Annual Report: Bahrain 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Bahrain 2011

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Head of state: King Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa
Head of government: Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 0.8 million
Life expectancy: 76 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 13/13 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 90.8 per cent

Scores of anti-government activists were arrested. Twenty-five leading opposition activists were on trial, two in their absence, accused of plotting to overthrow the government; the 23 were initially denied access to lawyers after their arrest and some said they were tortured. Other unfair trials took place. The authorities restricted freedom of expression, including by shutting down several websites and political newsletters. The government suspended board members of an independent human rights organization. One person was executed.

Background

In April, the King appointed the 23 members of the board of the National Human Rights Institution, established in November 2009. In September, however, the board's President resigned amid disagreement between its members about how the institution should respond to political arrests.

During 2010, sporadic protests took place in predominantly Shi'a villages against alleged government discrimination in relation to housing and employment opportunities. In some cases, protesters blocked highways with burning tyres and threw home-made petrol bombs at the police and security forces. Hundreds of people were arrested, particularly in August and September, in connection with protests and riots, including many leading opposition figures, most from the Shi'a majority community. Many were allegedly arrested without warrants and held incommunicado for up to two weeks after arrest.

Independent and Shi'a Islamists won the majority of seats in parliamentary elections in October.

Unfair trials, torture and other ill-treatment

Trials of people arrested in connection with the protests started; some were marred by allegations of torture, denial of access to lawyers and other abuses.

  • The trial began on 28 October before the High Criminal Court in Manama of 25 prominent activists, most associated with al-Haq, an unauthorized opposition group. They were charged under the 2006 anti-terrorism law with "forming and funding an illegal organization with the aim of overthrowing the government and dissolving the constitution" and other offences. Two of them, who live abroad, were tried in their absence. All were accused of fomenting protests and inciting public unrest. The 23 arrested were held incommunicado for two weeks before they were charged. Some told the Public Prosecutor that they had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated by National Security Agency officials and had signed "confessions" under duress; several were referred for medical examination, but a government forensic doctor was reported to have found no physical evidence of torture. During the initial stages of the trial, defence lawyers complained about continuing restrictions on their access to their clients, and most of the accused repudiated their "confessions" and repeated to the court that they had been tortured or ill-treated. No independent investigation was initiated into the torture allegations, and only two defendants were referred to an independent medical doctor for examination. In December, the defence lawyers of the 23 withdrew from the case because the court ignored their requests, and the defendants refused to recognize or co-operate with lawyers subsequently appointed. The trial was continuing at the end of the year.

Other trials were held of people accused of murder and burning cars, tyres and other property while participating in anti-government demonstrations and riots in previous years. In some, the defendants alleged they had been tortured or ill-treated to make them "confess".