The Kingdom of Bahrain is located in the Persian Gulf with a population of approximately 1.7 million people. It is an archipelago made of 83 islands, 50 natural and 33 artificial. Arabic is the official language of the state, but English, Farsi, and Urdu are also spoken. 46% of the population is Bahraini, 45.5% Asian, 4.7% other Arab nationalities, 1.6% African, and 1% European. Bahrain is predominantly Muslim with 73.7% of the population identifying as Muslim. 9.3% identify as Christian, 0.1% identify as Jewish, and 16.9% follow other religions, a mix of Hinduism, Baha’ism, Buddhism, Sikhism.
The Bahraini government consists of three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa has served as the Chief of State since March 6, 1999. Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa has served as Head of Government since November 11, 2020. The executive cabinet is appointed by the monarch, while elections are held for appointment to the legislative branch. The state operates as a constitutional monarchy.
In 2011, the Bahraini people began protests demanding greater civil and political rights; the same day the first demonstrator was killed by security forces. The ensuing government crackdown led to a continuing human rights crisis: excessive force was repeatedly used by security forces against peaceful protesters. Close to 50 people were killed and hundreds injured. Hundreds were arrested and tried before military courts, many reporting torture or ill-treated in detention. More than 4,000 protesters were dismissed from their jobs or expelled from university for having participated in the protests.
In spite of the Bahraini security forces’ demonstrated willingness to use excessive force to repress protesters, the United States Department of State announced a planned sale of $53 million of weapons and equipment to Bahrain in 2012. Since 2014, the U.S. has provided Bahrain with $52.9 million in military aid via Foreign Military Financing and the Department of Defense military grant assistance.
Many continue to face injustice. Twenty doctors and nurses sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for their involvement in protests are currently appealing their sentences. Fourteen opposition activists, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Ebrahim Sharif, remain behind bars, having been sentenced to up to life in prison in an unfair trial by a military court.
In 2016, Amnesty reported on an increase in the use of banishment of individuals by revoking their citizenship by Bahrain’s authorities. The patterned use of expulsion appeared to become the Bahraini authorities’ weapon of choice when silencing dissent. This rise in expulsions followed the 10x increase in nationality revocations in 2015 compared to 2014.
Freedom of association and expression
2016 also saw the dissolution of the main opposition party in Bahrain, which marked a flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association. The suppression of human rights and opposition continued in 2017 as the secular opposition group, National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), was banned and dissolved.
On 23 November 2011 the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), set up by royal decree on 29 June, presented its findings to the King of Bahrain. The BICI’s report concluded, amongst other things, that excessive force had been used against protesters, that torture was widespread and that many people were on trial or had been sentenced to prison terms for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The report made a number of recommendations which the King promised to implement.
Despite some steps being taken, such as the opening of the trial of eight policemen, five of them Pakistani, one Yemeni and two Bahrainis accused of mistreating prisoners and killing protesters and bringing in international human rights experts and policing experts to train the police, Amnesty International is not aware of any serious steps taken to ensure accountability. Most glaringly, no action is known to have been taken so far against any high-ranking security officers or government officials for their involvement in human rights abuses. Neither have any outcome of investigations into alleged torture been made public. Despite the fact that several private companies announced the reinstatement of employees who had been dismissed because of their participation in protests, hundreds of people have yet to be reinstated. Dozens of university students are still waiting to be allowed to resume their studies. Most worryingly, excessive force continues to be used against protesters on almost a daily basis and the death toll mounts. Reports of torture and ill-treatment continue to reach Amnesty International.
Bahrain’s actions have continued to show that the kingdom is “not serious” about human rights reforms. In 2013, Bahrain cancelled the U.N. Torture Review of the Kingdom for the second time. A 2015 Amnesty report found that rampant abuses, including torture, arbitrary detentions, and excessive use of force against peaceful protestors and government critics had continued unabated.
In March 2021, Amnesty International joined 14 peer human rights groups to urge the Biden Administration to address the deterioration of human rights in Bahrain. The recommendations outlined by the group include pressuring Bahrain to end the use of torture and ill-treatment and to apply the Leahy Laws and other mechanisms to restrict security and military assistance to Bahraini security force units that are found to violate human rights and to promote justice in individual cases. The letter is accessible here.
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Kingdom of Bahrain Head of state King Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa Head of government Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa The authorities continued to crack down on protests and …
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