Response to Foreign Policy - Backpedaling in human rights in Bahrain by Brian Dooley - October 26th 2012
We would like this opportunity to respond to Brian Dooley's latest contribution, "Backpedaling in human rights in Bahrain" (October 26th, 2012), to provide an accurate context to the subject of discussion.
Firstly, we want to establish that Bahrain remains a pioneer and a benchmark in the region in preserving the right to express oneself freely. The country guarantees freedom of the press (Article 24, Bahrain Constitution), with local newspapers like Al Wasat criticizing the Government daily since 2002; 20 political societies voice their anti-Government sentiments on a regular basis (Article 27, Bahrain Constitution); and citizens have vocalized their grievances in 90 authorized marches this year alone (Article 28, Bahrain Constitution). This evidence proves citizens are protected by the law and the Government has far exceeded the standards of the region. To compare Bahrain's understanding of this human right to Lance Armstrong's doping scandal is clearly a misrepresentation and a conclusion derived from a lack of research.
Secondly, freedom of expression cannot be exercised in a vacuum by neglecting the rights of others. Although Bahrain continues to have a very active social media environment, it is important the international community does not disregard the platform for its influential power in this volatile environment. We have witnessed how the abuse of social media has incited hatred and instigated violence resulting in targeted attacks against police officers, harm against community members, and destruction of public and private property. Moreover, the defamation of members of society and fostering a culture of sectarianism has consequently widened the social divide and strays from the path to reconciliation. This is intolerable for any society, and strongly goes against Middle Eastern culture & the Islamic values of the region. The author should understand that the platform must be used as a catalyst for positive change at a time when it is most needed.
The constitutional evidence provided above, the establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, and the historic constitutional changes enforced in August 2012 granting further scrutiny of the Government, all illustrate that the Kingdom does not reject constructive criticism but welcomes it. These are signs of tangible reform, and not a public relations stunt as the author claims.
There is no intention to deny citizens their right to express themselves freely, but the Governments duty is to ensure the mode the right is expressed in is not a breach of the right itself. The author belittles pro-government views as "trolls", but it is unfair to dismiss the argument of a significant segment of the population because it fails to agree with his.
Human rights activists are often veiled by the pre-conceived expectations of their cause, overlooking the on-ground realities and attacking the country in question with catch-phrases like 'freedom of expression' rather than assessing the cause and reasoning behind official statements.
We urge you to publish this letter to provide a more accurate depiction of the situation, and an opportunity for a constructive debate.