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Speak Together of Freedom
The Present Struggle for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
By Robert Wilkinson
The Parliamentary Human Rights Group
"Let us speak together of freedom! Let the voices of all the people be heard, and let the demands of all the people for the things that will make us free be recorded...
Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom"
The Parliamentary Human Rights Group
The Parliamentary Human Rights Group was founded in 1976 as an independent forum in the British Parliament concerned with the defence of international human rights. Since 1976, its members have increased to a current level of 130 Parliamentarians from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. With the increase in numbers has come an increase in the range and extent of its activities. Members of the group represent all political parties, making the group broadly representative. The group undertakes human rights missions, publishes discussion papers, receives visitors and engages in dialogue with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
President The Rt Hon The Lord Braine of Wheatley PC (Conservative) Chairman Lord Avebury (Liberal) Vice Chairman Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour) Vice Chairman Anthony Coombs MP (Conservative) Secretary Dr. Robert Spinks (Conservative) Treasurer Lord St. John of Bletso Main Objectives
To increase awareness in Parliament, Britain and abroad generally of human rights abuses whenever they occur
To communicate to governments, their representatives in the United Kingdom and visiting delegations, the group's concern about violations of basic human rights,
To work for the implementation by all governments of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and of the UN Covenants on civil and political, and on economic social and cultural rights
For more information, contact Lord Avebury, Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group:
Telephone: 0171 274 4617 Fax: 0171 738 7864 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com Mailing address: House of Lords, London SW1A OAA
Bahrain is an archipelago consisting of 33 islands, five of them being inhabited. With a total area of 693 square kilometres, Bahrain is located in the middle of the Gulf with a population of just above half a million; of these, the expatriates constitute about 32% of the inhabitants and at least 60% of the work force. Bahrain has been ruled by the Al-Khalifa dynasty since 1783 when in that year an alliance of Arab tribes led by Al-Khalifa invaded the main islands, thereby establishing the family rule. Between 1799 and 1801, Bahrain became controlled by the ruler of Muscat, and between 1803 and 1809 Bahrain fell under the influence of Wahhabi. Bahrain was made party to the General Treaty of Peace established by Great Britain in 1820. Several other treaties were completed between Great Britain and the rulers of Bahrain in 1861, 1880 and 1892. This series of treaties encouraged direct British involvement in the internal affairs of Bahrain, reaching a climax in 1919 immediately after the First World War. Between 1919 and 1926, the British introduced administrative reforms, ending the arbitrary feudal system of governing, and established courts, land registration and municipal organisation. Between 1926 and 1956, Sir Charles Belegrave was assigned by Britain as Advisor for the Ruler of Bahrain.1
In 1938, a group of leading personalities representing the main trends and sections of society in Bahrain, led a movement calling for the establishment of a parliament reforming of the newly established police force and other related demands. The leaders of that movement, amongst them Mr. Sa'ad Al-Shamlan, were forcibly deported to India (then under the British Crown). A more powerful and broadly-based pro-democracy movement appeared between 1954 and 1956. A network of 120 dignitaries elected eight representatives to form the "High Executive Committee" representing all sections of the society. The movement demanded an elected parliament, a unified written law, formation of an appeal court and the freedom to form trade unions. Both the ruler of Bahrain, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa and Sir Charles Belegrave refused to respond to the call for political reforms.2
In December 1956, a "state of emergency" was declared and the British army was deployed, leading to the shooting and killing of several people by security forces during street clashes. Later, the three senior leaders of the movement, Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Bakir, Abdul Aziz Al-Shamlan (son of Sa'ad Al-Shamlan who was deported to Indian in 1938) and Mr. Abd Ali Al-Ulaiwat were all forcibly exiled to St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean. A battle was fought in the British House of Commons as to the legality of British involvement in that forcible deportation. The three were then released in 1961 and given compensation by the British Government, while the other leaders remained in detention for the rest of the Sixties.3
A British officer was appointed to oversee the intelligence department in 1957, and the position has been presided by a Briton to this day. In 1965 an uprising erupted calling for freedom of speech, the right to form trade unions and other demands of social justice. Again the British army was deployed to restore the situation and several people were shot dead by police during mass demonstrations. Those who were killed include: Abdulnabi Mohammed Sarhan, Abdulla Saeed Sarhan, Abdulla Hassan Bu-Naffor, Abdulla Saeed Al-Ghanem and Faidsal Abbas Al-Qassab. No independent enquiry ever took place.4 However, in 1966, the Special Branch was restructured and another Briton, Mr. Ian Henderson, was called in to head the security apparatus, a position he currently holds.
Independence, Formation and Dissolution of the National Assembly
In 1968, the Labour Government of the United Kingdom decide to pull out all British forces from the east of Suez including Bahrain. The status of Bahrain was brought before the UN to settle an Iranian claim to the islands. In May 1970, the fifteen hundred and thirty-sixth meeting of the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved the verdict of the Personal Representative of the Secretary General, Mr. Winspeare Guicciardi who stated "The Bahrainis I met were virtually unanimous in wanting a fully independent sovereign state. The great majority added that this should be an Arab State".
