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Confused about Human Rights Societies in Bahrain?

I was a bit confused reading the newspapers this morning regarding two human rights societies. You might’ve been too, so let me remove some of the confusion:

There is the National Human Rights Commission which is different from the Bahrain Human Rights Society. The first is a government organisation established by Royal Decree and the BHRS on the other hand, is a registered and independent and highly regarded civic society which has long been involved in the defence of human rights in Bahrain.

Salman Kamaleddin, assigned president by Royal Decree of the BHRC, resigned after just 4 months at the helm. Although he did not declare why he actually resigned his commission so far, it is presumed that the reasons are that he is at odds with receiving orders on what to condone and what to object to.

Soon thereafter another event took place in that the Bahrain Human Rights Society [BHRS] was accused of being sectarian, which got them to be quite understandably publicly angry at the accusation. The government organ in charge of all non-political societies in Bahrain, the Ministry of Social Development stepped in and ham-fistedly aggravated the situation by firing Al-Dirazi and replaced him just today with someone more amenable to the government’s view. The replacement is assigned to head the society for 8 months and is to prepare a supposedly comprehensive report about the society, its finances and work within 2 months of assuming office. The Ministerial order also specifies that a General Assembly is to be convened rather quickly, dissolve the board and elect a new board. Presumably under the new appointed chief. Thus, effectively hijacking human rights work in this country with not a single registered civic human rights society operating here.

The international community wasn’t pleased with the developments and various international organisations condemned the move and called on the Bahrain government to not interfere in civic societies and re-instate the highly respected Al-Dirazi who presided over the BHRS to his position.

Now, just today in the same paper that carried that news, the deputy prime minister is pictured not only meeting Kamaleddin – who has resigned the BHRC’s position – but commending him on a job well done and affirming the importance of Rights societies and their contribution to the health of the country… as if Kamaleddin never resigned and everything was hunky dory with the BHRC!

Didn’t anyone tell DPM that the BHRC’s been practically dissolved with Kamaleddin’s resignation? Or is it back as it was now and Kamaleddin’s changed his mind all of a sudden and has been brought back to lead the Society again?

نائب رئيس الوزراء يلتقي كمال الدين ويشيد بمؤسسة ‘حقوق الإنسان’
أكد نائب رئيس الوزراء سمو الشيخ محمد بن مبارك آل خليفة خلال لقائه أمس في مكتبه بقصر القضيبية رئيس المؤسسة الوطنية لحقوق الإنسان سلمان كمال الدين، أهمية الدور الذي تضطلع به المؤسسة ومؤسسات المجتمع المدني للعمل من أجل الارتقاء والنهوض بأوضاع حقوق الإنسان وتعزيز الحريات الأساسية ونشر وتعميم ثقافة حقوق الإنسان. وأعرب سموه عن ثقة الحكومة في المؤسسة رئيساً وأعضاء لتحقيق الأهداف والتطلعات المرجوة من إنشائها ومواصلة مسيرة الإنجازات في مجال تعزيز وحماية الحريات العامة وحقوق الإنسان.
ونوه سموه بالتطورات التي حققتها مملكة البحرين في ظل عهد جلالة الملك في مجال حقوق الإنسان التي حظيت بإشادة واسعة إقليمياً ودولياً.

Al-Wasat · 17 Sept 2010

His highness expressed the government’s confidence in the organisation’s [BHRC] president and members to achieve the desired goals and objectives of its creation and for it to continue the march of achievements in the promotion and protection of public freedoms and human rights.

translated the bold bits

With this confusion and the absence of some officially registered organisation to take care of human rights and guard against transgressions, I guess the only one which comes to the foreground now is the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights? Ah, sorry, although it’s the most active anyway with a proven track record in defending people from those Bahrainis in Guantanamo, to migrant workers through to political activists, it too has been dissolved by the MoSD and its site has been blocked for some time now. Oh, and both their current and previous presidents found their mugshots featured in a poster along with the “23 terrorists” who’ve been recently apprehended. Their pictures have since been removed in the online versions of the quite nicely designed poster for some reason.

So, you’re on your own.

I hope that clears things up a bit for you now and you can go back to your hopefully relaxing Friday.

Off to find something to continue to waste my time now. Ta taa.

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Red taped social responsibility

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As a human being, when you see a rock on the road that might impede your neighbour or fellow human being and you could move it to the side, I am sure that the majority of people will just move it spontaneously. If they can’t, they’ll try to warn people about it and maybe try to get the municipality to come and remove it.

