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Fine words, political reform fail to soothe Bahrain Thomas L. Friedman has been at it again. After a whirlwind visit to Bahrain last month, the indefatigable self-appointed guru of the Arabs continued to lecture them on how to behave and think correctly. Once more, he managed to misread the situation in the Arab region while doing his bit to reprimand the Arabs for their ingratitude to America. In the process, he showered Bahrain with praise while strongly censuring Egypt. Guests at the dinner he addressed in Bahrain may have been amused and even flattered by his account of two Arab responses to Sept. 11. While Egypt was running a TV series during Ramadan that allegedly alludes to a Zionist conspiracy to control Arab lands, Bahrain had successfully conducted the first democratic parliamentary election in the Gulf. The Egyptian model, we are told, “is to feed their people bread, circuses and conspiracy theories to explain why they are falling behind in the world,” while the Bahraini model “is to feed their people more responsibility, a freer press and greater ability to shape their own future to help them catch up in the world.” The lesson to be drawn is straightforward. The Arab world’s problems would disappear if only Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq followed the Bahraini model by “introducing a little democracy” in order to heal the wounds caused by past misrule that robbed these countries’ citizens of their dignity. At the same time, the problems that US policymakers have with the region would supposedly evaporate, including the Arab streets’ anger with US policies and the ramifications of that anger. If only real life were that simple! The complacency prevailing among government officials in Bahrain feeds on exactly the kind of backslapping to which Friedman treated his hosts. In contrast, many Bahrainis saw the elections as window-dressing calculated to deflect domestic opposition and international criticism. Together with an ample supply of bread and circuses, they provided the government with a necessary respite. But any sober observer knows that neither bread and circuses, nor the holding of controversial elections to disempowered bodies, are likely to do away with the real-life causes that nurture opposition to ruling regimes or widespread anger toward US policies. The fact that Bahrain held an election did not close the eyes of Bahrainis to how America’s pro-Israel policies are affecting their lives, or threatening the existence of Palestinians and Iraqis. In fact, the largely symbolic boycott of American products such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s is becoming a feature of life in Bahrain. This may help explain why Bahraini state television started running that same TV series, Horseman Without a Horse, which angered so many people in the Bush administration, and caused many erstwhile American defenders of free speech to demand that Egypt ban it. In fact, the unprecedented and high-handed American interventions merely gained the show undeserved popularity in Bahrain and throughout the Arab world. Watching the rather dull TV drama was elevated into an act of defiance. On the other hand, as in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, the elections in Bahrain did not move political reforms beyond the rhetoric of democracy. Indeed, even while the government was celebrating its success in warding off an election boycott (albeit barely), it managed to cast fresh doubt on its democratic credentials. Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, the king of Bahrain, issued two royal decrees. The first was a new press law, the second, an edict extending impunity to all government officials, civil servants and security and military officers, for acts committed before the promulgation of this edict. The press law caused an outcry. Virtually every journalist, including pro-government people, protested the draconian powers the new legislation gave to the executive. In the end, the government backed down and promised to “freeze” it. But the furor over the press law served to deflect attention from the second edict ­ the impunity law. Government spokespeople explained that its purpose is to enable the country to look forward and not become captive to the past. But even moderate critics argue that it is shortsighted, and smacks of an attitude to human rights that bodes ill for the future of reform. They also point out that the decree of impunity complements another edict issued earlier, which actually forbids members of the newly elected legislature from questioning the government or its officials on any matter that predates the convening of the first parliamentary session, next December. By means of the two royal decrees, Sheikh Hamad has virtually blocked all legal domestic venues for holding to account those responsible for the past three decades of misrule, corruption and amply documented systematic human rights violations. Critics of impunity concede that everyone, including violators, deserves a chance to make a fresh start and participate in building a brighter future. But they warn that blanket impunity, which equates the victims of human rights violations with their tormentors, spells danger and instability. In Latin America, for example, experience convinced would-be reformers that it is impossible to deal with the problems of the present without settling the account of the past. In nearly every instance of political reform that led to democratic transformation in the Third World, the real challenge was not how to hold free and fair elections, but how to deal with the past. Those who sought to bury it ­ in the hope that it would somehow disappear and all would be forgiven and forgotten ­ have been greatly disappointed. In nearly every single case, those who have refused to see the link between dealing with consequences of past repression and the task at hand have failed to go beyond cosmetic reforms. To become a true model for its big Arab sisters, Bahrain needs to do more than just hold elections, even free and fair ones. The wounds of the past must also be healed. Both the government and opposition need to agree on culturally suitable and politically feasible mechanisms that establish a basis for looking forward, while providing victims of three decades of human rights violations with reparation and, above all, redress and justice. Bahrainis could thus heal their own injured dignity, and their country would indeed set an example for the larger Arab states.

