed Darraj, started torturing a prisoner by the name Mohammed Jamil (from Ma’amir), in Block C. The screams of the young man ignited protest in the entire Block. The torturer, Mohammed Darraj, together with another torturer, Khalid Al-Fadhalah, ran to call for more torturers. All prisoners in Block C were then taken out to the open ground and tortured by tearing-off their cloths (in cold weather) and beating them in-groups.
5 Dec: Security forces were put on high alert since the dawn of 5 December. Lorries packed with foreign mercenaries were stationed at all strategic locations. Principal mosques were besieged and people were prevented from practising their religion. Despite all this, burned tyres blocked several highways. Students boycotted canteens on 6 December.
5 Dec: A government spokesman rejected a call by the UK Foreign Office Minister, Mr. Derek Fatchett, to allow human rights organisations to visit Bahrain. Mr. Fatchett was speaking at the annual meeting of the Bahrain Society on 4 December. The government spokesman also lied by saying on 5 December that “a number of human rights delegations had visited Bahrain and expressed their admiration and appreciation of what they had seen”. He said that these organisations included “Amnesty International (AI), the Red Cross and the British and European parliaments”. AI has been applying to go to Bahrain for more than five years and had been consistently refused entry.
6 Dec: Syed Hayder Isa, 22, from Karranah, completed his 3 years term of imprisonment. He was told by one of the security officers that his term has been extended two and half more years unless he pays a “tribute” of BD 30,000 (more than $80,000). Similarly, Ali Al-Habshi, 23, from Iskan Aali, completed his three years term but had not been released and his family are not aware of the reasons.
7 Dec: Balloons were seen in the sky carrying the pro-democracy slogans and the pictures of the jailed pro-democracy leaders. Wall writing has intensified across the country calling for the restoration of the elected parliament and the release of the detained pro-democracy leaders.
11 Dec: The government’s press published the names of three people and accused them of planting a sound-bomb in Yateem Centre in Manama two years. These persons had been freed more than a year ago and were told that the intelligence department has other people in their hands that are accused of this case. It is worth noting that the national figure, Mr. Ahmad Al-Shamlan, had filed a court case against both “Akhbar Al-Khalij” and “Al-Ayyam” for publishing falsified statements accusing him of involvement in “arson and sabotage”. The staff of both papers repeatedly said they are merely “tools” in the hand of the intelligence department.
13 Dec: The Bahraini opposition commemorated the third anniversary of the uprising on Saturday 13 December, 4.00 pm, at Medborgerhuset, Norre Alle 7, 2200 Copenhagen N. The Danish “TV STOP” also showed a documentary film on the uprising in Bahrain on 22 December, 11.00 pm
13 Dec: The military officer imposed on the University of Bahrain ordered the cancellation of all examimnations this week. He also instructed students to participate in the “celebrations” of 16 December. The people have named this day as “Martyrs Day” in commemoration of the death of the first and second martyrs of the uprising in 1994.
15 Dec: Clashes between the foreign-staffed security forces and citizens were reported in several places on the evening. An eyewitness said “riot police surrounded Duraz at around 6.30 pm and deployed tear gas that was pouring inside the houses. Burned tyres were seen in many places and Budaya Highway was blocked at several locations.
16 Dec: clashes were reported in many places with security helicopters flying low above the residential areas in a combat mode. For example, in Malkeya, a helicopter chased a group of youths with flashing lights signalling to the foreign forcers who surrounded the area and committed atrocities and tortured seven youth in public. One child was stripped in the cold weather and beaten to bleeding condition. Burned tyres blocked the main highways in the west, east, north and south of the country. Columns of fire were to be seen in many places. In Daih, Dair, Sanabis, Sehla, Sar, Qadam, Bilad al-Qadim, Jedhafs, Karranah, Bani Jamra, Duraz, A’ali, Bori, Karzakkan, Nuweidrat, Sitra, and other plac, were amongst the uprising areas that witnessed the resurgence of activities on the “Day of Martyrs”. Balloons carrying pro-democracy slogans and pictures of the jailed leaders were flown and seen by be people.
16 Dec: The 15-year boy, Ibrahim Ali Mohammed, from Malkeya, who had been shot by security forces on 16 December, is in critical condition. A rubber bullet penetrated his chest, breaking two ribs. One of his kidneys failed and had to be removed by doctors at Bahrain International Hospital. The security forces abducted him from the hospital on 21 December. No one knows his whereabouts.
16 Dec: The government issued a communiqu` saying the Amir released some of the citizens in his jails. In fact, scores of people were arbitrary arrested and taken to torture centres. These include the following. From Sanabis: Hassan Ibrahim Abdul-Hay, 18, Aqeel Mirza Abdul-Hay, 28, Abbas Al-Ghadeeri, 18, Salman Mahdi Al-Hayat, 16, Hussain Ahmad Ali, 23, Jaffer Ahmad Khalaf, 16, Seyyed Hussain Ali, 16, Seyyed Kamil Mahdi, 35. The police also arrested a 40-year old lady, Sameya Mansoor, beaten her in public and released her. A 48-year old man, Isa Dawood, was also intimidated and taken prisoner. Other persons arrested from other places include: Mansoor Amr-Allah, 16, Isa Al-Mo’alim, 19, Hussain Ali Isa, 20, Ali Yousif, 20.
