BCHR: The abuses that targeted students, teachers and the educational environment were terrifying and did not stop after the end of the academic year.

Minister of Education Majid Al Nuaimi is accused of carrying out discrimination and cleanse with the support of sectarian associations who dominate the top positions in the ministry

Right to left: Majid Al Nuaimi - Minister of Education MOE, Abdulla Al Mutawa - Under-secretary for the MOE, Isa Al Kooheji, Head of the Scholarships and Student Attache Department at MOE.

30 July 2011

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its deep concerns regarding the abuses and systematic discriminations experienced by Bahraini schools students since the start of the popular demonstrations on 14th February 2011 and until this date where they were systematically discriminated against, arrested, beaten, expelled, tried and deprived from seeking education in violation of a number of human rights and in particular the child’s right to education and the safety from arbitrary arrest, torture and discrimination. Discrimination and “cleansing” was practiced by the Ministry of Education for decades and reached its peak with the help of security forces and the sectarian powers in leading positions at the Ministry; and of late the distribution of scholarships to secondary school graduates which can only be described as a public sectarian crime where the Ministry secretly handled the distribution of scholarships and deprived many outstanding students from their right in a scholarship and to pursue what they worked hard for years.

BCHR have previously documented a number of violations against the rights of children in Bahrain in general in the previous months (See previous report). This report will focus on the violations committed against school students in particular.

The violations against students were not limited to schools but targeted teachers as well. Several reports indicated the arrest of many teachers (male and female) and both mental and physical torture was used just as was done to students during end-of-year exams (See BCHR detailed report on the subject).

Introduction:

On the 20th of February 2011, Bahrain Teachers Association headed by Mahdi Abu Deeb issued a statement [1] calling for an open strike starting from 20th of February for a full week expandable as necessary in protest to the violence practiced by the regime in their crackdown on peaceful demonstrators which resulted in the killing of 7 and the injury of tens of demonstrators especially following the bloody attack on demonstrators at Lulu Roundabout at dawn of Thursday 17th February 2011 and the mobilization of military units on the streets. The Ministry of Education replied on 22nd February by announcing their need for volunteers to fill the gap made by striking teachers who were demonstrating at Lulu Roundabout. Volunteers were brought in quickly, their education and qualifications were not taken into consideration and they were not interviewed [2]. After the passing of 4 days of strike, the Teachers Association announced the suspension of the strike and the continuation of study after security was established as stated in their statement and so the educational faculty and students returned to their schools [3] on Thursday 24th February 2011.

The Problem of Unqualified Volunteers:

Reports indicated that the policy employed by the Ministry to handle the teachers’ strike situation by quickly employing unqualified volunteers was the beginning of unrest at schools. The reports indicated “the existence of tension at schools between the primary teachers and volunteers in one area and between students and volunteers in another. One female teacher indicated that the environment at school was not prepared for study due to the objection of having volunteers at school especially those who do not hold any qualifications. She said: “One volunteer teacher brings her young son to class and we deliberately took pictures to take it to the press. Where is the Ministry from all of this?”. Another teacher - condemning what the Ministry did by employing a number of teachers without an employment competition - said: “The number of volunteers in our school reached 21; only 4 of them had Bachelor degrees.”. She added: “some of the volunteers were school students, others were housewives, trainees at Bahrain Institute as well as pensioners” [4].

In protest to unqualified volunteers, some students demonstrated inside and outside of schools against the Minister of Education Majid Al Nuaimi. All demonstrations were peaceful and did not involve the use of sticks, stones or any other tool. In some schools, students sat at the school yard and refused to study and enter the classroom [5].

Moreover, students and parents complained of having unqualified volunteers teaching in Bahraini schools and asked this policy to stop [6]. Female students complained in several schools including Qurtuba Intermediate School for Girls [7] and Saar Secondary School for Girls of verbal abuse that was sectarian and political in tone by their teachers [8]. Parents demanded that officials provide a safe environment for study at schools [9]. Some Members of Parliament demanded that as well [10] but the authorities at the Ministry of Education did not take any measure to correct these tense situations.

