Johannesburg. 10 December 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is deeply concerned about the deteriorating operating environment for civil society in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The past few months have been marred by growing intolerance towards dissenters, which began in the run up to the October elections and continues in the post election phase.
Authorities in Bahrain are waging a relentless campaign against activists whose views are not in line with the official position. Currently, 24 prominent human rights defenders are facing trial under Bahrains anti-terrorism laws. They have been charged with collaborating with foreign organisations and circulating false information. They have also been accused of forming terrorist networks, destruction of public and private property and defaming the authorities.
The arrested activists have complained about torture and abuse meted out to them by the National Security Agency. They have so far appeared in court on four occasions and the next hearing has been scheduled for 23 December. During their first appearance in court on 27 October, detainees informed the court that while in detention they were beaten, electrocuted, verbally and physically assaulted and denied adequate sleep. Those detained were not allowed access to legal representation during interrogation and some family members did not know where they were being detained for two weeks after their arrest. It has also been reported that prior to, during and after the elections about 350 other activists have been arrested.
In a worrying trend, it has become commonplace in Bahrain to arrest activists for writing articles and delivering speeches which are critical of the governments discriminatory policies and official corruption, said Netsanet Belay, CIVICUS Director of Policy and Research. Persecution and torture of public-spirited individuals offering legitimate criticism against official policies and the clampdown on their organisations amounts to a repudiation of Bahrains accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture.
The Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), a CIVICUS partner for the Civil Society Index and one of the few remaining independent groups striving for the protection of civil and political freedoms in the country, has been targeted in the recent crackdown. On 6 September, the Ministry of Social Development issued an order to dissolve the Board of the BHRS and went ahead to appoint an administrator Â an employee from the Ministry Â to lead the BHRS. The BHRS has had to go to court in response to these arbitrary actions and its fate currently depends on the courts response. The first hearing of the case scheduled for 26 October has been postponed to 4 January 2011.
According to Abdullah Aldorazi of BHRS, the unfair order issued by the Ministry of Social Development to dissolve the Board of the BHRS is a security strategy aimed at preventing the documentation of atrocities carried out by the authorities during the crackdown and preventing families of the detainees from using the society as a safe haven.
CIVICUS urges the authorities of the Kingdom of Bahrain to live up to their commitments under international law and guarantee civil society the space to freely express, associate and assemble.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) Project of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world.