SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Depending on the contexts, freedom has different meanings and the limits of freedom are different with the difference of its meanings:
1- Freedom in the sense of existential independence, something exclusive to an absolute being and to God, the Exalted who is not constrained by anything.
2- Freedom in the sense of free will which is a philosophical and theological concept. That is, man is free and he acts of his free will although he might be bound by some legal and religious limits.
3- Legal freedom (freedom to choose a residence, clothing, job, wife and freedom of expression and belief etc.) which according to Islam and Shi’ism is limited to the observance of man’s material and spiritual interests.
Civil or social freedom discussed in politics can have something to do with our discussion in this article. The focal question in regards to social freedom is: How far can a state or the law constrain individual freedoms?
The answer to this question is that according to the political thought of Islam, neither excessive freedom, which leads to evil and destruction, is prescribed nor is man forced to accept any kind of unjust and oppressive government that may destroy his dignity and make an inert and yielding individual out of an active, responsible and free one.
Nothing is as valuable to man’s God-gifted nature as autonomy and freedom; if a man is made to live in a place under restriction and all the bounties and pleasures of the world are made available for him, he will not be satisfied and he will keep yearning for freedom because nothing is so important to him as freedom.
One of the important reasons why the human society continues to revere and respect the names of the divine prophets lies in the fact that on the one hand man always needs freedom as this is his natural and intrinsic right and on the other hand the divine prophets were the first people to defend this great human right i.e. freedom. They made efforts towards introducing and actualizing it, and the teachings they brought down consist of some of the best principles guaranteeing mankind’s freedom. It is for the same reason that the prophets continue to live in memories but the names of men who invented devices and machines, though they helped serve people’s needs, are gradually wiped out from the memories because with each passing day newer and more advanced technologies are coming. For example, today no one ever reveres or mentions the name of the inventor of glass who lived in Pharaoh’s time in Egypt. In any case, freedom is man’s essential right and it is a need embedded in his very nature.
When it comes to the right of freedom, it should be noted that “freedom” is a word having many meanings and implications in different contexts. Someone may use the word and intend knowingly or unknowingly a different meaning. In order for us not to fall into a fallacy concerning the concept of freedom, it would be necessary to get acquainted with its different meanings:
A) Freedom in the sense of “existential independence”:
One of the meanings of freedom is being completely independent and free from the effect and influence of another being. For example, those who do not believe in God say: "The universe is not dependent upon anything, it is self-existent and self-subsistent" or those who believe in God say that God left the world to run on its own after creation. They subscribe to such a freedom for mankind but according to Islam this kind of freedom is prerogative of God, the Exalted, and it is only God Who is not constrained by anything; He is independent and needless whereas other beings are entirely dependent upon and needy of Him.
B) Freedom in the sense of "free-will":
The other meaning of freedom relates to the metaphysical, theological and philosophical domain and also to philosophical psychology. Freedom is opposed to determinism or fatalism. The discussion concerning determinism and freedom is one of the oldest theological issues that have been raised in all intellectual and religious schools. There exist three major approaches concerning predetermination and freedom:
1. Predetermination: Those subscribing to this theory says that men do not have the least freedom of choice and man is just like a conscious tool in the hand of the master and whatever that happens in this world, originates in God’s will.
2. Absolute discretion and designation: Proponents of this theory say that God created man and equipped him with brain and nerves and relegated the management of his tasks to him. Therefore, neither God has any effect on man’s actions and conducts nor divine decree has any impact.
3. Freedom or al-Amr bayn al-Amrayn (intermediate position): The median approach has been adopted by Shiites. The Shiites have, with reliance on teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt, proved that the middle way is the correct way. That is to say, man is the builder of his own destiny and he exercises free choice in his acts and conducts, albeit with God’s will and the effect of divine decree. In other words, man’s actions are not generated or created completely by him and that there are two “wills” that work and leave their impacts; they are the wills of God and man and that insofar as these two “will powers” do not work, no action shall take place.
Indeed, these two wills are not latitudinal; that is, there are not two independent causes for one effect. Rather they are longitudinal in the sense that every being depends on God and the power of every powerful being comes from Him. In the same way, a free being’s will and power originate in God’s will and power.
The simple reason for this theory is God’s unity in creation and unity in lordship and the absoluteness of His will and power towards everything and also divine justice. Moreover, public conscience and general nature testifies to man’s free will and power.
The point that has to be noted is that freedom in this discussion is meant for creational freedom which indicates an objective reality. Therefore, we cannot conclude legal and value freedom from this discussion as we might end up falling into an oral fallacy.
