A human rights consultation was organized in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, attended by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Clement Voele, in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Human Rights Council Resolution No. 50/21), and the regional representative of the Office High Commissioner for Human Rights (Middle East and North Africa) Mazen Shaqoura, and Deputy Head of Mission of the Swiss Embassy in Beirut, Ms. Maja Mesmmer Mokhtar. With the participation of many Arab and international human rights organizations, including Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
In her speech during the consultation, the director of Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nedal Al-Salman, affirmed that freedom of assembly and association is a basic right in any democratic society, and protecting it is vital to the well-being of any nation. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the concept of freedom of assembly and association allows individuals to assemble peacefully, express their opinions, and mingle with like-minded people without fear of reprisal. It is a cornerstone of democratic societies, promoting civic participation, social cohesion and the free exchange of ideas.
Al-Salman indicated that it is necessary to address the strict restrictions imposed on the basic rights to freedom of assembly and association. It is important to highlight these limitations to ensure that the international community remains vigilant in holding States accountable for their human rights obligations.
She pointed out that since the February 2011 revolution, suppression of peaceful opposition in Bahrain has become a common practice. Bahrain has regularly witnessed the arrest and prosecution of individuals who exercised their rights to peaceful assembly and association. Activists, journalists and human rights defenders have been targeted, creating a climate of fear and self-censorship that has led to a complete shutdown of political and civil space in Bahrain.
Al-Salman added that another important concern in Bahrain is the excessive use of force by the authorities during protests. Peaceful demonstrations were often met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live ammunition, resulting in injuries and deaths among demonstrators.
Al-Salman spoke about concerns raised about the lack of due process in legal proceedings against individuals participating in peaceful protests. Some have been subjected to unfair trials, long periods of pre-trial detention, and allegations of torture.
She continued, saying that the culture of suppression of dissent in Bahrain has led to the closure of civic space, supported by the restrictive laws and regulations implemented that limit the activities of civil society organizations, including non-governmental organizations and trade unions. These restrictions hinder the ability of these organizations to promote social justice and defend the rights of marginalized groups.
Al-Salman explained that other restrictions imposed on the right to freedom of assembly and association include censorship of the media, limited political space, and comprehensive suppression of online activity. Journalists face harassment, arrests and censorship for covering protests and dissenting voices, limiting access to any form of information or critical opinion. Opposition political parties face challenges in operating freely and participating in elections. Regarding online activism, authorities in Bahrain have increasingly repressed online activists and social media users, stifling freedom of expression and assembly online.
The consequences are far-reaching, she said, undermining the very essence of democracy and impeding the peaceful expression of dissent and grievances. It is essential that the international community continues to work with Bahrain to address these concerns by, for example, encouraging Bahrain to release individuals detained for the peaceful exercise of their rights, ensure respect for their rights to due process, and re-evaluate and amend laws that limit freedom of assembly. and association and expression to comply with international human rights standards, encourage open dialogue between government and civil society to resolve grievances peacefully, and conduct independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations during protests to ensure accountability and ensure freedom of the press and its protection. The right of journalists to report without fear of reprisal.
She concluded by saying that concerns regarding restrictions imposed on freedom of assembly and association in Bahrain are serious and require our attention. It is essential that we stand in solidarity with those who seek to exercise their rights peacefully and call for the protection of these fundamental freedoms. Upholding these rights is not just a legal obligation, but a moral imperative that determines the strength and resilience of any democratic society.