If you see a bird stuck in a net, you would untangle it and set it free.

If you saw a thirsty dog, I am sure that a lot of people will stop and try to find it water.

If you saw a person lying on the ground dying, or in pain, you would at least try to call an ambulance to help.

You would do all of the above on the spur of the moment. There is no need to think about what you are going to do, for the most part you would just get on with the job of helping, then deal with any other surrounding circumstances (call the BSPCA to collect the dog, investigate why that net was there in the first place, find the cause of why that rock was there and try to ensure that doesn’t happen again, etc.).

But what if your own society is suffering, sick and dying? Would you not try to get to the cause of that ailment and try – as an individual and then group – to do something about it?

All of the above falls under the social responsibility of the individual and group. None of the above should require a permit to perform good and ameliorate pain. For in those actions you elevate the individual and society.

My personal belief is that I would not seek a permit to do good for my society or for humanity on a larger scale. I would just go ahead and do it – and I have – and encourage every person to do the same. For if we hesitate, the situation might very well turn to the worse very quickly.

So why does a workshop on Truth and Reconciliation face official sanction and red tape? I would have thought that something as important and much needed as this which is a good step toward national reconciliation would be welcomed with open arms, and all resources made available to it to ensure its success.

But the ministry whose mandate is purportedly to elevate the individual and society thinks otherwise.

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O’ Oh

I think it’s time to duck or find another place to enjoy the forthcoming summer in as summer in Bahrain is promising to be a tad hotter than usual:

The prime minister receiving the news that he has been awarded a UN prize

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, addressed today the meeting of the Human Rights council in Geneva regarding inadequate housing in Bahrain, which he said is the result of corruption and acquiring most of the country lands by members of the ruling family.

In his speech before representatives of Governments and NGO’s from around the world, Alkhawaja criticized the “United Nations Human Settlements Programme” for giving the prime minister of Bahrain an award related to achievements in human settlements. He said that the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has addressed the UN Secretary General to review the criteria and nomination procedures for such award to make sure that it is not given to officials who are well known for corruption and human rights abuses.
BCHR

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“Inciting hatred” is becoming a fashionable charge

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Soon, Bahrain’s streets, villages and towns will once again live several days of a perfumed atmosphere. The wafts of tear-gas and the sounds of rubber bullets will be infused in decrepit narrow streets, while that effervescent smell of burning rubber, that major adrenaline aphrodisiac normally only experienced when paying hundreds of dinars at the F1 racetrack, will be available completely free of charge while cars dodge the flames and probably accompanied by thrown rocks and sticks; all of those terrorist acts by kids who – because of their reaching the legal age of maturity which is 15 in Bahrain – could be imprisoned for a very long time, but could never dream of exercising their energy and intellect to vote for a representative who could speak with their voice. When those kids are from the 55% of the population that only got 18 representatives while across the fence they see that they do not count as much as those 35% who got 22, then they deserve everything that they get!

And they will get the usual “inciting hatred of the regime” charge, get locked up and the keys get thrown away awaiting a usual royal pardon a few weeks later.

And the cat-and-mouse games continue.

Soon too, three citizens who believe in the adage that one should be patriotic to ones country all the time and only be loyal to its government when it deserves it will be taken to court with this familiar and oft-used charge:

التحريض علانية على كراهية نظام الحكم والازدراء به، وإذاعة أخبار وشائعات من شأنها إحداث الاضطراب الداخلي بالمملكة والتحريض علانية إلى مقاومة السلطات وعدم الانقياد للقوانين

which translates to:

    Publicly inciting hatred against and scorning the regime and broadcasting news and rumors that may cause internal unrest and publicly inciting resistance to the authorities and not to bow to laws

Okay, talk – against another old adage – is not cheap in Bahrain. It can cost you your freedom!

Throughout my observation of the political scene here, and from the various video clips that I have seen of Al-Khawajah and Mushaimi’s speeches and lectures, I have never, not even once, heard them publicly calling for violence against the regime. Never once did I hear them demand the removal of the ruling family, nor did I hear them call for their death either. Yes, their neophyte and overzealous followers regularly call for the death of Al-Khalifa and I know that is more passion than fact but those calls are ignored by the two in question.

From what I see from an objective point of view is that they are both exercising their full right to speak freely, which is their constitutionally guaranteed right. If and when they do extend that right to calling for violence or the illegal exclusion of the ruling family, then and only then should the legal authorities react and put them through the grinder.