C) Freedom in the sense of “detachment”:
A third meaning of freedom is a concept often used in ethics and mysticism. That is, man should not be fond of the world and worldly or ungodly pleasures. His love and attachment should be solely for God, the Exalted and if he loves someone or something, it should be for God’s sake and because he or it is a reflection of divine beauty.
This meaning of freedom which is a value-laden meaning is desirable in an absolute way. That is to say, if a man is free of love and attachment to everything and everybody even God, it is an anti-value and it is where a mistake or a fallacy might occur.
D) Freedom versus slavery which is a social concept:
In old times, people used to buy and sell slaves. Some people owned other people as slaves whom they made to work and of course there were some people who were free and not the slaves other people.
Following the advent of Islam, basic and real actions and strategies were offered by Islam which we do not mention here for the sake of brevity and we request the readers to refer to special books in this regard.
E) Freedom in legal and political terms (the right of sovereignty):
A free man is a man who is not under the rule and authority of another person and who himself chooses his way and manner of living. There are two approaches in this regard:
According to one of the approaches, man should be absolutely free and should not accept the authority of anyone, even God. A second belief which is the belief of Shiites is: Man should not be under the authority of another person not that he should be free even of God’s authority. That is to say, rulership belongs basically to God and He can grant it a human being. The simplest reason is that God, the Exalted, has created our physical and material being and He has blown His spirit into us. In addition, He has granted us innumerable bounties such as weather, water, food, limbs, power of thinking and anything that has to do with man’s life. God cannot be dispossessed of the ownership of these material and spiritual bounties. Now that He is the Owner and we are His servants, based on the rational statement that “an owner has discretion over his property and that he can handle it in any manner he wants”, God has the right of discretion over us and we must be submissive and obedient to Him.
Additionally, no one other than the Creator knows more about us, our needs and existential efficiencies and no one knows as much as He knows the ways and methods of reaching perfection. Therefore, God alone wants us to be perfect and He knows the way through which we can attain perfections. Hence, if we are seeking our interest, we must follow the way and method which God has chosen for us and we accept His sovereignty and surrender to it.
F) Legal freedom:
Legal freedom means man’s freedom to do certain actions in his social life and that the state or government does not have the right to forbid it or persecute him for doing it. These actions include the right to choose a place for residence, job, wife, freedom of expression and belief …
There is no discussion as to the fact that these rights and freedoms are not absolute and that they should be limited. There is no legal system in any part of the world that may have given absolute freedom to individuals. Basically, legislating and preparing a legal system are aimed at putting a limit on man’s actions. The discussion is actually about the extent of freedom.
Now-a-days, it is often said that the extent of freedom, is others’ freedom. That is, man is free to adopt any behaviors provided that they do not violate the rights of other individuals of the society. The liberalist tendency in law is of such a view. However, if we want to examine this issue from Islam’s perspective, the answer is that determining the limit and extent of freedom is done on the basis of human beings’ material and spiritual interests. That is to say, the principal condition of freedom in adopting and choosing a behavior is that it should procure man’s material and spiritual needs. This is like freedom given to a food producer or a drug producer since he can produce any kind of foodstuffs or medicine except for those things that are harmful to the health. If it is likely that the food or medicine produced by him contains some toxic or dangerous material, his productions will be banned. Here no one speaks about the freedom of trade and business nor does anyone say that this prohibition violates human rights. Conclusively, what concerns them are the harms that affect the body. As for Islam, not only does it prohibit physical harm but it also forbids psychological and spiritual harms.
The concluding point is that the discussion concerning civil or social freedom which is dealt with in political studies can be presented here and the main question concerning social freedom is: How far can the state or law constrain individual freedom?
The answer is that according to Islam, although man possesses a divine nature which guides him towards the good and spiritualities, he also has a material nature which is the source of animalistic desires in him. Man attains prosperity, if he overcomes and controls his nature. Indeed, the nature should also gain the share which it deserves.
On the other hand, legislation and determination of man’s worldly path should be with divine guidance and in the light of revelation because God alone knows what is in our best interest and what is in our disadvantage.
Keeping in view the above, according to Islam’s political thought neither excessive freedom which causes evil and destruction is prescribed nor is man forced to accept an unjust government which violates all his dignity and make an inert and yielding individual out of an active, responsible and empowered one.