اعتصام أولياء الامور أمام أحدى المدارس اعتراضاً للإساءة لبناتهم A Parents’ protest in front of one school against the abuses to their daughters 10-03-2011.

Violence in Schools:

The situation gradually got complicated in all Bahraini schools without exception particularly after the inclusion of politics such as loyalty to the ruling figures of the government and the Prime Minister and forcing such concepts on students. Since 14th of February, the official media started a campaign of sectarian agitation [11] which left its marks on the events at schools.

On the morning of Thursday 3rd March 2011, two students from Al Imam Al Ghazali Intermediate School for Boys were injured after being beaten by police forces. Abdulla Adel (14 years) - one of the injured students - said that he was surprised after leaving school that anti-riot police were heavily surrounding the school parameter who attacked him by beating him with their fists and feet, and insulting him with obscenities. His fellow student Zaheer Mohammed (14 years) said that he was kicked on his head and all over his body and asked the concerned official entities to investigate the incident especially since students who were outside the school were not involved in creating any form of unrest which necessitated the violence by the security forces [12].

Students from Hamad Town Secondary School for Girls said that they were subjected to beatings, insults and attempts to drive over them with cars by some parents and other intruders on 3rd March 2011 after peacefully demonstrating inside and outside the school in the previous days. In another incident, they said that some men entered the school on 1st March during a protest they made inside school repeating peaceful slogans and calling for a national unity of all the people. They were attacked with sticks and said: “we were insulted by some Arab parents with obscene words and some of them said to us: I will turn this school to a blood bath for all of you” [13].

Some academic and administrative members of staff at Yathreb Intermediate School for Girls, which experienced a chaotic day on the morning of Thursday 10th March 2011, said that Bahrain Radio complicated the situation by broadcasting in one of its morning programmes calls by some parents talking about the situation at the school and claiming that doors were broken and students were beaten which resulted in allot of parents going to the school to take their daughters after hearing the rumors on the Radio. The situation got complicated and resulted in several students fainting due to fear which required calling Ambulances to take two students who fainted [14].

Saar Secondary School for Girls had the biggest share of chaos after fighting between pro-democracy students and pro-government students erupted on 10th March 2011 after which pro-government parents and recently naturalized parents intervened and started beating students which resulted in the injury of 8 students some of them with broken bones in the legs and hands and bruises on their backs. Many students fainted due to the level of fear and terror they experienced and most of them were crying out of fear. This resulted in the Ministry of Education issuing an order to close the school and to investigate the incidents that happened at this school [15]. After that, the Ministry of Education issued an order to close any school that experiences similar incidents [16].

After the events at Saar School and the lack of security at schools, Bahrain Teachers Association decided to strike on 14th March 2011 in all educational establishments which was the second strike by the Association [17]. The Association demanded that the authorities provide security and insure the safety of students before the return of students and teachers to schools at a time when the Ministry of Education could not provide such assurances. To the contrary, the Ministry in some instances supported the acts of violence and destruction inside schools at a time when parents said: “our children must be educated but they should be assured of their safety and create a suitable environment for study. Schools must not be involved in the political situation. They demanded that the Minster of Education Majid Al Nuaimi takes decisive measures to insure the safety of students” [18].

