Bahrain: Government must end restrictions to freedom of association by ending interference in the affairs of associations

Beirut / London – 2 February 2022

Bahrain’s Council of Ministers should overrule the instructions set out in the 30 January 2022 letter signed by Najwa Abdel Latif Jennahi, the Director of the NGO Support Department of Bahrain’s Ministry of Labour and Social Development (reference 2022/19/731) relating to the election of the administrative board of the Bahrain Society for Human Rights for 2022 and 2023. 

The Director’s letter named, by way of approval, the candidacy of seven individuals but did not name – and therefore rejected – the nomination of three, Abdul Jalil Yousef, ‘Issa Ebrahim and Mohsen Matar. The three men are former members of the political association, or society, the National Democratic Action Society, or Wa’ad. In May 2017, the Bahraini Court of First Instance issued a ruling to dissolve this association of individuals while in October, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision, which the Court of Cassation – Bahrain’s highest court – confirmed in January 2019. 

The decision to deprive the three men and the Bahrain Society for Human Rights from exercising their right of association without any reason that could be recognised as legitimate in international human rights or other law, is the responsibility of the Minister of Labour and Social Development, Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan. 

Minister Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan is responsible for Bahrain violating Article 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bahrain is a state party. Article 21 guarantees that “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized […]” while 22 provides that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others […]”

The decision to violate these rights is based on Bahrain’s Decree-Law No. (21) of 1989, containing the Law on Societies and Social Clubs. Filled with sweeping and vague provisions throughout its long text, including – possibly – articles 22, 28 or 47. Article 22 states “Associations are subject to the supervision of the competent administrative authority”, which is the Ministry of Labour and Social Development. Article 28 states that the minister “may suspend the implementation of any decision issued by the bodies responsible for the affairs of the association that is in violation of the law, the system of the association, public order or morals”, while such a decision can be appealed. Article 47 empowers the minister to cancel the election of a given society’s board, “if it appears that it is in violation of the statues of the association or the law […]”. 

Each one of these sweeping provisions are either outside the scope of limitation provided for in the ICCPR, or have been used, in this instance, to violate freedom of assembly and association.

Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR) calls on:

  • Minister Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan to retract the letter and his direction to limit the rights provided by international human rights law to which his government is a state party; or
  • The Council of Ministers to overrule the Minister to rescind the instruction;
  • Minister Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan to announce a review into Law 21 of 1989 with a view to bringing into line with international standards, or for
  • The government, as needed, to write to the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, the President of the European Commission and the United State of America and other states, to explain why Minister Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan has chosen to violate international human rights law.

SALAM DHR likewise calls on all states taking an active interest in the Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain, scheduled for November 2022, to take note of Bahrain’s routine and “legalised” violation of international human rights law in respect to associations as well as political associations, where the government similarly implements arbitrary, sweeping and vague restrictions as set out in the 10 June 2018, Act 25/2018 which entered into force. It amended Act 14/2002, the Exercise of Political Rights Act and prohibits, permanently, ‘active leaders and members of dissolved political associations’ from standing in elections.

Background

Bahrain’s Ministry of Labour and Social Development has routinely flouted international human rights law by violating freedom of assembly and association. On 23 December 2021, SALAM DHR highlighted that 

In January 2020, two members of the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Women’s Union were excluded by the Ministry of Labour and Social Development because of their previous political associations. 

In November 2021, the Ministry of Labour and Social Development initially rejected the candidacy of 14 out of 16 members who applied for the 2022-2023 Sarr Charity Fund election. On 2 December 2021, the Sarr Charity Fund received a letter from the Ministry, stating that four other candidates had been approved, bringing the total number of people accepted to stand for election to 6 out of 16 candidates.It also rejected – in effect – a request to nominate 30 of the 34 people in three batches. 

Apart from violating international human rights law, the practices described above likewise violate Bahrain’s own Constitution. Article 4 states that:

“Justice is the basis of Government. Cooperation and mutual respect provide a firm bond between citizens. Liberty, equality, security, trust, knowledge, social solidarity, and equality of opportunity for citizens are pillars of society guaranteed by the State.”

Article 18, too, asserts that:

“People are equal in human dignity, and citizens are equal before the law in public rights and duties. There shall be no discrimination among them on the basis of sex, origin, language, religion or creed.”

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