In the mean time, Britain was advancing an idea to form an nine-state federation comprising, Bahrain, Qatar and the seven emirates stretching along the Gulf coast. Bahrain and Qatar pulled out and the United Arab Emirates federation was established by the other seven emirates.
On December 16, 1971, the Amir of Bahrain, Sheikh Issa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, delivered his first speech after independence. He emphasised the necessity to establish a constitution for managing the legislative affairs of the country. This call was intended to gain public consensus following the verdict of the UN Security Council. The Amir stated in his speech that he had authorised the newly formed Council of Ministers to prepare a modern constitution for the country which would guarantee basic rights and freedoms. However, after many deliberations, the Amir agreed to the formation of a Constituent Assembly for the sole purpose of writing a constitution. On 20 June, the Amir promulgated Law No. 12 (1972) concerning the establishment of a Constituent Assembly composed of 22 elected members, 8 appointed members and 12 ex-officio ministers. Women were excluded from nomination and voting. The Constitution of Bahrain was drafted and agreed upon in 1973, paving the way for elections of a National Assembly.5
Before the implementation of reforms in the 1920s, the question of legitimacy and right to rule were associated with whoever had the physical power to dominate in society and control the available natural resources. The parliament was instituted in 1973 to legitimise the political establishment on democratic bases. The National Assembly comprised 30 elected members and 14 ex-officio cabinet ministers. The Constitution states in Article 42 that "No law may be promulgated unless it has been passed by the National Assembly and ratified by the Amir". Yet, towards that later part of 1974 parliamentarians were stunned to read in the Official Gazette a law decreed by the Amir without passing through the National Assembly. The law issued on October 22, 1974 and entitled "Decree Law on State Security Measures" empowers the minister of the interior to order the detention of political suspects for three years without charge or trial. Moreover, the laws deny detainees the right of appeal, by virtue of the fact that the Supreme Court of Appeal is the first and last court that pass sentences on political cases, if ever an individual is brought to court. This law is known as the State Security Law, and is still being used to detain people today.
All the 30 members of parliament objected to the content of the law and the manner in which it was passed. Hence on June 14, 1975 seven MPs representing all trends within the parliament, including the prominent leader Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri (now adopted as a prisoner of conscious by Amnesty International), issued a statement which was published by local press clarifying the final view of the parliament. The statement made it clear that the parliament demanded the abrogation of a law which they saw as unjust.6 On August 25th, the prime minister withdrew his cabinet from the parliament in protest of the MPs refusal to accept the State Security Law. The next day the Amir issued a decree suspending the parliament and several constitutional articles. The parliament has not been restored since then and the unconstitutional State Security Law has been implemented since its first day of issuance.
Human Rights Violations Between 1975 and 1990
A major crackdown was implemented by the security forces after the disillusion of the parliament in August 1975. In 1976, Mr. Saeed Al-Uwainati, a journalist and Mohammed Gholoom, a medical doctor, were tortured to death. Scores of trade unionists and political activists including Abbas Awachi, Abdali Al-Khayat, Jaafer Sumaikh, Abbas Hilal, Ahmad Al-Shamlan (also re-detained in February 1996), Dr. Abdul Hadi Khalaf and many others were detained and ill-treated under the provisions of the State Security Law.
The early years of the 1980s witnessed intensification of the violation of human rights. The government, using the pretext of countering the influence of the 1979 Iranian revolution, implemented sectarian policies excluding the Shi'a community and committed wide spread abuses of human rights. In 1980, more than a hundred people of Iranian origin were loaded in boats and expelled from Bahrain without any due process of law. Most of those evicted were born in Bahrain and hold valid passports. It became common for any Shi'a to be arrested, ill-treated, expelled from work, banned from further education and restricted from travelling abroad. This policy caused a migration of several hundreds of people to London, Copenhagen, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Gulf states.
On May 10, 1980, Mr. Jamil Ali Mohsin Al-Ali, who was from Manama and in his twenties, died under torture. Photographs of his body in the mortuary shows signs of cigarettes burns, ironing, drilling, and severe beating. Demonstrations broke out in protest of these gross violations, but the grip of security forces was tightened further. On July 10, 1980, Karim Al-Habshi, also from Manama and only 18-years-old, was tortured to death. And on February 14, 1981, Mr. Mohammed Hassan Madan, in his early thirties, from Dair, also died under torture. Demonstrations broke out in protest against the death in custody of Mr. Madan on February 15, 1981. Security forces attacked and killed a 9-year old boy, Adel Khokhi, from Samahij. And then on August 19, 1981, a religious man, Sheikh Jamal Al-Asfoor, was killed in custody, showing signs of torture.
