August 1997

August 1997: 22 Years under the State Security Law:

A condemned racist regime has no bright future


1 August: Sources close to the authorities stated that Abdul Salam Al-Ansari, the chief of Manama Police Station, was implicated in a ring of drug smuggling as well as prostitution. Khalil Al-Sa’ati, one of his officers, was killed by another officer early last May. It was also uncovered that Abdul Salam had imported drugs by liaising with and by using the post office box of the deputy interior minister, Ibrahim bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa. Both Al-Ansari and Sa’ati had robbed jewelry and golden items from the houses of citizens they raided during the collective punishment operations.

3 August: Inside the jail, one of the prisoners, Fakhri Abdulla Rashid, 29, is reported to have one of his kidneys mal-functioning as a result of the torture he had been subjected to. It s worth-nothing that the wife of Mr. Rashid was threatened with rape 20 months ago to force her husband to sign pre-prepared confessions.

Another prisoner, Nizar Al Qari who had been detained in January 1995 and is about to complete his jail term, is being tortured. His health conditions have deteriorated as a result of the torture. Neither Nizar nor any one else knows why a prisoner who had spent his term of imprisonment is receiving such a treatment.

5 August: the authorities are taking measures to counteract the growing protest movement in the country. They established a check-point near a place of religious congregation known as “Matam Salloom” in the heart of the capital, Manama. They also formed a military headquarter at a girls school in the district of Bilad Al Qadeem and Sanabis. It is anticipated the foreign-staffed riot and security police will commit further atrocities against the innocent civilians. They have recently summoned the heads of the local matams and forced some of them to sign an undertaking not to use loudspeakers without prior permission from Ian Henderson’s department.

6 August (Reuter): Two timer ignition devices detonated in Bahrain sparking fires that gutted two shops but caused no casualties, a government official said on Wednesday. The official said the incident took place on Tuesday in a district in Rifaa, 15 km (nine miles) south of the capital Manama. Two other similar devices were discovered before they went off, he added. “Two devices with timers caused fires in two stores in Bokuwarah. The authorities have also discovered another two devices in the same area,” the official told Reuters. “The incidents were premeditated,” he said.

6 August: The Country was blacked out (at night) as the people responded positively to the call by the opposition to observe the fortieth day commemoration of the martyrdom of Sheikh Ali Al Natchas. The leading cleric was killed in prison on 29th June 1997. All areas on Budayya Highway had their lights switched off from 8.00 p.m. yesterday. The southern areas of Karzakkan and surrounding towns and villages observed a total blackout. So did the areas in Sitra and Muharraq. The response of the people was remarkable, as the Al Khalifa’s unpopularity was exposed beyond any doubt. Their repression and disrespect of the people’s rights and freedoms are totally rejected by the people. Sounds of exploding gas cylinders were heard throughout the night in many areas. Scattered fires on the main roads were seen especially at Budayya Highway. The mood of the people is that of defiance and total resolve.

8 August: Another martyr fell as a result of the ill-treatment of prisoners. Abd Ali Jasim Isa Yousif, 45 years old, from Nu’iam, died in Salmanya Hospital on 8 August, as a result of the deterioration of his health in jail. Mr. Yousif was detained a year ago. He became ill with hepatitis and the prison authorities prevented him from receiving the appropriate medical attention. In mid June, at a late stage, he was transferred to the Military Hospital and then to Salmanya Hospital Wards 11 and 62 until his death on 8 August. The son of the martyr was in jail, and had not been allowed out for the funeral of his father.

8-14 August: The agents of the foreign security forces intensified their arson and sabotage in the past few days in an attempt to stir internal conflicts. Here are some examples. On 10 August an electricity sub-station was set on fire. When the citizens chased the perpetrators, a security unit appeared in the area to defend them. On 8 August, the house of an ordinary citizen Seyyed Ali Al-Mosawi (in Duraz) was set ablaze. Again in Duraz, on 14 August, the Al-Arabi Club was set ablaze. In Muharraq (on 13 August) three tailoring shops were burnt. Another fire was reported in Daih on 13 August. The opposition denounces all acts of sabotage. The security forces are continuing their sabotage campaign so that they can brand the opposition’s activist as saboteurs.

9 August, the crown prince, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa traveled to Saudi Arabia and met with Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the second deputy prime minister, minister of defence and aviation and inspector-general. The official statements referred to discussing “the development of the existing bilateral defence cooperation and the means of activating it between the two countries’ armed forces”.

13 August: In Bilad al-Qadim, dawn raids on houses included the house of a religious preacher, Mulla Hani. Similarly, Sheikh Ali Al-Sadadi, a religious scholar, was detained. The security forces are mounting their operations against the indigenous population as part of the overall policy of intimidation.

13 August: Fire gutted Asian workers’ residence in Daih, causing damage but there were no reports of casualties. The blaze at the two-storey building was condemned by the opposition, which denounces all types of arsons and sabotage. The opposition had called for an independent investigation into all forms of sabotage. The security forces have conducted many raids of arson in residential areas.

14 August: The past few days witnessed an increasing number of dawn raids resulting in the arrest of about 20 citizens. The security forces raided several houses in Nuaim and arrested some citizens. Amongst them was Maitham Al-Nashit, who had earlier been dismissed from the University of Bahrain as part of the ethnic cleansing policy adopted by the military officer, Mohammed Jasim Al-Ghatam.

15 August: The 15th of August marks the 26th anniversary of Bahrain’s independence from Britain after 150 years of British control. In 1970, the UN security council voted in favour of the findings of the personal representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Winspeare Guicciardi. The latter visited Bahrain in early 1970, toured the country and spoke to people in schools, clubs and other public functions. He then reported that the people of Bahrain “were virtually unanimous in wanting a fully independent sovereign state” and that such state would be modern one adopting a modern structure. Independence was proclaimed on 15 August 1971 to be followed by the joining of the UN and the establishment of a Constituent Assembly that ratified Bahrain’s constitution and paved the way for the National Assembly. The elected National Assembly lasted for less than 2 years, before its dissolution on 26 August 1975. The ruling family ignores the 15th of August and shows no pride for independence.

Bahrain’s civil society had always been at odd with the outdated tribal mentality that views the state and society as extensions to private possessions of a ruling family. The ruling Al-Khalifa family adopted a paternal relationship with the people (just like a relationship between a father and a child). As this was rejected by the advanced nation of Bahrain, the ruling family resorted to the “modernization and sophistication” of the secret service to ensure compliance of the public. Western expertise in repression was consolidated. Ian Henderson and his colonial officers acted in the service of absolutists whose type of rule belongs to the backward and primitive societies. Nonetheless, the people rejected this oppression. The present uprising is the manifestation of an independent nation in pursuit of a dignified life.

17 August: Several programmes commemorated the first anniversary of the martyrdom of Seyyed Ali Amin Mohammed, 17, who was tortured to death on 17 August 1996. Residential areas switched off lighting at night and shops closed down.

17 August: In Kuwait, four Bahrainis, who were amongst others detained few months ago, have gone on hunger strike demanding their immediate release. The Kuwaiti courts failed to bring a case against the four Bahraini citizens. The Kuwaiti interior minister visited Bahrain few weeks ago in an attempt to explain to the Al-Khalifa rulers that the Kuwaitis can not keep Bahrainis in jail for no reason. It is feared the Kuwaiti government might prolong the agony of the prisoners by attempting to appease the Al-Khalifa.

On the other hand, sources close to the government revealed that the office of the prime minister contacted the Kuwaiti government to demand that no Bahraini be allowed into the Kuwaiti University. The prime minister had in the past demanded that salaries paid to Bahrainis must be capped to a low level decided by the Bahraini ruling family. Similarly, the Saudi Universities were instructed not to offer any place for Bahrainis. This is part of the ethnic cleansing policy adopted by the Al-Khalifa Family inside Bahrain, but is now being extended to outside the country.

19 August: An official statement issued by the Bahraini interior ministry said that a Bahraini citizen, Ibrahim Ahmad, had been handed over by the Egyptian authorities. The statement never said when did the extradition take place. The interior minister, Mohammed Al-Khalifa, expressed “his thanks” to the Egyptian officials. Political observers were surprised by the high profile announcement.

This is not the first time that Bahrainis had been handed over by the Egyptian authorities to the torturers in Bahrain. However, the Al-Khalifa government is resorting to these childish behaviours in an attempt to distract attention. Last month, at the time of the release of the 109-page report by Human Rights Watch, the Al-Khalifa government raised the profile of a religious centre that was burnt by its mercenaries in a desperate attempt for distracting public opinion.

(Note: The actual name is Ibrahim Abdul Latif Ibrahim Hussain Dhraboh, 20 years old). Ibrahim was reportedly on his way to Beirut University for his BA degree studies. The interior minister chose that day to announce the handing over in a desperate attempt to influence the debate and voting on a UN Human Rights Sub-Commission resolution that condemned the government of Bahrain on 21 August for its racist policies and violation of human rights.)

20 August: A new book has been published with an extensive study on the uprising in Bahrain. The new book was edited by Gary G. Sick and Lawrence G. Potter, and carries the title ” The Persian Gulf at the Millennium: Essays in Politics, Economy, Security, and Religion. New York: St. Martin’s Press, August 1997. ISBN 0-312-17567-1. The leading pro-democracy campaigner, Dr. Monira Fakhro, who was forced out the University of Bahrain in 1995, authored the Bahraini paper.

21 August: The UN Human Rights Sub-Commission condemned the racist-based policies of the Bahraini government and called on it to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Convention Against Torture. These are derived from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Sub-Commission also recommended that the situation in Bahrain be tabled for discussion by the 53-member UN Human Rights Commission, the principal UN human rights forum that will meet for six-weeks starting mid-March 1998. See Special Report.

