Bahrain: Bahraini authorities impose media blockade on women's rights activist Ghada Jamsheer

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The president of the Women's Petition (WP), the Bahraini activist Ms Ghada Jamsheer revealed the existence of a formal decision preventing her from appearing in any of the Bahraini media.
In a statement to Aafaq, she stated that in addition to the official media of radio and television, newspapers, whether state or nearby, were also included in the blockade campaign.
Press sources in the capital Manama mentioned to Aafaq that the blockade resolution came directly from the Royal Court, through its Minister- Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, who gave a direct instruction to newspapers preventing publication any article or news related to Jamsheer. The sources believed that the blockade came as a result of Ghada Jamsheer's letter in April 2007 addressed to the King, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in which she called for resolving the Supreme Council for Women, chaired by the King's wife Sheikha Sabika Bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, because of its failure in promoting the rights of women and consecrating political loyalty to the Government.

Jamsheer, instead, called for independent organizations, women's committees and independent women's rights activists to be granted the opportunity to play their role as these rights stem from woman and addressed to her.

Observers believe that such act of harassment to Ghada and depriving her from contact with local media, is a challenge to the credibility of the reform project initiated by King Hamad in 2002.

It is to be mentioned that Ghada Jamsheer is one of the most prominent defenders of women's rights in the Gulf region. She is highly appreciated and respected by many Arab and international human and women rights organizations. In addition to Ayman Noor and Naelah Tweeny, Ghada was considered by the American Time magazine to be the 2006 heroes of freedom in the Arab region. She was also voted by the Forbes American Magazine to be one of ten most influential women in the Arab Countries in 2006.

With the ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, and Iranian activist, Shirin Ebadi, Ghada participated in the establishment of Muslim Women Forum for Human Rights and Democracy, which held its first congress last May 2007 in Oslo, Norway.

Following is the letter addressed by Ghada Jamsheer to the King of Bahrain on the failures of the Supreme Council for Women, which is believed to have caused fury of the Bahraini Royal Court:

Address to His Majesty, King of Bahrain, concerning failures of the Supreme Council for Women

His Majesty, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, may God bless him, King of Bahrain

The Women Petition Committee pays tributes of greetings and reverence, wishing your Majesty success in all endeavours in favour of welfare and wellbeing of this country.

Your Majesty,

We have entertained fear of the repercussions on the outcome of the conditions of citizens, in general, and women, in particular, in recent years until last elections, which clearly revealed the inability of the Supreme Council for Women (SCW) in confronting plots of some official circles, led by the Royal Court, and in execution of a hidden agenda, and preventing women from entering parliament through the election.

The Council (SCW) has also failed at promoting the rights of women. It was deficient in meeting the hope, invested by thousands of women, in the Sharia courts, did not show the necessary support to pass the Personal Status Act, and stopped the media propaganda for that project after the Authorities used it as political bargain with the Shiite opposition. The Council was unable to deliver, at least, one woman candidate out of those sitting for the parliamentary and municipal elections (Eighteen parliamentary candidates and five candidates for municipal councils). This is despite the exorbitant expenditure on training and empowerment programs which reached 13 programs[1], and the media campaign, which has not achieved the desired positive effect in voting because of the reputation of the SCW.

The exorbitant expenditure not lead to any woman to be a member of parliament through the ballot box, however, one female candidate, arranged by the Minister of the Royal Court, reached the parliament uncontested in isles of Hawar, which almost is citizen-free constituency. Such post is not considered true gain of the SCW. In contrary, the SCW took a negative attitude to support Mrs. Muneera Fakhro leaving the scene of the Royal Court to waive her out of considerations in the political process to produce a sectarian balanced parliament, serving the Authorities in outweighing its electoral inside that parliament. This is in order to ensure the largest bloc of loyalists to make the opposition unable to achieve any gains. The Council left Ms. Fakhro alone facing the Royal court despite its knowledge of the Court support to her contender, Dr. Salah Ali.

The Council was decorated with women figures, but they have no effective role or influence on its strategies and operation. Most of them were recruited on the basis of political loyalty and family relations. Some of the council members occupy several positions and responsibilities thereby depriving other women, reduces efficiency and productivity. The facts confirm the lack of independence the SCW, while directly subordinated to the Royal Court. It also shows the sideline stance of the Council in the war waged by the Authorities against the Committee of Women's Petition (CWP), and his responsibility to push the Authorities to introduce complications in declaring the Women's Union (WU) in order to have it contained and making it part of the decor of our nascent democracy.

What has been produced by the SCW is discreditable considering the potential existing capabilities, logistic support, full time employment and allocated huge funds paid to its Secretariat, its members, courses, travel and accommodation expenses.