In December 1981, the government claimed that it uncovered a coup-attempt and many hundreds were arrested. Following the detentions, 73 people were put before State Security Court and given sentences ranging from 7 years to life imprisonment. The security forces used these events to further consolidate its sectarian polices and as a result every Bahrain Shi'a became a suspect unless proven innocent. For example in 1982, the Saudi universities admitted about a hundred Bahraini students from the Shi'a community. They were formally notified of their acceptance, but the Bahraini authorities intervened and prevented the students from taking their places in the university. Similarly, in February 1984, three privately run schools run by the Islamic Enlightenment Society were closed down. The Society and school buildings are located on the main Budaya Highway and remain to-date a stark example of sectarian policy. The end of the 1980s saw a crackdown on all Shi'a teaching circles in mosques. The Shi'a community is the only segment in Bahraini society (including foreigners) that is prevented from teaching its religion.
The Shi'a of Bahrain are banned from senior positions in the Foreign, Defence, Interior and Justice Ministries, and have recently been sidelined in service ministries such as Heath, Transport and Water and Electricity, as well. As a result unemployment amongst the Shi'a community has soared to 25,000-35,000 people, while more than 150,000 people of the foreign work-force are now working in Bahrain.
The second half of the 1980s witnessed a continuation of human rights abuses that resulted in the death in custody of 30-year-old Radhi Mahdi Ibrahim, on August 30, 1986. Three weeks later, on September 20, 1986, Dr. Hashim Ismael Al-Alawi also died, under torture.
During June and July of 1988, clashes between security forces and residents of Bilad al-Qadim resulted in many arrests and a sweeping crackdown. Sheikh Al-Jamri had delivered sermons in Bilad al-Qadim as part of his social programme that covered many areas. The government attributed the unrest to Sheikh Al-Jamri's sermons, and in July 1988 he was dismissed from the Religious Court were he served as a judge since 1977 (even though it is unlawful to dismiss judges in Bahrain). In September 1988, Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri together with his son, Mohammed Jamil and son-in-law, Abdul Jalil Khalil Ibrahim were detained after a crackdown on mosque gatherings. Sheikh Al-Jamri was released on the same day (September 6th) following an outbreak of demonstrations but his relatives were sentenced to 7 and 10 years imprisonment.
When the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988, hundreds of Bahrainis who were forced out by the repressive policies of earlier years began to return home. Bahraini security forces invented a new method of punishment. People returning home were detained in the airport for interrogation. A few days later, new Bahraini passports would be issued with a validity of one year and the person would be deported to neighbouring countries. This procedure contravenes international standards as well as Article 17(c) of the Bahrain Constitution which states that "No citizen shall be deported from Bahrain, nor shall he be denied re-entry".
Developments Following the Liberation of Kuwait
Following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 a new political environment prevailed. A seminar organised in December 1991 by Kuwait University on the future of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) was attended by many Gulf personalities, including Dr. Abdul Latif Al-Mahmmod of Bahrain University. Upon his return to Bahrain on December 14, 1991, Dr. Al-Mahmood, was detained in the International Airport and kept for two weeks. Since then his professorship at the university as well as his passport have been taken away.
Bahraini political leaders representing all trends and sections of the society combined their efforts and drafted a petition on November 15, 1992 to the Amir, Sheikh Issa bin Salman Al-Khalifa calling on him to restore the National Assembly and restore the constitution. The petition was signed by 300 leading personalities and submitted in January 1993 by its sponsors: Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, Ex-MP, Mr. Hamid Sangoor, lawyer and Ex-MP, Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain, Educationalist, Dr. Abdul Latif Al-Mahmood, university professor, Mr. Mohammed Jaber Sabah, Ex-MP and Sheikh Isa Al-Joder, religious scholar. The Amir ignored the plea and instead established a powerless and non-elected consultative council, which has no constitutional basis, called the Shura Council. The intention of this council is to provide non-mandatory opinion and views to the government; all thirty of its members are appointed by the Amir.7
The security forces continued oppressive campaigns against individuals and sporadic arrests were reported. The government banned public gathering for debating any public issue and intervened several times closing mosques and attacking audiences. On March 6, 1993, a seminar planned to take place in Khawaja mosque of Manama held by Sheikh Al-Jamri and Dr. Al-Mahmood was banned and a siege on the mosque was imposed. Another programme on March 18, 1993 was also cancelled and again a siege on the mosque was conducted. On August 21st, Mattam al-Qassab was closed down after the holding of a public function and on September 26, 1993, a religious scholar, Seyed Dhia Al-Mosawi was arrested for delivering a speech in the Momin mosque demanding the restoration of parliament.
1994 - 1995: The Petitions and the Demonstrations
Amnesty International released an Urgent Action Bulletin after the police crackdown on the peaceful gathering at Momin Mosque in Manama on January 19, 1994. The people had gathered at the mosque for the 40th day commemoration ceremony of the death of a religious scholar when "according to reports the mosque was surrounded by police and those inside given five minutes to leave. The police then entered the mosque using teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd".8 Some were beaten at the time of arrest while scores of others were arrested later in their homes.
