Bahrain has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 19 of which says that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, subject only to restrictions provided by law that are necessary for the protection of national security or public order.
The state claims that a blanket prohibition on ‘unregistered associations’ comes within this exception, and thus it is a criminal offence to form a residents’ association or a dining club without government permission.
Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, 20, was tried by the Fourth Degree Minor Criminal Court on November 27, case no 21741/2006 on a charge of "activating an unregistered association before the issue of a declaration of registration."
Maskati, an undergraduate, is Director of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), which has failed to get registration because it deals with political matters and includes young people under the age of 18 amongst its members. Neither of these come within the restrictions allowed by Article 19, and Mr Maskati’s defence is that the law on unregistered associations is itself a violation of the ICCPR.
The BYSHR has played an important role in arranging training workshops, monitoring and documenting human rights violations, and participating effectively in forming a regional network for young rights activists in eight Arab countries. It has also become an effective member of the Bahraini Coalition for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation, to which six other human rights groups and five political associations are affiliated. It is understood that the other unregistered human rights groups in Bahrain have been notified by The Ministry of Social Affairs that unless they cease their activities they too will be prosecuted.
Mr Maskati’s trial has been adjourned to January 21, 2008. In the meanwhile, my readers may like to protest against the trial itself and the law on unregistered associations, to the Ambassador, who according to Who’s Who unwinds by "reading about politics and social affairs", so he’ll be interested to hear from you
H E the Ambassador,
Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah al-Khalifa,
Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain,
30 Belgrave Square,
London, SW1X 8QB
Tel 0207 201 9170, Email email@example.com