The declaration of the State of National Safety (Martial Law) on 15th March 2011 and what followed with the brutal crackdown and the second attack on Pearl Roundabout on 16th March 2011 and the campaign of arrests and night raids on the educational cadre and the leaders of the Teachers Association resulted in the Association suspending its strike on 24th March 2011. In a statement, they said: “The Association calls teachers to go back to school and the government and the Ministry of Education will take the full responsibility to the safety and the dignity of teachers on their way to and from their schools and any assault by the administrations at schools and their employees. They must insure that the situation be observed in the coming days to insure safety before making any decisions.” [19]

Violations on Students During the State of National Safety (Martial Law):

Raids by Security Forces on Schools and the Assault and Arrest of Students:

Some arrested students - right to left: Ali Hasan Abbas (17 years), Ahmed Abdul Nabi Shamloh (17 years), Mahmood Samir Ahmed (17 years) GPA %98

“State Parties shall ensure that: a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age; b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;” [UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child (20 November 1989)]
With the increase of sectarian agitation at schools and in the official media, and with the increase of acts of vengeance on everyone who was proven to have participated in demonstrations against the ruling regime or went to Lulu Roundabout, and with the ignorance and conspiracy of the Ministry, the danger to school students was real.

More than 12 girls schools were continuously raided by the security forces where students aged between 11-17 were taken from their classrooms, beaten, taken to detention centers, tortured, humiliated and detained for days with no access to a legal representative during interrogations. Yathreb Intermediate School for Girls, Al Ahd Al Zaher Secondary School for Girls, Umaima Bent Al Noman Secondary School for Girls, Al Qairawan Intermediate School for Girls and Hajar Primary School for Girls were continuously raided with arrests of students and teachers in addition to boys schools such as Ahmed Al Omran Secondary School for Boys, Saar Secondary School for Boys and Al Naeem Secondary School for Boys (Video) and other schools in Bahrain as well.

Right: Anti-riot police outside Hajar School 17-4-2011, Left: Anti-riot police in Ahmed Al Omran 12-4-2011

On 12th April 2011, female student Hawra Kadhem Buhameed (14 years) was arrest from her school (Yathreb Intermediate School for Girls) without any reason and she was severely beaten to the degree where beating marks were apparent on her arms for a week after her detention. After several days and on 18th April, more than 50 students from the same school were arrested and beaten with rubber hoses. Their teachers were arrested as well due to the incitement of some pro-government students.

Female student Hameeda (insisted on using an alias for fear of rearrest and torture) at Yathreb Intermediate School for Girls spoke of what happened to her when she was arrested from school: “On Monday 18th April and during the morning assembly at Yathreb Intermediate School for Girls, a male band played the national anthem and after that some students started dancing and making provocative movements to me and to other students who refused to participate with them. Then a demonstration against the regime started and I participated in it. At the same time another demonstration supporting the regime started and both parties started shouting slogans against each other. After that, the school was surrounded by anti-riot police and parents were prevented from entering the school. Then policewomen raided the school and arrested me with other fellow students. We were taken by force and severely beaten as well as insulting us. Moreover, they took photographs of us and we still do not know why. Almost 60 students aged 11-14 were taken by force using several buses to the Police station at 17th Roundabout in Hamad Town. In the bus we were forced to repeat pro-government slogans such as “long live Bu Salman”. At the police station, they made me stand while lifting my hands up for almost 8 hours. They would come to us every now and then and beat us on the hands with metal rulers. Not to mention the insults, obscene words and mocking us “we will take away your nationality and make you leave to Iran or Iraq or Lebanon”. They interrogated me to open an investigation and asked me questions such as ”Did you participate in demonstrations against the regime?” “Did you go to Pearl Roundabout?” and when I deny doing so they beat me. During interrogation, one police women came and wrote on my shirt and scarf “Long live Bu Salman” after that she hit by head to the wall. Before releasing me, they took me to the toilet and asked me to wash off the words they wrote on my clothes. I was released after my father signed a pledge to bring me to the station the next day. On Tuesday, I went with my mother to the station at 7.30 AM. The torture and interrogation continued for the second time. I was released then at 10 AM.”