16 Dec: Scores of houses were damaged and ransacked during the attack which was backed-up by a helicopter. In Ma’amir, the mercenaries attacked the citizens and tortured several youths in public. One of them, Seyyed Jabir Seyyed Amin was badly hurt.
16 Dec: The Bahraini embassy in London organised its annual “celebration” on 16 December, evening, in the Dorchester Hotel, central London, where scores of Bahrainis picketed and distributed packages of information to attendants. The cries for democracy and human rights reached all attendants, who realised that the government-in-celebration had little in common with the people of Bahrain who are mourning the martyrs who had been shot dead by mercenary troops. A TV camera crew working for MBC was ordered by embassy staff to avoid picking any sound or picture for the demonstrators, a task that forced the crew to hide in the hotel.
17 Dec: Uprising areas across the country exhibited the solidarity of the people when lighting was switched-off on 17 December at 7.30 pm (local time). The people of Bahrain demonstrated their steadfastness and dedication to their cause.
17 Dec: It has transpired the detained pro-democracy leader, Mr. Hassan Mushaima’a has been placed in solitary confinement for several months now. The solitary cell is sized 1 x 1 meter and this confinement is a punishment for his refusal to testify to the Red Cross (ICRC) that Sheikh Ali Al-Nachas, died naturally in jail earlier in the year.
17 Dec: The opposition handed a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nation urging him “to take up the issue of democracy and human rights in Bahrain as an urgent matter”, and not to allow the government to exploit jothe Security Council for implying that its “harsh policies of repression against the people enjoy the blessing of the UN”.
17 Dec: In the past few days, balloons carrying slogans of the uprising and pictures of the detained leaders were seen flying in the sky. Slogans included “No solution without a parliament”, “No .. to security courts”, “We demand freedom”, and various other constitutional demands. The security forces have been imposing sieges against principal mosques around the country. Haj Hassan Jar-Allah, the person in-charge of Al-Sadiq Mosque in Duraz, was summoned twice and threatened of arrest. Haj Hassan had spent one year in arbitrary detention before his release earlier this year.
18 Dec: A teacher from Sitra, Ibrahim Kadhim Juma, who was arrested 2 weeks ago, had been spotted in Nabih Saleh Police Station. His condition was described as very poor, suffering from extreme forms of torture.
19 Dec: The people showered the families of martyrs with roses and expressed their determination to continue calling for bringing the killers and torturers to justice.
20 Dec: The mercenary troops raided houses in Bani Jamra, smashed the contents, and conducted collective punishment. The security forces attacked the house of Fadhil Abbas Al-Adraj, 18. Since he was not there, the security forces attacked several other houses and took the following as hostages: Mahmood Mohammed Ali Habib, 18, Seyed Nazar Abdul Nabi, 27, Malik Mohammed Amin, 17, John Ali Taher, 25, Hussain Atteya Slaman, 26, and his brother Ahmad Atteya Salman.
20 Dec: The security forces attacked a religious assembly hall (for women) in Iskan-Jedhafs, at dawn, and set it on fire. All contents of the assembly hall were destroyed by the fire. This criminal act is not the first. The mercenary forces had ransacked and destroyed many mosques and assembly halls in the past three years. The security forces adopt this tactic as a form of revenge and as a means for activating its stooges in the so-called “High Council for Islamic Affairs”. Bahrain suffers from a regime that fails to identify with the aspirations of the nation.
20 Dec: While a unit was busy burning the religious assembly hall in Iskan-Jedhafs, another unit of mercenaries was attacking the tombs of martyrs in the cemetery in Sanabis. Mr. Isa Dawood was taken hostage until his sons Abdulla, 16, and Salman, 18, handed themselves to the torturers. Abdulla had earlier been detaibut had to be released when his health deteriorated. The re-arrest of a 16-year old sick person is a gross violation of human rights and is an indication of the extent of atrocities committed by the government’s terrorists.
20 Dec: The Kuwaiti news agency said that the Amir of Bahrain, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, ruled out, in a press statement the possibility of discussing security partnership between the Gulf Co-operation Council [GCC] states and Iran It is worth noting that the two countries are presently exchanging ambassadors, but the Bahraini government is frightened that if it admits to reality and normalises it relations with neighbouring countries, it would lose all pretexts used now to blame the outside. It is an irony that while the opposition strives for independence and constitutionality of the political system, the government insists on undermining both the sovereignty of the country and continues to violate the basis of political legitimacy of the system.
