Tag Archives justice

Thoughts on tomorrow

Thank you all for your unstinting support. I truly appreciate it.

What I want to emphasize, if I may, this is not really a case against Mahmood Al-Yousif as much as it is a case against the tenets of the freedom of expression.

We, the people, should not be cowed into a status of never questioning or criticising a government official no matter how high that position is. They have to realise themselves, or be made to realise that the positions they occupy being called “civil servants” is no accident of nomenclature, but fact.

Unfortunately, both the Penal Code and the Press & Publications Law specifically not only discourages this civic responsibility of criticism, but glaringly criminalise it!

Is it any wonder that these very officials have risen within their own spheres to a status of demi-gods, inviolate, unapproachable and completely disconnected with the very people they are sworn to serve?

Parliament, on the other hand, continues to prevaricate and hasn’t even scheduled discussions on a retooled Press & Publications law which will elevate freedoms of expression in all its forms, concerning themselves more with perceived sorcerers and witches!

No, this is not a case against Mahmood Al-Yousif and never was. What I have written is rather mild when you consider it. This is a case purposefully levied to silence criticism.

Today it is me. Tomorrow it is everyone who dares to even glance “wrongly” at a public official, even if that official happens to be a janitor.

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Enemies of the State

Bahrainis Dr. Mohammed Saeed and Hussain Al-Habshi start serving their time in prison today for voicing their political opinions. The first for a year, the second for 6 months. Isolated from their jobs, their families and their community simply for voicing a political opinion which the government interpreted as tantamount to carrying arms and forcibly mounting a coup to change the ruling regime.

For just printing and wanting to distribute a document written by a dissident – a national figure nonetheless – calling for the boycott of the recently held national elections.

Even after more than 160 people signed a petition and 49 prominent human rights organisations from all over the world have demanded their release as they believe this was a political case or opinion suppression which countermands Bahrain’s signed and accepted UN Human Rights agreements, it being on the UN Human Rights Council and heading the United Nations. Other than countermanding our own charter and constitution, that is.

For those who say that this is not a politicised case and that the judiciary is in fact independent, let me remind you of a few things that might call that opinion into question: known and documented torturers still walk freely amongst us with impunity, someone who had a gun and live ammunition with probable intent to use them gets 8 days remand in custody and released, high-level embezzlers get rapped on their knuckles – by the same court – and let go, wife abusers get fined BD20 and let go, child rapists get lenient sentences, thieves probably get less time for burglaries and many more examples you read in the papers almost every day.

Yet, call for a boycott – which is a valid and legitimate political opinion – even on a second-hand basis as in this particular case, and you get to be the guest of His Majesty for up to 7 years. I suppose we should be thankful that Mohammed Saeed only got 1 year in prison while his companion Hussain Abdulaziz gets only 6 months.

I wonder how many years I would get to be a guest of His Majesty if they rifled through my posts on this site… That’s a prospect I do not relish finding out.

Maybe it’s time to shut up, keep our heads down, and mind our own business.

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Please sign the petition to release the Bahraini prisoners of conscience

Dr Mohammed Saeed, Bahraini detainee of conscience

A letter is being sent to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa petitioning his majesty to stand with the freedoms of expression guarantees by his constitution and to release the two prisoners of conscience: Dr. Mohammed Saeed and Hussain Abdulaziz.

Both gentlemen are being accused of a plethora of traitorous offenses which could land them in prison for a long time and ruin their chances of ever becoming productive and patriotic elements of the Bahraini society, simply for voicing their opinions as guaranteed by human rights declarations and our constitution.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Voltaire

Regardless of how we stand ourselves on political issues, we must recognise, accept and support the right of others to voice their points of view even if we do not agree with them. Throwing people in prison for voicing their opinions only aggravates and already very tenuous situation, rather than ameliorate passions and support voices of reason to find ways out of bottlenecks.

Please do read the petition and sign your name if you wish. Everyone’s support is valuable. I hope the right thing is done in this situation by releasing the detainees. We need good news in this country for a change.

Release Mohammed and Hussain please!

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Dead Men Walking!

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Two and a quarter years ago, from lovely Toronto, I wrote the following:

I don’t give a toss what happens to Saddam. To me, he just symbolises the archaic, cruel, backward and inflexible 22 regimes constituting the Arab world. He has fallen. His last abode was fox-hole from which the coward was dug out of, that is the picture I will treasure for the rest of my life. That was a just end to a despot who has no remorse for any of the heinous crimes he committed.

But that action was the catalyst for a new reign which holds much promise for one Arab nation: a hope for democracy, freedoms, and accountability.