All of this substantial and open support did not help in making the Council independent of its own decision, as this goal requires a genuine belief in the leadership of the right of woman as human being and citizen. Giving preference to the humanitarian aspects on the posts, rather than political considerations, which has not been comprehended by the Secretariat of the Council, which believes in bring up women through empty posts to give the regional and international community a propaganda impression of the Kingdom. This attitude by the council, unfortunately, is becoming more important than systematic efforts on building modern women familiar with their social, economic and political rights. The CWP also noted that most women attained decision making positions on the basis of tribal or sectarian affiliation or personal allegiance to the Authorities and some members of the Royal court.

Therefore, the CWP considers that, due to its policy over the past era, SCW profoundly failed in building and supporting Bahraini women. The SCW didn’t not adopted scientific approach, based on a specific and chronic course to raise human rights awareness, starting by introducing its various aspects in the curricula. This is in addition to supporting civic societies, especially the women’s, to be able to play its real and full role by amending the Women's Union by-laws, extending its powers and representation of Bahraini women, instead of the containing it and distribution its powers entity subject to the rein of the Authorities and the Royal Court.

The CWP pledges to your Majesty, believing your wise decision, to order the dissolution of the Supreme Council for Women and pave the path for women's organizations, committees and independent women's rights activists to play their role stemming from the woman and addressed to her. You will be seeing the capabilities of those organizations in being creativity and giving.

May God lead your way, guide you on the path of good willing, and safe guard you as protector of our beloved country.

Ghada Jamsheer
Chairwoman of the Committee of Women’s Petition

Attached: Elite of Political and Family Allegiance

First: Appointments of Supreme Council for Women in the period of 2001 to 2004
Second: Female members in Shura and House of Deputies 2002 – 2006
Third: Women in ministerial and governmental senior posts in Bahrain

Elite of Political and Family Allegiance

First: list of Appointments in Supreme Council for Women in the period of 2001 to 2004

*Sheikha Sabika bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa: Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Women (SCW) - Wife of the King.

*Maryam Bint Hassan Al Khalifa: Vice-Chairwoman of the SCW and ex. President of the University of Bahrain (member of the ruling family)

*Lulwa Al-Awadi: The Secretary-General of the SCW, a ministerial rank. President of the of the Government's Institute for political Development. 70 lawyers formed a lawsuit against Al-Awadi for the continuation of practicing law in spite of holding governmental (official) posts. Her half-sister (Suha Flamarzi) Director of her office at the Bureau of SCW.

*Members of the Supreme Council for Women:

*Appointed in 2001 but weren’t reappointed in 2004.

1. Jalila Alsayed (lawyer)
2. Wedad Almaskatai
3. Sabah Al-Moayyed (President Housing Bank-Ministry of Housing)
4. Fatima Al-Baluchi: Appointed a Minister of Social Development, as a result of strengthened relationship between the Authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood in Bahrain.
5. Baheeja Al-Daylami, a headmaster of a public school.
6. Tefla Al-Khalifa (member of Royal family), Writer in Akhbar Alkhaleej, a pro-government newspaper.

*Appointed in 2001 but weren’t reappointed in 2004:

7. Hind Al-Khalifa: Member of ruling family, was a minister assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Labor.
8. Sheikha Hessa bint Khalifa Al-Khalifa: Member of ruling family, niece of the King and wife of his Son Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Governor of the Southern Governorate.
9. Wafeeqah Khalaf: Wife of Ibrahim Humaidan- Head of Constitutional Court and a former minister
10. Aysha Al–Ansari: Wife of Mohammed Jaber Al-Ansari, Advisor to the King for Cultural Affairs
11. Baheyyah Aljeshi: Member of Shura Council for three sessions, aunt of the former President of the Shura Council, Faisal Al Mosawi, and aunt to the wife of Saleh Al- Saleh, current Chairman of the Shura Council
12. Aysha Mattar: Former state school headmaster
13. Dr. Fadheela Al- Mahroos: Pediatric physian
14. Dr. Munira Fakhro: Associate Professor, University of Bahrain (School of Sociology and Social Work)
15. Nada Haffadh: Minister of Health and ex-member of Shura Council

*New members Appointed in 2004:

16. Rabab Al-0rayyed: lawyer working in law office of Lulwa Al-Awadhi (Secretary-General of the SCW)
17. Najmah Janahi: Employee in the Central Bureau of Informatics (Controversial row over its emanation of conspiracy webs)
18. Mariam Al-Ruwaie: Enjoys jointly the presidency of the non-governmental Women Union and the membership of the governmental Supreme Council of Woman.
19. Esmat Al Mosawi: A journalist at Al-Ayyam newspaper

*High Posts at the SCW:

1. Hala Mohammed Jaber Al-Ansari: Daughter of both Mohammed Jaber Al-Ansari, Advisor to the King for Cultural Affairs, and Aysha Al-Ansari, member of the SCW - former Researcher at the Bahrain Center for Studies and Research, appointed at the Council at the capacity of Minister Assistant Undersecretary.

