Head of government Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa
Death penalty retentionist
Population .8 million
Life expectancy 75.6 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 13/13 per 1,000
Adult literacy 88.8 per cent
The government took steps to promote human rights and to improve conditions for some migrant workers. However, it continued to penalize criticism of the royal family and failed to investigate allegations of torture in 2008. One person remained at risk of execution.
In November, a royal decree established a national human rights institution. Its mandate includes promoting awareness of human rights in Bahrain and proposing legal reforms. The government said it was considering withdrawing some reservations entered by Bahrain when ratifying key international human rights treaties. It also said it would introduce various legal reforms and provide human rights training to judicial and other officials.
In March, the security forces shot and injured demonstrators in Sitra and al-Duraz who were protesting against alleged land seizures and for the release of prisoners sentenced after violent protests in 2007 and 2008. The authorities denied the use of excessive force and said the security forces had intervened when the protests became violent.
Justice system – trials and prisoner releases
Three Shi'a activists – Hassan Meshaima', 'Abd al-Jalil al-Singace and Mohammad Habib al-Muqdad – appeared before the High Criminal Court in March. They and 32 other defendants, some of whom were being tried in their absence, were accused of financing and planning acts of violence with the aim of overthrowing the government. Thirteen of the accused, who had been arrested on 15 December 2008 and later shown on television "confessing", alleged that they had been detained incommunicado and tortured. They said they had been subjected to electric shocks, beaten while suspended by their arms, and held for prolonged periods with their hands and feet bound. Before the trial concluded, all the defendants were released in April under a royal pardon. A total of 178 prisoners, including political prisoners, were released under the pardon.
The authorities failed to investigate alleged torture of detainees in late 2008.
Freedom of expression
The government remained especially sensitive to criticism of the monarchy. Amendments to the 2002 Press and Publications Law, proposed in 2008, remained pending before the House of Representatives. If implemented, the amendments would remove imprisonment as a penalty for those convicted of criticizing the King or "inciting hatred of the regime".
In January, the Ministry of Information and Culture blocked a number of websites, blogs and discussion forums, including some deemed to "incite hatred and sectarian violence". Hundreds of websites were said to remain blocked at the end of the year.