Bahrain Stifles Free Assembly with Ban on Public Demonstrations

The decision by the Bahraini government to ban all public rallies and demonstrations is a glaring example of its failure to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to implementing democratic reforms or end human rights abuses that have continued to escalate since February 2011. Freedom House condemns the move and calls on the government to reverse the ban immediately.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid al Khalifah made the announcement on October 30, claiming the decision was made in order to “maintain public order and prevent violence.” Groups that continue to organize demonstrations will face legal action from the government.

Bahrain is rated Not Free in Freedom House’s three annual surveys: Freedom in the World, Freedom of the Press and Freedom on the Net. Citizens have been broadly engaged in protests since February 2011, calling for a more representative government and denouncing ongoing human rights abuses. More than 50 people have been killed since the demonstrations began. Rights groups have reported ongoing arrests, intimidation, and in some cases torture of those who speak out against the regime.  The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), an independent commission appointed by the King to evaluate abuses committed during the protests, has recommended judicial, police, and labor reforms, but the government has failed to adequately implement such reforms.

On August 1, Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary for the  Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department, made a public statement before the Tom Lantos Human Rights calling for charges to be dropped against “all persons accused of offenses involving peaceful political expression including freedom of assembly” in Bahrain. However, the U.S. government has remained largely silent on the issue of human rights in Bahrain, an ally of the U.S. and host to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Freedom House calls on the U.S. government not to be complicit in the Bahraini government’s repression, and to follow through on its policies of supporting free expression and assembly in Bahrain.

Learn More:

Freedom in the World 2012: Bahrain

Freedom of the Press 2012: Bahrain (draft)

Freedom on the Net 2012: Bahrain

Countries at the Crossroads 2012: Bahrain

Blog: Freedom at Issue