In October 1994, 14 leaders, ten from the Sunni and four from the Shi'a communities, prepared another petition, encouraging the restoration of the National Assembly through free elections, the involvement of women in the democratic process and the return to freedom of expression and opinion. In the petition, the 14 leaders acknowledged that the Constitution allows for the Amir to dissolve the National Assembly, as was done in August 1975, by an Amiri Decree. However, they point to article 65 of the Constitution, which states:
"If the Assembly was dissolved, elections for a new Assembly must be held within a period not exceeding two months after the date of dissolution. If elections were not held during this period, the dissolved Assembly would restore its complete constitutional powers, and shall meet immediately as if the dissolution has not taken place and shall continue its functions until a new Assembly is elected."
Hence the petition demonstrates that the current Bahraini government is unconstitutional. The petition was submitted to the public in October, and 25,000 signatures of Bahrainis above the voting age were collected. Permission for a meeting with the Amir was not granted and the petition has yet to be received. An engineering manager for the Ministry of Works, Mr. Saeed Al-Asbool, was sacked in November 1994 because of his involvement in collecting signatures.
The first pro-democracy leader to be detained following the October 1994 petition was Sheikh Ali Salman, a prominent religious scholar who was instrumental in campaigning for signatures, and in December many Shi'a villages openly demonstrated, calling for his release. The police raided his home at 02:00 on Monday the 5th of December in Bilad-al-Qadeem (five kilometres Southwest of Manama) and arrested him; that morning, crowds gathered at mosques where Sheikh Salman had been leading prayers.9 As a result, excessive use of force by the police and widespread arrests were employed to suppress the popular uprising. Bahraini security forces blocked main roadways, while rubber bullets and tear gas were sprayed from their helicopters. Reserve military forces were called in and it was reported that columns of special Saudi National Guards crossed the causeway from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain.10
On December 17, two citizens, Hani Abbas Khamis and Hani Ahmad Al-Wasti, were shot dead in Sanabis during a crackdown on demonstrators. The next day, Mrs. Zainab Al-Rashed, a woman from Daih, was hit in the eye by a bullet fragment as she resisted a police dawn raid before they arrested and detained her son. Police beat Ali Mohammed Ismael, a 52 year old man from Bani Jamra, breaking three of his ribs.11 Police guarding the Jiddhafs Mosque used clubs and gun butts on Haj Mirza Ali on December 20, leading to his death.12 On December 17 a senior official from the Ministry of the Interior announced that 13 citizens had been detained, but the Bahrain Human Rights Organisation submitted a list of 138 detainees by name and district, and claimed that the total number of detainees was several hundreds at the least.13 Most estimates were quoted in the thousands; the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York said in February 1996 that over 5,000 people have been detained since December 1994 for political reasons.14 All of the arrests and detentions were carried out under the State Security Law of 1974 - without charge or trial.
Human Rights Watch/Middle East wrote to the Amir of Bahrain on December 19, 1994, expressing concern over the government's response to the peaceful protests. In particular the letter cited the unfair detention of Sheikh Ali Salman because of his encouragement of the peaceful protests and his call for restoration of parliamentary life. They criticised the indiscriminate use of tear gas and rubber bullets on crowds. Human Rights Watch acknowledged that some individual committed acts of violence, pointing to the beating to death of a policeman on December 16 and the vandalising of private hotels on December 13. Yet they argued that individuals guilty of crimes should be tried as charged and not be used as a justification for the "use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrations [or] the arbitrary roundup of scores of suspected political activists who were not involved in these acts...Those suspected of recognisable criminal activity should be promptly charged and allowed legal council...".15
During the December protests Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri called for restraint, and stressed the need for peaceful demonstrations. He was quoted as saying, "We would like to assure the government that the language of bullets is of no avail. We are calling for restraint in the interest of the people and the government".16
The Bahraini Government deported a BBC correspondent in December 1994, for the manner in which he reported the uprising.17 Earlier in the year the French news agency AFP was forced to leave the country due to restrictions imposed by the Bahrain Information Ministry. An AFP employee in London said that they were left with a straightforward choice: turn a blind eye to certain events and issues in Bahrain, or close down their offices altogether.18
On January 15, 1995, the Government of Bahrain forcibly deported three opposition leaders, Sheikh Ali Salman (who was already in detention), Sheikh Hamza Al-Deiri and Seyed Haider Al-Setri. After they arrived in London, the Bahraini Foreign Minister flew to London to demand that the British government expel the Bahraini exiles. At the end of March 1995 a petition sponsored by 310 professional women was signed and sent to the Amir. The petition requested the initiation of a national dialogue, the restoration of democratic rights and the upholding of the rights of those held in custody. Of the 310 women who signed the petition, 92 were governmental employees, and were threatened by the government with dismissal from their jobs if they did not withdraw their support and apologise. The only three women who refused to withdraw their names and submit a formal apology were: Professor Munira Fakhro of the University of Bahrain, 'Aziza al-Bassam, of the Radio and Television Corporation and Hassa al-Khumairi, head of the Department of Continuing Education at the Ministry of Education - and all three were subsequently sacked.19
