Since the pro-democracy Pearl Uprising in 2011, it has been illegal for independent civil society organizations (CSOs) in Bahrain to receive funding from foreign sources. Should the government discover that a CSO has received funding from overseas, the CSO will be dissolved and its employees are likely to be harassed and/or detained by the government. Funding from sources within Bahrain is subject to stringent reporting protocols, requiring CSOs to gain approval from the Ministry of Social Affairs before receiving or using funding. In addition, CSOs in Bahrain must register with the Ministry. According to civil society activists, registration requirements are prohibitively difficult to comply with, and most applications for registration are rejected or ignored.
Civil society activists believe that the government assumes CSOs expressing concern with the government’s human rights record to be enemies of the state. CSOs are frequently accused of aligning with either the West or Iran, exacerbating sectarian divisions, and promote terrorism. Subsequently, the government uses vaguely worded anti-terrorism laws – such as the Anti-Money Laundering & Combating the Financing of Terrorism – to suppress CSOs’ right to register and receive funding.
The government regularly intervenes in the affairs of civil society. For example, a government representative must be present at all general assembly meetings conducted by CSOs. These representatives often report to the government that CSO assemblies fail to meet standards set by the Ministry of Social Affairs and orders offending CSOs to be shut down. This is particularly common with CSOs that are critical of the government.
Bahraini CSOs have encouraged international agencies to pressure the government to reform restrictive laws and policies, and to respect the right of associations to receive funding and operate without interference or intimidation. Thus far, they have found the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN’s Special Rapporteurs, to be particularly helpful. Bahraini activists regularly convene side events at HRC assemblies in Geneva to inform the global community about barriers to funding and other challenges they face. CSOs have also sought support from foreign governments and their embassies; international donors supporting independent programs in Bahrain; and international NGOs, which often have experience working in restrictive contests. To build a case against the Bahraini regime’s suppression of CSOs, activists have referenced documents that enshrine fundamental rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Human Rights Committee, Communication No. 1274/2004.
International treaties to which Bahrain is a party: