Rights group says that gov't ban violates freedom of expression and peaceful assembly
Bahrain must lift its total ban on opposition protests, which violates the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Bahrain, a US ally which hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, has been in political turmoil since pro-democracy protests led by its Shi'ite Muslim majority erupted last year and were put down by the island's Sunni Muslim rulers.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said the Gulf Arab kingdom had banned all rallies and gatherings to ensure public safety and prevent violence.
He said the move was necessary because violence accompanying marches and gatherings had disrupted traffic, affected trade and the economy and damaged private property.
London-based Amnesty said the measure nullified the rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly.
"Even in the event of sporadic or isolated violence once an assembly is under way, the authorities cannot simply declare a blanket prohibition on all protests," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, its Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.
"Law enforcement officials must act to protect peaceful protesters rather than using the violent acts of a few as a pretext to restrict or impede the rights of all."
Bahrain's leading opposition party Wefaq described the ban as an attempt to silence it.
"We reject this decision and consider it against our constitutional right. There is no reason for it because all our events are peaceful," Wefaq official Sayed Hadi al-Mousawi told Reuters from Manama, adding that he feared the prohibition might lead to more tension in the street.
Britain has expressed concern over the ban and called on demonstrators to "desist from violent protest".
"A blanket ban of this nature is excessive," Alistair Burt, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said on Tuesday.
"Peaceful protest is a democratic right. I hope the Bahraini government will rescind this measure as quickly as possible."
Bahrain has banned a series of protests organised by Wefaq in the past few months. A senior official said in July that the government had no plans to ban rallies outright, but wanted to ensure they did not turn violent.
Since April the authorities have stepped up efforts to crack down on unrest. Activists cite an increased use of shotgun pellets, whose use officials have declined to confirm or deny.
Activists have been sentenced to jail for organising or taking part in unlicensed anti-government protests.
The ruling Al Khalifa family used martial law and help from Gulf neighbours to put down last year's uprising, but unrest has resumed. Shi'ite protesters and police clash almost daily.
On October 19, a policeman was killed and another critically wounded in a bomb attack while on patrol in south Manama.
What can clear thinking people say about the right to peaceful protest? Sure it ought to be a right. The Shia need to understand that Iran has shown the world what happens when they get in power. They suppress the rights of people that don't want what they are serving up and act irrationally. In fact, they have become dictators just like the shah was. Those of you that want to protest need to be calm and keep your hands to your side and not do any of this fist waving.The Bahraini leaders want to keep order in the land and encourage business without disruptions.
Totally agree! I was in Bahrain for a short visit during Eid. In some areas the asphalt is burned. It can be clearly seen there's little respect for public infrastructure. What kind of peaceful protests are they talking about?
The day these people turn from agressors to peacful protestors is the day, I am sure, the Bahraini government will re-allow for the freedom to express.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty should really leave the confines of her comfortable Central London office and see for herself just how many are causing the havoc, before she starts to speak to the media.
Well said Rutger! Lobbing molotov cocktails at the police is not "peaceful protest"!
Funny, but what about those violet protests taking place in Syria and other countries openly supplying them with weapons? There everything is blamed on the govt.!
Second, there is no proof that Iran is behind what is going on in Bahrain (independent reports have proven this.)! There is more than ample proof that KSA is behind what is happening in Syria.
Yeah the Iranian govt. has become like the Shah, but then are you telling me that the Sunni led Arab countries are democratic???
Tony, not every country can be as democratic as the N.American & European countries?
Take a look at India, we have a democracy for close to 70 years and still casteism, selfish politics and poor policing prevails in most parts.
The point is , are the monachy-led governments better governed than a lot of democraties? To an extent, A big yes.
Sorry Calvin, but when you have a minority ruling over a majority (esp. in countries over here where the rights of the majority are being trampled on) then it is not right.
Both in Syria and in Bahrain it is the minority (both of them not elected by the people) who are ruling over the majority!
In Bahrain's case the world is quiet, because it is an American ally. Syria isn't, and to make matters worse, Syria is close to Russia and Iran, both of them who are not liked by the US (or the Sunni Arabs in Iran's case)
Thank the stars the US 5th fleet is there. As a casual observer it is disturbing to see so much controversy coming from a rich country and every one is Muslim , makes no sense to me. Hope it can be worked out peacefully.
Tony, are you saying India doesn't have worse human rights record than Bahrain, Please check out the fact before you comment.
Calvin, I don't get what you are getting at by bringing India in this. India is a democracy where the leader gets ELECTED. Bahrain's leaders, who belong to a minority, are not elected!
The US, which advocates democracy, keeps its mouth shut on this! Get the double-standard?