Abdulhadi Khalaf is a Bahraini academic who teaches Sociology of Development at the University of Lund, Sweden. He wrote this commentary for the daily star

ALLEGED TORTURER QUESTIONED IN BAHRAIN ON PENDING [DECISION ON ACCUSATIONS ­ can you think of something else? Maybe pending investigation into] ON “FRAUD AND OTHER ABUSES” According to the Gulf Daily News, REDRESS applauds yesterday’s reported detention of Adel Felaifel, a former member of the Bahraini Security and Intelligence Services, who is accused of perpetrating countless acts of torture in Bahrain. Adel Felaifel has reportedly been detained by Bahraini authorities in relation to accusations of “fraud and other abuses”. REDRESS, a London-based human rights organisation that assists torture survivors to obtain reparation, has received numerous testimonies from victims who were detained by the Bahraini Security and Intelligence Services during the 1990s. Many of these cite Adel Felaifel as directly responsible for the infliction of brutal acts of torture. “These survivors have repeatedly expressed their need to see justice for the torture that they have had to endure”, said Rosanna Mesquita, REDRESS’ UK Legal Adviser. Earlier this year Adel Felaifel, a former member of the Security and Intelligence Services fled to Australia following the opening of an fraud investigation into his activities by the Ministry of Interior. He rRecently Mr Felaifel returned to Bahrain, which triggeringed public demonstrations calling for his prosecution for “harming the rights, dignity and interests of citizens”. The protestors, supported by human rights organisation in Bahrain, are also calling into questionprotesting against the new royal decree 56-2002, which grants an amnesty to members of the Security and Intelligence Services who are accused of abuses such as torture and all other forms of ill treatment. REDRESS has received testimonies from a number of torture survivors who were detained by the Security and Intelligence Services during the 1990s. According to these testimonies, Adel Felaifel both inflicted acts of torture or ordered others to torture these victims. These torture survivors have repeated expressed their need to see justice for the torture which they have had to endure. Torture is crime under international law. The Convention against Torture, which Bahrain has ratified, provides for an absolute prohibition of torture. All forms of torture are prohibited under international law, regardless of the circumstances in which it is inflicted. This prohibition is absolute and clearly set out in the UN Convention against Torture. Bahrain is a State Party this Convention and as a party to this Convention, Bahrain has unequivocal obligations under international law to ensure that all allegations of torture are fully and effectively investigated and that all alleged perpetrators are brought to justice. “The amnesty provisions are in clear contravention of these obligations”, reminds Ms Mesquita. REDRESS welcomes the Emir and his government’s progress in its reforms toward democracy but urgently calls on them to ensure that all allegations of torture against Adel Felaifel are fully investigated and that he is brought to justice for these crimes. REDRESS also calls on the Emir of Bahrain to repeal the royal decree of 56-2002 and to ensure that all other allegations of torture are effectively investigated and that where appropriate, alleged perpetrators are punished in accordance with international standards. London, 27th November 2002

For further information, please contact Rosanna Mesquita, Legal Adviser (UK)

