Bahrain: Give the Right to Public Assembly Back to Citizens

Target: Bahraini Interior Minister Lt. General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifah

Goal: Reinstate the right to public assembly

As anti-government protestors and police forces continue to clash, the government of Bahrain has decided to outlaw all public protests, demonstrations, and assemblies. The last few years have seen quite a bit of civil unrest, which has occasionally turned violent, in Bahrain. This ban on public assembly is the latest and harshest measure taken by the government since it declared martial law a year ago.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is officially Sunni Muslim (the religion of the royal family). However, some 70 percent of the nation’s more than half million citizens are Shia, and have been fighting hard for their voices to be heard and for greater political power. Sunni leaders have been somewhat receptive to Shia pleas, granting greater power to the popularly elected parliament. However, in spite of this concession, Shias claim that they are still the targets of ongoing systematic discrimination by the Sunni government.

Bahrain’s Interior Minister, Lt. General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifah, claimed that the ban on public assembly is in reaction to abuse of freedom of speech. In a democracy there is no “abuse” of free speech unless it is genuinely meant to cause harm. That is not the case in Bahrain; people simply want their voices heard and their rights recognized. If Bahrain wants to take any steps towards becoming a more democratic nation then it must learn that the population’s rights cannot be infringed upon. To fight the violence in the streets, Bahraini rulers must make some democratic concessions, not further quell democracy.

Of course no government will tolerate violence in the streets, but the people of Bahrain have the right to a democratic society. They have the right to have a say in how the country is run and to have their voices heard. Tell the leaders of Bahrain that in order to achieve peace and democracy, they must give the right to public assembly back to the citizens.


Dear Lt. General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifah,

I am sorry to hear about the ongoing strife in your country. It is certainly a tricky thing to deal with and difficult to manage. However, your decision to suspend the people’s ability to publicly gather and protest is not the way to go about handling the problem. It violates the basic rights of your people and makes Bahrain’s domestic politics even more precarious.

This decision will only serve to further anger and incite Bahraini citizens. Your people want to move closer to democracy, to have their voices heard and to be given an equal footing in politics. By taking away their civil rights you move them farther away from this goal and move your country farther away from democracy. The majority of the protestors are Shia Muslims, the very same people who make up the majority of your country’s population. Do you not think that their voices should be heard? You have said that your people have abused their right to free speech, yet there has been no abuse of free speech. Your people have not used it maliciously, or to cause harm. They have simply clamored for the rights which so many others across the world enjoy.

When you take away someone’s rights, you only compel them to fight harder, to take more drastic steps towards their end goal. The requests of the protestors are reasonable— an equal standing in society, the rights that humans are entitled to, and to eventually move Bahrain towards democracy. The simplest way to do that is to grant your people their civil rights. Doing the opposite will only perpetuate violence. Please, Lt. General, reinstate Bahrainis right to public assembly.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Al Jazeera English via flickr

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