21 Dec: A group of intelligence officers forced their way into Bahrain International Hospital and forcibly taken away the 15-year old youth who had been shot by security forces on 16 December. Ibrahim Ali Mohammed, from Malkeya, had two broken ribs in his chest as a result of a rubber bullet fired at him by the mercenary troops. Doctors urged the intelligence officers to let them complete medical treatment, but could not stop the tortures from abducting the young person. His family has been prevented from seeing him and no one knows his fated. He is in need of critical health care and the torturers are not known for their kindness. Two other 15-year old boys from Malkeyya were taken by the mercenaries: Seyyed Hassan Abbas and Hassan Mohammed Hassan.
22 Dec: The mercenary troops stormed the house of a person who is in jail and sentenced for life. The mercenaries claimed that Abdulla Nasser Al-Toq, 24 year old, from Sitra-Wadyan, had run away from jail. They destroyed all the contents of his parent’s house. The mercenaries took three of his brothers hostages: Mohammed, 29, Saleh, 28, and Hussain, 26. They then stormed several other houses of relatives and destroyed all that came in their way. Ransacked houses include: Abbas Mohammed Al-Toq (uncle of the prisoner), Mohamed Ali Al-Jufairi (uncle), Seyyed Jaffer Seyyed Shubbar (relative), Matam Al-Juffairi (a religious assembly hall in Wadyan), and a shop belonging to Isa Radhi Al-Toq. The entire population is enraged by these atrocities. The mercenary forces conducted many raids of collective punishment in the past three years. The present pretext, whether true or false, can never justify the destruction of private properties and intimidation of people.
24 Dec: Government’s press said that a new law will be passed whereby citizens “will be made to pay the costs of the damage they have caused to property”. This law will lay the ground for confiscating the assests of targeted sections of the society. In a public spectacle, the press said that the powerless Shura Council was attended by a high-profile delegation from the Al-Khalifa family including Justice and Islamic Affairs Under-Secretary Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Khalifa and Manama Governor (ex-torturer) Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Atiyatallah Al Khalifa. This confirms the recent trend of refusing to release those political prisoner who had served the full [unjust] sentences, and whereby extra punishment cash was demanded in return for their release.
25 Dec: The people went out in a protest demonstration in Sanabis (Marwazan area) and blocked the main Budaya Highway. They were protesting against the abduction (by security forces) of an injured 15-year old boy from the International Hospital as well as the collective punishment raids in Abu-Saba’a and Sitra where members of entire families were taken hostages.
25 Dec: The security forces raided several houses in Ma’amir and arrested Ali Abdul Mahdi, 17, Ahmad Mohammed Amin, 17, and Jasim Mohammed Hassan, 17. These irresponsible acts are agitating the situation and continue to exacerbate the crisis by widening the gap between the ruling establishment and the people of Bahrain.
27 Dec: 27 December, the security forces attacked several residential areas and arbitrarily arrested scores of people. A 13-year old boy, Mohammed Jasim Al-Basri, from Karranah was amongst the detainees. Similarly in Daih, a 13-year old “dumb” boy by the name Talib was taken also taken to the torture centres.
27 Dec In Karbabad, a 20-year old university student, Hasan Radhi Abbas, was arrested, tortured in public and then taken to one of the detention centres. the house of Saeed Mansoor Makki Al-Saeed, 27, was raided by the security forces. The latter destroyed contents of the house. The house of Saeed’s father in Bilad al-Qadim was also attacked. Saeed was tortured in front of his family before disappearing with the mercenaries. Those arrested from Ma’amir included: Abbas Abdul Nabi Sarhan, 19, Jasim Mohammed Hassan, 20, Ahmad Mohammed Amin, 17, Ali Abdul Wahab, 17.
28 Dec: Reuters reported on 28 December that “Arsonists set fire to a five-storey furniture showroom in Bahrain on Sunday (27 December), causing heavy damage but no casualties, witnesses said. The building, one of the biggest furniture showrooms in the Gulf Arab state, was gutted by the fire in Sehla. “Four men attacked the building in the early hours on Sunday and set it on fire,” its owner, Jamal al-Koohaji, told Reuters. “A guard inside the building saw four people fleeing the scene after the attack.” One witness said the attackers smashed a window in the building and threw a petrol bomb inside.
A spokesperson for the BFM condemned the arsonists and repeated the call for an independent investigation into all acts of sabotage.
The security forces launched a collective punishment raid against the residents of Sehla, ransacked scores of houses and arbitrarily arrested many citizens. Amongst those arbitrarily arrested were: Salman Ahmad Al-Mughlag, 32, Seyed Mohammed, 35, Abdul Amir Abbas Saleem, 19, together with two of his nephews; Majid Rashid Abdul Karim, 17, and two of his twin brothers Abdul Mohsin, 15, and Mahommd, 15. The opposition believes that the security forces commit arson and sabotage and utilise every opportunity to practice collective punishment and torture of citizens.
29 Dec: The distinguished Bahraini personality and member of the dissolved National Assembly, Mr. Mohammed Jaber Sabah, wrote an article in Al-Quds news paper on 29 December describing the appointed Shura Council as a means for expressing the wishes of dictatorship. He challenged the official explanation of the concept of Shura (Consultations) by proving that the Quranic description of Shura matches the requirements for an elected parliament that can hold the government accountable for its actions. Mr. Sabah said that the appointed council has no relation to the issue of popular participation. Those appointed to the council can never question the official who appointed them, they are indebted to him, and have no legal or moral representation link with the people. He pointed out that the starting point for development towards a modern society is freedom of thought and expression.
Press Conference in the British Parliament
A press conference on Bahrain was held on 16 December 1997, in the British Parliament. The conferences was chaired by Lord Avebury and addressed by Lord Nick Rea and Jeremy Corbin, MP, as well as opposition figures.
Lord Rea said “Things in Bahrain have worsened. Rule of law is not happening, and there is no independent judiciary. Trials that are held in camera are miscourage of justice. People accused in absentia and sentenced in such a way is an amazing matter. I am a member of the government party, and I will be seeking information from Mr. Derek Fatchett, the Minister responsible for the Middle East. We must be able to put some pressure to release the iron-grip and to allow due process of law, as recognized internationally. We must continue to discuss these matters and I will do everything I can to try to bring this issue to the attention of the government”.
Mr. Corbin, MP:
Jeremy Corbin, MP, said “these are some of what happen in Bahrain. Systematic denial of human rights, denial of basic rights, torture of people, arbitrary detention, evidence of extra-judicial killing, no access of lawyers allowed to detainees, etc. The issues had been raised through questions, motions and the adjournment debate. Indeed, the first adjournment debate of this parliament was about Bahrain. We were able to put some pressure. The people of Bahrain are seeking a fairly limited constitution. Never the less, it is a basis for political reform. The government of Bahrain has no explanation why are these things happening. Forcibly exiling citizens and denying them their right to return violate all international conventions.
A person must be guaranteed a safe return to his homeland and that his safety must be secured after his/her return. In Bahrain, there is no press freedom. The press is used to denigrate people like Stan Newens, the European Member of Parliament, just because he raised the issue of human rights in Bahrain. The West must adhere to human rights and democracy. We must stop supplying arms and equipment unless human rights are respected. I intend, after this meeting, to propose another motion in the parliament and we will continue to apply pressure”.
Lord Avebury’s intervention:
The first thing to note is that today, 16 December, is the national day of Bahrain, a daywhich is celebrated by the ruling family and their supporters, but is an occasion for mourning by the rest of the population, because they enjoy none of the benefits of human rights, democracy and the rule of law that we are here to discuss. Let me remind you of the words used in the Mission Statement, announced by the Foreign Secretary on May 12, only 11 days after the new government came into office. He said:
“We shall work through our international forums and bilateral relationships to spread the values of human rights, civil liberties and democracy which we demand for ourselves”.
First, then, let us review these values that we demand, and then let us see how we are working to spread them in Bahrain. We demanded and got for ourselves a democracy based on universal suffragee culminating in the extension of voting rights to women in the twenties.
We demanded and got a democratic system that is pluralistic, giving people a choice of ideologies and of individuals. Anyone can belong to a political party, and take part in the selection of a candidate. We have the right to speak and write in support of the parties we belong to, or indeed to argue for opinions entirely our own. Thus our democracy is closely connected with freedom of speech andfreedom of assembly. We have adopted, by common consent, the principle of J S Mill, that the only justifiable reason for the state to interfere with the conduct of an individual is to avoid harm to others. The great principle underlying our liberty is that the individual may do anything which is not prohibited by law, and the state may do nothing but what is allowed by law. Thus the rule of law is absolutely fundamental, we believe, in a democratic system.
These and other freedoms our ancestors demanded and fought for, and we are still finding ways to improve our democracy today. It is not so long ago that we lowered the age of voting to 18, as I remember very well, having been in a minority of three in the Speaker’s Conference of 1964-65 on this issue. And now we are thinking about changes in the voting system, to make our Parliament more accurately representative of the people’s will, and to reform the House of Lords, first to get rid of its hereditary element. This has been one of our demands since 1910, when the Liberal Party won the election partly on the slogan ‘End ’em, not referendum’.
Nobody would expect that states which have been governed by autocracies would suddenly embrace the principles of democracy and human rights overnight. They need time to develop the institutions of civil society which underpin democracy – trade unions women’s Organizations, and the host of specialist groups representing the interests of minorities environmentalists, the disabled, the elderly, children and many others, which feed into the political processv Legal systems may be imperfect or in some cases virtually nonexistent, and they too have to be carefully advanced, together with the capacity of lawyers and others to understand and use them. The question is whether the states concerned have the collective will to attain higher standards, and the popular support for governments that accept the principles of democracy even where there arepractical difficulties to be overcome.
In eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, in Latin America and large parts of Africa, in South Asia and even tentatively in parts of South Easb Asia, there is a movement towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and the UK is indeed helping to promote these values. We are spending very large sums of money helping the former communist countries to make the transition to freedom, and in countries like India, which already have democratic traditions, we are helping to maintain them by paying for human rights educational material, visits of UK human rights experts to give lectures, the cultivation of links with human rights organizations by our diplomatic posts, sponsorship of visits to the UK by leading human rights activists, and so on.
We also make statements regularly on human rights issues, either by ourselves, or collectively with the EU. For example, the European Council ftllowing their meeting in Luxembourg over the weekend, set out the conditions required for strengthening Turkey’s links with the European Union, including the alignment of human rights standards and practices with those in force in the European Union.
In Bahrain, it seems that our concern for human rights and democracy is not expressed in public. We don’t help or encourage the democratic opposition, and we haven’t done anything visible to promote the rule of law. Under the previous government I understood that our commercial and political interests were the dominant factors in our foreign policy, and required us to support the hereditary dictatorship. In the light of the Labour government’s commitments, I had expected to see a change, and I was glad to see that when the Minister replied to George Galloway in an adjournment debate in the Commons, he repeated that our approach to human rights would not be a la carte, that it was a universal principle to be promoted in each case. However, he gave no answer to the most important question George raised, and that concerned our attitude to the restoration of the partial democracy which the country had enjoyed under the 1973 constitution, and it seemed from later correspondence that the government were not so keen on democracy ln Bahrain as they were in other parts of the world.
This is what Derek Fatchett said: “We will press the Bahraini authorities to seek the widest possible contsultation when determining future policies for the political and economic development of Bahrain. But we will not seek to impose specific forms of democracy. Nor do I accept that we should denigrate the shura system, which is a respected and accepted form of consultation within the region”.
Subsequently the Minister got extremely cross when I gave a copy of this letter to Kathy Evans of The Guardian, and in a meeting I had with him, he said that the shura was seen as a stepping stone towards an elected system. I suggested that he ought to spell this out, but so far he has not done so.
Officially, there is no statement of policy on the transition from systems of hereditary dictatorships like Bahrain to constitutional democracies, and the shura system is no longer an accepted form of consultation in Bahrain, or probably elsewhere in the region. You can hardly tell whether it is accepted or not unless there is some test of popular opinion, but if it was approved in a free and fair referendum then of course what Mr Fatchett says would be confirmed.
In August, the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission passed a Resolution noting “that for 22 years Bahrain has been without an elected legislature and that there are no democratic institutions in Bahrain”, referring to “theinformation concerning a serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, including discrimination against the indigenous Shita population, extrajudicial killings, persistent use of torture in Bahraini prisons on a large scale as well as the abuse of women and children who are dtained, and arbitrary detention without trial or access by detainees to legal advice”, and urging the government to comply with international human rights standards.
If the UK has taken any of these matters up with the ruling family, it has been behind closed doors, unlike their open criticism of regimes such as Myanmar, Sudan, or Democratic Republic of Congo. And the absence of,any public message may have encouraged the government to take yet another step, in defiance of all the internationally recognised norms of justice. They put eight exiles on trial, seven of them either forcibly exiled, or outside the country for more than 20 years. The defendants were not officially notified of the charges against them; they have no idea what evidence, if any, was produced in the court; the court was held in camera; no lawyers were present, and after three short sittings, the defendants were sentenced to jail sentences ranging between 5 and 15 years, with no right of appeal. It was the State Security Court in which these proceedings were held, an institution condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other international human rights NGOs. Although one of the defendants is a British citizen and three others are applicants for political asylum in Britainb not a word of criticism has been heard from Whitehall.
The Mission Statement was an important declaration of the new government’s principles, and the steps being taken towards their realization are welcome. Bahrain is a country with close historical links to the UK, as the Ambassador himself underlines in his current newsletter, and it would be good if we could be seen to use our influence in favour of democratic reforms. The Ambassador says that although people here are aware of the relationship, this knowledge doesn’t extend to the way people really live in Bahrain, as recent visitors have told him. No doubt this is one point we could agree on, because I know that most visitors spend their time in the hotels of Manama, or on escorted sight-seeing, rather than talking privately to the villagers in Jidhafs, Duraz or Bani Jamra. Nor would the authorities allow them to do that, even if they were so inclined. Amnesty International are still waiting for permission to get in, years after being told there was no objection in principle, and one could see how problematic it is to communicate freely with Bahraini citizens from theexperience of Sue Lloyd-Roberts, whose contacts were arrested after she left. These matters are not mentioned in the Embassy’s Newsletter, which focuses on Bahrain’s social, economic and health development. Of course, social and economic rights are important as well as civil and political rights, but they are not a substitute for them.