Sources used in preparing this article:
1. Mesbah Yazdi, Muhammad Taqi, Islam’s Legal Theory, p.303-400
2. Sha’rani, Abul Hasan, The Path of Prosperity, P.97 and 98
3. Qaemi, Asghar, The Principles of Beliefs, p.78-84
4. Hadavi Tehrani, Mahdi, Wilayat (guardianship) and Religiosity, p.131, 134
 - In this regard, see: Man and Free will, question 51 (site: 287).
 - In this regard see the category: Islam, Determinism and Free Will, Question 130 (site: 1237).
 - Majority or the entire Sunni community advocates this theory.
 - Proponents of this theory were a group of Sunnis called Mu’tazilites who have perished.
 - In this regard see category: al-Amr bayn al-Amrayn, Question: 58 (site: 294).
 - In this regard see: Religion and Freedom, question 74 (site: 317).
 - Slavery in a different form still exists in the modern world.
 - Rulership of this kind manifests itself in Islam’s governmental system (governance of the jurist). In this regard see category: Wilayat-e Faqih (governance of the jurist) and Freedom.
 - The discussion concerning freedom in a legal system does not relate only to men’s individual and private lives so that it may be limited or restricted; rather it relates to matters in social life.
 - In this regard, see category: Freedom of Belief and Execution of an Apostate in Islam, question 53; Also: The Criterion and Limit of Freedom of Expression, question 92 (site: 1765).
 - In this regard see category: Religion and Freedom, question 74 (site: 317).
 - In natural devotion to the truth (following) the nature caused by God in which He hath made the people. [al-Room:30]
 - Hadavi Tehrani, Mahdi, Wilayat (guardianship) and Religiosity, p.133, 134.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The late activist and coder Aaron Swartz will be posthumously honored Friday, when his family will receive the Freedom of Information award in a ceremony at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center in Washington, D.C.
Democratic California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who won last year, will present the award, which is officially named the James Madison Award and administered by the American Library Association. Lofgren has been one of Swartz's most vocal supporters in D.C., criticizing the prosecution that accused him of computer crimes and proposing a bill named "Aaron's Law" to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was levied against him.
Swartz, who committed suicide earlier this year, will be rewarded for his work and activism to protect and promote public access to government information and documents. At the time of his death, he was facing 13 counts for crimes related to downloading millions of documents from academic articles online database JSTOR.
His supporters and family have called his prosecution unjust and overzealous. Prosecutors admitted that Swartz's activism allegedly played a role in it.
You can watch the ceremony at Washingtons Newseum or online, at this link. The event will start tomorrow at 8.30 a.m. EST.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)-
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – That religion must not be imposed on the individual and that people must be free in their choice of religion is one thing. That belief, however, in the current phraseology, must be free, is quite another. In other words, whereas freedom of thought and choice is one thing, freedom of belief is quite another. Many beliefs have "thought" for a foundation, meaning that many beliefs have been discerned and found to be true and have been freely chosen. The alignment and commitment of an individual's heart to his beliefs in many cases is built on discernment and selection, but are all human beliefs built on thought, discernment and selection? Or are the majority of mankind's beliefs no more than alignments and commitments of the human soul that have not the slightest relationship to thought at all, that have a mere sentimental basis? An example the Quran cites on the subject of imitation by one generation of the previous generation is:
"Verily we found our fathers on their creed and verily we are followers of their footsteps." (43:23)
The Quran puts great stress on this point, and the same applies to a belief that is formed by the imitation of the patricians of society. In such places, the phrase freedom of belief is completely without meaning, for freedom means the absence of obstacles to the activities of an active and advancing force, whereas this type of belief is a kind of constriction and stagnation.
Freedom in constriction is equal to the freedom of a prisoner condemned to eternal imprisonment, or of a man chained in heavy chains, and the only difference is that he who is physically enchained senses his condition, while he whose spirit is in chains is unaware of it. This is what we mean when we say that freedom of belief based on imitation and environmental influences, rather than on freedom of thought, is totally meaningless.
Adapted from the book: "Jihad; The Holy War of Islam and Its Legitimacy in the Quran" by: "Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari"
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange believes winning a seat in the Australian Senate would force the US and others pursuing him to back down, securing his safe passage out of the UK following his 8-month confinement at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
The September 14 elections in Australia could provide a platform for a man once described by Vice President Joe Biden as a “high-tech terrorist,” by raising the political stakes for those seeking his extradition, Assange explained in a recent interview with Australian website the Conversation.
By winning a seat in Australia’s upper house, “the US Department of Justice won’t want to spark an international diplomatic row,” Assange was quoted as saying.
“It will drop its grand jury espionage investigation. The Cameron government will follow suit,” he continued, adding that “the political costs of the current standoff will be higher still” if UK authorities insist on blocking his safe passage out of the country.