22 August: Principal mosques belonging to the Shia community were effectively shut down. Security forces encircled the grand mosques of Al-Sadiq and Al-Zahra in Qafool, as well as the mosques in Karbabad, Zinj and other main areas surrounding the capital. Those who attempted to approach Ras-Romman mosque were stopped by a security unit that searched them and turned many of them away. These hate-based measures were implemented a day after the passing of a resolution by the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission condemning these acts of discrimination

23 August: The people of Bahrain were saddened on 23 August by the death of the distinguished personality Ms Aziza Al-Bassam. Ms. Al-Bassam was a senior programme editor in Radio Bahrain. In March 1995, she led, together with other leading figures, the Women Petition. Aziza was sacked by from Radio Bahrain after refusing to write a letter of apology renouncing her demands for restoring the rule of constitutional law. Aziza suffered immensely from the government’s ill-treatment that followed, and her health conditions started to deteriorate in 1996. The Bahraini pro-democracy movement has lost one of its figures, but the influence of Aziza will continue through the work of her colleagues and supporters.

24 August: Another tortured person was transferred to Salamanya Hospital. Ali Yousef Ahmed Habeeb, from Samaheej, had been tortured severely and released after the deterioration of his health few months ago. His family requested to take him abroad for treatment, but the interior ministry refused to release his confiscated passport. Ali suffers from a continuous headache and pain that circulates around his body.

The children and youths detained in the Dry-Dock detention camp had been isolated and all family visits were banned. This follows the leaking of news from the camp that riot police were deployed inside the camp. The camp had in the past been the scene of an internal uprising. The torturers in-charge of the camp are authorised to inflict the maximum amount of pain as a means of venting hatred.

26 August: The 22nd anniversary of the dissolution of the parliament. See Special Report on the Seminar held in the British Parliament (BELOW).

27 August:

Attack on freedom of expression continues in Bahrain. The lawyer and poet, Ali Salem Al-Orrayed (younger brother of the minister Jawad Salim Al-Orrayed) was stopped and forced into a car belonging to the ministry of interior on 27 August. Then he was taken for interrogation regarding the pomes he wrote several years ago. He had since been released and threatened with re-arrest. Earlier in the year, the poet Ali Hassan Yousif was detained and ill-treated following the publication of the second volume of his work “Isharat”. The lawyer and poet Ahmad Al-Shamlan suffered a severer ill-treatment.

While the government attacks freedom of expression, it had encouraged several parasitic individuals to write in the local press for insulting the pro-democracy opposition. One of these individuals is known to be indebted with no less than 400,000 dinars (more than a million US dollars). After writing his articles, the accountants administering his debts were flooded with phone calls from people requesting their money back. The assumption was that after writing such hypocritical articles, the government must have paid him enough to cover his debts.

28 August: Around 80 political detainees, including Sheikh Ali Saddadi , Mohammed Dashti) who had recently been arrest, are now being interrogated in groups by the Security Committee in Al-Qal’a Fort. This Committee blindfolds detainees and conduct mass-interrogation sessions. After the rough interrogation, the group is sub-divided and distributed on the officers who make up the Committee for continuing the torture sessions.

29 August: Riot police besieged the principal Al-Sadiq mosque in Qafool. Other mosques were also besieged. The security forces are continuing their hate-based policy, which was condemned by the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission.

Bahrain: The security forces set a restaurant on fire

Eyewitnesses revealed how several masked men entered a restaurant, poured petrol and ignited a fire. This is what happened on 29 August, around 7.00 pm (local time) at the Tacho-Maker restaurant located on Adhari Highway. Few minutes later, the officer Mohammed Jassim Al-Thawadi, was at the scene with lorries that had been prepared for a sweeping operation. Within a very short period, the foreign forces broke into the houses of Bilad al-Qadim, implementing hate-based ransacking and intimidation. At least 30 people were taken to the torture cells

The opposition condemns the arsonists and believes that the security forces intentionally carried out this fire for satisfying several clear objectives. On the one hand, the local press never ceased attacking the UN Sub-Commission Resolution that was passed on 21 August. The Sub-Commission condemned the sectarian and racist-based policies of the Bahraini government and called on it to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Convention Against Torture. The Sub-Commission also recommended that the UN Human Rights Commission (made up of 53 member states), that would meet for six-week starting mid-March 1998, to table the situation in Bahrain for discussion. The government wants to say that the opposition advocates violence, thus justifying its hate-based polices. On the other hand, the ruling family wants to continue implementing revenge operations against successful businessmen, as is evident in this case. Furthermore, the security forces utilises this opportunity to break homes and conducts house-to-house arrests in the uprising areas.

Earlier on the day (29 August), riot police besieged the principal Al-Sadiq mosque in Qafool to prevent the Friday prayers. Other mosques surrounding the capital were also besieged. It is worth noting that the Al-Sadiq mosque of Qafool is located near the restaurant that was burnt later in the evening.

