Sunday, April 06, 2008

Re: Ongoing acts of harassment against Ms. Najiya Abdulghaffar



Paris - Geneva, April 3, 2008

Re: Ongoing acts of harassment against Ms. Najiya Abdulghaffar

Your Highness,

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its deepest concern over various acts of harassment against Ms.
Najiya Abdulghaffar, Vice-President of the Post Office Trade Union, affiliated to the Bahrain General Federation of Trade Unions (BGFTU).

According to the information received, on March 19, 2008, Ms. Abdulghaffar was informed that a new investigation on her activities had been initiated. It is the sixth investigation that has been launched against her since her election as Vice-President of the trade union in 2003.

Ms. Abdulghaffar was subsequently summoned to appear before the investigation committee of the post office on March 30, 2008. The outcome of this interrogation remains unknown, but the Observatory strongly fears that Ms. Abdulghaffar might be once again sanctioned because of her human rights activities.

In 2003, Ms. Abdulghaffar had addressed a letter to the Minister of Social Affairs, outlining the various problems faced by post office workers. This was followed by a petition signed by 200 workers supporting the activities of the newly-created trade union. At that time, all the employees who signed this petition - including Ms. Abdulghaffar - were threatened with dismissal and with promotion freezing. Ms. Abdulghaffar related these abuses to the press through various press releases and interviews in 2006 and 2007
[1], in which she also mentioned the problems faced by post office workers, infringements to trade-union freedom as well as the constant discrimination and harassment against the members of her union in terms of pay rise, workload, and relocation[2].

Since then, the post administration has almost systematically resorted to measures of intimidation against her as a reaction to the publication of her interventions in the media or to the exercise of her fundamental freedoms:

- on October 17, 2006, she received a warning letter from the assistant of the Post Office Under Secretary, threatening her with suspension of salary for three days, as a reaction to her press releases of August 2006;
on November 23, 2006, she was summoned to appear before an investigation committee for a discussion on her press articles as well as her trade union activities. The committee decided to suspend her salary and professional activities for three days (from January 23 to 25, 2007);
- on July 23 and October 10, 2007, she was again called before the investigation committee to explain herself on the information she published in the press in 2007;
- on January 14, 2008, another session of the investigation committee accused her of "wasting time" and "disobeying orders";
- on January 28, 2008, she was accused before the same body of "attending a solidarity picket in support of trade unions". As a consequence, she was suspended from work for 10 days (from February 9 to 14 and 16 to 19, 2008).

In addition, all contacts between her and other employees have been banned by the post office administration since 2006. Her telephone and computer were also removed from her office, and the administration decided to stop giving her work duties.

At the end of 2007, Ms. Abdulghaffar was given a bad evaluation mark from her employers, who decided to freeze her salary indefinitely.

The Observatory denounces these acts of continuing harassment against Ms. Abdulghaffar, and deplores the situation of trade-union freedom in Bahrain, in a context of a degradation of fundamental freedoms.

The Observatory further recalls that as a member of the Human Rights Council from June 2006 to June 2007, Bahrain had committed to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights"[3]. A few days ahead of the review of the human rights record of Bahrain through the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, the Observatory demands that the Bahraini authorities refrain immediately, permanently and unconditionally from any form of harassment against all human rights defenders, and conform in all circumstances with international human rights standards.

Accordingly, the Observatory urges the Bahraini authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Abdulghaffar and of all the members of the post office trade union, as well as to put an end to all forms of harassment against Ms. Abdulghaffar and human rights defenders in Bahrain.

Furthermore, the Observatory calls upon the Bahraini authorities to conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its Article 1, which provides that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels", its Article 6(b), which reads that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others [...] freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms, Article 11, which states that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to the lawful exercise of his or her occupation or profession", as well as Article 12(1) that provides "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms".

More generally, the Observatory calls upon the Bahraini authorities to ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

In the hope that you will take these considerations into account,

Yours sincerely,

Souhayr Belhassen Eric SOTTAS
FIDH President OMCT Secretary General

[1] See press releases to Al Ayam, August 14, 2006, Akhbar Alkhaleej, August 15, 2006, written statements to Alwasat, Akhbar Alkhaleej, Alwaqt and Al Ayam on January 19, 23 and 24, 2007 and June 21, 2007, as well as press releases to Alwasat on July 24, 2007 and to Al Watan on October 1, 2007.
[2] Several employees members of the trade union were relocated to other post office premises away from the union.
[3] See OP9 of the General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/251.

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