In August and September 1995 meetings were held between jailed opposition leaders, including Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, and representatives of the government. As a result of the talks, fifty people were released on September 13. At the end of September Amnesty International informed the Government of Bahrain of its plans to release a major report and a video on the human rights violations in Bahrain. The Bahraini government decided to release Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri on the same day the report was released, September 25, 1995. Some have argued that this move was a tactical effort to confuse the situation and soften the impact of Amnesty's charges. Nevertheless, following the release of Sheikh Al-Jamri, 150 prisoners were released along with 5 leaders of the uprising on August 16, 1995. 20 In January 1996, the leaders of the negotiations were jailed again
The Treatment of Women
There have been numerous cases of abuses targeted directly at women in Bahrain. Women have become very involved with political issues in Bahrain, and a common feeling within the Bahraini female community is that the government is worried, because the Gulf region has never seen such an influential involvement by women in such matters. The detaining of several women in recent months has been a new element in the conflict, and one which is uncommon in the Arab world. Sheikh Ali Salman said in an interview this month, "As is well known in the Arab, Gulf and Islamic countries,...women are not arrested except in very exceptional cases....Really, the matter is that the detained women have a brother, husband or son who is arrested and they display solidarity with the people demanding their just rights. This reaction by women has caused this cruel punishment. Women are detained in seclusion for long times and are exposed to physical and psychological torture and are not allowed to receive their family members or lawyers". 21 One Bahraini woman, now exiled from the country, said that it was very awkward for the male security forces to forcibly detain females, due to the traditional customs in the country. She went on to say, "We [women] didn't plan to involve ourselves in the democratic struggle to such an extent. We were thrown into it because of the situation...the situations of our sons, husbands, our families and country".22
Last year there were reports of "the arrests of tens of women" in Bahrain, as well as an account of "several teachers at the Isa Town Secondary School of Girls [who] were arrested after a demonstration in April. Their hijabs23 were pulled out and they were beaten and humiliated in front of the students. However they remained adamant in their demands and have now been suspended from their jobs for three months without pay".24 The Parliamentary Human Rights Group received reports recently of a similar incident on March 23 and 24, 1996 where four people were arrested at a secondary school in Hamad town, and of numerous occasions of secondary school girls being beaten by security forces.25
There were several independent and credible reports that on February 29, 1996 ten women were awakened by security forces at approximately 03:00, even though they were not charged with any crime, and told that they were to report to the Criminal Investigation Department at Al-Adiya in Manama by 08:00 or they would be punished. They were therefore given under 5 hours to make preparations for their children in the middle of the night. The women were:
Mona Habib (the daughter in-law of Sheikh Al-Jamri) Zahra Ibrahim Salman Helal Iman Ibrahim Salman Helel Naeema Khamis Hoda Saleh Al-Jallawibr> Mariam Ahmad Al-Mo'min Zahra Abdali Fatma Sayed Saeed Nazi Karimi (taken directly from her bedroom to prison) Zainab Ibrahim Amin
Mona Habib has three children, the oldest being 13-years-old; Zahra Ibrahim Salman Helal has four children, aged 2, 4, 7 and 9; her sister Iman has two children of 3 and 5; and Hoda Saleh Al-Jallawi has four children. A Bahraini, who prefers to remain anonymous, had spoke with two of these 10 women in the third week of March 1996, just after they had been released from prison. According to this testimony, both showed signs of severe beatings on several parts of the body, including inside the mouth. One of the women couldn't walk. When asked about what happened to the two women's children when they were detained, the interviewee responded, "They just left them. Left them alone, just like that".26 At the time of writing, five of the nine women remain imprisoned, and there is no information available on their well-being. It is important to note that Zahra and Nazi were imprisoned in 1995 and suffered beatings and other forms of physical abuse (for example, during all of the months of detention they were not allowed to change clothes or wash once, although temperatures were above 40 degrees Celsius).27
Bahraini Governmental Response
Throughout the conflict, dialogue between the Bahraini government and the opposition has been virtually non-existent. The Amir Sheikh Issa bin Salman Al Khalifa has said that he refuses to return to the parliamentary democracy (which he was involved in creating) because Bahrain has its own "unique democracy".28 In reference to democratic elections, a Bahraini official said this year that "We are not going to allow this".29 Bahrain's Ex-Minister of Information, Tariq Al-Moayed was quoted in June 1995 as saying the uprising was isolated to "a small number of people" who have "received instruction from outside". The unrest "does not make sense to Bahrainis...The world knows Bahrain is safe and secure".30 He has accused the foreign media - the BBC and AFP in particular - of "fanning the flames of crisis".31
Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa was interviewed during his stay in London in the beginning of March this year, and asked about the current troubles in Bahrain:32
[Q] Is it true that the recent demonstrations were staged as a result of the government's rejection of the democratic option?
