The Bahraini authorities dealing in double standards whilst fighting corruption

Bahrain: Authorities ban publication in the case of the minister accused of corruption due to the possible involvement of an official from the ruling family. Authority panels deliberately gave the case a sectarian scope, and targeted the weakest link to cover-up on major corruption.

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights express their grave concern towards the Bahraini Authorities persistence in its attempts to violate the right of people in receiving information, especially the information that has a direct influence on the fundamental rights of citizens. This time the matter was represented in the Public Prosecution's decision in banning the publication and circulation of all news, comments and details regarding the case where the State Minister Mansoor bin Rajab is accused in and which is related to money laundering. This ban only took place after the defense lawyer requested the Public Prosecution to summon one of the members of the ruling family to testify in the case.

What is the Truth behind the Dismissed Minister? What is his relation to Opium and the Money Laundering of the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah?

In a case that preoccupied domestic and foreign public opinion, the State Minister Mansoor bin Rajab was arrested on Thursday 18 March, and was later released on his own recognizance after questioning him on the charge of carrying out money laundering inside the country and abroad, as was stated by the Assistant Under-Secretary for the Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Interior Brigadier General Mohammed Rashid Bouhmod[1][1]. From the first moment, several newspapers and local, gulf and international news agencies were quick to publish news and information which it had drawn from Bahraini sources who refused to mention their names that the money concerned is the money of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and is the outcome of smuggling opium[2][2], the same sources mentioned that that money is connected to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Yet, some news, especially in those newspapers with a close relation to the Authority, went as far as indicating that the Minister possesses photos[3][3] of military sites which he intended to hand over to Iran. By following up on the sources of information and panels that initiated publishing and promoting it, it appeared that the information that connected the dismissed Minister and Iran was fabricated and leaked from the Department of Foreign Media at the Ministry of Information and the media team at the Royal Court and National Security Apparatus. The Department of Foreign Media that led the campaign against the State Minister is only affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and Information superficially, while it works as part of the National Security Apparatus (NSA). The department was previously headed by the current head of National Security Apparatus Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, while it is now headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed, the former vice-president of the NSA.

The wording of the news related to that case and the methods of publishing it reflects the approach of the panel in the Authority in giving the case a sectarian scope by linking the accused Minister who belongs to the Shiite sect with Iran. At a time where all members whose names were mentioned in the case were dealt with in absolute confidentiality by only mentioning them through their initials – such as Khalid Rabea was mentioned with the letters K.R – the Minister's full name was published.

While the Public Prosecution did not confirm the minister Bin Rajab's relation with Iran or Hezbollah, it did not deny it either. It however remained quiet and kept it a mystery, which suggested to the local and international public opinion that these claims were true without it being part of the case according to the defense. Whereas the Public Prosecution banned[4][4] the defendant and the defense from proving those allegations false to the public relations or publishing any comments or news in the newspapers, it gave itself the right to release and publish statements. The Public Prosecution issued a decision of banning the circulation of information in the case after the defense of the dismissed Minister filed a request to summon the Minister of National Security, Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa as a witness in the case. Usually, the Bahraini Authorities bans publications in cases that may cause embarrassment or public mayhem, taking advantage of the Bahraini judiciary's lack of independence. For example, in October 2006 the High Criminal Court issued a decision of banning the publication in the scandal that shook the country at that time, and which was named Al-Bandar in attribution to the one who launched it and who was the former government adviser Dr. Salah Al-Bandar, and the ban is still in force until today without any logical reasoning behind it.

Although the case started off with accusations related to the Minister carrying out laundering of drug money of the Iranian Revolutionarily Guard and Hezbollah, and possessing photos of military sites in intent to deliver them to Iran, all that changed now. The course of the case started to incline towards other claims related to corruption, and receiving bribes and inducements and that the isolated Minister is taking advantage of his job, and which is an accusation that is quite different from the first one, in terms of form and content. However this transformation and change in the case was not at first reflected in the media, and the Authority deliberately covered up the updates. The Bahraini Authorities have for years attempted to gain the trust of some of the Western and Israeli powers which in turn have negative relationships with Iran by stirring up the connection between Shiite public movements in Bahrain with Iran. The Bahraini government always attempts to question the loyalty of the Shiite citizens although these accusations are not evident on the ground. This is nevertheless the first time where the matter reaches accusing a Shiite figure who is considered the closest to the King and his family.

Bahrain is not familiar with questioning or prosecuting any of its ministers or officials such as executives which led to classifying it in the international corruption indicators, especially with the involvement of senior officials in extensive corruption schemes, and taking over lands and public funds and impunity, due to being members of the ruling family or those who are close to it. One of the most significant cases that emerged in the recent months is the one related to Alba Company[5][5] and where Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al-Khalifa – the Prime Minister's adviser – was mentioned and who was accused of receiving bribes over the years that amount to two billion dollars – the sum of money that is equivalent to the state budget for a full year. Although the case of Alba's corruption exceeds the magnitude of the case of the minister Mansoor bin Rajab, Sheikh Isa Al-Khalifa still holds his position in the government as a minister until this moment, and he was not questioned or brought to trial in contradiction to what happened to the dismissed Minister, Mansoor bin Rajab. The Council of Representatives lately disclosed one of the largest corruption schemes[6][6] and taking over lands in Bahrain of a value of approximately 40 billions dollars. No governmental, parliamentary or judiciary institute did anything to discuss any judicial prosecution in those cases, and especially because the main collaborator in it is the Royal Court and the principal beneficiaries are the senior officials from the ruling family. Therefore, it seems that targeting the minister Mansoor bin Rajab is to target the weakest link in the chain of corruption which drains lands and public funds, in aim of convincing the public opinion of the sincerity of fighting corruption and to cover up and to divert the attention from the major corruption schemes.

Based on the above, and at a time where the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights welcomes any step towards eliminating corruption and fighting against illegal money laundering, especially amongst the officials and executives in the state, including the interrogation taking place in the case of the dismissed minister Mansoor bin Rajab, they alongside request:

1. Immediately lifting the ban from circulating news related to the case of the dismissed Minister, considering it a case of public opinion that concerns each citizen, and to stop violating human rights in obtaining information and news related to the fundamental rights, where the second paragraph of Article 19 from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

2. Guarantee the integrity and independency of the Public Prosecution and Judiciary, and to lift the ban from the accused Minister and his defense team, and not to violate their right to defend themselves, and to express their opinions in media. The second paragraph of Article 14 from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, "Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law."

3. Stop dealing in double standards in the cases of corruption, and to work on proving the seriousness and credibility in the campaign against corruption in prosecuting the senior officials involved in taking over public lands, which was revealed in the last report by the Council of Representatives, and the officials involved in the bribe cases that amount to billions of dollars. Any negligence to those cases will prejudice the credibility of the Authority in any campaign it launches against corruption, and it will yet send a clear message that the Authority is only targeting the weakest links of officials as scapegoats each time it is being criticized or accused of corruption.

4. The efforts of the civil society institutions, figures and media should be intensified to defend the interests and rights of people in relation to revealing crimes of corruption and prosecuting the collaborators even if they were senior officials. Inaction towards this or concealing any information related to crimes of theft and corruption under any justification is a direct collaboration in those crimes.