Bahraini authorities are tightening their grip on civil society by targeting the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), one of the leading rights organizations in the country.
The move comes as Bahrainis have faced increasingly severe restrictions on their political and social activities since the violent crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests in 2011.
The government now apparently seeks to control all manner of civil society organizations, from human rights groups to cultural and sports clubs. Its seeming goal is to purge all members of banned political organizations from public life, using draconian laws.
Prominent rights group comes under fire
Civil society organizations in Bahrain are vetted by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development. In a sign of the toughening climate, BHRS—a prominent rights group—recently received a letter from the ministry which rejected three candidates for its board of directors for the upcoming year. The hopefuls included incumbent BHRS President Abdul Jalil Yousef.
In an interview with Amwaj.media, Yousef said he “rejects” the action against him and his colleagues. The BHRS president charged that he and his colleagues are being targeted on the pretext that they were members of the National Democratic Action Society, a prominent leftist political party that was dissolved by the authorities in 2017.
Many Bahraini activists and civil society organizations have come out in support of BHRS. One such voice is Mohammed Al-Jishi, an outspoken Bahraini lawyer and human rights defender. Taking to social media, he tweeted, “Resorting to the tools of political isolation and using them against members of a long-standing human rights association and preventing them from running or voting is illogical.” He added, “Such action cannot be legitimate and contradicts constitutional principles.”
The law used to silence dissent
BHRS and its supporters have focused on condemning the legal justifications for the government’s repression of political activism. In response to being targeted, the prominent rights group has stated, “It is truly regrettable that there is no exception to the political isolation law; not for welfare associations, sports clubs or social centers, and now it has even reached human rights associations.”
The law cited by BHRS is an amendment to the ‘Exercising Political Rights Act,’ which was introduced in June 2018 with the express aim of preventing former members of banned political groups from seeking office in Bahrain’s National Assembly.
Joe Stork, the deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said that “it would be better to change the name of the ‘Exercising Political Rights Act’ to ‘Forget Your Political Rights [Act].’”
Stork elaborated, “The amendment of Article 3 prohibits Bahraini citizens who are highly involved in civil activity from even considering becoming members of parliament. It is further evidence of Bahrain’s commitment to authoritarian rule.”