2. Baheeja Al-Daylami: Headmaster of Intermediate school for girls, SCW Board member at the the capacity of Minister Assistant Undersecretary.

3. Najwa Abdel-Rahim: an employee works for the Ministry of Finance, headed by Latifa Al Quood (Deputy won uncontested at the Howar islands constituency), appointed later at the post of Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Finance (resigned from the SCW Board).

4. Dhaweyah Al-Alawi: Minister Assistant Undersecretary at the Council of Strategic Planning.

Second: Members of House of Deputies and Shura Council

Shura Council -2002 session, and were re-appointed again in 2006:

1. Fawzeyya Al-Saleh: Member of the family of former President of the Shura Council, Faisal Al Mosawi as well as cousin of the current Chairman of the Shura Council Saleh Al - Saleh.

2. Alice Samaan (Christian): Close to the Government and has been appointed in all sessions of the Shura Council

3. Baheyyah Aljeshi: Member of SCW, member of the Institute of (the Governmental) Political Development, and member of the Shura Council for three sessions; aunt of the former President of the Shura Council, Faisal Al Mosawi, and aunt to the wife of Saleh Al- Saleh, current Chairman of the Shura Council.

4. Wedad Al-Fadel: In-charge of kindergartens at the Ministry of Education

Shura Council -2006 session, newly appointed:

1. Sameera Rajab: writer at Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper, was appointed after publishing several sectarian and controversial articles defending Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Baath party and attacking Shiite opposition in Bahrain

2. Rabab Al-0rayyed: Lawyer working in law office of Lulwa Al-Awadhi (Secretary-General of the SCW)

3. Aysha Rashid: Working at the Center for Women's Studies, subordinated to the Center of the Child Welfare and Maternity Society

4. Muneera bin Hindi: Sister of Salman bin Hindi, appointed governor of Muharraq.

5. Huda Nono - (Jewish): Member of Bahrain Human Rights Watch, which attracted a big row over its links with a secret governmental web (organization) revealed by Dr. Salah Al -Bandar report, a former adviser to the Bahraini Government.

6. Dalal AL- Zayed: A lawyer and working for the SCW (polishes the image of the Regime and SCW in international events)

*House of Deputies 2006

1. Latifa Al- Quood - intervention of the Minister of the Royal Court to change the nomination by acclamation to win the Hawar islands, which are inhabited by virtually no one. The Ministry of Finance, the pilots get close to the Royal Court.

Third: Women in ministries and high government positions

* Nada Haffadh: Minister of Health (former member of the Shura Council and currently a member of the Supreme Council for Women).

* Fatema Al-Baluchi: Minister of Social Development and member of SCW in the period 2001 – 2004. Lecturer at the University of Bahrain, and also the sister of Bahrain Ambassador in Washington, United States of America, Nasser Al-Baluchi. She is affiliate to the Muslim Brotherhood (participated in the electoral activity of two candidates of the Muslim Brotherhood before the recent elections). * Maryam bint Hassan Al Khalifa: A member of the ruling family, obtained her law certificate by affiliation, was appointed Chairwoman of the University of Bahrain and vice chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Women.

* Muna Al-Kawari: The first judge woman – recent graduate and work at the public prosecution There are those who are more experienced than her. It is thought that her appointment was purely made on basis of tribal affiliation.

* Haya Rashid Al-Khalifa: President of the General Assembly of the United Nations-a lawyer, former Bahrain Ambassador in France, a sister of Khalifa Rashid Al Khalifa , Vice-Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, Chairman of the ex-State Security Court. 70 lawyers formed a lawsuit against her for the continuation of practicing law in spite of holding governmental (official) posts.

*Dhuha Alzayani: First woman judge in the Constitutional Court. She was a legal scholar at the Proceedings Registration Office at the Ministry of Justice. She was appointed a general registrar at the same Ministry in 2003, and is in full cooperation with the Supreme Council for Women

[1] Note: The women empowerment project expenditure reached US$ 660 thousand, primarily for workshops, short courses, seminars and invitation of experts from outside. It did not include salaries of its program coordinator, Maryam Janahi, and the support team

Source: Women's Petition Committee, Bahrain