Bahraini government must end interference in human rights organization
Amnesty International has called on the Bahraini government to reverse its decision to suspend the board of a prominent human rights organization, after it criticized alleged violations committed by the authorities against opposition and human rights activists within the Sh'ia community.The Ministry of Social Development said on Wednesday that it had dismissed all members of the board of the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) and appointed one of its own officials as the organization's "temporary administrator"."By suspending the board of the BHRS and putting its own representative in charge, the government has effectively taken control of the organization with the apparent intent of closing it down," said Malcolm Smart of Amnesty International"This undermines the basic rights to freedom of expression and association, and the government should rescind its decision immediately."The move is part of an increased clampdown by the authorities on Shi'a opposition and human rights activists in the run-up to next month's parliamentary elections.Leading activist and blogger Ali Abdulemam was arrested by the Bahraini National Security Agency (NSA) on Sunday for allegedly spreading "false news" on the portal bahrainonline.org.Last month, 21 prominent Shi'a political and human rights activists were detained and charged with terrorism and plotting to overthrow the government. Another two men who live in London were charged in their absence.In Wednesday's statement, the Ministry accused the BHRS of committing "legal and administrative irregularities" and of cooperating with “illegal organizations”.The Ministry also accused the BHRS of focusing on "one category of Bahrainis" rather than reporting impartially on all sections of Bahrain society.The statement appears to relate to a BHRS press conference held on 28 August to voice its concern about those activists detained last month.The organization called for the detainees' human rights to be respected and also drew attention to allegations that at least some of the 21 men held had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated after their arrest.It also called for an independent investigation and condemned some local media who had denigrated the accused, portraying them as enemies of the state.Another Bahraini human rights organization, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was banned by the government in 2004. Its director, Nabeel Rajab, has been subject to repeated harassment and media smear campaigns.Independent human rights organizations and other NGOs must obtain official recognition from the Bahraini authorities if they are to operate legally.However, the law gives the authorities the power to ban or suspend organizations, or to interfere in their internal operations by appointing a government official to administer them."The BHRS is an independent, legally registered NGO and as such, it should be allowed to continue its human rights work unhindered and without interference from the Bahraini government," said Malcolm Smart.