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AlSalman: New Anti-Hatred/Discrimination Legislation in Bahrain Could Turn to a Suppression Tool to Restrict Freedom of Expression

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Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, head of the religious freedom unit at Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, expressed his fear that a new anti-hatred and discrimination legislation in the coming weeks would be utilised as a tool to use blasphemy laws to jail individuals for expressing their personal views. There are serious concerns that this law will restrict freedom of expression, noting that human rights organizations in Bahrain were and are still calling for legislation to prohibit the incitement to hatred in accordance with Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The article prohibits any advocacy of racial or religious or national hatred that constitutes incitement leading to hostility, violence or discrimination. Al Salman stated "However any legislation has to be in line with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Rabat Plan of Action to counter the incitement of hatred, the Camden principles and resolution 16 18 for combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief."
 
Al Salman continues, "We held 12 seminars and workshops in Bahrain in the past 4 years on the Rabat Plan of Action and on applicable strategies to create a balance between article 19 & article 20 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Right. We have also communicated in September 2012 with the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay prior to her meeting with a Bahraini official requesting her to advice the Government of Bahrain to embrace the Rabat Plan of Action and prohibit the incitement of hatred that has the likelihood of turning into hostility, violence & discrimination."  In January 2014 the democratic opposition societies in Bahrain also launched a historical document "No to hatred" that adopts the Rabat Plan of Action and the Camden principles and calls for applying article 20 of the  International Covenant on Civil and Political Right whilst pledging to defend article 19. Thus, non-governmental organizations in Bahrain have always welcomed the existence of a law prohibiting the incitement of hatred on the condition of full compliance with international standards for protection of freedom of expression in line with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." Al Salman added: "Any new law that contradicts with international human rights standards will not be supported by us noting that full compliance with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has to be guaranteed by law to avoid the use of article 20 to suppress Article 19. The new anti-hate legislation would not be accepted and supported internationally and locally unless it is consistent with the Rabat Plan of Action, Camden principles and resolution 1618. We have serious worries of the legislation  being used to further restrict freedom of expression noting that Bahrain had agreed to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations calling for amendment of any provision of law that could be used to prosecute individuals or groups for exercising freedom of expression. The government of Bahrain has also pledged to amend all laws that suppress freedom of expression ensuring that all new laws are compatible with international standards in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ". 
 
On issuing an anti-discrimination law Salman said: "We are supportive of any legislation that ensures  equal citizenship among all Bahrainis regardless of color, gender, religious affiliation. We would also continue calling for the prosecution of those involved in the exercise of systematic sectarian discrimination". Al Salman also had concerns that the proposed anti - discrimination law would be abused to to legitimize prejudice and as a tool to avoid international criticism of systematic sectarian discrimination in Bahrain." He added: "The international public opinion has come to a firm conviction not marred by doubt of the absence of equal citizenship in Bahrain and the dominance of systematic sectarian discrimination. Reliable reports have confirmed this solid truth which was cited by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, UPR Human Rights Council recommendations to Bahrain, U.S. State Department reports on human rights and international religious freedom, US Commission on International Religious Freedom report (USCIRF) and tens of statements issued by the EU, EP, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and other respective human rights organizations and bodies."
 
Al Salman said: "In a country subjected to the the demolition of 38 Shia mosques, the dissolution of the largest religious institution in Bahrain (Ulama Islamic Council), the prohibition of teaching Fiqh al-Jaafari (Shiite Jaafari Doctrine) in public and private schools, revocation of the nationality of Shia scholars, imprisoning thousands of Shia nationals it is more than a necessity to criminalize the practice of racial discrimination at all levels. The elimination of all forms of discrimination in line with International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination and promoting equal citizenship is the path forward to create sustainable social stability in Bahrain. Holding officials and non-official responsible for the practice of sectarian discrimination responsible in front of law is an urgent necessity, but it first requires a comprehensive mapping exercise to determine those involved in the practice of systematic sectarian discrimination in recruitment, assignment, provision of services and privileges noting that all these violations fall under the prohibited  category of racial discrimination."
 
Al Salman also questioned the compliance of Bahrain with UPR recommendation No. 103 presented by the United States of America which called for creating a more diverse and inclusive police force reflective of society. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom Report in 2015 confirmed that “according to interlocutors, members of the Shia community still cannot serve in the active military and there are no Shia in the upper levels of the Bahrain government security apparatus, including the military and police.” 
 
Al Salman concluded his statement by demanding authorities allow the visit of the UN Special Rapporteurs on the elimination of racial discrimination, freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief. Furthermore, authorities should assist Bahrain in addressing solutions for restrictions on freedom of expression, prevalence of systematic sectarian discrimination, absence of equal citizenship and countering the growth of the incitement of hatred since 2011.
 
 
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3- Resolution 1618

 

 
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