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 dissent. The government made some reforms based on the recommendations of a major inquiry into human rights violations in 2011, but failed to implement some of the inquiry’s main recommendations in relation to accountability. Scores of people remained in prison or were detained for opposing the government, including prisoners of conscience and people sentenced after unfair trials. Human rights defenders and other activists were harassed and imprisoned. The security forces continued to use excessive force against protesters, resulting in deaths, and allegedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated detainees. Only a few security officers were prosecuted for human rights violations committed in 2011, perpetuating a climate of impunity. One death sentence was imposed; there were no executions.
There were further anti-government protests, mostly by members of the majority Shi’a community who complained of being politically marginalized by the ruling Sunni minority. There were reports of demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails and blocking roads. Security forces used excessive force in dispersing some demonstrations. Political dialogue between the government and the opposition remained largely stalled.
In November, the government reported that “two Asians” had been killed and a third injured by bomb explosions in Manama. Days later, the authorities stripped 31 people of their Bahraini nationality saying they had damaged state security.
The government introduced several reforms recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in 2011, including reinstating dismissed workers and establishing police reform mechanisms. In October, it amended some articles of the Penal Code and included a new definition of torture. However, the government failed to implement other key recommendations of the BICI, which was appointed by the King in 2011 to investigate human rights violations committed by government forces when suppressing popular protests in the early months of 2011. In particular, the authorities failed to release all prisoners of conscience and to independently investigate allegations of torture of detainees and bring all the perpetrators to justice. However, under the UN Universal Periodic Review in May, the government accepted over 140 recommendations, including calls to implement the BICI’s recommendations. The government rejected other recommendations under the UN Universal Periodic Review concerning abolition of the death penalty. The government imposed tighter visa controls on foreign NGOs in March and, in October, banned all public rallies and gatherings. It lifted the ban in December. In November, the Ministry of Social Development overruled the election results for the board of the Bahrain Lawyers Society, and reinstated the previous board.
There was a continuing climate of impunity, reflected by the low number of prosecutions of police officers and security forces members relative to the extent and gravity of human rights violations committed in 2011. The authorities failed to independently investigate all allegations of torture. Only a handful of low-ranking security officers and two senior officers were brought to trial in connection with killings of protesters or torture and other abuses against detainees in custody in 2011. Three were convicted and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment but at least one remained at liberty pending an appeal. Three others were acquitted, prompting a prosecution appeal.
- In September, a court acquitted two security officers of killing two protesters at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout on 17 February 2011. The officers’ own statements were reported to be the only evidence presented and they did not attend court hearings. The prosecution lodged an appeal against the verdict in October.
Excessive use of force
The security forces continued to use excessive force, using shotguns and tear gas against protesters, sometimes in enclosed spaces. Two children were among four people reported to have died after being shot with firearms or by the impact of tear gas canisters. At least 20 other people were reported to have died as a result of tear gas. The authorities said in September that 1,500 security officers had been injured in protests since the beginning of the year. Two police officers were killed in the second half of the year.
- Hussam al-Haddad, aged 16, died on 17 August after being shot by riot police in al-Muharraq. An inquiry by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) concluded that the shooting was justifiable “to ward off imminent danger”.
- Ali Hussein Neama, aged 16, died on 28 September after riot police shot him in the back in Sadad village. His family said police threatened them and prevented them from approaching him as he lay on the ground. An investigation by the SIU dismissed the case, considering it an “act of self-defence” on the part of the security officer.
Torture and other ill-treatment
The government took steps to improve police behaviour, issuing new regulations for the police including a code of conduct and providing human rights training. However, the police continued to arrest people without warrants, detain them incommunicado for days or weeks, deny them access to lawyers, and allegedly subject them to torture or other ill-treatment, including beatings, kicking, verbal abuse and threats of rape.
- Hussein Abdullah Ali Mahmood al-Ali was arrested without a warrant on 26 July in Salmabad village. He was allegedly beaten and taken to an undisclosed location. He reported being tortured while held incommunicado and forced to sign a “confession”. His family did not know his whereabouts for three weeks, and for months after his arrest neither his family nor lawyers knew his exact location. He said he was given electric shocks and threatened with rape.
