12-22-2011By Rasika Teredesai
Legal Fellow, Human Rights Defenders Program
The government of Bahrain continues to interfere in the affairs of independent civil society organizations in addition to the ongoing use of excessive force and social media attacks against protestors. The Bahrain Lawyers Society is only the latest casualty in the government’s relentless campaign to suppress opposition.
As reported by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, on November 26th, the Bahrain Lawyers Society elected its new Board after a legitimate election supervised by the Bahrain Human Rights Society. In response, on December 7th, the Ministry of Human Rights declared the newly elected board “void” and reinstated the previous board. Why? Evidently the majority of the new board included lawyers with opposition loyalties, and some lawyers had represented political prisoners imprisoned and interrogated by the regime.
To legitimize this intervention, Bahrain’s Ministry of Human Rights invoked the 1989 Law of Societies that regulates NGOs. Though this kind of inference is a clear violation of the freedom of expression and the freedom of association, the government continues to rely on this law to limit the opposition’s ability to organize.
In September 2010, the government took similar action by disbanding the Bahrain Human Rights Society’s Board of Directors. This year, labor union leaders have been detained, tortured and sentenced to long prison terms, including Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jaleela al-Salman, President and Vice President of the Bahrain Teachers Association, and Rula Al Saffar, President of the Bahrain Nurses Association. Others targeted include the Bahrain Society of Photography.
In November, the report on human rights commissioned by the Bahrain King, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), concluded that the regime had committed systematic human rights violations. In the post-BICI report Bahrain, the government continues to trespass on freedom of expression and association through attacks on protestors and restricting the activities of NGOs. These repeated attempts to control the voice of civil society indicate that the government’s attitude has not changed.
The US should acknowledge that Bahrain has made little progress in reforming its repressive behavior and publicly condemn the Bahrain regime’s attacks on civil society. The regime’s disregard of human rights should not be rewarded with an arms sale and US encouragement.
For more details about how Bahrain has failed to comply with BICI report recommendations, see the Human Rights First report: No More Excuses—Time for Radical Change.