[A] The Al-Khalifa family has managed the country's affairs for over 200 years, during which the government relied on respect for citizens' opinions and held consultations with them. Our objective has always been to achieve development, stability and progress. Those who draw their ideas from abroad did not give us any help in this context. The democratic principles they believe in are somewhat naive with regard to dealing with issues.
[Q] There are allegations of police brutality. Is this true?
[A] The media organs have very much exaggerated the number of those who were arrested and the allegations of the security forces' brutality. The government is still determined to act calmly since the recent disturbances erupted. ...We shall continue to act calmly, but we are determined to stamp out violence...
[Q] There are some reports of human rights violations in Bahrain, saying that some people are subjected to torture in your country. Would you care to comment on that?
[A] The law in Bahrain prohibits the use of torture. We adhere to the precepts of Islam which stress that the law applies to everyone without exception. We are ready to co-operate with any neutral third party to investigate the prisons in Bahrain and look at the prisoners' situation."
Although Bahraini officials have publicly stated that they are trying to negotiate an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Bahraini government has yet to agree to the three conditions set by the ICRC, which are: 1. The ability to meet with all detainees and prisoners without exception. 2. The freedom to meet with detainees and prisoners without the presence of an official. 3. The ability to repeat such meetings any time, as necessary. To date not one of the human rights organisations that have tried to enter the country since the uprising began have been allowed access, and virtually all known Bahraini human rights activists have been detained or expelled from the country.
Many feel that western countries have expressed little concern over the problems facing Bahraini citizens, and in fact Britain and the US have demonstrated implicit and indirect support for the government of Bahrain. After his trip to Britain in March of 1996, the Crown Prince of Bahrain announced that Britain had "expressed once again its support for the measures taken by Bahrain to safeguard its security and stability and to protect its cultural achievements". 33
The Arab League in Cairo believe that if the crisis continues, the US will intervene in support of the Bahraini government, because "the West cannot afford any new threat to its economic interests in the Gulf".34 For example, when the US Secretary of Defense William Perry visited Bahrain in March of last year to meet with the Amir, he made no mention of the unrest, even as violence was in full force (police opened fire on a crowd of about 3,000 demonstrators on March 2, 1995 in the Sitra region, killing two people and injuring many more).35 When the Crown Prince of Bahrain visited Defense Secretary Perry in Washington in March of 1996 (one year later), Perry publicly announced his support for strengthening military ties to the Bahraini government, as well as expanding co-operation in other areas.36 United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher also said this month, in a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, that he hailed the friendly bilateral relations between the two nations and that Bahrain was invited to attend a conference on fighting terrorism, to be held in a resort in Egypt next week.37 Middle East Report recently noted: "As for the US government, a Clinton administration official told Al-Hayat that it endorsed the 'responsible actions' of the Bahraini government and its charge that 'Iranian elements' were behind the trouble".38
Many people are concerned because throughout the discussions with the leaders of the US and Bahrain, there is no mention of illegal detention, torture, excessive force on innocent civilians or any of the other human rights violations which have been widely documented. It is important to acknowledge that direct Gulf investments in the US was $407 billion in early 1992, and that the US houses its Navy Gulf headquarters in Bahrain.39
The Current Situation
The situation in Bahrain is extremely serious and is worsening. In January 1996 security forces began closing mosques where prominent leaders had been calling on the Government of Bahrain to restore democracy, and as a result large scale protests began again in many areas, including Manama, Bani Jamra, Sitra, Jiddhafs and Sanabis. Amnesty International released a statement on the protests, saying "Reported mass arrests followed...In some cases, family members were held hostage as a way of coercing sought-after relatives to turn themselves in. By January 28, the government said it had arrested 180 people in connection with this month's unrest, while opposition groups and lawyers said up to 2,000 people may have been held -- most taken from their homes in dawn raids or from street check points. All are believed to be held incommunicado".40 Eight opposition leaders, who had been released in September from previous incarceration, were among those re-detained in January, including Sheikh Al-Jamri. Also detained was Salah Abdallah Ahmed Al-Khawaja who was freed just the week before after finishing a seven-year sentence for political opposition.41
In London, Channel 4 News presented film footage of the town of Sanabis, which was "systematically ransacked" by government forces in January, becoming a new phase of the government's program. Scores of young men were carried to prison, and the houses were marked with an "X" after they were ransacked so that homes would not be missed. Other towns were experiencing the same treatment.42
Human rights lawyer Ahmad Al-Shamlan, a prominent Sunni leader in the pro-democracy movement, was detained on February 7, 1996 by Bahraini Security Forces. He has acted as a defence lawyer for many of the political prisoners arrested in connection with the unrest, been a member of the Committee for Popular Petition (CPP) and wrote columns for Bahraini newspapers. Until this point, there had been no arrests of a Sunni leader involved in the opposition, but on February 3rd the CPP distributed a statement condemning the governmental crackdown on the opposition movement. In addition, a letter was sent by Al-Shamlan and over 60 opposition leaders to eight Kuwaiti MPs thanking them for supporting the peoples demands, and ultimately the Bahraini government decided that the activities of Ahmand Al-Shamlan warranted detention - without charge.43 The notion that the problems in Bahrain are due to a strictly "Shi'a uprising" and that the divisions were along religious lines became less defensible when Mr. Al-Shamlan was detained.