Tens of children aged 15 to 18, including those arrested at or during demonstrations, were held in adult prisons and detention centres; many were accused of “illegal gathering” or rioting. Some were beaten at or following arrest and denied access to their families or lawyers during the first hours of detention, during which time they alleged they were forced to sign “confessions”. Some were sentenced to prison terms.
- Salman Amir Abdullah al-Aradi, aged 16, was arrested in February and again in May when he was taken to Al Hidd police station and allegedly beaten and threatened with rape to make him sign a “confession” without the presence of his family or lawyer. He was then charged with “illegal gathering” and other offences, convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in July, confirmed on appeal.
- Mariam Hassan Abdali Al Khazaz, aged 17, said police beat and kicked her following her arrest in Manama after a protest on 21 September. She was made to sign a “confession” without the presence of a lawyer or her family and charged with “illegal gathering”, assaulting a police officer and other offences. She was released on bail on 17 October and was awaiting trial at the end of the year.
Human rights defenders and other activists
Human rights defenders and other activists were harassed, detained and sentenced by the authorities, and vilified in the state media.
- Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was particularly targeted, being repeatedly arrested and prosecuted. In May, he was charged with “insulting a national institution” through remarks made on Twitter about the Ministry of the Interior. On 9 July, he was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for criticizing the Prime Minister. On 16 August, he was convicted for participating in “illegal gatherings” and “disturbing public order” and sentenced to three years in prison, reduced to two years in December. He was a prisoner of conscience.
- Zainab al-Khawaja was detained for six weeks from April for staging a sit-down protest against her father’s detention and other human rights violations. She was arrested again in August and sentenced to two months in prison for tearing up a picture of the King. She was released on bail in October but re-arrested in December and sentenced to a month in prison while awaiting further charges. She was released at the end of the year.
In August, several UN Special Rapporteurs jointly urged the Bahraini government to cease harassing human rights defenders.
Prisoners of conscience
Prisoners of conscience, including those sentenced in connection with mass popular protests in 2011, remained in prison. They appeared to have been targeted for their anti-government views.
- Ebrahim Sharif, ‘Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and 11 other leading critics of the government were serving prison terms ranging from five years to life. Their convictions and sentences were confirmed in September. They were convicted of establishing terrorist groups to overthrow the government and change the Constitution, and on other charges that they denied, despite a lack of evidence that they had used or advocated violence.
- Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, former president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, had his conviction upheld but his sentence reduced from 10 to five years in prison by the High Criminal Court of Appeal in October. In September 2011, an unfair military court convicted him of calling a teachers’ strike, inciting hatred and seeking to overthrow the government by force, despite a lack of evidence to support the charges. He said he was tortured following his arrest in 2011 while held incommunicado in pre-trial detention.
- Six health professionals, including ‘Ali ‘Esa Mansoor al-‘Ekri and Ghassan Ahmed ‘Ali Dhaif, were arrested in October the day after the Court of Cassation confirmed their convictions and upheld reduced prison sentences of between one month and five years imposed on them in June. Originally, they were sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison after an unfair trial in September 2011. The appeal court quashed the convictions of several others. Two of the six were released at the end of their sentences, but the four others were held at al-Jaw prison at the end of the year.
Freedom of assembly
On 30 October the Interior Minister banned all rallies and gatherings alleging that they allowed people to express opposition to the government and led to rioting, violence and destruction of property. He said the ban would remain in place until “security is maintained” and that anyone breaching the ban would be prosecuted. The ban was lifted in December and the Ministry of the Interior announced a proposal to amend the Code on Public Meetings, Processions and Gatherings, which imposed restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly.
- Sayed Yousif Almuhafdah, a human rights activist, was detained on 2 November for attending an unauthorized gathering to document police behaviour towards protesters. He was released two weeks later and the charges of “illegal gathering” were dropped. He was re-arrested in December and charged with “spreading false news”.
One death sentence was reportedly imposed in March and upheld by the Court of Appeal in November. There were no executions. Two death sentences imposed in 2011 by a military court were quashed by the Court of Cassation and the two defendants were retried before a civilian court.
Amnesty International visits/reports
- Amnesty International cancelled a planned visit to Bahrain in March when the government imposed new visa restrictions on international NGOs. Trial observers representing Amnesty International visited Bahrain in August and September.
- Flawed reforms: Bahrain fails to achieve justice for protesters (MDE 11/014/2012)
- Bahrain: Reform shelved, repression unleashed (MDE 11/062/2012)