Sunday, 18 December 2011

Ministry of Human Rights Continues Attempts to Take Over Civil Society Organizations and Cancel Bahrain Bar Society Elections | Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Ministry of Human Rights Continues Attempts to Take Over Civil Society Organizations and Cancel Bahrain Bar Society Elections

Fatima Al-Blooshi, minister of human rights and social development

December 18, 2011

Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its concern about the continued restrictions on the role of the civil society organizations and independent civil organizations, and the attempts to control them. Lately, the Ministry of Human Rights and Social development ruled that the current elected board of directors of the Bahrain Lawyers Society will no longer be in charge, and appointed the immediate past board of directors. This step appears to have been taken because the majority of the elected members are from the opposition.

On the 7th of December 2011, the Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development faxed a letter to the Bahrain Lawyers Society stating that “The immediate past Board of Directors is appointed back, while the current elected board is void”. The Society held its general assembly on the 26th of November 2011, and established a quorum with 86 lawyers out of 157 members entitled to vote, that is more than 53% of the members. The election was conducted under the supervision of Bahrain Human Rights Society, which confirmed the integrity of the elections. The Ministry of human rights failed to send a representative despite having been notified in advance, the immediate past president failed to attend as well. The elections were held after a delay of 6 months from the scheduled date because of the emergency state imposed in Bahrain. The elections resulted in selecting seven new members, with a majority from the opposition, and lawyers well-known for defending political prisoners, including some that have been taken to interrogation in the military prosecution during the emergency state because of their political stances. [1]

The new elected President Hameed Al-Mulla (The immediate past vice president) confirmed that the elections were held in accordance to the law, and that “the ministry is not legally entitled to cancel the authentic elections held by the society”.[2]

The Ministry of Human Rights is exploiting a law written in 1989 for the purpose of controlling the activities of the institutions of civil society, known as the law of Societies, to continue intervening in its management, and restrict its freedom. The law was repeatedly criticized by local and global organizations [3], because it violates the basic human rights in freedom of expression and assembly. This is the same law that the government used in 2004 to dissolve Bahrain Center of Human Rights, for standing up to the violations at that time. The center continued its work and its activities broadened inside and outside of Bahrain, and its reports became of higher importance to international bodies.

In their recent joint report, Bahrain Center of Human rights and the other human rights organizations in Bahrain, documented many cases of attacks and attempts to control the institutions of the civil society, by eliminating elected officers and appointing other members. Those kinds of violations increased since the dismissal of the board of directors of Bahrain Society of Human Rights [4] in September 2010, and their rate increased even more after the state of emergency was declared in Bahrain. (Check report for more details, or the timeline below).

Bahrain Center of Human Rights condemns the act of revoking the elections of Bahrain Lawyers Society; and sees it as a clear violation against the freedom of civil societies, and an indicator of the deterioration of freedom in Bahrain, and the complete lack of any real steps towards applying the recommendations handed by the human rights organizations.

Therefore, Bahrain Center of Human rights demands the following:

- The Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development should withdraw immediately their decision to revoke the elections of the Board of Directors of Bahrain Lawyers Society.
- To provide a safe and free environment for the civil organizations to work in, especially those focused on defending human rights.
- To amend the laws of civil organizations, and all the other laws, so that they comply with the international standards, especially the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Timeline of the violations against the institutions of civil society, the civil and political organizations since 2010:

March 24th, 2010 – Closing of the headquarters of Bahrain Nursing Society, with an order from the Ministry of Health, after the Society held a solidarity event with one of its members who was arrested for treating an injured protestor. Previously, this society’s Board of directors was dismissed after it demanded a better environment for the nurses; a temporary manager was appointed instead.

April 6th, 2010 – The president of Bahrain Youth Society of Human Rights “under assembly”, Mohammed Al-Maskati, was fined with BD500 after the prosecution charged him with working in an unlicensed organization.

September 9th, 2010 – The Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development dismiss the board of directors of Bahrain Human Rights Society , and appoints a temporary manager from the government.

March 2011 – The start of a huge campaign of arrests, that included 200 members from Islamic Action Society (Amal). Fourteen of the members, including the general secretary Shaikh Mohammed Ali Al-Mahfood, were sentenced in the military court for up to 10 years in prison.

March 13th, 2011 – Burning the headquarters of the National Democratic Action Society (Waad) in Muharraq, followed by burning the second center in Muharraq on the 18th, it is believed that the people involved are the Government-backed thugs, with no interference from the authorities to prosecute them until this date.

March 28th, 2011 – Security forces raided the headquarters of the Islamic Action Society, destroying the furniture, doors, and stealing and breaking electronic devices.

April 6th, 2011 - The Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development closes Bahrain Teachers Society, after the arrest of its president and the vice president. After a military trial, the President, Mahdi Abo-deeb, was sentenced to ten years in prison, and the Vice President, Jaleela Al-Salman, was sentenced to 3 years. There are still some members of the Board of Directors trialed in civil court.

April 6th, 2011 - Board of Directors of the Bahrain Medical Society was dismissed, and a new temporary board of directors was appointed by the Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development. The society’s president (at that time), Dr. Ahmad Jamal, was arrested for a while.

April 8th, 2011 - National Democratic Action Society (Waad) was closed, by the decision of the military prosecutor, after the arrest of the General Secretary of the Society Ibrahim Sharif. He was sentenced in June 2011 to five years in prison. The society was reopened in June after issuing an apology to the military.

April 14th, 2011 - Bahraini Minister of Justice announces the intention to trial both the Islamic Action Society, and Alwefaq National Islamic Society, to dissolve both. The announcement was dropped the next day as a result of international pressure.

May 9th, 2011 – A campaign of mass arrests against the members of the Bahrain Society of Photography "under assembly" including its president, Mohammed Al- Sheikh. They have been brought to the military court and then the civil court. The trials were stopped in October 2011.
July 6th, 2011 - Public Information Authority closed the headquarters of the Foreign Journalists Club, and ordered the people in charge to hand it over.

December 7th, 2011 - Ministry of Human Rights revokes the results of elections Bahrain Lawyers Society and appoints the previous board.