In January, Assange submitted his application to the Australian Electoral Commission, paving the way for his 2013 senatorial bid in the state of Victoria. Senate nominations are likely to close on August 22, and the six-year term of office would commence on July 1, 2014.
Australians living abroad can enroll to vote and run for Senate if they have left Australia within the past three years, and intend to return within six years of their date of departure. Assange said the last time he visited Australia was in June 2010.
Assange was dismissive of technical objections to his candidacy, and refuted claims that he was a traitor to his country, or that he had violated section 44 of the Australian constitution by being under the “acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power.”
He is also optimistic that regardless of the immediacy of his release, a rule stipulating that he take up his senate seat within two months would not necessarily cripple his chances: “In that case [of not being released on time], the Senate could vote to evict me. But that would trigger a big political row. Australians probably wouldn’t swallow it.”
The landslide second re-election of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Sunday plays into his strategy, as it will intensify pressure on Swedish authorities whose case against him is “falling apart,” Assange said. “The Swedish government should drop the case. But that requires them to make their own thorough investigation of how and why their system failed.”
Following his victory on Sunday, Correa, who characterized the current standoff over Assange as a problem of “neocolonialism” and not asylum, said a diplomatic solution “must be found… as quickly as possible.”
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since June, after claiming asylum in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sexual assault allegations. British authorities have vowed to detain him if he steps foot outside of the embassy in light of the European Arrest Warrant issued against him.
If handed over to Swedish authorities, Assange fears he will be re-extradited to the United States to be questioned over the WikiLeaks release of thousands of US diplomatic cables.
Assange’s political hopes are married to the new WikiLeaks Party, which he plans to register soon with a 10-member national council. He believes that the party would easily clear the hurdle of attracting the minimum of 500 dues-paying members required to be registered in Australia.
When asked what the WikiLeaks Party would entail, he stressed that “maximum inclusiveness” would be key.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Mercenaries of Bahraini police backed with Saudi troops , invaded village of Nabih Saleh close to capital Manama , the used toxic gas and shotgun for peaceful protesters demanding freedom and democracy .
Source : Shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA(Shia International News Association)-- In February 2011, peaceful protesters launched a campaign calling for democratic political reform. The authorities responded with violence and repression, killing more than 50 people over the course of the year and wounding thousands. King Hamad imposed martial law from mid-March through June. In that time, security forces arrested hundreds of demonstrators and subjected many of them to torture. Journalists, bloggers, students, high-profile human rights and political activists, and medical personnel who treated wounded protesters all faced detention, and in many cases lengthy prison sentences. In addition, several thousand workers were fired for supporting the protest movement. Bahrain’s main opposition political society, Al-Wefaq, withdrew its 18 members from the parliament over the crackdown, and boycotted interim elections that were held in September to fill the empty seats. In November, a government-appointed commission found that Bahraini security forces used excessive force in repressing the protest movement and that, in spite of government claims to the contrary, there were no connections between Iran and the uprising. The BICI report offered a number of recommendations to resolve the country’s political impasse, none of which had been implemented by year’s end.
The al-Khalifa family, which belongs to Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim minority, has ruled the Shiite-majority country for more than two centuries. Bahrain gained independence in 1971 after more than a hundred years as a British protectorate. The first constitution provided for a legislative assembly with both elected and appointed members, but the monarch dissolved the body in 1975 for attempting to end al-Khalifa rule.
In 1994, prominent individuals who had petitioned for the reestablishment of democratic institutions were detained, sparking unrest that left more than 40 people dead, thousands arrested, and hundreds either imprisoned or exiled.
After Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa ascended to the throne in 1999, he released political prisoners, permitted the return of exiles, and eliminated emergency laws and courts. He also introduced the National Charter, which aimed to create a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, an independent judicial branch, and rights guaranteeing women’s political participation.
Voters approved the National Charter in 2001, and the country was proclaimed a constitutional kingdom the following year. However, leading Shiite groups and leftists boycotted local and parliamentary elections in 2002 to protest campaigning restrictions and gerrymandering aimed at diminishing the power of the Shiite majority. The government barred international organizations from monitoring the elections, and Sunni groups won most of the seats in the new National Assembly.
Shiite groups that boycotted the 2002 voting took part in the next elections in 2006. Al-Wefaq, a Shiite political society, won 42 percent of the vote and 17 of the 40 seats in the Council of Representatives, the lower house of the National Assembly.
