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POGAR > Countries > Country Theme: Civil Society: Bahrain
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Laws of Associations

Political liberalization has increased in Bahrain since Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa assumed power in March 1999. The National Charter of Action with provisions for the expansion of personal freedoms and equal rights was approved in a referendum held February 14-15, 2001. The amended Constitution, promulgated on February 14, 2002, guarantees these provisions and makes the state responsible to consolidate the rights of women and to issue necessary legislation to protect families. The constitution guarantees that no person shall be arrested, detained, imprisoned, searched, confined to a residence, or have his freedom of residence or movements impounded, except in accordance with the law and under the supervision of the judiciary. The new constitution also gives citizens the right to set up private, scientific, cultural, and vocational associations and syndicates on patriotic bases, for legal purposes and through peaceful means in accordance with conditions and situations stipulated by law, provided that there is no coercion to join or remain in an association or a syndicate. The Bahraini council of ministers agreed in early July 2005 to approach the United Nations to join the two international conventions pertaining respectively to civil and political rights and to economic, social and cultural rights. The Bahraini council of ministers agreed in early July 2005 to approach the United Nations to join the two international conventions pertaining respectively to civil and political rights and to economic, social and cultural rights. However, the council decided against signing the two optional protocols of the two conventions.

The 2002 Constitution also embraces an independent judicial system, a partly elected parliament, and a constitutional monarchy. Following a far-reaching amnesty of political prisoners, the head of state issued decrees in February 2001 abolishing the State Security Law of 1975 and the State Security Court, which had been established in 1995.

The Law of Associations, Decree No. 21, issued in 1989 and Decree No. 1 issued in 1990 regulate the internal functioning of associations, their relations with the state and their fund-raising activities. The head of state issued a directive on 28 May 2001 calling for the drafting, with the assistance of General Committee of Bahraini Workers, of a legal framework for independent trade unions.

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Political Parties

Political parties remain illegal in Bahrain; however, political societies may be formed under the Law of Associations. Currently, Bahrain has more than 15 political societies. The societies are permitted to engage in almost all of the functions of a political party, including fielding candidates for election and acting as a parliamentary bloc, but the creation of full-fledged parties awaits a parliamentary decision. A law legalizing political parties has been expected since the promulgation of the 2002 Constitution, and a proposal for such a law was presented in the Chamber of Deputies in December 2003. The King of Bahrain instead promulgated a law concerning political societies on July 16, 2005. The law set several conditions for establishing political societies in Bahrain that include: a political society should not be established on class, sectarian, ethnic, geographic or occupational grounds; it should not aim at establishing semi-military or military formations; the members should possess full civil and political rights and should not be members of a non-Bahraini political organization, or members of Bahrain's defense force (army), national guard or state security agencies. The law stipulates that financial resources of political societies should come from membership fees and contributions and from revenues of their investments in the Kingdom as defined by their internal regulations. A political society is not allowed to accept any contribution, advantage or benefit from any foreigner or any foreign entity or international organization. A political society's board of directors should not interfere in the internal affairs of other states or carry out any activity that harms relations between Bahrain and other states. The law permits the minister of justice to refer to court any society that violates the provisions of Bahrain's constitution, or this law or any other Bahraini law. The minister of justice may ask the court to freeze the activities of the violating society for 3 months during which the society corrects the violation or removes its causes. The minister may also ask the court to dissolve the violating society, liquidate its assets and determine who receives them if that society commits grave violations of Bahrain's constitution or of this law or any other Bahraini law. Six out of 9 political societies expressed their opposition to the political societies law after it was endorsed by both chambers of parliament. They appealed to the King not to ratify that law. Major political societies include the National Democratic Action Society, the Islamic Arab Wasat, the National Minbar, and the Islamic National Wifaq.

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Associations and Unions

In 1999, the government of Bahrain also created a Human Rights Committee within the Consultative Council. In 2002, Bahrain established the first human rights center in a GCC country; it specializes in conducting research, providing training in human rights related issues and maintaining an archive of documents related to human rights. In addition to the center, Bahrain has an independent human rights group, the Bahrain Human Rights Society.

Since the new constitution was implemented, several civil society organizations have formed. During the summer of 2001 the Union of Bahraini Women and the Bahrain Women's Society were founded. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs reported a total of 65 new associations founded during the calendar year of 2002, including 11 political societies and 13 professional societies. By of the end of 2003 over 300 NGOs had been registered in Bahrain, helping to facilitate the growth of civil society and public discourse; many of these exert significant efforts in the area of human rights.

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Media and Government Regulations

The 1965 Press Law requires all newspapers to be licensed by the Ministry of Information. The same law also regulates content. In 2002, the first independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, began circulation.

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