Ironically, I know of one person (at least) who should be charged under those felonies because he and his team have been fully inciting hatred against and scorning the regime and broadcasting news and rumors that may cause internal unrest and publicly inciting resistance to the authorities and not to bow to laws but all they got are bagfuls of cash and various other incentives for a job well done!

Strange times we live in…

update: I found an interview with lawyer Hassan Radhi in today’s Al-Waqt very appropriate to this topic:

عندما نتحدث عن الوطن فإنا نتحدث عن الحقوق الاقتصادية والاجتماعية والسياسية، حق الحياة والتمتع بها، بناء الوطن هو بناء البيت والمسكن وإيجاد المأكل والمشرب والملبس ومساحة الحركة والتمتع بثروة الوطن وأرضه وسمائه ومياهه وهوائه.

الكل فيه ينبغي أن يكونوا سواسية، وأي تمييز بسبب الدين أو المذهب أو المعتقد، هو معصية دينية وجريمة في حق الوطن واعتداء على حقوق الإنسان التي تقررها الشرائع السماوية والأرضية على حد سواء، وأية دعوة قائمة على التمييز والتجزئة من أي طرف كان، خيانة للوطن وتصب في خدمة الأعداء، وعلى مؤسسات الدولة خصوصا العسكرية والحكومية أن تكون القدوة الصالحة وإلا انطبق علينا المثل ”إذا كان رب البيت بالدف ضاربا، فشيمة أهل البيت كلهم الرقص”.

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ألا تعني الأساليب الحقوقية الالتزام بالقانون؟

– الحق فوق القانون، والقانون شرع لحماية الحقوق وليس سلبها، القوانين التي لا تخدم الحق لن تكون مصانة من التمرد عليها كما كان شأن قوانين أمن الدولة، لكن الإخلال بالأمن والسلم باللجوء للعنف والقوة هي في نظري محرمة ومرفوضة من أي طرف كان خصوصا من جانب الدولة.

الوقت – ١٧ مايو ٢٠٠٧

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At the High Court at 9:30 for 10:00

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We’re all gathering tomorrow morning at the Court building at 9:30. Cases are looked at starting at 10:00am.

It’s a freedom of expression case, any way you look at it. Please show your opposition to attempts to stifle this freedom by being there.

Thank you.

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BCHR first to declare support in libel case

I am indebted to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights for being the very first organisation to offer me their unstinting support in the libel case brought against me by the minister of municipalities and agriculture and releasing a statement to that effect.

My neglect to mention this fact is my personal stinking brain-fart so please excuse me for not mentioning this specifically.

The BCHR of course are no stranger to being castigated and singled out for this iniquitous treatment of course; they already have their website blocked by the authorities here, and their whole society disbanded by judicial order; however, they continue to not only operate in spite of this, but their international presence is much enhanced, ironically, not only because of these machinations, but because they do do very good work in taking up a broad spectrum human rights cases from the prisoners of Guantanamo through to poverty cases in Bahrain and everything in between.

I did of course publish their statement immediately on its release in the “pages” section which might be hidden to cursory examination. This brings me conveniently to the point where I can mention that I have gathered the articles published so far (that I know of) in the main stream media under one page for ease of navigation. You can also display all articles as well as pages published by utilising the “libel” or “bin-rajab” tags.

My thanks and gratitude to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights for their solidarity with me at this time, and much more importantly for their continued work in the human rights field in Bahrain.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

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That is the title of the seminar to be conducted in Washington on February 13th concerning the Bahraini political scene. Not a very imaginative title, as it is a very much overused sentence in Bahrain – with justification, I might add. All you have to do is pick up any paper, on any day and read any political topic. Continue reading about that topic for a while and you will see – there in black and white – why Bahrain should most probably trade mark that “brand”.

Nowhere is that brand more in evidence than in the political, freedoms and human rights scenes.

Back to the seminar; it’s organisers the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research describe that event as follows:

In February 2001, Bahrain introduced a series of reforms to open its political system. The following year, the government promulgated a new constitution, established a bicameral legislature, and issued calls for Sunni-Shiite equality. Western governments hailed the country as a beacon for democracy in the Middle East. But six years and two parliamentary elections later, Bahrain’s liberal experiment has failed to meet expectations. Tensions are high. Will sectarian strife spur greater reform or will it cause retrenchment? What does Bahraini political reform mean for the United States?