Beginning in 2007, security forces carried out an escalating crackdown on the government’s most outspoken critics. Tensions increased after the January 2009 arrest of Hassan Mushaima, Abduljalil al-Singace, and Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad, three leaders of the opposition political association Haq. Protests and cycles of arrests became more frequent in 2010, and human rights organizations in Bahrain documented the use of torture against detainees.
In elections for the Council of Representatives in October 2010, Al-Wefaq won 18 seats. A combination of 17 independents and 5 Islamists—all Sunnis and supporters of the ruling family—captured the remaining 22 seats. As in 2002 and 2006, critics accused the government of accelerating the naturalization of foreign workers and non-Bahraini Arabs to boost the number of Sunni voters.
In February 2011, Bahraini activists, mostly from economically depressed Shiite communities, organized local demonstrations that called for accelerated political reform and an end to sectarian discrimination. The small groups that initially took to the streets were met with police violence. The brutal response galvanized support for the protest movement, and tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on one of Manama’s most visible public spaces, the Pearl Roundabout. Military and security forces cleared the roundabout in a violent nighttime raid on February 17, establishing what would become a pattern of harsh repercussions for those who publicly challenged the regime. In March, after hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis demonstrated in various parts of Manama, the government declared martial law and summoned military and security forces from regional allies including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to backstop a prolonged crackdown that aimed to clear the streets and collectively punish the Shiite community.
In the subsequent months, the authorities arrested hundreds of activists and prodemocracy demonstrators. Many were subjected to systematic torture and tried in secret by military courts. High-profile activists including Mushaima, Singace, Ibrahim Sharif, and human rights activist Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja were sentenced to life in prison. The arrests also extended to journalists and bloggers who reported on the crackdown, and medical personnel who treated injured protesters. Thousands of people were fired from their jobs for supporting the uprising, and hundreds of students were dismissed from the University of Bahrain. Those who remained were forced to sign loyalty pledges.
The government lifted martial law in June but maintained a heavy security presence in primarily Shiite villages. Security forces restricted the movements of Shiite citizens, periodically destroyed property, and continued to arrest regime critics and activists. In late June, King Hamad appointed a Bahrain Commission of Inquiry (BICI) headed by Egyptian legal scholar Cherif Bassiouni to investigate claims of torture and human rights abuses committed during the crackdown. The commission published its report in late November and found that state security forces had used excessive force in crushing the protest movement in the spring. The Commission also concluded that there was no evidence that Iran or other foreign forces were behind the uprising, contradicting a key government claim. The report recommended that the government reinstate sacked workers, release political prisoners, and hold members of the security forces who broke the law accountable. In December, the Bahraini regime appointed a committee to investigate the report’s findings and replaced the head of its National Security Agency, but had not acted on any of the main recommendations by year’s end.
POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES:
Bahrain is not an electoral democracy. The 2002 constitution gives the king power over the executive, legislative, and judicial authorities. He appoints cabinet ministers and members of the 40-seat Consultative Council, the upper house of the National Assembly. The lower house, or Council of Representatives, consists of 40 elected members serving four-year terms. The National Assembly may propose legislation, but the cabinet must draft the laws. Bahrain’s main opposition party, Al-Wefaq, withdrew its 18 members from the Council of Representatives in February to protest the government’s crackdown. The opposition then boycotted interim elections that were held in September to fill the seats, with the result that all 40 seats are now held by government supporters. A source of frustration for many Bahrainis is the perception that Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the prime minister since 1971, is both corrupt and a key opponent of reform.
While formal political parties are illegal, the government has generally allowed political societies or groupings to operate. A 2005 law makes it illegal to form political associations based on class, profession, or religion, and requires all political associations to register with the Ministry of Justice. While the government claimed that political societies remained free to operate in 2011, it imprisoned key opposition leaders, including Hassan Mushaima (Haq), Ibrahim Sharif (Democratic Action Society), Abduljalil al-Singace (Haq), Matar Ibrahim Matar (Al-Wefaq), and Jawad Fairuz (Al-Wefaq). Mushaima, Sharif, and Singace were sentenced to life in prison for their activism.
