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Government refuses to authorise discussion panels on combating terrorism

(BCHR/IFEX) - 20 March 2010 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its resentment over the deteriorating situation that freedom of opinion and expression is heading towards in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and which this time is represented by the Bahraini government's refusal to authorize discussion panels about combating terrorism owing to the sensitivity of the topics open for debate. The discussion panels, which were organized by the French organization Kitson, were supposed to be held on 8 March.

Kitson is a non-profit organization whose activity focuses on conducting discussion panels, which it began in January 2009 in Paris and Geneva, addressing several issues relating to public affairs. The first of the panels the organization intended to hold in Bahrain was going to address "the role of the GCC countries in fighting terrorism".

Ms. Alisa Kitson, president of the organization, criticized the prohibition without specifying who was responsible for it, especially given the fact that the panels were met with preliminary support and approval from the Bahraini ambassador in France.

The BCHR believes that the reason for the government's refusal may be due to the Bahraini authorities' fear of possible outcomes expected from the discussion panels and the probability of connecting some bodies in the ruling institution with extreme religious groups, which in turn might be related to terrorist movements. For years, the Bahraini authorities have been working on two parallel and simultaneously contradicting paths. On the one hand, the government is attempting to create an impression that it is liberal, open and tolerant towards other religions, sects and beliefs, taking advantage of some individuals of religious minorities living in Bahrain to create this impression. On the other hand, however, the government has worked on strengthening and enabling "Takfiri" groups and religious extremists.

This is not the first time that symposiums relating to political affairs have been prohibited. In June 2009, the Bahraini authorities prohibited a symposium about "political naturalization in Bahrain," which political societies were intending to hold on Muharraq island. Political forums in Bahrain are semi-taboo and many complications created by the authorities obstruct them through a group of laws issued in recent years that restrict freedoms, such as the law on public gathering and the law on associations. This has resulted in a deterioration in the state of freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain, as was noted in a report by Reporters without Borders. According to the organization's world press freedom index, in 2002 Bahrain was ranked as 67th in the world, whereas in 2009 it dropped to the 121st position. Similarly, according to Freedom House, Bahrain used to be considered a "partly free" state but its status has now dropped to "not free".

These suppressions of freedom of opinion and expression by the Bahraini authorities contradict the country's commitments as a member state in the United Nations Human Rights Council and as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Based on the above, BCHR calls on the Bahraini authorities:

1. To remove the ban on the French Kitson organization and permit it to hold discussion panels related to fighting terrorism;

2. Not to interfere with or prevent discussion and political panels and to open the way for local and international institutions to carry out their educational role.

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