6-24-2011By Stephanie El Rayess
Human Rights Defenders Program
Bahrain’s Ministry of Education has revisited its decision to stop funding the education of students who allegedly took part in what it refers to as “anti-Bahrain” protests. The U.K.-based newspaper, The Guardian, reported in April that the Bahraini regime revoked the grants of U.K.-based students who were photographed attending peaceful rallies in solidarity with the country’s pro-democracy movement and was harassing their families back home.
The ministry’s ‘reviewed’ decision was to pay the university fees of students who did not play a direct or significant role in the protests. As for the students who took part in the demonstrations, they were asked to sign a “loyalty pledge,” along with their parents, stating that they will obey the law. The statement by the Minister of Education, Dr. Majid Al Nuaimi, also includes stipulations for students currently abroad: they should either submit their signed pledge to Bahrain’s embassy in their country of residence or have their parents meet the ministry’s scholarship administration if they were living in countries that do not have Bahraini embassies. According to the Ministry of Education, the payments of “only 100” students, of the 7,400 students receiving government-sponsored scholarships for studying in Bahrain and abroad, were “temporarily” stopped.
“Going back is a great risk and staying here is difficult,” says Noor who believes she was identified as being part of the demonstrations in London through the pictures she posted on Facebook:
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has voiced its concerns over the severity of the measures taken by the Bahraini government towards university students. The Center reported several violations to the right to education, including the dismissal of more than 160 students – mostly from the University of Bahrain, the arrest of 78 students, the revoking of the scholarships of students studying abroad, and 500 withdrawals (as of May 25) of students from the University of Bahrain due to the “politicized” and “hostile” environment on campus since classes resumed on May 2.
The Bahraini officials do not attempt to conceal the students’ right to education was violated because they openly expressed their political opinions. “The Bahrain Polytechnic has taken action against a number of students for political violations,” said Dr. Mohammed Al Asiri, the government-owned institution’s Vice Chief Executive Officer. According to the statement on the official website of the Ministry of Education in a ‘latest news’ article titled, Students Expelled, the duration of the expulsions ranged between a semester to a year, written warnings were issued to groups of students and no action was taken against students who “were not proven guilty” by specialized committees formed to investigate the case.
In her comments on Bahrain Polytechnic’s expulsions and warnings to a “few” students, Ministry of Education spokesperson Lubna Selaibeekh felt the need to point out that each student “costs the college” 60,000 Bahraini Dinar to complete his/her four-year program. She added that the government also covers 94% of Bahrain University’s tuition fees and provides full scholarships to over 2700 students through the Student Support Fund. Her message is clear: the Bahraini government is financially supporting the main educational institutions and expects students to “serve their kingdom” in return; the students owe the regime their loyalty and have to pay the price of expressing their solidarity with anti-regime protests.
Bahraini students, male and female, have been actively participating in demonstrations. This is hardly surprising for young educated adults with political and economic grievances. They have been among the targets of the most violent government crackdown on demonstrators as a result. What is surprising, however, is the Ministry of Education’s justification for violating the students’ right to education.