Bahrain has some anticorruption laws, but enforcement is weak, and high-ranking officials suspected of corruption are rarely punished. Bahrain was ranked 46 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Restrictions on freedom of expression intensified in 2011, as several dozen journalists, bloggers, and users of the Twitter microblogging service were imprisoned for their responses to the prodemocracy uprising and regime crackdown. Mansour al-Jamri, former editor of the popular newspaper Al-Wasat, was charged with falsifying reporting at his paper; other Al-Wasat journalists were forced to sign pledges restricting their future commentary. The government owns all broadcast media outlets, and the private owners of the three main newspapers have close ties to the government. The government and its supporters have used the press to smear human rights and opposition activists. Self-censorship is encouraged by the vaguely worded 2002 Press Law, which allows the state to imprison journalists for criticizing the king or Islam, or for threatening “national security.” The prominent blogger Ali Abdulemam, a regular contributor to the popular opposition web forum Bahrain Online, was released February 2011 along with two dozen other activists who had been charged with terrorism offenses in 2010. However, he was rearrested later that month and sentenced by a military court to 15 years in prison in June for plotting to overthrow the regime. The government blocked a number of opposition websites in 2011, including those that broadcast live events, such as protests.
Islam is the state religion. However, non-Muslim minorities are generally free to practice their faiths. All religious groups must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs to operate legally, though the government has not punished groups that operate without a permit. In 2010, amid the crackdown on Shiite activists, the government stripped Ayatollah Hussein Mirza Najati, one of the country’s top Shiite clerics, of his Bahraini nationality. In the course of the regime’s crackdown in spring 2011, police and military forces destroyed over 40 Shiite places of worship, including mosques, religious centers, and shrines.
Academic freedom is not formally restricted, but teachers and professors in past years tended to avoid politically sensitive issues, as scholars who criticize the government are subject to dismissal. Criticism on university campuses became much more heated in 2011, when protests spread from Manama to universities across Bahrain in February and March. Along with a number of faculty and administrators who were fired for supporting the call for democracy, hundreds of university students were also expelled. Those who remained enrolled were forced to sign loyalty pledges.
Citizens must obtain a license to hold demonstrations, which are banned from sunrise to sunset in any public arena. Police regularly use violence to break up political protests, most of which occur in Shiite villages. The 1989 Societies Law prohibits any nongovernmental organization (NGO) from operating without a permit. In 2010, the government dissolved the board of directors of the Bahrain Human Rights Society, an independent NGO, and assigned a government-appointed director to run the organization. Security forces harassed prominent members of Bahraini NGOs, including Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, throughout 2011. The government also prevented foreign NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and others, from entering the country to carry out investigations during the year.
Bahrainis have the right to establish independent labor unions, but workers must give two weeks’ notice before a strike, and strikes are banned in a variety of economic sectors. Private-sector employees cannot be dismissed for union activities, but harassment of unionist workers occurs in practice. Foreign workers are not protected by the labor law and lack the right to organize and seek help from Bahraini unions. A 2009 decision that shifted responsibility for sponsoring foreign workers from private employers to the Labor Market Regulatory Authority did not apply to household servants, who remain particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Among the several thousand people known to have been fired in 2011 for allegedly supporting the prodemocracy protests were key officials in the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions.
The king appoints all judges, and courts have been subject to government pressure. Members of the royal family hold all senior security-related offices. Bahrain’s antiterrorism law prescribes the death penalty for members of terrorist groups and prison terms for those who use religion to spread extremism. Critics have argued that the law’s definition of terrorist crimes is too broad and that it has encouraged the use of torture and arbitrary detention.
Shiites are underrepresented in government and face various forms of discrimination. Fears of Shiite power and suspicions about their loyalties have limited employment opportunities for young Shiite men and fueled government attempts to erode the Shiite majority, mostly by granting citizenship to foreign-born Sunnis. While most of those who protested against the regime in 2011 called primarily for a democratic overhaul of the political system, many were Shiites motivated by a shared sense of persecution. Although the uprising was not initially based on sectarian resentment, Shiite-Sunni tensions deepened over the course of the year because of the government’s heavy-handed response and its attempts to frame the uprising as driven by sectarian sentiment.
As part of its crackdown in 2011, the government restricted the ability of key figures to travel outside of Bahrain. From March through November, few members of the opposition or those who supported the uprising were able to travel abroad. Authorities also restricted movement inside the country; those most affected were Shiite residents in the villages outside Manama. In order to prevent any attempt to stage rallies in the capital, security forces imposed a tight security cordon that prevented easy access to the city.
Although women have the right to vote and participate in elections, they are underrepresented politically. While they are often partners in family decision-making, women are generally not afforded equal protection under the law. The government drafted a personal status law in 2008 but withdrew it in February 2009 under pressure from the country’s Shiite clergy; the Sunni portion was resubmitted and passed by the parliament. Personal status and family law issues for Shiite Bahrainis are consequently still governed by Sharia (Islamic law) court rulings based on the interpretations of predominantly male religious scholars, rather than by any formal statute.
