7 October 2016 – ARTICLE 19 and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) welcome the opportunity to contribute to the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bahrain. This submission focuses on compliance with international human rights obligations with respect to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.
The submission addresses:
- Legal framework for freedom of expression;
- Restrictions on media;
- Restrictions on freedom of assembly;
- Restrictions on freedom of association and the right to participate in public and political life;
- Harassment of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), journalists, and political opposition.
During the second UPR cycle, Bahrain supported over 30 recommendations relating to the protection of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Little progress has been made in the implementation of these recommendations, and the situation has further deteriorated. A ban on protest has been in place in the capital Manama since 2013 and there has been a renewed campaign of repression and harassment against critical voices since June 2016 which significantly undermines the enjoyment of civil and political rights in the country.
Despite stating in its midterm report that Bahrain is “keen on cooperating with Special Procedures mandate holders”, none have been allowed to enter the country since 2006. Seven procedures, on torture, expression, assembly and association, human rights defenders, extreme poverty, migrants, and arbitrary detention, have outstanding visit requests since 2011.
The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 23 of Bahrain’s Constitution (2002). However, it contains overly broad restrictions that do not correspond with the exhaustive list of legitimate aims outlined in Article 19(3) of the ICCPR, stating that “everyone has the right to express his opinion… provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord or sectarianism is not aroused.” The constitutional framework therefore illegitimately permits laws that grant excessive discretion to the authorities to suppress expression.
In its 2014 mid-term report, Bahrain stated that it had introduced a number of legislative reforms in order to ensure “that any restrictions on civil and political rights are necessary, minimal and comply with ICCPR standards.” However, rather than undertaking comprehensive reforms to ensure the compliance with the ICCPR, only minor amendments were made to Articles in the Penal Code related to broadcasting false news and publishing false documents (Articles 168-9). Despite commitments during the last UPR to reform, problematic laws remain in force and have been amended since to increase restrictions.
ARTICLE 19 and BIRD recommend:
- Comprehensive, transparent and time bound review to reform all legislation affecting the right to freedom of expression, with the full and effective participation of all stakeholders including civil society, in order to bring laws into compliance with the ICCPR.
- Accept all outstanding visit requests of special procedures, and to cooperate fully with special procedures to ensure the visits take place.