That’s really good. We need to discuss these issues and continue to talk about them with the declared objective that we should find a way out of the bottleneck. No one can declare for an instant that Bahrain is perfect; no country is, and as we are but an infant as far as democracy is concerned, it is vitally important that we continue to learn from our experiences, and listen especially to people opposing the limited reforms we enjoy so that we can gain from their own ideas.

One might ask, who’s involved in this panel? Again, according to the organisers:

These and other questions will be the subject of an AEI panel discussion with Salah al-Bandar, secretary general of the Gulf Centre for Democratic Development in London; Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, executive director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights; and Toby Jones, a visiting assistant professor of history at Swarthmore College. Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, will moderate.

Ah, that might be a problem for the Bahraini government. To say that they detest the whole panel and view them as enemies of the State is an understatement. The government has also not shown any willingness to put the Bandargate fires out, in fact, it has done the exact opposite if the leaked strategic report dubbed “Bandargate version 2” is anything to go by, and much more importantly the deafening silence it is maintaining and the continued employment of all those named and shamed in the original report.

So it is not going to take to this seminar too kindly. And you would think that they would immediately raise objections with the organisers and demand that the panel should have government representatives to portray the government’s points of view.

That, it appears, is far too much hassle. There is a much easier way to put paid to that seminar:

The president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, was arrested by Bahraini authorities this morning at 6am. The reason for the detention is not yet known.

Mr. Alkhawaja was previously arrested in September 2004 after he gave a public lecture in which he criticized the Prime Minister of Bahrain. (See Human Rights Watch: Rights Center Closed as Crackdown Expands and Closure of BCHR).

Mr. Alkhawaja was due to travel to the United States later this month to deliver a lecture about political reform in Bahrain, at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC.

It is also being reported that Hassan Mushaima, the general secretary of the Haq Movement political society, has also been arrested.

The arrest comes just a day after two political activists in the country (Dr. Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahlawi and Mr Hussain AbdulAziz Al Hebshi) were sentenced to prison for possessing leaflets. The leaflets, downloaded from an internet website, called on Bahrainis to boycott the November 2006 national elections. (See information regarding the Leaflet Detainees).

Further details will be posted on this post as they become available.
BCHR :: 2nd February, 2007

That’s quite neat isn’t it? Very daring and creative one might say too!

These are my simple predictions:

    1. They’ll not going to be released before Feb 13th.
    2. We’ll have many more demonstrations around the island demanding the release of the “leaflet detainees”, the 2 persons arrested in the last couple of days demanding the release of the leaflet detainees, and now we will have the demonstrators also calling for the release of the Washington Seminar Detainees.
    3. Tempers will continue to boil and flair.
    4. More business opportunities will be lost due to all of these shenanigans.
    5. Moderates will continue to be pushed into corners and forced to take sides.
    6. And the country will continue its downward spiral.

This is yet another fiasco. What the government has achieved with this unwise move is proven the basic premise of the seminar. Bahrain does indeed takes one step forward, and several steps back!

Do they really think that the apprehension of a panelist will magically cancel the seminar? No, what they have also done is given the seminar both legitimacy and popularity! Just think of the headlines it will create now.

Is this really conducive to our situation?

Is there no one in power that will step forward with political courage and will and put a stop to all of this?

WE are getting rather tired of all these situations.

All we want is to live with dignity for goodness’ sake. Is that too much to ask?

Release them. All of them. For the sake of the future of Bahrain.

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Something’s amiss (redux!)

The papers are full this morning of the King and the Crown Prince visiting the Prime Minister at his office. When this sort of thing happens, you just know that someone somewhere has “talked bad” about the ruling family or the prime minister specifically.

Thinking on it, there was supposed to have been a seminar on poverty in Bahrain (arabic) by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights at Al-Uruba Club on Friday, the panel for which included Abdulhadi Al-Khawajah (BCHR vice president), Ali Salman (Al-Wefaq) and others. A day or two before the seminar went ahead, the Ministry of (dis)Information demanded that they do not show any film or video as they have no approval from the Ministry to show it, and the seminar has to be authorised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

I seem to remember that Nabil Rajab (president of BCHR) said in an interview in a local paper that he submitted the intention to do the seminar at Mina Salman Police Station and he stressed that doing such seminars is guaranteed by the constitution and the only thing they need do is just inform the police authorities rather than seek permission.

