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Government ministry rejects bar association election results

(BCHR/IFEX) - 18 December 2011 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its concern about the continued restrictions on the role of the civil society organizations and independent civil organizations, and the attempts to control them. Most recently, the Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development ruled that the current elected board of directors of the Bahrain Lawyers Society will no longer be in charge, and appointed the immediate past board of directors. This step appears to have been taken because the majority of the elected members are from the opposition.

On 7 December 2011, the Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development faxed a letter to the Bahrain Lawyers Society stating that "The immediate past Board of Directors is appointed once again, while the current elected board is void". The society held its general assembly on 26 November 2011, and established a quorum with 86 lawyers out of 157 members entitled to vote, which is more than 53% of the members. The election was conducted under the supervision of the Bahrain Human Rights Society, which confirmed the integrity of the elections.

The Ministry of Human Rights failed to send a representative despite having been notified in advance; the immediate past president failed to attend as well. The elections were held after a delay of six months from the scheduled date because of the emergency state imposed in Bahrain. The elections resulted in the selection of seven new members, with a majority from the opposition, and lawyers well-known for defending political prisoners, including some that were interrogated by the military prosecution during the emergency state because of their political stances.

The newly-elected president, Hameed Al-Mulla (the immediate past vice president), confirmed that the elections were held in accordance with the law, and that "the ministry is not legally entitled to cancel the authentic elections held by the society".

The Ministry of Human Rights is exploiting a law written in 1989 for the purpose of controlling the activities of the institutions of civil society, known as the Law of Societies, to continue intervening in its management and restrict its freedom. The law has been repeatedly criticized by local and global organizations because it violates the basic human rights of freedom of expression and assembly. This is the same law that the government used in 2004 to dissolve the BCHR, for standing up to the violations at that time. The center continued its work and its activities broadened inside and outside of Bahrain, and its reports became of higher importance to international bodies.

In their recent joint report, BCHR and other human rights organizations in Bahrain documented many cases of attacks and attempts to control the institutions of civil society, by eliminating elected officers and appointing other members. These kinds of violations increased since the dismissal of the board of directors of the Bahrain Society of Human Rights in September 2010, and their numbers increased even more after the state of emergency was declared in Bahrain.

BCHR condemns the act of revoking the elections of the Bahrain Lawyers Society, and sees this as a clear violation of the freedom of civil societies, and an indicator of the deterioration of freedom in Bahrain, and the complete lack of any real steps towards applying the recommendations presented by the human rights organizations.

Therefore, BCHR demands the following:

- The Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development should immediately withdraw its decision to revoke the elections of the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Lawyers Society.

- A safe and free environment for the civil organizations to work in, especially those focused on defending human rights.

- Amend the laws of civil organizations, and all other such laws, so that they comply with international standards, especially the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Click here to see a timeline compiled by BCHR of violations against civil society institutions
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