Arab leaders take note: Saddam’s fate is awaiting you unless you diligently and honestly work with your people to ensure a smooth hand-over of power, respect for freedoms, inculcate transparency and tolerance and be ready to be held accountable within the law.

The current situation in any Arab country is miserable. Walk in any Arab street, go into any Arab office and you will be faced not with a proudly displayed copy of the “bill or rights”, or even an extract of the Qur’an, but rather with large pictures of current rulers, their forebears and descendants who in some cases are just started having wet dreams, all of whom are elevated to the status of Gods whom the populace are directed in no uncertain terms to worship. They are the all-wise and all-benevolent.

read the rest…

Today as I listened to the fate of one Arab despot and his unquestioning cohorts, these images immediately came to mind:

Saddam montage

And other than what I have written two years ago, the thoughts that crashed around my mind were manifest, paramount among them are these: to our respected Arab leaders we currently have ruling over us, which of the above pictures are more humiliating to them? Are they doing anything at all to allay the possibilities of this happening to them at some point in the future too? Do they feel affected at all by what is happening in Iraq, and if so, on which plane do they associate themselves with those events? Do they ever think of their mortality? Do they think of their legacies? Do they think of the longevity of their families’ rule? Do they think of their people at all when faced with such events? Do they think of their people when confronted with the end-game of Saddam’s trials?

Or do they think that they are infallible, untouchable, untenable? Hence, completely secure in their positions?

I don’t know, I don’t have the answers. But one thing is as sure as night follows day, is that their fate will be as humiliating as what has happened and will continue to happen to Saddam until the trap-door drops, and even more, unless they fix their rule and start to really work hard at making their peoples complete partners for progress and treat them like the citizens they are, rather than serfs to be trod on at will.

I know that the Arab’s memory is rather short, but today, this very day, will they remember what awaits them? Are they listening? Are they learning?

Arab leaders take note: Saddam’s fate is awaiting you unless you diligently and honestly work with your people to ensure a smooth hand-over of power, respect for freedoms, inculcate transparency and tolerance and be ready to be held accountable within the law.

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Ship Disaster

`Rescue workers bring a body ashore in Manama after a passenger boat sank off the coast of Bahrain in the Gulf, March 30, 2006
Rescue workers bring a body ashore in Manama after a passenger boat sank off the coast of Bahrain in the Gulf, March 30, 2006

MANAMA (Reuters) – At least 57 people drowned when a tourist boat carrying more than 130 people on a dinner cruise sank off Bahrain, a coastguard official said on Friday.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry told Al Jazeera television that 67 survivors had been found. Rescue operations were underway to search for more survivors of Thursday’s sinking of the vessel carrying Asians, Arabs and Europeans.

“There are a large number of those who died who were not carrying identification so it’s hard to determine who they were and where they come from,” the spokesman, Colonel Tarek al-Hassan, said.
Reuters

My heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those who needlessly lost their lives or were injured in this incident, and fervently hope that government agencies in charge of regulating the tourism, safety and security industries put in sterner laws to protect visitors and residents alike, and mount an honest and transparent investigation of this disaster in order to learn from it and save future lives.

People who were directly responsible for flouting safety laws should be punished, and this business should undergo an immediate investigation into their operation, training and certification of their staff and their safety measures.

May they all rest in peace.

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Demonstrations

I’ve attended two demonstrations this afternoon in Bahrain, one was FOR the codification of personal and family status laws now, while I drove past the other which was AGAINST the codification of these laws without a perpetual guarantee to not tamper with the resultant laws by anyone other than approved clerics.

The first demonstration was attended primarily by Bahrain’s liberals. Ibrahim Sharif the president of the National Democratic Action Society was there as were other liberal/socialist society leaders like Dr. Hassan Madan (Minbar) in addition of course with quite a number of women activists including Ghada Jamsheer and Wajeeha Al-Baharna. The attendance was impressive with numbers probably around 200 in my guesstimate which is very significant given that it was organised on short notice, and the attendees were not threatened with eternal damnation.

Driving past the other demonstration it was quite clear that the numbers should be in the thousands, probably more than 5,000 to be sure judging by these pictures, a demonstration that was called explicitly by Shaikh Isa Qassim and other clerics who told their congregation that their attendance at the demonstration was a religious duty.

I call this religious emotional blackmail.

But even without going to that level, Bahrain is a deeply religious country for the most part and they would not walk, but run to execute the religious leadership’s requests, and run they did this afternoon by their thousands.

Regardless of where anyone stands about this issue, this is democracy in action and I am privileged to have experienced it.

There will be those usual voices that will try to escalate ethnic and sectarian tensions, as they will try to force through bills that would limit this freedom, but those voices should be defeated. These are people expressing their opinions democratically in legal and authorised demonstrations for things they believe in deeply.