Heba (17 years) (under an alias to prevent her re-arrest) spoke of her ordeal and said that she was arrested from her school with 3 other fellow students. She was detained and beaten for 3 continuous days on April 2011. At the bus that took them from school to the police station, she was threatened with rape and was insulted by saying that she was not a real Muslim. She said that a police man forced her to remove her head scarf and hit her on the head with the wall several times severely and he would intensify the beatings when she does not scream. He beat her with a thick rubber hose on her head until she started bleeding and fell on the ground. She said that threats of rape continued at the police station and she was terrorized with her fellow students that they will be taken to the Saudi Military to deal with them which was so terrifying to them that they fainted. They were also forced to witness the beating of other girls while they were blindfolded. She is still afraid of being rearrested after they threatened to do so (listen to Heba in this Video).

On 12th May, Eman Alaswami (15 years) student at the first secondary grade at Khawla Secondary School for Girls was called for interrogation and spent 11 hours in interrogation for her participation in the demonstrations and her writings on her personal page at the social networking website Facebook. She was interrogated without allowing her parents to be present and in the absence of a lawyer and a child specialist. She was interrogated by male officers and was not released until very late and after signing a pledge to come to the station the next day.

On 22nd May 2011, two 17 years old students were arrested from their schools (Zainab Al Satrawi and Noof Al Khawaja) while they were doing the final exams. They were released after hours of severely beating them.

On 29th May 2011, students Marwa Sayed Ahmed, Maryam Abdul Aziz and Maryam Abdul Jabar were arrested after they completed their final exams. A video and voice recording showed up with the policewomen arresting Marwa while insulting her and threatening her with beatings. After their arrest, they were taken to Al Gudaibiah Police Station for interrogation which lasted for hours before releasing them.

(video of the arrest) (the complete voice recording)

Policewomen inside Al Ahd Al Zaher School arresting students and teachers 21-4-2011

The raids continued until the last days of the term which made both the parents and the students in a constant state of fear and anticipation of beatings and arrests.

These violations at schools were not limited to students but included their teachers as well. Several reports documented the arrest of teachers and the mental and physical torture they experienced just as did their students (see BCHR detailed report on the topic).

Trials:

Student Mohammed Ebrahim Khatim

Even though the UN Convention on Child Rights states in article 40 that “State Parties shall seek to promote the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law”, and even though there is a special court that deals with juvenile cases, the authorities brought some arrested students before military courts during the State of National Safety and the normal criminal courts after that. Minor Mohammed Ebrahim Khatim [20] (15 years) was brought before a military court in May 2011 in clear violation of the convention signed by the government. Khatim was arrested from his home on a midnight raid at 1:30AM on 4th May 2011 and was accused of participating in acts of riot and unlicensed demonstrations.

Another minor aged 12 years was arrested at a police station and tried for participating in unlicensed demonstrations after his detention at the police station [21].

Abdulla Swar (15 years) was arrested in June after the end of the State of National Safety and he was accused with participating in unlicensed demonstrations and rioting. He was brought before a criminal court in and he was sentenced to 3 months in jail on 2 Aug 2011. His lawyer requested the change of punishment from imprisonment to public service , in accordance with the law which gives this option to those sentenced to less than a year, but the court has not accepted the request yet.

Depriving from Education:

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”. - Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

An expulsion order on 8 female students at Hamad Town Secondary School for Girls

The regime imposed penalties on students by depriving them from their right to basic education. Several were temporarily or permanently expelled from school due to sectarian or political reasons. Most of these expulsion orders happened during April 2011. Several students from Al Dair Primary School for Boys, who were not over the age of 11, were expelled on 17th April 2011 because of “their chants to down the King” and several students from Shahrakan Primary School for Boys were expelled for chanting “Down Hamad” in the school bus. Tens of female students were expelled from Yathreb Intermediate School for Boys who were not over the age of 15 - some of whom were arrested before in the incidents that happened at their school such as (Zainab Yousif, Duaa Al Sayed and Maryam Naser). A wave of expulsions to students from Isa Town Intermediate School for Girls happened including students Zainab Ahmed Talaq (13 years) and the reason for her expulsion was markings found on the picture of the king that fronts all the academic books. At least 8 students were expelled from Hamad Town Secondary School for Girls and at least 11 students were expelled from Al Hora Secondary School for Girls. Other schools with reports of expulsion include Ahmed Al Omran Secondary School for Boys and Al Estiqlal Secondary School for Girls. The authorities did not make any official statement regarding these expulsions.