Bahrain’s civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6 due to the government’s brutal response to the February 14 popular democracy movement, the imprisonment and torture of protesters, a clampdown on critical media, and the use of military trials for civilian activists.
Source : Freedom House
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – They smuggled ammunition to the rebels. They treated the wounded and were wounded themselves. They rose up against the tanks, tear gas and water cannons, and were beaten for protesting in Tahrir Square, Freedom Square and on the streets of Libya and Tunisia. In Syria this week, the wedding-dress clad “Brides of Peace” were thrown in jail for staging a march.
The women of the Arab Spring have fought hard alongside their husbands, brothers, sons and fathers as dictators such as Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were overthrown; victories were celebrated, new flags were flown.
But the sisters of the Arab Spring are still waiting on their revolution — still taking to the streets, still standing up in legislatures, still banding together in their communities — waiting, pushing and hoping they, too, will emerge freer than ever.
With three Arab Spring countries slated to revamp their constitutions wholesale, the future of women in North Africa and the Middle East is teetering on the precipice — at a crossroads like no other time since the uprisings erupted in 2010.
“Women still have to fight for their rights because for them, the revolution is not over yet,” said Heide Gottner, who works with Amica, a Germanybased women’s organization with field workers in Libya and the West Bank.
“Women fought for and demanded their rights. Now we see that they’re sort of the losers of the revolution.”
Nowhere is that more true than in Egypt, at least so far.
Just this week, the country’s assembly approved a draft constitution that was widely condemned for not only failing to advance women’s rights, but actually rolling them back.
An earlier draft explicitly listed “sex” as one of the grounds for prohibiting discrimination but that article was removed. The latest version also declares Sharia law as the “fundamental rules of jurisprudence,” which could see women lose the right to sue for divorce, a freedom championed by the deposed first lady, Suzanne Mubarak.
Ms. Mubarak had also pushed for a political quota system favouring female candidates, but since her husband’s ouster and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, that provision was axed.
“I was hoping the Arab Spring would produce a lot more for women,” said Samer Muscati, a researcher in the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch who monitored Libya’s July elections.
“I guess we’ll have to see what happens, but at this point, there’s no concrete evidence that women are really better off in the Middle East because of the Arab Spring.”
For one Franco-Libyan activist, that is more a clarion call than a concession of defeat. The woman, who was reached by the National Post in Tripoli and asked not to be named for security reasons, said female revolutionaries are battling on.
The fight might not be on the streets of Benghazi or Misurata as it was at the outset, but she — like many others — is working behind closed doors in village communities where, for example, women are secretly getting counseling for wartime rapes.
“There is hope, yes, but they know that now is the time to fight,” said Ms. Gottner’s colleague, Christina Hering, in a telephone interview from a Tripoli hotel alongside the Franco-Libyan.
“Everything is transitioning. The government is new and the constitution will be written anew. They understand they have to fight. They don’t know if they will succeed, but they’re strong and will give it their all.”
Certainly, there have been some headline-grabbing gains in the region: A Syrian woman, Dana Bakdounis, pictured, unveiled herself on a Facebook page devoted to the rise of women in Arab countries; a Yemeni woman, Tawakkul Karman, was named the first Arab Nobel Peace Prize winner; Libya’s governing transition council required parties to field equal numbers of men and women, and women there campaigned at night — without male supervision; Saudi Arabia, apparently infected by the Arab Spring movement, sent female athletes to the Olympics and Saudi women are actively fighting for their right to drive.
But for every step forward, it seems there has been a leap back. In Libya’s first election in four decades, women captured 17% of the seats — on a par with female representation in the United States — thanks, in part, to strict gender quota requirements. But the percentage of women in Egypt’s new parliament has fallen from 12% to less than 2%.
Libyan rebels are saving women from social death by marrying those who were raped and discarded by their families as a disgrace, but last month a Tunisian woman was accused of violating modesty laws after she says she was raped by police. Amica has opened three women’s centres in Libya to train women in English and computer skills, but psychological counseling takes place behind closed doors because it is taboo for a woman to discuss wartime sexual assaults.
Indeed, the direction of women’s rights postArab Spring is still incredibly, and daunting ly , fluid. As extremist and secularist constitution-writers wrestle for the pen in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, will women find themselves more or less free? More or less protected from discrimination? More or less “equal” in the eyes, at least, of the law of those three lands?
“The drafting of the constitution provides an acute moment where these things actually get written down,” said Isobel Coleman, director of the women and foreign policy program at New York’s Council on Foreign Relations.
“There will be many such moments — this is going to be a very long process ... These are very realtime debates going on in all of these societies.”