FELAIFEL … return home caused human rights protest. Fugitive tycoon held in Bahrain Chris 28nov02 A FORMER Bahraini intelligence chief who bought $100 million of Brisbane CBD buildings and coastal development properties has been detained in his home country. Former Colonel Adel Jassim Felaifel, who is accused of torturing Shi’ite political prisoners, was lured home last week after a royal decree in October offered amnesty to police officers accused of past human rights abuses. The decree was nicknamed in Bahrain “the Felaifel decree”. However, his arrival in the capital Manama on Saturday sparked a human rights protest outside the Bahrain justice ministry and by Monday he had been arrested. Australian sources say Mr Felaifel faces an uphill battle returning to Brisbane, where he owns central business district buildings, coastal development properties, an apartment overlooking the Brisbane River, and a luxury boat and car. In August, The Courier-Mail documented acts of torture that Mr Felaifel and fellow officers allegedly committed from 1979 to 2000. He denied committing the acts. Mr Felaifel headed Bahrain’s Security Intelligence Services Shi’a division and was in charge of detaining thousands political Shi’ite prisoners in a long religious war with the minority Sunnis, aligned with the ruling Al-Khalifa family. It is understood Mr Felaifel was taken into custody and then released pending possible proceedings against him. Speaking from Bahrain, he denied he had been arrested and said he was staying with his family at his home in Bahrain and the reports were wrong. However, a statement by Bahrain’s interior ministry said Mr Felaifel had been arrested over allegations of misusing his authority and was barred from leaving Bahrain. In Bahrain, 12 members of the newly-elected parliament have joined calls for him to be put on trial. Mr Felaifel has a wife and children in Bahrain but he has been living in Australia with Brisbane girlfriend, former Gulf Air stewardess Anne Cherie Windsor. Mr Felaifel fled Bahrain on May 2, days before he was due to appear before a Bahraini panel investigating claims of fraud, embezzlement, and issuing bad cheques for $B24 million.

Australian authorities are understood to have rejected Mr Felaifel’s application for a bridging visa which would have allowed him to return from Bahrain

Torturer Back into Action The UN Convention against torture states that no one is exempt from prosecution for acts of torture. The people of Bahrain in their large demonstration on Sunday called on the Bahraini government to review its illegal legislation, which shield torturers from prosecution. The demonstration was the people’s reaction to allowing Bahrain’s most notorious torturer Mr.Adel Fulaifel to enter Bahrain from exile without being arrested and prosecuted for his major violations of human rights. Political observers believe that the timing of his move to return was preceded by Decree No. 56, which was issued by the king last week and which gave immunity to torturers from being prosecuted or convicted. Furthermore, the government of Bahrain decided to appoint Abdul Aziz Atiyat Allah Al-Khalifa as head of the national security services, with the rank of a minister. He is accused of mistreatment and torture of political detainees. The appointment of Abdul Aziz Atyat Allah to a high-ranking position seriously undermines the credibility of the reform program initiated by the king. If the government of Bahrain, which is party to the UN convention against torture, does not prosecute a person who is known to have participated in torture, it will have forfeited its obligations. The four political societies which represent the opposition have placed torture on the list of their priorities. A committee has now been formed to represent victims of torture. It includes lawyer, human rights activists and victims of the state security law which had empowered people like Adel to administer torture as a routine practice against detainees. The aim of the committee is to bring to justice to those responsible for human rights violations. A conference will be organized by the committee next Friday to call for the immediate cancellation of Decree No 56 which was enacted last week by the government to provide immunity for torturers from prosecution. The opposition calls on the Bahraini government to live up to its obligations under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and other relevant norms of international law. It reminds the Bahraini government of its obligation, to investigate Mr. Fulaifel for his role in the grave violations of this Convention, and, if there is a sufficient case against him, to indict him for his crimes. The investigation must be impartial, which means that it has to be carried out by a neutral commission. The government itself is part to the case and cannot take part in the investigation. Mr. Fulaifel was allowed to flee Bahrain to Australia in May 2002. The opposition and human rights activists requested Fulaifel’s arrest, however he managed to return back to Bahrain without being arrested. Fulaifel guaranteed freedom from prosecution in Bahrain undermines the social stability of the country. It will cast doubt upon the seriousness of the government to resolve human rights violations and may permit similar violations to occur in the future. Bahrain Freedom Movement