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) issued an urgent action on 29 August, calling on the Bahraini government to lift the restrictions imposed on the pro-democracy leader, Mr. Ahmad Al-Shamlan. Al-Shamlan suffered a stroke following a confrontation with the torturer Abdul-Aziz Atteyat-Allah Al-Khalifa.

Around 80 political detainees, including Sheikh Ali Saddadi, Mohammed Dashti who had recently been arrest, are now being interrogated by the Security Committee in Al-Qal’a Fort. This Committee blindfolds detainees and conduct mass-interrogation sessions. After the rough interrogation, the group is sub-divided and distributed on the officers who make up the Committee for continuing the torture sessions.

Seminar on the 22nd Anniversary of the dissolution of parliament:

“Bahrain is the Jurassic Park of the Gulf region”

An important seminar was held on 26 August 1997 in the British parliament to mark the 22nd anniversary of the dissolution of the National Assembly in Bahrain. The distinguished panel of speakers was chaired by Lord Avebury and comprised Professor Fred Halliday, Department of International Relations, LSE, London University; Roger Hardy, Senior Middle East Editor, BBC; Said Aburish, a Palestinian writer, and author of 11 books; and Neil MacKay, Senior Editor, The Big Issue, Scotland

Lord Avebury started the seminar by saying, “I believe the number of days for the hereditary absolute rule are numbered. Bahrain is becoming the Jurassic Park of the region. Pressure has been building up. Last month, the hard-hitting 109-page report by Human Rights Watch was published. The US State Department also issued a critical report earlier in the year. Derek Fatchett, the British Foreign Office Minister said last June that the Bahraini opposition is moderate one with a moderate set of demands. The UN Human Rights Sub-Commission in Geneva passed an important resolution on 21 August citing that Bahrain has been without a parliament for the past 22 years and that there are no democratic institutions in the country.

I note also what the resolution mentioned that Bahrain suffered from terrorism. Apart from the TV-staged confessions of last year, there is no corroborated information of any foreign involvement. Sheikh Mohammed bin Mobarak Al-Khalifa, the Bahraini Foreign Minister, said to Al-Hayat in an interview that there was a Syrian mediation with Iran and that an understanding was reached. To link democratic demands with sabotage and extremism is unfounded. An extreme agenda, however, might appear if the Ghandian methods fail to achieve targets.

Professor Claire Palley, the British expert at the Sub-Commission, hoped that Bahrain does not enter the 21st century with an appointed body. She revealed how the Bahraini government paid $100,000 for one of the working group (so that the resolution is not passed) and that this amounted to corruption.

A few days ago, Aziza Al-Bassam, died. She called for the restoration of the parliament and as result was sacked from her job in Radio Bahrain. Her dismissal contributed to the deterioration of her health and death. Last Friday, the principal Shia mosques were besieged. Riot police was deployed in the Dry-Dock detention camp. In summary, not a single day passes without an event of this type. Despite all this, the opposition has not called for the removal of the ruling family. Being antagonistic to dialogue does not save a system. Antagonism did not save the Bourbons in 1860.

Said Aburish: “I proceed to deal with the general picture of how the Bahraini case appears to the world. The problem is a human rights situation; demands for civil rights, for restoring a limited form of democracy that existed 22 years ago. This is a totally indigenous movement with a Bahraini agenda for the Bahraini people. That the demands do not reflect outside influence. Instead, they reflect an internal situation. Such demands, unlike other movements in other regions, have not asked for the removal of the ruling family.

There is also the aspect of religious divisions, and the opposition contains both Shia and Sunni elements. This belies certain assumptions. Furthermore, the opposition has been quite moderate towards the outside powers, in particular the West. No threat and no statement were made against any of these powers. This seems to be a very simple and clear case. The movement reflects the specific and particular history of Bahrain. In a country where 1 or 2% of the population controls more than 50% of the wealth; Where the middle class is solid, and where the demands remain modest.

There is another view, however. Stephen Emerson (a US journalist) presented a one-hour TV programme about the Islamic threat to the American people. He attempted to approximate the complicated situation by saying that Islam and those related to Islamic movements are a threat to the US from inside. He sighted the World Trade Centre. It is such propaganda that forced Muslims in the US to stay at home for 2-3 days during the Oklahoma bombing. It needed the US President to go in public and urge the people to keep their shirts down. Similarly, a Sunday Telegraph (Con Coughlin) article attempted, once, to depict the same scenario by saying faxes carrying orders from Tehran to Bahrain come to London first. Apparently, they come to London for fun before landing on Bahrain, just like that. These accusations are very clear.

You are (the Bahraini opposition) an expression of another country that is unacceptable to the West. Islam as a threat is being hooked and connected with one violent form or another. There is an image problem. Whatever you say does not matter to some people. However small the country and the population, you are few miles away from the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. You are part of a larger problem. Anything that upset the balance of powers could be seen as a threat to the Western hegemony over the Gulf. These people know the criminality of the situation, the modest demands and the background to the movement. But they say: We still can not support you. Because that would represent a precedent. A small Bahrain would then influence the Gulf and would upset the picture. This is unacceptable to them. In another word, the Bahrain problem is not viewed as a Bahraini problem. It has been viewed as a component of a much bigger picture. I must say there is no love affairs with the Bahraini regime. This is not the Age of Midgets. But there will be no specific change towards Bahrain unless there is a change towards the region by the power that matters. I am sorry to be pessimistic. But we have not seen a time, like now, when a superpower has no check on its power”.