The increases in spending on defence and the security forces, which are now considered necessary to contain popular unrest, could even cancel out the economic gains made in recent years. All the more essential, thenw that we persuade the ruling family to abandon their attempt to maintain their absolute power by doling out some benefits, while using the iron fist against the democrats. This is not going to work, as Charles I, Louis XVI, the Bourbons, the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs discovered and if the al-Khalifas want to survive they must change direction. The Mission Statement commits us to helping them do that.
Parliament is a pre-reduisite for resolving the crisis
By Dr. Abdulhadi Khalaf
Sweden, 15 Dec 97
It is necessary to recall the role of Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri and his colleagues in the Petition Committee. Their initiative facilitated dismantling the barriers of fear that were erected in Bahrain since the dissolution of its elected parliament in 1975. All leaders of the constitutional movement have repeatedly underlined that our country cannot possibly hope to resolve the prevailing political crises without repealing all unconstitutional measures, decrees and policies enacted by the government during the past two decades, in the forced absence of the National Assembly.
The moderate demands put forward by Sheikh al-Jamri and other leaders of the Petition Committee, and their conciliatory tone generated a massive endorsement by the people in spite of intimidation and reprisals. The government responded by heavy clamp down. The disproportional heavy measures taken by the government against the fourteen national figures who sponsored the constitutional petition as well as against pro-democracy activists have not succeeded in driving the movement into despair or into submission.
The Bahraini rulers’ adamant refusal to see the futility of their ways has plunged the country deeper and deeper in social, political and economic crises. Increased allocations to security services and other ill-conceived projects to change the demographic structure of the country have taken their toll on the country’s finances and its resources. Once again, Bahrain’s rulers are adopting futile measures that hit the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
Skewed labour market policies, corruption, and discriminatory practices have given some new dimensions to the current social and political crises in the country. Unemployment has hit particularly hard on women and young people. Recently released figures show that between 16-18% of households in urban areas (Manama, Muharraq and Isa Town) are dependent on financial support and assistance in-kind disbursed by private charities. The situation may be deemed worse in the rural areas where strict requirements for security clearance have led to higher rates of unemployment. The already announced additional budgetary allocations for security forces and defence are expected to result in additional cuts in allocations for health, education and social services. The ramifications of the current social, political and economic crises may become disastrous as a generation of young Bahrainis find themselves pushed into despair. I believe that it is in our interests, opponents of the regime as well as its supporters to continue our endeavours to make the rulers of Bahrain see that restoration of the constitution is a pre-requisite for peacefully resolving the current crises, for re-establishing the legitimacy of the regime itself and for readying the country for an era of a sustainable stability, development and prosperity.
Human Rights Reports on Bahrain
The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) published its 1998 report and covered the events in Bahrain. HRW said, “the human rights situation showed no improvement in 1997 and in some respects worsened. Street protests and clashes between security forces and demonstrators calling for political reforms, which had first erupted in December 1994, continued throughout the year, intensifying in June 1997. Sheikh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri and seven other Shi’a community leaders, arrested in January 1996, remained in detention without charge”.
The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) condemned unjust judiciary and lack of due process of law in Bahrain. Reflecting on the fact that the Amir had suspended Article 65 of the Constitution, which mandates the existence of an elected parliament, ICJ described how the judges’ decisions are driven to be “favourable to the government”. ICJ covered the cases of Mr. Ahmad Al-Shamlan, Mr. Abdulla Hashim, Mr. Abdul Shahid Khalaf and Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri. The government responded with its customary backwardness and racism.
In its latest issue of “Human Rights Monitor” No. 38, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) commented on the historic proceeding of the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission of 21 August, when a resolution was passed against the government of Bahrain. ISHR said “the debate (on the resolution) got somewhat out of hand… Ms Palley intervened to explain that she had been pressured by the delegation of Bahrain, which had offered US $100,000 for [a] voluntary fund, if the test was withdrawn. It was not hard to understand that if the government were ready to contribute US $100,000 … it would perhaps be willing to offer “incentives” to convince other cosponsors”. The bribes failed to rescue the human rights abusers and the resolution was passed calling on the UN Commission to add Bahrain to the main agenda in March/April 1998.
Bahrain: Arbitrary rule fosters instability
Government’s press said on 24 December that new laws will be passed whereby citizens “will be made to pay the costs of the damage they have caused to property”. This law will lay the ground for confiscating the assests of targeted sections of the society. In a public spectacle, the press said that the powerless Shura Council was attended by a high-profile delegation from the Al-Khalifa family including Justice and Islamic Affairs Under-Secretary Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Khalifa and Manama Governor (ex-torturer) Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Atiyatallah Al Khalifa. This public spectacle confirm the recent trend of refusing to release those political prisoner who had served the full [unjust] sentences, and whereby extra punishment cash was demanded in return for their release.