27 November 2002

The scandalous return of a butcher and the cries of victims The return of the Bahrain butcher, Adel Flaifel, marks an undisputed manifestation of the planned retreat of the reforms programme declared by the king. The issue of Flaifel, the man responsible for the torture of thousands of political detainees during the 1990s, has been dealt with by the government in a way that reinforces the view that his initial exit from the country in May 2002 and his final return are both engineered by the government. The torturer left the country despite a court decision to restrict his movement as investigations into his financial embezzlement continued, no inquiry was made to explore the “mysterious” departure via the airport, nor any official statement was issued to explain the case or answer the many questions surrounding the issue. The same attitude of indifference is witnessed today after Flaifel’s return. Despite the many protests by opposition groups and public figures, there has been no response from the government. This seems to be the strategy to deal with the Bahrain population in the new so-called democratic era. The absence of dialogue and the clear unwillingness of the government to listen to its people lead to a build up of anger and strengthens the belief that the reforms programme falls short of the peoples’ expectations and that the current actions of the government are contrary to its previous declarations and claims. Decree 56 makes no difference between the victim and its executioner. Further, it turns a blind eye to the countless and blatant violations of human rights in Bahrain. Just like the media laws, the decree came after the elections thereby confirming the government policies of ignoring major issues of concern and falsifying the government electoral campaigns during the months of September and October. It remains to be seen whether the government responds positively to the recent demonstrations calling for a government action against Falifel. Bahrain Freedom Movement

26 November 2002

A “new” premier The new illegal constitution, national charter, municipal elections and national elections are all part of a publicity stunt designed to mask a fundamentally dictatorial political and economic system backed up by the ruling family. On 24 October 2002 the opposition took a wise action by boycotting the elections in order to create a real public debate about who should make decisions about the issues that effect the people of Bahrain; the royal family and their counterparts of unaccountable government officials and business leaders or the people of Bahrain who are effected by these decisions? Voting every four years for unaccountable, appointed government representatives and handicapped elected representatives is not a democracy. Even with well-meaning political candidates, the King’s political system is not capable of being genuinely democratic. It will not give the people of Bahrain the power to better their lives. The people want real, genuine democracy that gives everyone power over the decisions and resources that matter in our neighborhoods, towns, schools and workplaces. Poverty, cuts in healthcare, education, social services (while the rich get richer), racism and corruption, low wages, lousy and meaningless jobs and environmental destruction in the country are but some of the symptoms of bad government. These problems are rooted in the same undemocratic and economic system, controlled by the royal family, that hides behind the national charter, parliamentary elections, illegal constitution and municipal elections. It is time for the people of Bahrain to come together to stand up to this system and create genuine democratic alternatives. The King’s illegal constitution undermines the democratic process because a candidate can be appointed by the government in opposition to the people’s will. This controversy could be avoided if all the members of the parliament are elected, the process that is used in democratic nations. The current political system is outdated for our nation’s political climate. It is dominated by the government through its appointed members, although unselected by the masses. Both houses of are powerless entities designed to suit the prime minister’s despotic rule. The outcome of each is relatively alike; at least to the extent that such a division is unnecessary. In the end they act simply as governmental power structures. Half of the illegal enlarged constitution is determined by the government. The structure is self-appointed and effectively takes some of the power from the people. It requires the people to give up the ability to govern themselves to someone else who will turn around and enact legislation to entrench themselves in those positions. The system does not allow debate on any issue without the King’s approval. The people of Bahrain protested against the king’s illegal constitution and demanded a public debate, however these requests were turned down. The demands for replacing this illegal system and restoring the 1973 political system will continue until genuine democracy is achieved. The appointment of the members of the Shura Council and the new cabinet have proven, beyond doubt, that the old guards have regained their power and the reform programme has effectively been overturned. Bahrain Freedom Movement

