Bahrain Weekly Update 7/7/17

Top Stories

Government Considers Options to Stem Economic Downturn

Banned Waad Party Appeals Dissolution

Human Rights Activists Arrested

Nabeel Rajab Expected to be Sentenced July 10

Updates from Bahrain

Government Considers Options to Stem Economic Downturn: Falling oil prices and growing political instability have contributed to increasingly unstable economic conditions. On July 2, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch named Bahrain as one of the most vulnerable economies in which it does business. Their report indicates the Kingdom’s massive fiscal deficit, the largest of all 68 countries covered, and falling crude oil prices as key contributors to its fragility.

The report’s assessment is reflected in recent measures taken by the Kingdom. On July 2, Finance Minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa announced that in 2016, public debt reached 9.1 billion BD ($24.12 billion), accounting for 76 percent of GDP.  In response to questions about the debt ratio’s sustainability and accordance to international standards, al-Khalifa stated that measures are being taken to reign in the debt and that the Kingdom has seen sustained growth despite these fiscal challenges. The statement runs counter to Bank of America’s report, which states that Bahrain’s GDP shrank by .19 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Nevertheless, steps are being taken to regain control of public finances. On Monday, July 3, a bill to raise the debt ceiling to an unprecedented 13 billion BD ($34.46 billion) was introduced to the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives also introducedanother bill to withdraw a total of 200 million BD ($530.15 million) from the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund. The bill proposes 100 million BD ($265.08 million) be withdrawn in 2017, and the other half withdrawn in 2018. The funds will be used to cover the budget deficit and service public debt. The government has been withdrawing money from the fund to service public debt and deficits since 2014, when oil prices began to fall.

Banned Opposition Party Files Lawsuit: On Sunday, June 2, banned secular opposition party the National Democratic Action Society (Waad), filed a lawsuit with the Court of Urgent Matters against the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). The suit requests that the MOI reopen Waad’s headquarters in Manama and its branch in Muharraq, which were surrounded by security forces on May 31 and forcibly shut down. Waad argues that security forces had no legal basis for their action and that the offices’ closure is therefore illegal. Further, it argues that the Supreme Civil Court’s decision to dissolve the party and liquidate its assets is a miscarriage of justice, calling the court’s action “a regrettable decision that leads to aborting the authorized political action in Bahrain and complicates the already complex political scene.”

Human Rights Activist Arrested: On the night of Monday, July 3, masked security forces reportedly surrounded the home of human rights activist Ebtisam al-Saegh and arrested her. Al-Saegh’s arrest comes just over a month after she was detained and allegedly tortured due to her involvement in the Diraz sit-ins. Al-Saegh also tweeted about her detention on June 26 to commemorate United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, calling for justice for those who tortured her.

Human rights groups have expressed concern over al-Saegh’s arrest and have warned that she is likely to face sexual assault and torture while jailed. In a report published on July 4, the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) stated that it “condemns Ebtisam Al-Saegh’s arrest and call for her immediate and an independent investigation into her arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in July and torture and sexual abuse in May.” Amnesty International also condemned her arrest with Middle East Regional Director Samah Hadid stating, “The Bahraini authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Ebtisam al-Saegh whose only crime is speaking up against a government committed to crushing all forms of dissent.” Additionally, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert pledged to “look into” al-Saegh’s arrest during a press briefing on July 6.

The following day, security forces arrested human rights activist Mohammed Khalil from his home southwest of Manama.

Nabeel Rajab Expected to be Sentenced:  On July 3, Nabeel Rajab’s case was finally heard before court, after numerous postponements. The court will hand down a decision on July 10, but neither Rajab nor his lawyers were present for the hearing. Rajab is currently being held at the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) hospital, where he is receiving treatment for injury and illness sustained during his thirteen-month-long imprisonment. Rajab’s doctors informed the court that he was too ill to attend his trial.  His lawyers have been boycotting the court since June 14, after the court repeatedly held hearings in absence of the defendant.

Rajab’s son, Adam Nabeel Rajab, voiced his outrage and concern over his father’s sentencing on twitter, stating, “Unfortunately, we’re expecting an unlawful tragic sentence against my father.” Additionally, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, of which Rajab is president, called on the international community to urge Bahrain to release Rajab and demand justice. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert also addressed Rajab’s sentencing during a press briefing on July 6, stating that members of the U.S. embassy were present at his trial and that “freedom of speech, human rights remains a concern of ours, and we continue to bring it up with the Bahrainis at the highest level.”

Shura Council Introduces Alternative Punishments: On Sunday, June 2, the Shura Council passed a bill allowing for alternative sentencing and punishment. The new law allows judges to hand down punishments such as community service, house arrest with electronic monitoring, and rehabilitation programs. While some argue these punishments are sufficient deterrents to crime, Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowment Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa asserts that all criminals will not be eligible for alternative punishments and that the new punishments will still be effective in deterring crime.

Also Worth Reading

Nabeel Rajab – In Their Own Words

Amnesty International