Bahrain is now fully controlled by arbitrary rule. Such rule is conducted through “royal” decrees, made without reference to truly representative legislative assembly or to public opinion and enforced in complete disregard to Bahrain Constitution and international conventions. Both legislative power and judiciary are fully absorbed into the executive structure of the state. The doctrine or rule of constitutional law does not exist in Bahrain. In fact, law in Bahrain is nothing more than what unaccountable officials practice. This unaccountable practice is then codified by royal decrees and published in the Official Gazette. The appalling consequences of arbitrary rule are corruption, repression, forcible exiling, unjust imprisonment, unfair courts without appeals, torture, and killing for citizens whose crimes are nothing more than their disagreement with the regime and their demands for political rights.
The Bahraini ruling elite is becoming a destabilizing factor in a vitally strategic region and has never ceased attempting to widen discrimination and dictatorship. Today’s Bahrain is nothing other than a military and security-based self-serving bureaucracy. Military officers have turned the University of Bahrain into controlled barracks that are subjected to ethnic cleansing in a way similar to the political direction adopted in Bahrain’s security and defence services. Mosques and religious places have been attacked and confiscated by the state for the first time in Bahrain’s history. A council of handpicked stooges was named to rubber stamp official decision to close religious places and to detain citizens attending these places. All foreign journalists and correspondents have been kicked out of Bahrain. The press has been handed to people who share corruption with the appointing officials. Lawyers have been intimidated and threatened of revenge. Business community is being sidelined. The entire system is being overturned to serve the arbitrary wishes of the few who depends on shear force to intimidate the population.
Practicing injustice can never establish political stability. For this reason the pro-democracy movement continues to strive for the constitutional rights of the nation and continues to call on the international community to help bring pressure to bear on the ruling Al-Khalifa family to stop repressing the Bahraini people. This is the shortest and surest path to true stability.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
26 December 1997
Fax: (44) 171 278 9089
AI Report – 1998
This report covers the period January-December 1997)
Several hundred people were reportedly arrested during the year in connection with anti-government demonstrations. The vast majority of those arrested were Shi’a Muslims, among them prisoners of conscience, who were held for short periods and then released without charge. Eight religious and political leaders, all prisoners of conscience, remained held without charge or trial throughout the year. At least 36 political prisoners were convicted and sentenced to prison terms by the State Security Court following unfair trials. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees continued to be reported and two detainees died in circumstances suggesting that torture or medical neglect may have contributed to their deaths. Three people sentenced to death in 1996 remained under sentence of death. Several Bahraini nationals were banned from returning to the country.
Widespread anti-government protests, which erupted in December 1994, continued during the year (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 to 1997). As in previous years, protesters demanded the reinstatement of the National Assembly, which was dissolved by the Amir, Shaikh ‘Issa bin Salman Al Khalifa, in 1975; the restoration of the country’s 1973 constitution; and the release of political prisoners. The authorities responded with mass arrests of protesters and other suspected government opponents, especially in the Shi’a Muslim districts of Jidd Hafs, Sitra and al-Sanabis. Several arson attacks targeted restaurants, hotels and shops resulting in the deaths of seven foreign nationals. Among them were four Indian nationals, including two children, who died in June when a shop was set ablaze in al-Manama.
In August the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted a resolution and expressed its “deep concern about the alleged gross and systematic violations of human rights in Bahrain”. It urged the government to comply with international human rights standards.
Several hundred people, mostly Shi’a Muslims, were reportedly arrested during the year in connection with anti-government protests. Most of them were detained for short periods and then released without charge. However, over a thousand detainees, including prisoners of conscience, were believed to remain held without charge or trial at the end of the year. Most were administratively detained under a state security law which permits the Minister of the Interior to detain individuals without charge or trial for up to three years. They included Shaikh ‘Abd al-Amir al-Jamri and ‘Abd al-Wahab Hussain ‘Ali, who, along with six other prominent Shi’a Muslim religious and political leaders, were arrested in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997). All eight were prisoners of conscience. In February ‘Ali Hassan Yusuf, a well-known Shi’a Muslim writer and poet, was arrested at his home in Jidd Hafs; he was a prisoner of conscience. His arrest and simultaneous dismissal from his job at the Ministry of Information were believed to be connected with the publication of a book of his poems entitled Isharat (Symbols), which was reportedly banned by the authorities for indirectly criticizing the government. He was released in April without charge or trial.
In March Sayyid Jalal Sayyid ‘Alawi Sayyid Sharaf was arrested at his home in al-Duraz, reportedly on suspicion of transmitting information about the internal situation in Bahrain to persons abroad. He was believed to be held incommunicado in the al-Qal’a compound in al-Manama, where he was reportedly tortured during interrogation. By the end of the year, Sayyid Jalal Sayyid ‘Alawi Sayyid Sharaf was said to be still held without charge or trial in al-Muharraq; he was reportedly allowed family visits.
