Cablegate: Freedom House Demotes Bahrain


DE RUEHMK #0030 0191430
P 191430Z JAN 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000030



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/19/2020

REF: A. 09 MANAMA 50
B. 08 MANAMA 845
C. 09 MANAMA 22

Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(C) Summary: Freedom House announced January 12 that Bahrain had been demoted from "partly free" to "not free" in its 2010 global survey of political rights and civil liberties. Bahrain's political rights score fell from 5 to 6 (out of 10), triggering the "not free" designation; civil liberties remained at

5. Freedom House asserts that political rights suffered as a result of "harassment of opposition political figures," namely "the arrests of prominent members of the Haq political society," and "worsening sectarian discrimination." The demotion to "not free" surprised officials, politicians, and other embassy sources. Post believes that human rights activists with close ties to the Haq Movement, a Shia rejectionist group, were successful in lobbying Freedom House's researchers to downgrade Bahrain. End summary.

2.(SBU) New York-based Freedom House released January 12 its annual Freedom in the World report, in which Bahrain was demoted from "partly free" to "not free," after its political rights score fell from to 6 out of

10. Freedom House's brief justification asserted that early 2009 arrests of several Haq Movement leaders indicated that political rights had taken a turn for the worse in Bahrain in 2009. (Note: three Haq leaders were arrested in January 2009 after failing to appear for questioning in the course of a police investigation related to the so-called national day plot (refs A and B); they were subsequently pardoned by the King. Also in January 2009, Haq ally and Front Line (Irish NGO) employee Abdulhadi Al Khawaja was questioned by prosecutors for several hours after calling for the overthrow of the Al-Khalifa ruling family during Ashura commemorations (ref C); charges against him were also dropped as part of the King's April 2009 pardon. End note).

3.(SBU) Media reaction was relatively muted, with only one Arabic-language newspaper carrying a brief article. English-language newspaper Gulf Daily News carried an article January 14 headlined "'Unrealistic' rights report slammed." Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nazar Al-Baharna dismissed Freedom House's findings, arguing that Bahrain was regularly praised for its "progressive stance" on political rights. The article also quoted senior opposition MP, Jasim Husain (from the mainstream Shia Al-Wifaq opposition party), who said the report was "extreme" and that Bahrain should have remained in the "partly free" category.

4.(C) Two Al-Wifaq MPs told poloff that they felt that Bahrain should have been re-designated "partly free," notwithstanding many Shia politicians' and activists' allegations of government-sanctioned sectarian discrimination. The visiting deputy head of Front Line, a Dublin-based NGO advocating on behalf of "human rights defenders" facing persecution and harassment, also told poloff confidentially that it was "somewhat extreme" to demote Bahrain to "not free." (Note: given that Front Line employs Haq ally Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja as its regional coordinator -- and vociferously defends his role as a "human rights defender" -- this assertion from the group's deputy director is noteworthy. End note).

5.(C) Comment: While Bahrain's Shia majority continues to suffer from unequal access to mid- and high-level government jobs, as well as lower socio-economic indicators than the Sunni minority, in post's view Freedom House's designation of Bahrain as "not free" is not appropriate. Gerrymandered districts notwithstanding, Bahrain's citizens enjoy the right to vote for their national and municipal legislators every four years. Political societies and NGOs are active to an extent almost unheard of in the Gulf, even in Kuwait, which Freedom House designated "partly free." Freedom House's definition of "not free" includes the absence of "basic political rights." This is simply not true of Bahrain. Post believes that radical Shia activists such as Al-Khawaja and fellow Haq ally Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, likely had undue influence over the Freedom House researchers, who may not have cast a very wide net during their in-country consultations. ERELI

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