Recipe for disaster. This is almost exactly what happened almost a year ago when the same centre did a seminar on discrimination in Bahrain. After that seminar we had a lot of these visits and the “traditional” papers labeled the centre and its personnel traitors. There was no end of messages of support sent to the ruling family, and a similar number if not more castigating the Centre for sowing dissent and prejudicial thoughts in the community.

Well this time the seminar went ahead, the film was shown and then apparently at 11:00pm Abdulhadi Al-Khawajah was asked to present himself at the Mina Salman Police Station where after a 15 minute interview he was arrested. No one knows what he was charged with. However, some reports suggest that he has been taken to the Dry Dock Police Station and imprisoned there.

News of his arrest were broadcast on both Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television stations.

Why?

As happened in the Discrimination seminar last year, Abdulhadi once again demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister, putting all the blame for the economic and political failures of decades on his shoulders. If he would not resign, he demanded that he be fired.

It appears that Abdulhadi has now gone on hunger strike in prison, and is refusing to talk until the Prime Minister resigns!

I’m all for people speaking their minds, but come on guys, why are you trying to sprint before you can even walk for goodness’ sake? What has your call to the resignation of the prime minister have with poverty in Bahrain? Shouldn’t you concentrate on finding solutions to problems rather than exacerbating them?

The results of the seminar were very similar to the suggestions of the Labour Market Reforms, the only difference there is that you demanded a set minimum wage and the acceleration of employing Bahrainis, providing a social system and fund for poor families and provision of funds for training. This time the Crown Prince has stolen your thunder, so you probably have thought that demanding the prime minister’s resignation is payback for it?

I would have thought that a good thing for you to do, as the proposed labour market reforms are very close to your goals, is that you would extend a hand to the government and add your voice in advice and advise. There are better ways at arriving at your goals than coming out like a bull in a china shop.

Ok, maybe this way you appeal more to the “street.� If this is what you want, then fine, go for it, but if you really want to help this country grow, then criticise by all means, but criticise in an acceptable manner so that your voice is heard.

That doesn’t of course means that I support Abdulhadi Al-Khawajah’s incarceration. No way. His arrest and imprisonment is political for sure and he is now the only political prisoner we have in Bahrain. The government should have handled the situation better as well, there is no reason for putting him in prison as he is a citizen, and he was speaking his mind. If the government doesn’t like what it hears from him then tough. Sit down with him and try to change his mind, but political prisoners? What is this, are we going back to the 90s so soon?

Various political societies including Al-Wefaq and the NDA as well as the BCHR are organising demonstrations outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministry of Justice) throughout the coming week to pressure the government to release Abdulhadi Al-Khuwaja and promise to continue the demonstrations until he is released without charges.

Expect some fireworks over the next few days!

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something’s amiss

browsing various news sources this morning, I found a very small piece in the local rag entitled: “Clubs rap bid to harm unity”, I can’t provide a link to it as they change their stories’ links when they go into the archive, stupid way to manage a newspaper’s website, but there you go, so allow me to copy it for you here:

Several Bahrain clubs and their members issued separate statements early today condemning speeches that were made at a symposium at Al Oruba Club last night.

The statements said the speeches were designed to create differences between the Bahraini people, harm national unity and damage the reforms programme initiated by His Majesty King Hamad.

The clubs, including Muharraq Club, Manama Sports Club and the Al Hala Sports Club, said Bahrain was now living in a democratic environment and denounced any efforts to disturb security and stability. In their statements, the clubs affirmed their support for the reforms programme being carried out by the government.

Source: Gulf Daily News

Huh? I already announced this event on bahraini.tv yesterday and was actually meaning to attend this seminar but couldn’t for various reasons.

So trying to investigate further, I found that the Voice of Bahrain site is still blocked as is a popular Bahraini Forums site called “BahrainOnline“.

WTF! So searching some more I fell on alduraz.net which is ironic as I live right next to Duraz village! Anyway, they have a post in their forums entitled Sectarian discrimination in the kingdom of Bahrain:The Unwritten Law which I thought is very close to the title of the seminar last night. That article (scroll down for the English version) is very interesting reading, and to us Bahrainis it’s really nothing new.

I suspect that the seminar last night was to present primarily this paper which is written by Nabil Rajab who is the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

I’ll try to dig some more and find out what actually was presented last night… stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the archive of the seminar again from alduraz.net, however it’s in Arabic only,

UPDATE 2: Forget about most of the links in this article, in less than an hour from posting them, they’ve almost all have been blocked. When I find the articles again (at least the English press release or working paper presented at the seminar, I’ll put them up here for your edification.)

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