A suspension order on a student for a full term on 17-4-2011

The Closure of Shahrakan School:

In the previous month of June, the Ministry of Education announced [22] the closure of Shahrakan Primary School for Boys (serving around 300 students from neighboring villages) which is located close to the King’s Safiriya Palace where a major demonstration occurred in March. While the Ministry of Education justified this measure with the old age of the school, it is not expected that another replacement school be built to serve the area especially since the neighboring schools and particularly Shahrakan School were not present in the Ministry’s plans for development in the past 50 years. There are no plans to build new schools despite the shortage as stated by the Municipal Representative [23]. It seems very apparent that the closure of this school at this time is in vengeance and continues the discriminatory policy employed to deprive areas with Shia majority from services.

Discrimination in the Distribution of Scholarships:

The last item in the chain of violations that affected school students is the discrimination against them in the distribution of scholarships for secondary school graduates. For the first time, the Ministry of Education used a new mechanism for distributing scholarship which focuses more on personal opinions of the student and less on the competence of said student. As a requirement for gaining a scholarship, they allotted %60 to academic achievement and %40 to a personal interview. Some female students said that questions asked during the interview were not related to the scholarship or their future aspirations , as they were asked in the interview, which didn’t exceed 15 minutes about the meaning of national and what Bahrain means to them and how will they represent it abroad, and whether they have detained relatives (the answer was ready at the student's file), which seem to be indirect political questions [24].

The ministry did not announce or publish the results of the distribution of the scholarships in the Official newspapers as required to maintain the transparency, and as was the custom for years, but guided the students to see their personal results on the website of the ministry, in an attempt to conceal the results. However, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has received numerous complaints of unfair distribution of scholarships, and some published reports indicated [25] that the top students (from affiliates belonging to the opposition) were given scholarships which are not consistent with their requested subjects, in an attempt to force them to refuse taking the scholarship because it is not inline with their aspirations. Some students did not receive a scholarship even though they had outstanding academic achievements and only received a grant of BD 400 per year which is not enough to cover the cost of their university education. This was at a time when 2426 scholarships were made available which is enough to cover all outstanding students if it was distributed based on competency.

Zainab Isa - for example - which achieved a GPA of %99.3 and is ranked fifth Bahrain-wide and even though she had outstanding academic achievements, she did not get her first choice of studying medicine. Instead, she gained her tenth choice of studying Banking and Finance at a local University [26]. Another couple of students who have a GPA above %97 said that they got their eleventh choice (the one before the last) and they put these choices just to fill the gaps and not based on their aspirations. Another female student who has a GPA above %96 said that she only received a grant and the “interrogation” style she experienced during her interview was apparent after the interviewers discovered that she was at a school which had disturbances before moving to another school.

The issue of discrimination in the distribution of scholarships in Bahrain is one of the issues that were always raised by human rights activists [27]. Bahrain became one of few countries in the world which grants scholarships on bases other than equality and competence. The way scholarships were distributed confirms the authorities stance in pursuing discrimination through governmental establishments.

In a statement by BCHR president Nabeel Rajab, he said: “Discrimination is one of the main reasons for the wave of unrest and the February 14th revolution. This discrimination which the authorities always played a leading role in and the Ministry of Education was one of its most important tools in addition to the official media and security forces. Any form of discrimination is very dangerous and if it does not stop, surely the social fabric and social peaceful harmony in Bahrain will be destroyed. We should learn from experiences in other countries which practiced discrimination and entered into wars such as the racial discrimination in South Africa. Discrimination is against all rules, international regulations and human morals.”