What will happen now is anyone’s guess. Mine is that the government, backed into a corner by impractical demands of these Shi’a clerics will promulgate the Family Status Laws for the Sunni sect and let the Shi’as stew in their own juices. Maybe in a couple of years when the Shi’a women see for themselves how the Sunni Shari’a courts are running and how their judgments suddenly started to support women and their children in family disputes with consistency, they will wake up and demand their right even if it runs against their husbands and clerics.

I hope it won’t be too late by that time, because by then, the Shi’a would have been relegated to third-class citizens by their own doing and by their own obstinacy.

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Rights groups back activist

TWO international human rights organisations have condemned charges filed against women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer.

Ms Jamsheer, who heads the Women’s Petition Committee says she will go to jail rather than be silenced.

Human Rights Watch and the Arab Programme for Human Rights Activists (APHRA) have each called for all charges against her to be dropped.

Ms Jamsheer, who heads the Women’s Petition Committee, is accused of defaming three judges in three separate cases.

The judges claim that she libelled them in the Press and elsewhere when she questioned the judgements they passed.

One case begins tomorrow, a second on June 15 and a third on June 19.

“Ghada Jamsheer is being punished for exposing the injustice that women face in the courtroom,” said Human Rights Watch women’s rights director LaShawn R Jefferson.

“These lawsuits are a blatant attempt to silence her and undermine the reform efforts she spearheads.

“Rather than putting one of Bahrain’s most committed activists on trial, the government should work with Ghada Jamsheer to immediately address the issues that her organisation has brought to light.”

APHRA issued a statement denouncing the use of the judiciary to suppress human rights activities. “APHRA demands the nullification of the charges against Ms Jamsheer in conformity with the international commitments and reforms undertaken by Bahraini authorities to ensure citizens’ rights.”

The statement called on other regional and international human rights groups to support Ms Jamsheer.

Activists in the Women’s Petition Committee have been demanding the codification of Bahrain’s family laws and the reform of its family courts.

In April 2003, the organisation collected 1,700 signatures on a petition demanding legislative and judicial reform of these courts.

For the past four years, Ms Jamsheer has organised protests, vigils and a hunger strike, to draw attention to what campaigners say is the suffering of women in the family court system.

Two separate sharia (Islamic law) based family courts exist for Sunni and Shia Muslims in Bahrain.

These courts hear personal status cases, including marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance cases.

Ms Jamsheer says it is her right to publicly criticise something she sees as being harmful to society and women in particular. “I’m prepared to go to jail if I have to in order to fight for the rights of women,” she told the GDN. “I have nothing against the judges personally. I am only fighting for what I believe is right.”

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Codifying Personal Status Law

There are big discussions doing the rounds in the papers this week regarding the uncodified nature of the Personal Status Law spread primarily by two national polls; one sponsored by the Supreme Council for Women executed by the Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research while the other more arbitrary by Al-Wasat using SMS responses to questions posed in the paper.

The bottom line is that Bahrainis generally want to codify Personal Status Law for various reasons, one of which is the inordinate amount of time that family cases take in the court system, and the unsatisfactory nature of judgements as they are made by a judge’s personal interpretation of Islamic Shari’a Law rather than written down code and rules.

The Personal Status Law covers marriage, engagement, marriage rights which include dowry, divorce, legal separation, alimony, child-rearing, wills, inheritance, and other aspects of family existence.

The results of the poll commissioned by the Supreme Council for Women were released on October 23rd, 2004 – 1,300 persons polled from various walks of life and locations in the 5 governates in Bahrain (meaning covering both Sunnis and Shi’as.) The results are interesting:

1. 41.2% of Bahrainis do not know enough about family laws and rites
2. of those who favour the codification of Personal Status Law 56.08% were women and 43.92% were men.
3. However of the people opposing such a law, 64.38% were men, and 35.62% were women.

As to the method and sources of this codification, 97% of people polled agreed that Personal Status Laws should be based on Islamic Shari’a Laws. 53.6% want a committee of clerics, religious scholars, lawyers and noted civilians to codify these laws, while 45.9% want that role to be restricted only to clerics and religious scholars.

The Al-Wasat SMS poll is quite interesting too. They didn’t publish their readership demographics but we can assume that most of their readership are Shi’a communities and it is also reasonable to deduce that this SMS poll in its respondents majority were Shi’a.

They received around 500 messages for their poll. The questions put were

1. Accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament (19%)
2. Accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament ONLY WITH the religious scholars’ blessings (35%)
3. Do not accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament (44%)
4. Unsure (2%)

It’s quite interesting to see that the majority of respondents are actually WITH codifying Personal Status Law (19% + 35% = 54%) and even giving parliament the right to do so, albeit with the blessings of the scholars, but the essence is that the majority see the need for such a law as very necessary.