A number of women were also arrested during the year in connection with the political unrest. In March four young women _ Ahlam al-Sayyid Mahdi Hassan al-Sitri, Amal Ahmad Rabi’, Maryam Ahmad ‘Ali Bilway and Laila ‘Abd al-Nabi Rabi’ _ were among a number of people arrested in the village of Sitra after participating in a non-violent demonstration held in commemoration of ‘Issa Ahmad Qambar, who was executed in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997). The four women, all prisoners of conscience, were released without charge or trial after having reportedly been held incommunicado for over two weeks at a police station in Madinat ‘Issa. Scores of minors and children were arrested, the majority during anti-government demonstrations.
In March trials began before the State Security Court of 81 defendants on charges including involvement in an alleged Iranian-backed coup to overthrow the government, membership of a prohibited organization and illegal possession of firearms. The trials, which were held in camera, were manifestly unfair. Twenty-two of the defendants were tried in absentia. Thirty-six were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 15 years. They included Jassim Hassan Mansur al-Khayyat and ‘Ali Kadhem ‘Abd ‘Ali al-Mutaqawwi, who were sentenced to 12 and 15 years’ imprisonment, respectively, for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy with a foreign state to carry out acts hostile to Bahrain; and Ja’far Hassan Sahwan and Ghazi Radhi al-‘Abed, who had been forcibly returned to Bahrain from the United Arab Emirates in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997), and who were each sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. The remaining 23 were acquitted. Most of the defendants had been arrested in early 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997), and had been denied access to relatives and defence lawyers until the start of their trials. Some of them were convicted on the basis of uncorroborated confessions which had reportedly been extracted as a result of torture.
There were continuing reports of systematic torture and ill-treatment of detainees arrested in connection with the political unrest, especially during the initial period of interrogation in the custody of police or security personnel when torture was commonly used to extract information from detainees. Methods of torture reportedly included severe and sustained beatings, suspension by the limbs, and enforced standing or sleep deprivation for prolonged periods. Two detainees died in circumstances suggesting that torture or medical neglect may have contributed to their deaths. In June ‘Abd al-Zahra’ Ibrahim ‘Abdullah was among a group of demonstrators arrested in al-Sanabis. He was reportedly subjected to severe beatings following his arrest and held incommunicado in al-Qal’a Prison. A few days later, he was transferred to al-Salmaniya Hospital in al-Manama where he died. His body was later handed over to his family for burial. A spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior reportedly announced that ‘Abd al-Zahra’ Ibrahim ‘Abdullah died as a result of a “blood disorder” following his release. It was reported, however, that his body bore visible marks of severe beating.
In the same month, Shaikh ‘Ali Mirza al-Nakkas, a blind Shi’a Muslim cleric from Bilad al-Qadim, died in custody in al-Qal’a Prison, where he had been held incommunicado since his arrest in April, on charges of incitement against the government. His body was reportedly buried by the security forces on the same day. A spokesman for the Minister of the Interior was reported to have attributed the death of Shaikh ‘Ali Mirza al-Nakkas to respiratory problems. However, there were reports suggesting that medical neglect may have contributed to his death. No official investigations into these deaths in custody or into reports of torture or ill-treatment of other detainees were known to have been carried out.
Three prisoners remained under death sentence at the end of the year. ‘Ali Ahmad ‘Abdullah al-‘Usfur, Yusuf Hussain ‘Abd al-Baqi and Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim al-Kattab were sentenced to death after unfair trials before the State Security Court in July 1996 on charges of carrying out a fire-bomb attack on a restaurant in Sitra, which resulted in the death of seven Bangladeshi nationals (see Amnesty International Report 1997). At the end of the year their death sentences were still pending ratification by the Amir.
Several Bahraini nationals who had spent some time abroad were forcibly exiled after attempting to return to the country. In September, for example, a Shi’a Muslim family of five was reportedly denied entry to Bahrain on their return from Iran, where they had lived since 1985. The family _ 77-year-old Hajji ‘Abd al-Hassan al-Seru and his four children, Baqir, Muhammad Jawad, ‘Abd al-Hussain and Khadija _ were reportedly held for five days at the airport where they were interrogated by security officials, had their family passport renewed and were then forcibly exiled to the United Arab Emirates.
During the year, Amnesty International repeatedly called on the government to release prisoners of conscience and carry out independent investigations into reports of torture and ill-treatment. It appealed for the commutation of the outstanding death sentences passed after unfair trials in 1996 and urged the government to halt unfair trials before the State Security Court and conduct a review of legislation governing this court in the light of international standards. The government responded by rejecting Amnesty International’s findings and failed to address the organization’s concerns.
In April Amnesty International submitted information about its continuing concerns in Bahrain for UN review under a procedure established by Economic and Social Council Resolutions 728F/1503 for confidential consideration of communications about human rights violations.
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