In Tunisia, Mabrouka M’barek is at the centre of it. As an elected member of the country’s National Constituent Assembly, she is one of the self-described “founding mothers” working to redraft the constitution. Unlike Egypt or Libya, Tunisia already has a strong and active civil society, including a forceful women’s rights movement.
So when some Tunisian lawmakers recently suggested women should be described in the constitution as “complementary” to men, people took to the streets and the constitution is now slated to use the word “equal” instead.
“Right in the [draft] preamble of the new constitution, we wrote that citizens — men and women — are equal in rights and duties,” said Ms. M’barek, reached by phone this week at the Tunisian assembly. “I don’t think you can beat that. It’s an incredible statement.... It’s still a draft, but pretty much everyone agrees.”
The assembly created a new women’s caucus this fall. Ms. M’barek said the women — no matter if they are from the governing moderate Islamist party or her own Congrès pour la République — have agreed to work across party lines to champion women’s rights and make life easier for mothers in politics.
Although the assembly has recently reined in its late-night sessions so parents can go home to their children, for example, men laughed when a female official suggested the assembly open a daycare centre.
“I hear from lots of women, ‘I have a daughter and I want her to live in a country where she’s protected and has freedom,’ ” said Ms. M’barek, a 32-year-old mother of two who was pregnant with her daughter when she ran for election last year.- www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - Lawmakers in the Arab Emirates have introduced jail terms for all those who incite public protests and insult the state and its rulers online. The Persian Gulf countries are tightening internet laws, fearing Arab Spring-style uprisings.
The news measures take the form of codes to monitor and enforce strict internet content guidelines to prevent “the deriding [of] or to damage the reputation or the stature of the state or any of its institutions."
This includes any of the seven emirates that govern the country’s principalities and the president.
Furthermore, it rounds on “information, news, caricatures or any other kind of pictures" that could present a threat to“public order” and “disobey the laws and regulations of the state.”
Moreover, it punishes any person or organization calling for a demonstration or protest without the necessary license with a jail sentence.
Ironically, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan signed off the decree just hours after he was granted a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the next three years.
The Arab uprisings that swept the Middle East largely bypassed the Persian Gulf’s authoritarian regimes; the UAE in particular has not seen any street protests since the social unrest began over a year ago. But the crackdowns on internet freedoms in several countries in the Gulf betray concern that their regimes may go through a similar social upheaval.
Under the guise of a probe into foreign-linked groups planning “crimes against the security of the state,” the UAE’s authorities have detained around 60 Islamist dissidents since the beginning of the year.
Back in August the UAE’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash slammed criticism against the measures, condemning them as attempts to slander UAE "with very little reference to our many achievements.”
The UAE along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain remain virtually untouched by Western government criticism of their authoritarian regimes and measures restricting freedom of expression. Social networking sites and forums have become a new platform for citizens in these countries to voice opinions on their rulers.
Twitter, for example, has gained huge popularity in Saudi Arabia since it was unblocked in 2008 and the country has the fastest growing number of users in the world, according to its CEO. In response to the growing social phenomenon, Gulf leaders have sought to restrict internet freedoms with strict legislation.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A court in Turkey is set to begin the in absentia trial of four former Israeli military commanders over their role in the murder of nine Turkish activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in 2010.
In May 2012, an Istanbul court approved an indictment seeking multiple life sentences for the Israeli military men in the massacre on the high seas, and the trial opens on Tuesday.
The 144-page indictment had called for nine life sentences to be given to each of the four former Israeli commanders.
The accused -- former military chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi, former Navy chief Eliezer Marom, former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin, and former Air Force intelligence chief Avishai Levy -- are unlikely to attend the trial.
"We had identified some of the Israeli commandos involved in the raid but I think the prosecutor was not able to verify from the Israeli side," Buhari Cetinkaya, one of the five plaintiff lawyers, said.
"So the case landed on the four Israeli commanders, as the decision passed down through a mechanism headed by these people," the lawyer added.
On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos attacked the first Freedom Flotilla in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, killing nine Turkish citizens, including a teenager with Turkish-US dual citizenship, on board the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara and injuring about 50 other people who were part of the team on the six-ship convoy.
Gaza has been blockaded since June 2007, which is a situation that has caused a decline in the standard of living, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty.
After Israel's assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Tel Aviv slightly eased the land blockade of Gaza, allowing in more consumer goods.
However, the naval siege of the Gaza Strip remains in place, exports are banned, and imports of raw materials and construction materials are restricted.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV