The Next Century Foundation said that democracy in Bahrain is witnessing a critical situation, as there is no longer an effective political opposition to the Al-Khalifa regime.
In a written statement presented at the 49th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations, the International Foundation proposed a number of reforms to improve human rights in Bahrain concerning some issues it deals with, namely the need for free elections, freedom of expression, women’s rights and the abolition of nationality.
Concerning the parliamentary elections that Bahrain will witness at the end of this year, the Foundation said that “this year represents a significant opportunity to improve democratic participation in Bahrain.
The Foundation stressed that “in the event of positive changes, Bahrain may have the opportunity to conduct fairer elections.”
The Foundation said that the Bahraini authorities have completely restricted the participation of opposition associations in the political process, especially the dissolved Al-Wefaq and Wa’ad associations. It has changed the article of its law on the exercise of political rights in 2018 to prevent former members of banned associations from running for elections.
The organization pointed out that “the House of Representatives lacks political power, and presents only limited opposition to government policy,” stressing that “if changes are not made, the moderate opposition will become weaker in Bahrain.”
It emphasized that to end this situation and make Bahrain more democratic and ensure Bahrain fulfils its human rights obligations, Bahrain must take several measures, including ending the exclusion law.
The Foundation also called on Bahrain to cancel the decisions related to the dissolution of opposition political societies. It said that “the government can retract its decision to dissolve the societies completely, and allow the re-registration of opposition societies.”
It suggested that the government “amend previous decisions to make them temporary, and specify a period for them that ends before the elections. After that, the opposition associations are automatically registered and allowed to continue their work as they were before.”
It stressed that “it is essential that the completely dissolved opposition associations be registered at a time that allows them to participate in this year’s elections, and not to delay them unnecessarily.”
The organization pointed out that “it is necessary for Bahrain to publicly encourage members of opposition societies to run for elections and ensure that there are no consequences if they do so.”
“Some members of the opposition may have concerns about running for elections,” noting that “several members of political societies, including Al-Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman, have been imprisoned on various charges. Their nationalities have also been revoked.”
“The opposition members need to confirm that they are free to run for elections, and the government needs to encourage full democratic participation by all parties actively.”
“If this opportunity is seized, the opposition will have a legitimate opportunity through which it can deliver its legitimate demands.” to the government.”
The International Foundation stated that Bahrain failed to implement recommendations related to freedom of expression, including lifting restrictions on the contents of media outlets on the Internet and licensing institutions and persons wishing to work in the media field.
According to the World Media Freedom Index, Bahrain ranks 168 out of 180 countries. Many media outlets, including Al Jazeera, are banned in Bahrain, and Al-Wasat newspaper, which is the only independent newspaper in the country, is still suspended.
The Foundation touched on the situation of prisons in Bahrain. It said that Bahrain released 1,486 prisoners in March 2020 but excluded in the decree opposition leaders, journalists, activists and human rights defenders, the majority of whom suffer from deteriorating health conditions, including Dr Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace.
The Foundation called on Bahrain to take many steps to improve freedom of expression, most notably “lifting unjustified restrictions on those who wish to practice journalism and releasing all journalists detained under provisions related only to freedom of expression issues.”