The fly in the ointment of course is that various Muslim sects have interpreted Islamic laws differently. But at least as far as this issue is concerned, there seems to be a consensus by the Sunnis with their 4 sects who have formulated a single law that they all are subjected to and have agreed to abide by that law. It still has to go through parliament championed by the Al-Menbar Islamic Bloc.

The Shi’a (clerics and scholars) on the other hand are very widely split (from Al-Wasat’s poll we can reasonably deduce that the Shi’a people have no problem accepting such a law). Four forces rule the Shi’a roost in Bahrain: Shaikh Essa Qassim, Shaikh Hussain Al-Najati, Shaikh Hameed Al-Mubarak and Sayed Abdulla Al-Ghuraifi.

Against the codification are Essa Qassim and Abdulla Al-Ghuraifi, correctly stating that in Shi’ism a person can decide who they want to “emulate,’ that is, which of the Shi’a marja’iah they follow and based on that decision, the rules and laws applying to that Shi’a person might be different than another person following another marji’. And as both Qassim and Al-Ghuraifi refuse to be part of the court system, the only way for them to influence their congregation and people is through their sermons.

The four scholars have made attempts in the past to sit together and come out with a unified stance as to the Personal Status Law issue, but it seems that their differences were too much to even out, hence the issue was left hanging.

Al-Menbar’s Dr. Salah Ali did visit Qassim at his residence after Oct 15th when the latter launched a very spirited attack on the Personal Status Law and specifically his complete objection that parliament is to formulate it stating that the only people capable of doing so are clerics and scholars as they are more cognizant of Islamic laws and interpretations, rather than a parliament of civilians. He went as far as threatening that if the parliament dared to do so, then he will declare it (in not so many words) apostate and that it serves people other than the people of Bahrain.

MP Mohammed Al-Shaikh toed the line and further suggested in an interview with Al-Wasat newspaper that if parliament was allowed to codify Personal Status Laws, then what guarantees are there that at some point in the future Socialists get into the parliament and change the law as they wish? Far fetched but Al-Shaikh is famed for theatrics.

Al-Menbar have now given up their attempts to convince the Shi’a to be included in the dialogue and come out with a single set of rules for both major sects, and they’re going it alone for the Sunni sect where their formulation of Personal Status Laws will not apply to Shi’a or Ja’afari Courts.

And the loser in all this? Women! Men have nothing to fear, we just divorce, go to court and waltz out with ridiculous judgments like alimony set at BD30 ($79) per month, keep the children if they’re over 7 years old, don’t have to provide a home to the ex-wife and her children and the likes of this. There is almost no way for a woman to divorce her husband, there is no way for her to keep the children against the father’s wishes, there is no way for her to demand a higher alimony.

Yet, we find that women are actually AGAINST such a law! 35% of the people opposed to codifying the Personal Status Law are women! Is this a case of chopping off the nose to spite the face? Or did they just not understand? Or even worse, they completely agree that men are better than they are, hence should be exempt from these familial responsibilities?

I just cannot understand this at all, and I am joined by non other than Amira Al-Hussaini who have written about this subject in today’s GDN. (click “read more” at the bottom of this article to see her comment.)

In conclusion, I fully support the codification of Personal Status Law, and as soon as possible. I have seen and heard of horrific stories of irresponsibly of ex-husbands basically torturing their wives but walking away from it with hardly a slap on the wrist. I have heard of judges abusing their power, even as far as granting a woman a divorce only if she agrees to marry them for a few days (short term marriage in the Shi’a faith is acceptable and legal, this is called muta’a and is highly contentious even between Shi’as themselves.) Apart from all this, and more important, as there is no written code, judges are left to decide cases on their own basing their decision on their own personal interpretation of the law which invariably create a multitude of unsatisfied and bitter families. Now put this power of interpretation in the hands of incompetent or corrupt judges and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is high time that this situation is corrected.

If the scholars (that includes the above mentioned four gentlemen as well as surprisingly Adel Al-Mo’awdah who came out in support of Qassim during his Friday sermon a couple of days ago – wonders will never cease!) have a problem with that, then why not let people themselves choose at the time that they marry what authority they want to be subjected to? Religious Shari’a courts or Civil Courts and be done with it?

I think that the scholars might well have a point in that they are afraid that people will muddle up Islamic laws and norms because they don’t know how to interpret them very well, but what’s the alternative if they themselves can’t get their act together and get the code written? Not doing anything and keeping the current status quo is criminal and completely out of touch of today’s world.

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