19 November 2002

Old faces, old policies The Prime Minister of Bahrain has carried out a minor reshuffle in his cabinet in an attempt to revamp the government image. Only six new faces have been brought into his cabinet while the other thirteen remained in their seats. There has been no noticeable change of policy concerning the economy, media, democracy, health, education or defence, despite the marginal changes in government since 1995 and 1999. The major challenge is the economy. Bahrain is loosing its competitive position with Dubai. ABN Amro sold its Bahrain operations and moved to Dubai. HSBC Amanah finance was relocated from London to Dubai instead of Bahrain despite the fact that Bahrain is known as the financial hub for Islamic finance. The government of Bahrain failed to establish an active trading platform and failed to stimulate the economy into action. The government policies are not in line with the international standards and global economy. Whilst the number of unemployed locals is increasing, the number of foreign labour force is also increasing. This unbalanced equation is creating an intolerable and explosive situation. The existing top government officials have failed to avoid the pitfalls of the past. Corruption, financial scandals, discrimination and prejudice are key factors in shaping the government policy. The public sector is not flexible enough to include all types of the locals. The ministries of the interior, defence, finance and foreign affairs and Bahrain Monetary Agency are restricted to those who are 100% pro-Al-Khalifa. Unfortunately, this trend is also spreading to the private sector where key positions in the banking industry are only approved by the prime minister himself. Batelco (the only telecommunication company in the country) is encountering a management-restructuring plan whereby the majority of the new management team comes from one race of the Bahraini society. The National Bank of Bahrain lately promoted 4 managers who are interrelated and come from one family. These corrupt practices are stimulated by the top. Besides, retired ministers are enjoying a life of luxury regardless of the mess that they made of the services for which they were responsible. A free and democratic society cannot tolerate extensive government manipulation of the economy. It’s disturbing when the government spends oil revenue to influence public opinion on political issues. The prime minister should resign from his position and apologize to the Bahraini people for his gross abuse of trust. A continuation of government’s repressive policies will only affect negatively the population’s readiness to support the regime. What the people of Bahrain need and demand is an immediate changes in policies not cosmetic changes that serve no purpose. The latest government reshuffle is a sham. The prime minister who is responsible for the ills of the country for the past thirty years has to go. As long as he remains in office, there can be no talk of any reform programme. Bahrain Freedom Movement

13 November 2002

New law restricting freedom of press In an attempt to impose strict control over the press, the government of Bahrain issued a new law, which allows the executive authority to imprison journalists and suspend newspapers. “This law is undemocratic and highly restrictive of freedom of press” said one journalist. Political observers believe that these punitive measures against editors, writers, journalists and publishers are being imposed in order to minimize their criticism of the government and its policies. It reflects the fear of the political establishment of the of the open exchange of information among the public. The old guards are not prepared to give control of the media to the people. They want to keep a lid on their corrupt practices and financial scandals. The prevalence of this view even after the so-called reform program is dangerous to the liberties of the people. The new law violates the right of the journalists to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds as guaranteed by the international declarations of Human Rights and the norms of free expression set out in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international instruments to which the government of Bahrain is a party. Also it was introduced in contradiction with Article 104 of the 1973 constitution, which does not allow any law to be passed without the approval of the national assembly. Furthermore, it has been enacted without public debate, giving the executive authority powers to suspend, fine and permanently close newspapers found to be in violation of the vaguely-worded provisions of the law. The journalists in Bahrain have been disgusted by this law, which has convinced them that the government was still suspicious of the people. Many journalists voiced their strong protests to this law while others requested the government to withdraw it completely as it was in contradiction with the national charter created by the government itself. The government has imposed a body of its own, the Journalists Society, to deal with the non-conformist among the journalists. They are denied the opportunity to organise themselves as a body distinct from the political establishment and have the power to monitor the policies and actions of the government. The opposition believes that these steps have been taken in order to curtail the freedom of expression and ensure that any restrictions on free speech are loosely defined. The opposition rejects the idea of a direct act by the government of Bahrain upon every citizen without the consent of the 1973 national assembly. The experience of the people of Bahrain following the recent setbacks of the reform programme confirms this notion. The law of the press and other laws, which were issued outside the 1973 constitution, are null and void. The government of Bahrain has reneged on most of its promises since the introduction of the national charter. One basic requirement of democracy is the existence of free press, without which dictatorship, despotism and corruption will remain in force. The new press law is not conducive to the cause of democracy, openness and free speech. It must be scrapped immediately. Bahrain Freedom Movement

8 November 2002

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