Roger Hardy: “Bahrain is a member of the six-states GCC sheikhly club. It is the smaller and less wealthy of the club members. It needs the club and this influences the way the club views it. The GCC sees Bahrain in several ways.

The club members see the conflict in Bahrain through the eyes of solidarity between ruling families. Any threat to the security in Bahrain is perceived as a threat to all the ruling families. In short, they see the problems as a security threat. For that matter, they characterize the problem as a Shia threat. Bahrain is the only GCC State that has a Shia majority. The others have Shia minorities. There is the perception of foreign hands. There are old and not so-old memories and fears. In the 1980s, the GCC states viewed their Shia populations as Trojan Horse. This is fueled by Wahabi influence as well. The GCC showed their solidarity not only morally, but also materially. Many believe, Saudi Arabia sent its troops to Bahrain in the early months of the crisis. The Saudis gave an oil field to Bahrain, and so on. There is a shared feeling that this is a threat to the security of the club. This is a pity way of looking at the situation in Bahrain.

Another way the crisis is viewed is through a specific and limited perception. The crisis in Bahrain was to be exploited by local rivalry. I mean here the Qatar-Bahrain dispute. The Bahraini government hosted the deposed Qatari Amir and the Qataris responded by broadcasting statements from the Bahraini opposition. The bitterness between the two countries peaked last year. It would be pity if the situation is viewed as such.

There is also a third and healthy view about the situation in Bahrain. That this is a genuine struggle for democracy, or part of an overall struggle for democracy. This was manifested when a large number of Kuwaiti MPs and personalities appealed to the Bahrain government to solve the problem through dialogue. They obviously viewed the problem as a political one needing a political solution, i.e. not a security problem. This was an act of basic solidarity between the people of the Gulf. This is also because Bahrain and Kuwait have similarities. Both are city-states, both have a developed social environment with high education and all the usual indicators of an advanced society. The only difference is that Bahrain had a limited democratic experience while Kuwait, more or less, had a continuous democratic experience since 1961″.

Neil MacKay: “When I first became aware of the situation in Bahrain and that a Scot is in-charge of security, I had to approach the issue independently. I looked further into the alleged victims and the victimizer. As a journalist, I interviewed Ian Henderson. He accepted to talk to me, in his word, to set the records straight. I put to him the allegations of torture directly. He denied that torture takes place, but said that rigorous investigations take place. He also admitted that there has been violence on both sides.

I found an arrogant response when he said torture to the European mind is different from the torture understood by the Arabs. This was an arrogant and racist remark. He said that he is the only non-Bahraini official who is subject to a propaganda campaign, that he is winding down and wanting to come back to his native Scotland or anywhere in Britain for his retirement. He repeated what the Bahraini embassy said to me that the ICRC is visiting the prisons and it is up to them to find if there is torture. Henderson also said that he did not do nine-tenth of what he is accused of, which is revealing. He said he himself has not tortured anyone and has not ordered any of his officers to torture anyone. When I pressed him about torture of children, he replied that my job is to resist violence. Similarly, when I spoke to the Bahraini embassy, the press attaché, Adnan Yousif, repeated the same thing, that ICRC is visiting the country. I asked him about the issue of forcible exiles. He replied, these are enemies of the state. He asserted that the best democracy is the Shura Council and this is the Islamic method”.

Professor Fred Halliday: “Two year ago, the then British Foreign Secretary, in a meeting with Arab Ambassadors, went out if his way to stun the audience by saying that he stands with his friends in Bahrain in such difficult times. The Arab Ambassadors did not know that they were meeting in the same place where Charles I was tried and executed.

I do not need to rehearse what has happened in 1920s, 30s, 40s, about the historical roots of the Bahrain movement. No need to go over 1950s when Selwyn Lloyd was interrupted during his visit by demonstrators and no need to go over the rise and fall of democracy in the 1970s. I wish to go over some of the lessons from all of these.

The argument that a country is not ready for democracy doesn’t apply to Bahrain. The Al-Khalifa is a special kind of a family. The personality of its ruling elite, such as the crown prince says it all. The Saudis encourage the Al-Khalifa, and we must look at the broader regional and international context.

Firstly, the problems in Bahrain are common. Declining oil, greed of ruling elite and the spread of education and employment. The GCC know that they swim or sink together. If they do not solve it, they will sink. The per capita income has declined by 50% in the past 15 years. The post-oil epoch has already begun in Bahrain. There are difficult choices to be made. Taxation is still absent. I believe a democratic opening can only solve the problem.

