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Live broadcast of parliamentary committee report intercepted

(BCHR/IFEX) - 24 March 2010 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights express their deep concern over the recent interception by the Ministry of Information of a live broadcast by the official radio of Bahrain. The radio station was broadcasting the proceedings of the Bahraini Council of Representatives, specifically discussions on a report submitted by a parliamentary committee investigating State property. The report pointed to the involvement of several government officials, members of the ruling family and the Royal Court in the largest corruption scandal witnessed in the history of the country, which involved the taking over of land valued at US$40 billion, some which was earmarked for housing, educational and health projects, and public gardens.

Since 2007, the official radio of Bahrain has been transmitting live broadcasts of the particulars and discussions of the Council of Representatives in a periodic and systematic manner. The broadcasts were rarely stopped; only when a file that causes embarrassment for the government, or for the political leadership in the country such as the King or his Prime Minister, is up for discussion. On 23 March, the report on the State properties was discussed - a report that public opinion united around, bringing together the majority of MPs, the press and activists from the various sects and political movements. The session was held in the presence of two ministers from the ruling family, so that they could be questioned about what will happen to the stolen lands and property. However, the ministers quickly withdrew from the session after presenting general and brief answers. They justified this move by referring to their busy schedule. Moreover, the ministers said that, in their point of view, the committee that prepared the report was "illegal" and its specified work period had ended. This was met with resentment by the members of the Council and the visitors.

The chairman of the Council of Representatives, who is closely connected to the ruling family, suggested that the radio broadcast was cut off because of a technical problem. However, before the incident took place, some newspapers had reported on the government's alleged intention to intercept the controversial broadcast.

While the constitution of Bahrain prohibits combining public works and private investments, it is apparent that individuals from the ruling family are contributing to large investment projects which make use of appropriated public lands, without any right and with the compliance of the Royal Court and its minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa. The majority of these corrupt undertakings are done through the Royal Court, which has been given the power to manage public lands and unregistered pieces of land. In recent years, the country's public lands have been handled as a private right of the King, and they have been distributed as donations and gifts to members of the royal family and some powerful individuals close to him.

What is disturbing is that all these members of the ruling family have an unwritten immunity and are not monitored or held accountable. More than 100 members of the ruling family are dominating the most vital State posts and its executive, economic and judicial apparatuses, whether they are qualified to do so or not, as well as controlling most projects and investments in the private sector.

Based on the above, BCHR and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights demand that the authorities:

1. Cease intercepting broadcasts of Parliamentary sessions transmitted on the official radio channel, and reveal the person or body who was behind this action, in accordance with citizens' right to obtain information;
2. Address corruption cases in a transparent manner, especially those files that members of the ruling family are allegedly involved in, and bring these cases to fair and public trials;
3. Curtail the Royal Court's power in managing the country's riches, question individuals believed to be manipulating public property and lands and remove them from their positions, in particular Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa;
4. Allow the MPs who brought attention to these scandals to follow up on the cases and to provide the public with the details, on the condition that they are safeguarded from any threats, temptations, or blackmailing that may arise in the coming days.

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