Attacks against civil society continue with the suspension of the Bahrain Human Rights Society’s Board

Press release

Paris-Geneva, September 10, 2010. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), denounces the suspension of the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Human Rights Society in the context of numerous attacks launched against human rights defenders in the run-up to the general elections.

On September 6, 2010, the Bahraini authorities published a ministerial order announcing that it would dissolve the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Human Rights Society, a FIDH member organisation, and appoint an employee of the Ministry of Social Affairs to administer the society until the holding of a general assembly, pursuant to Article 23 of the Law of Association No. 21 of 1989 [1]. The grounds provided were the organisation’s lack of neutrality towards all sections of Bahraini society, complaints sent to the Ministry of Social Development by the Bahrain Journalist Association and the publication of articles issued by illegal entities on its website. Today, BHRS was notified officially of the measure. BHRS intends to appeal the order before a court.

This order follows a statement published on September 2, 2010 in local newspapers, by the Ministry of Social Development in which it threatened to initiate legal and administrative action against human rights societies which, according to the Ministry, would defend a specific category of citizens and neglect the others. On August 28, BHRS organised a press conference together with 11 other NGOs and in the presence of family members of detainees including human rights defenders arrested in the context of the broad wave of arrests launched mid-August to allegedly dismantle a terrorist network. During the press conference, BHRS denounced the conditions of detention and the lack of access to the detainees by their lawyers and families and called for the respect of the right to due process and a fair trial. More generally, this measure takes place in a context of escalating threats and intimidation against civil society criticising the current administration, while general elections are scheduled for October 23. Indeed, the Observatory recalls that 11 Bahraini human rights defenders remain in detention since August 13. Finally, the Observatory recalls that six years ago, in September 2004, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs dissolved the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, which remains in operation though deprived of its legal status.

The Observatory condemns this serious attack against the independence of a human rights NGO and this further attempt to frighten human rights organisations in Bahrain for the mere exercise of legitimate human rights work. The Observatory urges the Bahraini authorities to repeal the order, refrain from interfering with the internal management of human rights NGOs as well as with activities of promotion and protection of human rights, amend Article 23 of the Law of Association which violates freedom of association and, more generally, comply with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Bahrain and to release all human rights defenders.

For further information, please contact:

· FIDH: Fabien Maitre, + 33 1 43 55 14 12

· OMCT: Seynabou Benga, + 41 22 809 49 39

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