Internationally, the GCC countries are able to stay as they are only by the diligence of the West. This is an important factor. Since the Labour Party came to power, there has been different tone. So far it is not enough. The approach taken by the West to speak privately about these matters did not work. Certainly, it did not work in Bahrain. Not to speak out publicly is wrong. A person who used to be in the US State Department remarked after reading the Human Right Watch Report that; we agree with the report, but human rights are not high on the agenda in the Gulf.

Thirdly, the issue of security. There is the view that says we can’t allow an opening because the region is critical. We have had two major Gulf wars. These were not invented by democracy. What is needed is confidence building between states in the Gulf. Building this confidence, just as happened in Europe, would eliminate the need to go to war for distracting the public from internal problems. Democracy would also prevent a dictator from going to war or igniting a conflict with another state. Iran and the Arab States are well aware of the suspicions amongst them. There should be a way for confidence building. Iran does not claim Bahrain. The dispute over navigation in Shat al-Arab and the three islands should not prevent confidence building. Once there is confidence, unrepresentative governments will be unable to use these matters as pretext for avoiding democracy. The Western responsibility towards Bahrain should make it clear that absence of security is linked to absence of democracy”.

Urgent Action

Ahmad Al-Shamlan


The leading national figure, Mr. Ahmad Al-Shamlan, 54 years, suffered a stroke on 31 July following an encounter with the torturer Abdul Aziz Ateyat-Allah Al-Khalifa. On 29 July, the torturer (who was the head of a security committee responsible for interrogation and torture) summoned Mr. Ahmad Al-Shamlan and Mr. Ibrahim Kamal-u-Din. During the encounter in Hoora Police Station, the torturer said “I am speaking to you as a Governor of Manama, and I order you to keep away from those who are troubling us”. The two leading personalities replied that we have a constitution that regulates the relationship between us. Later on 30 July, the torturer Atteyat-Allah, telephoned Al-Shamlan and said to him “We understand that you intend to travel to the outside. You are ordered to stay in the country”. On 31 July, Mr. Ahamd Al-Shamlan suffered a stroke and had to be transferred to hospital. Al-Shamlan is now in Salamanya Hospital, fifth floor, in a special room.

The ruling family appointed Abdul Aziz Atteyat-Allah Al-Khalifa on 2 May 1997 as a Governor for the Capital as part of the drive to further militarize the country. According to the Amiri decree issued in June 1996, the governor is charged with the responsibility of “preserving public security” and of “deepening loyalty”. Atteyat-Allah, is the first of four governors to be appointed by the Al-Khalifa family.

Citizens continued visiting the leading national figure, Mr. Ahmad Al-Shamlan in Salmanya Hospital, Ward 41. Ahamd Al-Shamlan was detained in February last year and kept for about two months. The Al-Khalifa rulers aimed at segregating Bahrainis into Shias and Sunnis, so that the conflict appears to be sectarian. Ahamd Al-Shamlan is one of the national leaders who defied this policy and for this reason continued to suffer from the intimidation of the ruling family.

Al-Shamlan heads key activities in the campaigning for the Popular Petition that was signed by 25,000 citizens. Prior to this encounter, ten representatives from the Committee for Popular Petition (CPP) submitted a letter to the Amir of Bahrain requesting an appointment for submitting the Popular Petition. The letter said “We had been requested by the Justice Minister on 3 January 1995 to delay the submission of the petition… Similarly, on 6 March 1997, the Office of the Prime Minister requested that we delay the submission until further notice. We hope that the submission of the petition will help restore calm to the situation”.

The latest encounter, just one day before suffering a stroke, was a typical one. Three weeks ago, the head of the prime minister’s office, Abdul Latif Al-Rumeihi, telephoned Al-Shamlan and threatened him of grave consequences if he does doesn’t stop campaigning for restoration of the parliament. Round-the-clock surveillance and intimidation accompany the threats made by the intelligence department. The case of Al-Shamlan was extensively covered by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) 109-page report, released on 24 July. HRW reported the interrogation carried out by the torture Adil Flaifel, who said to Al-Shamlan “OK, Ahmad, you’ve broken the law with this petition”. The next day they demanded that he apologizes, but the honourable Al-Shamlan refused and had to endure the ill-treatment of detention.

On this occasion, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued an appeal on 15 August calling on the Amir of Bahrain to lift the travel-ban imposed against the pro-democracy leader . The distinguished lawyer, Mr. Abdulla Hashim stated to the BBC Arabic Service on 16 August that the Bahraini Bar Society requested the Justice Minister to lift the travel-ban imposed against Mr. Ahamd Al-Shamlan. Mr. Al-Shamlan’s conditions are not satisfactory, as he is now incapable of speaking properly.