BCHR is deeply concerned with the security deterioration at schools and classrooms and the assault on students and their teachers (see BCHR report regarding teachers) through beatings, humiliations, discriminations, detentions and suspensions. That in addition to the systematic discrimination policy being practiced against students and depriving them from their basic rights in education. The center is deeply concerned with the fate of students who were expelled, arrested and/or tried without justification to their expulsion other than expressing their opinions in a peaceful and legitimate way.

The Ministry of Education represented by the Minister Majid Al Nuaimi (an ex-military official at Bahrain Defense Force) is fully responsible for all the violence and disturbances that were witnessed in Bahraini schools due to the policies and bad decisions made by the Ministry which contributed to the complication of the situation. As a result of the use of the security solution in dealing with students who are considered minors under the age of 18, and at a time when the school as an educational establishment should be the first to implement more respectful solutions and a commitment to upholding the child’s right to safety in education; it is apparent that the way the authorities handled the situation at Bahraini schools in a way that violated a number of human rights and particularly a number of articles related to children’s rights with respect to torture, violence, arbitrary detention, and rights in trials and detention in special facilities made specifically for children. Moreover, the Ministry of Education practiced a policy of completely blacking-out the media in relation to the events that took place at schools and the expulsion of students after announcing the State of National Safety in a time when official reports were published in relation to the University and the expulsion of its students. This blackout could be due to the Ministry’s attempt to prevent information from getting to United Nations’ committees at a time when the annual review on child rights was due in June 2011.

The Child’s Rights Committee at the United Nations in Geneva expressed it concerns that some violations to children’s rights happened during the recent events in Bahrain. Moreover, it expressed its concerned due to not providing enough protection to children. The committee demanded the protection of children from the effects of the political unrest on the streets and to insure that the security forces and health care workers deal with children with respect and to uphold international treaties. The committee pointed out that whilst the Bahraini constitution assured the freedom of expression and the freedom to establish associations and the right to protest, it is concerned that these rights were not always respected including the time of the recent events in Bahrain and particularly in relation to children [28].

According to Article 19 to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”. However, Kingdom of Bahrain clearly violated these rights to students by subjecting them to all forms of punishment merely because they expressed their opinions.

Based on the above, BCHR demands that the Bahraini authorities: 1) Release all detained students and their teachers and to drop all the false charges against them; 2) Put an end to the unfair trials that have no legal basis; 3) Commit to International treaties related to Human Rights which states that the right to education is ensured to all students particularly those at the basic education level without discrimination and without politically motivated acts. 4) Return suspended students to their schools immediately in addition to their suspended teachers and to compensate them accordingly in line with educational, moral and material loss. 5) Start an independent investigation into the events that happened in Bahraini schools and particularly the attacks on students inside and outside their schools with beatings and humiliation. 6) Uphold all articles of conventions and treaties signed by the Kingdom of Bahrain in relation to Children’s rights - particularly in relation to the protection from torture, arbitrary arrest and the conditions of trials and detentions in specialist establishments. 7) Stop the systematic discrimination policy practiced and to start an independent investigation into the discrimination practiced at schools against a certain majority sect starting with the circumstances and the policy that managed the distribution of scholarships. 8) Commit to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in relation to freedom of expression, and not to arrest students and their teachers based on the fact that they expressed their opinions. 9) Redistribute scholarships, cancel the personal interview and take what was practiced before which only takes the GPA of students into consideration. 10) Stop all those involved in sectarian discrimination at school administrations and other positions at the Ministry of Education. 11) Immediately release the president of the Teachers Association Mr. Mahdi Abu Deeb and his vice-president Ms Jalila Al Salman. 12) Isolate the Minster of Education Majid Al Nuaimi and holding him responsible for the deterioration of the situation at schools, the inability to provide a suitable environment for education and his role in sectarianism which complicated the situation at schools. 13) Investigate school administrations who were involved in sectarianism or practiced sectarian agitation and targeted teachers and students due to their political opinions or sectarian affiliations. 14) Immediately stop all forms of punishment against teachers and students due to their participation in the demands movement.

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