Bahrain: “Political exclusion” laws ban all forms of opposition

(Beirut, October 31, 2022) – The government of Bahrain is using its political exclusion laws, among other tactics, to prevent activists and former members of opposition parties from holding public office and participating in other aspects of public life, Human Rights Watch reported today. it is said in the report.

The 38-page report, titled “You Can’t Call Bahrain a Democracy: Bahrain’s Political Isolation Laws,” says the country’s 2018 laws prevent political opponents from participating in parliamentary elections or even holding board seats. of civic organizations. Human Rights Watch found that the government’s targeting and marginalization of opposition figures from social, political, civil, and economic life in Bahrain has resulted in a number of other human rights violations.

Bahrain has spent the past decade suppressing peaceful opposition, and its political isolation laws are another example of government repression spreading into new areas. “Human Rights Watch” Middle East and North Africa researcher Joey Shea said. ” These draconian laws made a mockery of Bahrain’s upcoming parliamentary “elections,” which can’t be free and fair when you’ve effectively outlawed all political opposition. »

Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with activists, civil society representatives, and opposition figures, and reviewed and analyzed government statements, laws, and court documents.

In 2016 and 2017, Bahrain’s judiciary dissolved the country’s two main opposition parties, al-Wifaq and Waad. Political exclusion laws introduced new penalties, punishing members of these groups with life imprisonment. These laws also target activists and human rights defenders who were arrested during the 2011 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-government uprising and the subsequent large-scale government crackdown. worried Constitutional life in Bahrain has been interpreted by lawyers and civil society in the kingdom as targeting former lawmakers and others who resigned or refused to hold elected office in protest against the government’s repressive policies.

In the November 2018 parliamentary elections, the first poll under political exclusion laws, Bahrain’s Justice Ministry barred at least 12 former opposition figures from running. Many boycotted the elections, believing they would be victims of the law.

Human Rights Watch has documented three civil society organizations that have found it difficult to form boards and continue to operate as a result of these laws, in addition to the cases of individuals barred from running for office. These are the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the Bahrain Women’s Union, a coalition of 13 organizations defending women’s rights in Bahrain, and the Bahrain Resistance to Normalization Society, which opposes the normalization of relations with Israel.

The delay in allowing the relevant institutions to establish a board of directors has had devastating consequences. If a new board is not elected and approved by the end of the previous board’s two-year term, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development suspends access to the organization’s bank accounts and financial sources, forcing them to cease operations. Board vacancies also allow the Department for Labor and Social Development to appoint new members, raising fears that boards will be filled with loyalists and ” they are increasingly pro-government As one activist told Human Rights Watch.

According to a member of the civil society group, more than 80% of members cannot run because they were part of Waad, al-Wifaq, or another organization that was dissolved by the court. “. Bahraini activists fear that the law will ultimately result in civil society organizations not promoting human rights because they cannot be seen as critical of the government.

The government of Bahrain has refused the “certificate of good conduct” against opposition figures and is using a form of economic sanctions against them. Issued at the discretion of the Ministry of Interior’s Directorate General of Criminal Investigation and Forensic Evidence, this certificate is required for Bahraini citizens and residents to get a job, apply for university admission, or even join a sports or social club. Ex-prisoners wait months or even years for this reference. Some opposition figures are simply not given this certificate, which prevents them from supporting themselves and their families.

A civil society representative from Bahrain told Human Rights Watch: “ A friend of mine wanted me to become a school director, but the ministry refused the certificate, so I couldn’t work. The ministry told the owner of the institution that he cannot accept me because I am a member of a political union. »

The report also notes that Bahraini citizens continue to be detained and summoned for speech violations. A former journalist said, “ Constant arrests from 2011 to 2017, fear is a part of people’s daily life. Self-censorship and silencing before reacting has become commonplace. »

The government of Bahrain should repeal the Political Exclusion Laws of 2018, end the practice of withholding certificates of good conduct to punish suspected dissidents, and restore full legal, political and civil rights to all Bahraini citizens. It should restore previously dissolved political associations, remove all restrictions on the candidacy of opposition representatives in parliamentary and municipal elections, end restrictive measures that undermine the basic activities of civil associations, and release anyone imprisoned solely for peaceful political activity.

Other countries, including Bahrain’s close allies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, should pressure the Bahraini authorities to end repression of peaceful opposition and civil society, or to reject the results of free and fair parliamentary elections in the country. November, if any.

Bahrain’s once-vibrant civil society and opposition coalition are being decimated by laws codifying government repression. said Mrs. Shea. ” No one should be under any illusions about Bahrain’s “democratic institutions”, which are nothing more than fiction. »

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