An Urgent Action was issued by the Regional Program for Human Rights Activists [31 Abdalla Al Arabi Street, Via Tayaran Street, Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt, Tel/Fax: 4015505, dated 25 August 1997] as follows:

“With deep concern, the Regional Program for Human Rights Activists follows up the deteriorated physical health of the lawyer Ahmed Essa Ashamlan, aged 55 years old, who was prevented from traveling to Paris for medical treatment, due to his H.R. activities and defending the right to expression. Ashamlan is a prominent liberal figure, participated in editing the “Legal Reform” project, which was signed on by more than 25,000 Bahraini in 1994. He was detained several times in 1978, 1983 and February 1996, then released after two months. His passport was withdrawn 3 times, and was prevented from writing in Bahraini press since 1994.

R.P.H.R.A. was informed that on 29/7/1997, he was asked to attend before the security officer Abdel-Aziz Al-Khalifa to force him to stop his political activities and defending H.R. to give him the permission to travel.

He was questioned by the officer from 7a.m. till 1a.m.

On 31/7/1997, Ashamlan has received a phone call from the security responsible office to inform him that he is prevented from travelling to Paris, which caused him paralysis immediately after this call.

R.P.H.R.A. correspondent in London affirms that Ashamlan has but till now Bahraini authorities does not allow him to. R.P.H.R.A. considers what happened to Ashamlan as a clear violation against H.R. activists and defenders of the freedoms of individuals and groups and their right of expression as long as they are practiced by peaceful means.

The Regional Program for Human Rights Activists urges local, Arab and International H.R. organisations to impose pressure on Bahraini authorities to explain the circumstances behind this incident and to allow him to travel. We also urge it to sign on the International Human Rights instruments in general, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in particular”.

A “Labour Minister” commissioned for justifying dictatorship

The Labour Minister, Abdul Nabi Al-Shu’la, was sent by the ruling family to London in August in an attempt to win sympathy for the oppressive regime.

Al-Shu’la, was appointed a Labour Minister in 1995 for several reasons. Just before his appointment, a delegation from the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce visited the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa. Al-Shu’la was a member of that delegation. Prior to the meeting, the delegation agreed to raise some of the points that concern the business community. During the meeting, the prime minister asked the delegation about its opinion on the events in Bahrain. Al-Shu’la volunteered to speak on behalf of all saying “Go ahead and smash these people, they understand only one language, which is force”. After the meeting, other members of the delegation warned him never to speak on their behalf.

He was also suffering from difficulties with his business and he saw that the best way to resolve his financial hardship was through offering his services for the ruling family.

During his visits to the UK he asserts that he is a Shia and that he is not “oppressed”. Rather, he had been appointed as a minister. He never answers any question about human rights violations. While his job is not that of an interior or foreign minister, the ruling family uses him for meeting MPs and human rights campaigners.

To prove his credentials, he stops short of nothing to stand for dictatorship. In August, he suspended the activities of the General Committee of Bahraini Workers for the summer period, following the issuance of the following report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

ICFTU said in its annual survey that “Trade unionists in Bahrain asked their government to change the law to allow the existing “Workers Committees” to be transformed into trade unions. The government refused, and put union activists under surveillance”.

The report said “Trade unions are banned in Bahrain. In 1996, the government rejected a demand from the General Committee of Bahraini Workers (GCBW) to change the labour law and allow unions to exist. The GCBW reported that the government was keeping it under surveillance and was monitoring its telephone calls.

Bahrain’s partially-suspended 1973 constitution recognises the right to organise, but the labour law makes no mention of this right to bargain collectively, or to strike. Workers can be represented on joint Labour-Management Consultative Councils (JCCs) established by decree. Workers’ representatives are elected at the workplace and do represent workers’ interests in discussions with management, although they can only act in an advisory capacity. There were reports that the JCCs were becoming much more effective than the government liked. The Ministry of the Interior can exclude worker candidates from the JCCs whom he deems to be a threat to national security.

For every joint council which is set up, the permission of the cabinet, through the Labour Ministry, is required. There are JCCs in each of the major state-controlled industries and a few exist in the private sector. The government wants JCCs be formed in more large companies.

The worker members of the joint councils vote by secret ballot for the executive members of the GCBW, which was established in law in 1983 to co-ordinate and oversee the joint councils. The Ministry of Labour closely monitors the activities of the GCBW and must approve its internal rules.

 More than two-thirds of the workforce are expatriates. These workers are under-represented in the joint council system. However, the GCBW can hear grievances from both Bahraini and foreign workers and assists them in bringing these to court, or to the attention of the Ministry of Labour. The official policy of the government is to try and replace the low-paid Asian expatriate workers with Bahraini nationals.

The 1974 Security Law could be invoked to forbid strikes which would undermine the existing relationship between employer and employees, or the economic health of the country. Few strikes take place”.


