Next Century Foundation to UN: Bahrain should Allow Opposition Societies to Participate in Elections, Allow Special Rapporteurs to Enter Bahrain without Prior Notice

2022-04-07 - 11:35 م

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): The Next Century Foundation suggested in a written statement it submitted in the framework of the 49 session of the UN Human Rights Council a number of reforms to further improve respect for human rights in Bahrain in a number of issues of concern to them, namely the need for free elections, freedom of expression, women's rights and citizenship revocation. 

Regarding the elections Bahrain to be held at the end of the year, the foundation said "This year presents an important opportunity to improve democratic participation in Bahrain. Currently, democracy in Bahrain is in a precarious position because there no longer remains an effective political opposition to the government."

"However, if positive changes are made, there may be a chance for Bahrain to hold fairer elections," the NCF stressed. 

The foundation said that the Bahraini authorities fully restricted the participation of opposition societies in the political process, namely, Al-Wefaq and Wa'ad, both dissolved. Bahrain changed its Law on Exercising Political Rights in 2018 to prevent former members of prohibited societies from standing in elections. The Council of Representatives lacks political strength and only offers limited pushback against government policy. If changes are not made, the moderate opposition in Bahrain will get even weaker.

The foundation confirmed that to make elections in Bahrain more democratic and to ensure that Bahrain fulfils its human rights obligations. The Next Century Foundation asks Bahrain to repeal its law prohibiting former members of dissolved opposition societies from standing in elections. A royal decree by the King could be made to overturn the law, thereby allowing members of these societies to stand in the upcoming general election. 

The NCF also asks Bahrain to overturn its decisions to dissolve its major opposition political societies. The government could reverse the dissolution entirely and allow the dissolved opposition societies to re-register. Alternatively, the government could alter the initial dissolutions by making them temporary and putting a time limit on them which will expire before the election. Thus, when the time limit expires, these societies will be automatically re-registered and allowed to continue as they were before the dissolution. 

The foundation stressed that it is essential that dissolved opposition groups are fully registered in time to stand in the election this year and that they are not unduly delayed. 

It noted that it is important that Bahrain publicly encourages members of opposition societies to stand in the election and ensures that no repercussions will come if they do so. 

Some members of the opposition may have concerns about standing. In the past, many members of opposition societies, including the leader of Al-Wefaq Sheikh Ali Salman, have been imprisoned on various charges and have had their citizenship revoked. Members of the opposition need to be assured that they are genuinely free to stand in the elections, and the government needs to actively encourage full democratic participation from all sides. If the opportunity is taken, opposition societies will have access to a legitimate platform in which they can air their political grievances to the government.

The NCF stated that Bahrain has also failed to implement recommendations on freedom of expression, which asked Bahrain to remove undue restrictions on the online publication of news media, and the licensing restrictions on media organisations and individuals seeking to practice journalism. It stressed that Bahrain currently ranks 168 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. Many major news outlets, such as Al-Jazeera, are denied access in Bahrain., in addition to Al-Wasat newspaper, the only independent newspaper in the country, which is still suspended. 

The Bahrain authorities released 1,486 prisoners in March 2020. Nevertheless, the decree excluded opposition leaders, journalists, activists, and human rights defenders, a number of whom are older and suffer from underlying health conditions, including Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace.

For Bahrain to improve freedom of expression for its citizens, the Next Century Foundation respectfully asks the following, "remove undue restrictions on those seeking to practise journalism and release all journalists detained under sentences solely relating to freedom of expression issues, revoke the ban on Al-Wasat's right to publish news articles and permit any other news agencies to operate freely in Bahrain and ensure prisoners are held in adequate conditions. Detention centres must not be overcrowded. Prisoners must be allowed access to appropriate sanitation and medical care."

Progress must be made on the rights of mothers to pass citizenship to their children and the rights of women to be protected from sexual assailants.

Bahrain has stripped 985 individuals of their citizenship. Bahrain refused to respond to the 2012 and 2015 visit requests from UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders. The country has also denied requests from UN Special Rapporteurs on torture, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly in recent years, which restrains the observation and assessment of human rights in Bahrain. 

The NCF said that as Bahrain is negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with the UNHRC, the Next Century Foundation wishes to make three recommendations to Bahrain on this issue. 

  1.  Restore the exiled to the country. The NCF further suggests that Bahrain discounts the prison terms of those currently in exile where they are applied by the number of years they have spent in exile.

  2. Remit the sentences, as many of those revoked of their citizenships were sentenced in absentia, through an independent person empowered to remit the sentences and encourage them to appeal against the court's decision and reclaim their citizenship. This will enable fair hearings and enhance justic

  3.  Allow UN Special Rapporteurs on torture, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly to enter the country without prior notice and allow the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, freedom of expression, and torture to visit Bahrain immediately to meet detainees, assess the human rights situation, as well as convey their recommendations to solve the crisis facing human rights defenders and journalists.

The Next Century Foundation concluded by saying that it seeks, through these proposals, to strengthen the human rights protection of people in Bahrain, indicating that it is important that stronger democratic participation is established in Bahrain and that the freedom of expression of journalists is protected. The rights of women to live safe and equal lives must also be a priority of the government, as should be the establishment of a mechanism to repatriate individuals whose citizenship has been revoked.

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