“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.” – Article 18, Constitution of Bahrain
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses concern over the recent escalation of the suppression of the citizens’ freedoms and public authority as a result of several decisions of the House of Representative’s house, including the cancellation of the elected municipal council of the Capital Manama.
Cancelling Elected Capital Municipal Council
On 3 June 2014, the House of Representatives approved a bill to cancel the elected municipal council of the Capital Manama and replace it with a General Secretariat appointed by the king and elected members of civil society institutions. The bill is an amendment to the existing Law of Municipalities 35/2001, which mandates that all the five government municipalities be elected by public elections.
The representatives explained the reason as to “keep the capital municipality out of the reach of the political societies agendas.”
The capital Manama has a population of 80,000 residents, and over 46,000 of them are Bahraini nationals. The governor of Manama, Hisham Abdulrahman AlKhalifa, is a member of royal family. The elected municipal council has consisted primarily of opposition members and has been active in exposing corruption cases in the Ministry of Municipalities, including the corruption in the management of public lands. Last February, the President of the Capital Municipal Council called for the minister of municipalities to resign.
The cancelation the Capital Municipal Council counters the counsel of the legal advisors to the House of Representatives, who consider the cancellation unconstitutional. The legal advisors stated that eliminating the electoral rights of the citizens of the Capital, while at the same time allowing citizens of all other governances to maintain their elected municipalities, is a form of “discrimination”, and a violation to the principles of equality and equal opportunities outlined in articles 4 and 18 of the Constitution of Bahrain. The legal advisors also added that the cancelations of the Capital Municipal Council goes beyond the authority of the legislature, and is in direct violation of Article 31 of the Constitution, which states:
“The public rights and freedoms stated in this Constitution may only be regulated or limited by or in accordance with the law, and such regulation or limitation may not prejudice the essence of the right or freedom.”
Additionally, the appointed members are not required to meet the minimum criteria for candidates in a municipal election: they do not have to be 30 years of age, registered in the constituency voters list, or a residence within the municipality for the duration of membership.
Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, described this change as a serious step in the process of changing demographics and erasing the identity of the Manama citizens.
It is important to note that five of the elected opposition members in varying municipalities had their memberships revoked in a vote in 2011, due to the building opposition support to the popular movement that began in February 2011. In May 2014, an elected MP, Osama Al-Tamimi, had his membership revoked based on other members votes after he spoke of the ill-treatment of prisoners during a session of the House of Representatives.
Open Door to Withdraw Nationality
On 17 June 2014, the House of Representatives approved a bill that allows withdrawal of Bahraini nationality from any citizen who receives another nationality without written approval from Minister of Interior. According to the bill, Bahraini nationals with other nationality have to resolve their situation within six months to either renounce their other nationality or receive approval from the Minister of Interior to keep it. Citizenship will be withdrawn with a decree if the Minister of Interior did not approve the foreign nationality after he has presented his decision to the Council of Ministers and received their approval. The only exception is if the dual citizenship is with one of the GCC countries. In this case, the citizen would be subject to a fine of up to 10,000 Bahraini dinars if the citizen did not obtain Minister’s approval.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights fears that this bill will be used against the many Bahraini activists who are hold dual citizenship after living in political asylum in the eighties, nineties, and today.
No Questioning of Ministers
Additionally, on 3 June 2014, the House of Representatives decided to limit its own ability to question ministers at the parliament. As per the approved change on the internal regulation, a yea vote from two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives (equal to 27 votes out of 40) is necessary to approve the questioning of a minister, while previously it required only a majority vote (21 out of 40). In Bahrain, the elected parliament, which does not hold legislative or monitoring powers, has 40 seats. All the seats in the Higher Council, also 40, are assigned by the King. This change to the potentially hinders the opposition’s ability to question ministers in the future, even if they held half of the seats.
This was not the first time the House of Representatives has passed laws and regulations that, in essence, violate human rights. In July 2013,the National Assembly passed two dozens of recommendations to restrict the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly and approved a harsher crackdown by the government on political activists. Since the establishment of the House, it has ratified several laws initiated by the Government that restrict freedoms and contradict basic human rights and thoroughly disregard international obligations and condemnations by national, regional, and International human rights organizations. Examples of such laws include: the Political Societies Law (2005) that places political groups under the control of the government in terms of foundation, funding, activity, and closure; the Law on Gatherings and Demonstrations (2006), which grants the security apparatus full control on activities and gatherings; and the Counter-Terrorism Law (2006), which has been used to impose the death penalty and harsh punishments for actions that do not necessary involve the use of violence or terrorism.
BCHR views the recent decisions of the House of Representatives as further limiting the citizens’ rights and the public authority.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the United Kingdom, the United States, and all other close allies of the Bahraini government to pressure the authorities in Bahrain to:
- Immediately revoke the decision to cancel the Elected Municipal Council of the Capital and guarantee all citizens the right to elect their representatives;
- Put an end to all forms of discriminations against citizens;
- Cancel the proposed changes to the Nationality Law and guarantee every citizen the right to maintain his or her nationality in accordance with Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- Immediately end the deliberate targeting of the opposition parties and the restriction of peaceful political activities.