Following the Ministry of the Interior's announcement in November 1995 that any gathering of more than five people would result in the fining or imprisonment of the people concerned, mass arrests have escalated. Of those detained in February and January 1996, at least 42 of them have been children: three children between the ages of seven and eight have been released on bail, while the others remain imprisoned.44 In addition to the detentions, it has been reported that eight citizens were injured in January by the Bahraini Security Police due to use of excessive force.45 The cases included Haj-Ali Al-Taitoon, a 50-year-old man who was beaten by electronic batons, causing a broken leg, and Nasser Wahhab Nasser, a 40-year-old man who received a rubber bullet in the stomach. There were 14 killings of civilians last year during demonstrations and in January of this year Ali Jassim Al-Qallaf was killed at the age of 70 by tear gas sprayed by security forces.46
The conflict in Bahrain escalated to new levels again on March 26, 1996 when the first execution in Bahrain in almost 20 years was carried out. 'Issa Ahmad Hassan Qambar was detained without any access to legal council, and saw a lawyer for the first time when he was taken to a court on charges of murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death in a trial that Amnesty International said, "ignored internationally accepted standards requiring adequate legal assistance at all stages of the proceedings". Amnesty went on to say that "during the last month before his execution, 'Issa Ahmad Hassan Qambar was denied any family visits. The authorities also failed to notify his family of his impending execution, informing them only after it was carried out by firing squad at dawn on March 26, 1996".47
On March 20, 1996, the Amir issued a decree covering a whole range of offences, ranging from arson down to defacing a wall with graffiti, formerly dealt with in the ordinary criminal courts, but now subject to the jurisdiction of the State Security Court. This transfer of jurisdiction means that a person convicted of the specified offences no longer has a right of appeal, and because of limitations on the right of the defence to call witnesses, cases are disposed of rapidly, even when they entail long prison sentences or large fines. In the first case heard under the new procedure, three young people were sentenced in less than hour on March 27, as follows:
Abbas Moftah, 27-years-old 5 years imprisonment Abbas Salim, 26-years-old 5 years imprisonment Adel Al-Tal, 23-years-old 12 years imprisonment, and a fine of 32,000 dinars (approx. $80,0000)
Contrary to the advice given to the Amir by his friends and allies abroad, there has been no dialogue with opposition since the summer of 1995, when there was a brief period of calm and hope. Since that point, there has been a steady escalation in the level of violence and confrontation. The opposition has continually demanded peaceful resolution of the constitutional and human rights problems facing Bahrain, yet the ruling family has declined to engage in consultations on the very modest program of restoration of the constitution and the National Assembly. Instead, they have teargassed and batoned peaceful demonstrators, and by their intolerance have provoked the violence of the disposed. Only through discussion and compromise will it be possible to avert even worse disturbances, a hardening of attitudes, and ultimately, the disintegration of the social compact which has held all sections of the Bahraini people together up until now.
One of Bahrain's leading Sunni families commented on the execution of Issa Qambar, "Solutions will become impossible if this gap continues to grow between the rulers and the people of this island, and not just the Shi'a".
Finical Times March 27, 1996
The assessment of diplomats is that Bahrain's problems will not be erased by executions, mass arrests or the blaming of outside forces. With opposition leaders in jail and no hope for negotiation with the authorities, popular frustrations will go on being expressed in violent ways.
Daily Telegraph March 27, 1996
The evidence of torture and indiscriminate violence may be unpalatable to many readers, but it is infinitely more shocking to the victims and their families.
A Bahraini Lawyer December 12, 1995
Seventeen-year-old Hamid Qasim was hit by a rubber bullet outside the Duraz Intermediate School at 1530 on 25th March, then shot again at point blank range as he lay on the ground....The following morning his mutilated body was delivered to his family, with several fingers cut off, and severe wounds....An eye witness told me yesterday - he was present at the incident - that the fingers were found later in a blood spattered corner of the school playground. Of the five young men who saw Hamid being seized by the police, three were arrested a few weeks later and one, Nidal Habib Al-Nashabah, was murdered by police on the same day. The fifth witness has escaped abroad.
Britain can either encourage [The Amir] to enter into a dialogue with the opposition with a view to effecting peaceful democratic reforms and ending the abuses of human rights, or we can keep our mouths shut...Which is it to be?