Human Rights Watch Calls on Bahrain to End Harassment of Dissident Lawyer, Allow Him to Travel Abroad for Medical Treatment

(New York, August 15)– In a letter sent today to the Amir of Bahrain, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Human Rights Watch urges the government to revoke its ban preventing Ahmad Isa al-Shamlan from traveling abroad for medical treatment. Government officials recently warned Mr. Shamlan, a leading defense lawyer and critic of the government, to cease his efforts to present a petition to the Amir, reportedly signed by more than 20,000 Bahrainis, requesting restoration of Bahrain’s partially elected National Assembly. When Mr. Shamlan declined, he was told he could not leave on a planned visit to France for medical and other purposes, and he subsequently suffered a serious stroke. In the letter, Human Rights Watch calls on Shaikh Isa to instruct the ministry of interior “to cease its harassment of Mr. Shamlan for attempting to exercise his rights to freedom of expression and opinion and to peaceful assembly and association”

A copy of the letter is attached. August 15, 1997 Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa Office of His Highness the Amir Rifa’a Palace


by facsimile: 973 668 884

Your Highness:

We are writing you with regard to Mr. Ahmad Isa al-Shamlan, who was recently informed by a high official in your government that, because of his views critical of the government, he is presently not permitted to travel outside of the country. Mr. Shamlan has not been charged with any offense which might justify this restriction. Such abridgement of Mr. Shamlan’s right to freedom of movement on grounds of his political opinion contravenes Article 13 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Bahrain has pledged to uphold. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration states that all persons are entitled to this and other specified rights “without distinction of any kind,” including “political or other opinion.”

We therefore respectfully urge your government to assure Mr. Shamlan that there will be no restriction on his right to travel abroad if he so wishes. We further ask that you instruct the government, and in particular the ministry of interior, to cease its harassment of Mr. Shamlan for attempting to exercise his rights to freedom of expression and opinion and to peaceful assembly and association.

Mr. Shamlan, a defense lawyer and columnist, has long been active in the campaign to restore the partially elected National Assembly mandated by Bahrain’s Constitution. He and his family had been scheduled to fly from Manama shortly after midnight on July 31 to France for medical examinations and a vacation. On July 30, at around noon, Mr. Shamlan received a telephone call from Abd al-Aziz Atiyatallah Al Khalifa, governor of Manama province. Governor Atiyatallah told Shamlan that he would not be allowed to leave the country. Mr. Shamlan urged his wife to travel without him, but several hours later he suffered a serious stroke and was hospitalized. We understand that he has recently been released from the hospital and is presently recovering at home.

Prior to this phone call, on the previous evening, July 29, Mr. Shamlan and Mr. Ibrahim Kamal Eddin, a businessman, had been summoned by Governor Atiyatallah to the Hura police station in Manama for a meeting that lasted until after midnight. At this meeting, Governor Atiyatallah, a long-time high official in the ministry of interior prior to his appointment as governor this year, warned the two men that they should cease their recent efforts to arrange a meeting with Your Highness to present a petition, reportedly signed by more than 20,000 citizens, requesting you to reinstate the National Assembly and implement other political reforms. When the two men indicated that they intended to continue their political reform efforts, Governor Atiyatallah reportedly told Mr. Shamlan to “think of your health.” When Mr. Shamlan asked if this was a threat to prevent him from travelling, the governor responded that it was not. The next day, however, the governor phoned Mr. Shamlan to say that in fact he would be prevented from leaving.

Mr. Shamlan, who is in his mid-fifties, has been detained many times for his non-violent political opposition to the government. Most recently, on February 7, 1996, he was arrested following the publication by Agence France-Presse of a statement of the Popular Petition Committee, in which he is a leading figure. He had been scheduled to speak a few days later at a public seminar entitled “Democracy and Shura” sponsored by the Uruba Club, a gathering which the government then prohibited from taking place. Mr. Shamlan was brought before the State Security Court on charges emanating from a newspaper column he had written a year earlier and from his possession of the statement of the Popular Petition Committee. The court acquitted Mr. Shamlan of all charges in May 1996, but he told Human Rights Watch subsequently that because of continuing government harassment he did not feel free to express his views concerning the political crisis in Bahrain.

When Mr. Shamlan and his colleagues renewed their efforts in early July of this year to arrange a meeting with Your Highness, he received a phone call from Abd al-Latif al-Rumaihi, the head of the prime minister’s office, insisting that they abandon this effort. The July 29 summons from Governor Atiyatallah followed.

Even prior to this recent stroke, Mr. Shamlan’s health was poor. He had undergone heart surgery within the previous twelve months. We understand that the Bahrain Bar Association has recently written the minister of justice requesting that Mr. Shamlan be allowed to leave the country for medical treatment as soon as his current health permits.

While we would similarly urge you to permit him to travel on humanitarian grounds, we wish to stress that, so far as we are aware, the government of Bahrain has no legitimate grounds on which to restrict Mr. Shamlan’s right to freedom of movement, including the right to travel abroad and to return to Bahrain. If your government is not prepared to allow Mr. Shamlan to travel at this time, we would appreciate receiving an explanation for this measure.

We thank you in advance for your attention to this matter, and look forward to your response.


Kenneth Roth

Executive Director

cc: Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister

Shaikh Muhammad Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Interior

Shaikh Abdallah bin Khalid Al Khalifa, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, Ambassador of Bahrain to the United States

Go Back to Data Base News for 1997

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