Lord Avebury June 5, 1995 House of Lords
1 F. Khuri, Tribe and State in Bahrain, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-43473-7, 1980
2 Abdul Rahman Al-Bakir, From Bahrain to Exile, Beirut, (translated from Arabic), 1965
4Interviews with Bahrainis in London, February 1996
5 F. Khuri, Tribe and State in Bahrain, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-43473-7, 1980
6 Al-Adhwa newspaper, June 14, 1975, Manama, Bahrain
7 Dr. M. A. Fakhro, The Uprising in Bahrain: An Assessment, Third International Conference, Gulf/2000, Bellagio, Italy, July 25-27, 1995, p. 8.
8 Amnesty International, Urgent Action Bulletin, AI Index MDE 11/02/94, January 24, 1994.
9Bahrain Freedom Movement, Bahrain: Several Killed and Hundreds Tortured, London, December 26, 1994.
10 Bahrain Human Rights Organisation, Bahrain: Serious Violations of Human Rights Following Spread of Demonstrations, Copenhagen, December 25, 1994, p. 1.
11 Bahrain Freedom Movement, Bahrain: Several Killed and Hundreds Tortured, London, December 26, 1994.
12 The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Bahrain, Memorandum on the Ongoing Events in Bahrain, Damascus, January 10, 1995, p. 1.
13 Bahrain Human Rights Organisation, Bahrain: Serious Violations of Human Rights Following Spread of Demonstrations, Copenhagen, December 25, 1994, p. 2.
14 Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Lawyer to Lawyer Network, New York, February 1996. 15 Correspondence from Human Rights Watch/Middle East to the Amir of Bahrain, December 19, 1994.
16 Reuters, Sporadic Unrest Ahead of Gulf Summit, Manama, December 19, 1994.
17 US Department of State, Bahrain Human Rights Practices, 1994, February 1995.
18 Bahrain Freedom Movement, Voice of Bahrain, Issue No. 27, London, March 1995.
19 Amnesty International, Bahrain, A Human Rights Crisis, September 1995, p. 12.
20 Bahrain Freedom Movement, Voice of Bahrain, Issue No. 46, London, October 1995.
21 BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Opposition Leader Says Eight Women in Detention, Source: Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran external service, Tehran, in Arabic, March 7, 1996
22 Interviews with Bahrainis in London, between January 1996 and the time of writing.
23 hijab - head scarf
24 Muslim News, Women Under Torture in Bahrain, London, March 25, 1995
25 Interviews with Bahrainis in London, between January 1996 and the time of writing.
26 Phone interview, March 25, 1996, London.
27 Personal Correspondence between Mrs. Masooma Shehabi (sister of Zahra Ibrahim Salman Helal and Iman Ibrahim Salman Helal) and Mr. Robert Evans, MEP, March 4, 1996
28 The Observer, Ruler Panics as Bahrain Blazes, March 24, 1996, p. 22. 29 Channel 4 News, London, January 14, 1996
30 Wall Street Journal, Riots in Bahrain Arouse Ire of Feared Monarchy as US Stands By, June 13, 1995.
31 Dr. A. Rathmell, Bahrain: The Pearl Loses its Lustre, MEI, April 28, 1995
32 BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Bahrain Heir Apparent Addresses Press in London on Reforms, Defence Spending, Source: `Al-Sharq al-Awsat', London, in Arabic, March 7, 1996
33 BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Defence Minister Says UK, USA Support Measures "To Safeguard Security", Source: `Al-Hayat', London, in Arabic, March 15, 1996
34 The Observer, Ruler Panics as Bahrain Blazes, March 24, 1996, p. 22.
35 Dr. M. A. Fakhro, The Uprising in Bahrain: An Assessment, Third International Conference, Gulf/2000, Bellagio, Italy, July 25-27, 1995, p. 10, and Index on Censorship, A Home-Grown Affair, reprinted in Human Rights Bahrain, Issue No. 1, May-June 1995 by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Bahrain.
36 BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Bahrain and USA agree to expand military co-operation, Source: Radio Bahrain, Manama, March 9, 1996
37 BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Bahraini officials in Washington, condemn bomb attacks in Israel, Source: Radio Bahrain, Manama, in Arabic, March 9, 1996
38 Middle East Report, Number 198, January-March 1996, p. 3.
39 The Guardian, Bahrain Struggles to Keep a Lid On Unrest as Fat Years Come to an End, March 1, 1996, and ibid.
40 Amnesty International, Bahrain: Amnesty International Appeals for Immediate Release of Prisoners of Conscience Following Mass Arrests, AI Index MDE 11/01/96, January 29, 1996.
42 Channel 4 News, London, January 14, 1996
43 Bahrain Freedom Movement, Voice of Bahrain, Issue No. 51, London, March 1995.
44 Organisation Mondiale Contre La Torture, Further Wave of Arbitrary Arrest of Children - Bahrain, Case BHR 270296 and BHR 270296.CC, Geneva, February 27, 1996.
45 Bahrain Human Rights Organisation, Bahrain: January 1996, Copenhagen, February 5, 1996.
47 Amnesty International, Bahrain - Amnesty International Condemns First Execution in Nearly 20 Years, AI Index MDE 11/08/96, March 26, 1996