Torture in Bahrain: Political and Social Environment
On 8 February 2010, Human Rights Watch launched a report about
Bahrain under the title: (Torture Redux: the Revival of Physical
Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain). The report confirms
the disappearance of torture in Bahrain since the beginning of the
reform project in 2001 and until the end of 2007 where cases of
torture began to emerge once again.
Many issues related to the report have been officially discussed
and explained. Though the officials have categorically denied the
occurrence of systematic torture, they, however, have promised to
investigate the information contained in the report assuming that
there may be individual cases of abuses. This article discusses
the reasons that the report believes they lead to abuses, including
torture. This approach goes beyond discussing individual violations
to examine the political, social and legislative environment in
Bahrain. This is the area that the report did not examine thoroughly
though it was very useful to understand the context of torture allegations.
The reasons will be examined one by one with some observations,
explanations and solutions that may help Bahrain to close this file.
The report attributes the emergence of torture in Bahrain to
increasing (political tensions ... in Bahrain. Street demonstrations
involving young men from the country’s majority Shia Muslim community
protesting alleged discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government
deteriorated with increasing regularity into confrontations, sometimes
violent, with security forces). Thus, this quotation refers to the
following reasons: 1/ the growing political tensions; 2/ using young
people in street demonstrations; 3/ protests against discrimination;
4/ confrontations between demonstrators and security forces.
Increasing political tensions
Democratic political transformation in any country passes through
transitional period. The transition from one phase to another is
always coupled with obstacles and immense difficulties. According
to current analysis of the matter, there is a political process
in place, involving active political actors. This process is not
facing deadlock, although its momentum is slowing down, and at the
same time the process does not face strong opposition from within
the political system to hinder its performance. Additionally, the
period covered by the report (2007-2009) is characterized by relatively
good relations and cooperation between legislative and executive
branches. Therefore, it can be said that there is no (political
tension), but rather there is (security tension) created by a minority
that rejects the political process and does not even recognize the
ruling system. This minority creates tension in the street, violence,
riots and destruction of property. This radical minority in particular,
is largely responsible for slowing the momentum of the political
process and contributes to human rights violations, either directly
or indirectly through excessive reactions by the security forces
to its practices.
Stork: No return
to square one
On 08 February 2010, Joe Stork, Deputy
Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa of
HRW, stated at a news conference in Manama that: (obviously,
since the beginning of this century, Bahrain has shown the
world that political will can stop torture, which was evident
in the period between 2001 and 2006. During this period
it was clear that there were serious human rights issues,
but torture is not one of them). He added: (it can not be
said that Bahrain is back to square one, but when talking
about the return of torture, there are serious issues in
this regard). He pointed out that the (government reports
and medical documents do not mean a return to square one.
Today we are talking in a public place and the press conference
is allowed without a license, and, therefore, there is no
similarity between the way things were ten years ago and
Two political blocs are competing since the launch of the reform
project. One bloc is working towards a smooth democratic transition,
while the other bloc is striving to impede this transition under
various grounds. These contradicting/adverse positions lead to a
conflict and security tension between the two sides and eventually
to human rights violations. This situation poses a challenge for
everyone and puts the reform project to a test from two sides: the
need to continue the democratization process; and at the same time
the need to maintain security and order without committing human
It is, therefore, necessary to continue to try to absorb the
radical opposition within the political process, while recognizing
the fact that the opposition rejects this approach since it is apparent
that the radical opposition is not against the reforms and the political
process only, but also against the political system altogether.
It is also incumbent on the Government to reaffirm its commitment
to human rights standards while countering street rioting and violence
including good treatment of detainees involved in such events and
the prosecution of human rights abusers without delay. Moreover,
the reform project always needs to renew itself and blood. It needs
to be brought to the fore once again taking into consideration the
current transformations at all levels in order to translate its
objectives to a dynamic and genuine acts so the citizen can feel
that the principles of the National Action Charter and the Constitution
have been translated into reality.
Demonstrations by young people
Frequent street demonstrations and protests by young people should
not be confronted, prevented or looked at as a negative phenomenon.
The burden of studying this phenomenon is largely on the media,
social workers, academics, officials of social welfare, youth and
sports department, legislators, enlightened clergymen, and student
associations. The question is: Why do many demonstrations and sit-ins
take place in Bahrain, and why large numbers of young people participate
in them? Obviously, there are political, social and living conditions
that should be addressed from the roots. There is need to organize
events and activities for the youth in order to convert their energy
into development projects through which young people can express
themselves and contribute positively in nation building. But until
then, the demonstrations, if organized peacefully and according
to the law, will not necessarily lead to security tensions. There
is a margin of freedom that any citizen can use according to law.
Protests against discrimination
The problem of discrimination exists in all countries of the
world. It also exists in Bahrain in relation to women, foreign labour
and other social groups. The Human Rights Watch report refers to
discrimination against the Shiites only. The Bahrain Human Rights
Monitor believes that there is no systematic discrimination against
the Shiites during the era of reforms, and that there are real efforts
to get rid of the legacy of the past in order to balance the political
and social condition. There are many ways to fight discrimination,
for example through (positive discrimination/affirmative action).
However, it can not be accepted today, with the political process
going-on, that discrimination is the cause of security tension as
there are no new discriminatory actions taken by the authorities.
In the final analysis, street violence and rioting is not a logical
solution to get rid of the legacy of the past.
On the other hand, while reaffirming that discrimination leads
to tense situations in many cases, it is clear that the texts of
equality contained in the Constitution and the National Action Charter,
are not enough to put an end to all forms of discrimination. Therefore,
it is important to have in place legislation outlawing all forms
of discrimination. Legislative Council should play its role to study
discrimination and develop legislative solutions to it. Protests
against discrimination should be staged in a civilized and peaceful
manner, and the State should allow peaceful protests without compromising
Confrontations between demonstrators and security forces
The State must respect all components of society without restricting
the rights of any one to express their political views peacefully.
The organization of demonstrations requires the procedures to be
followed, including obtaining a license and determining the location
and time. Demonstrations organizers should be vigilant and careful
for the safety of everyone as well as the facilities of the State.
The State should ensure the safety of demonstrators and other protesters
in addition to State facilities. Therefore, there is need for coordination
between the organizers of any demonstration and the authorities
that grant license to demonstrate. If each party sticks to its boundaries,
there will be no confrontation, on the contrary security forces
will protect the protesters, and protesters will thank the security
forces for providing a healthy environment for demonstration. This
is the ideal way for the organization of peaceful demonstrations,
where everyone avoids any confrontations between protesters and
There is no need to impose a fait accompli, by demonstrating
without a permit from the competent authorities, as is happening
now from the radical parties who incite their followers to destroy
properties, burn power transformers, and attack the security forces.
These acts are against human rights, and the excessive response
to these acts by security forces also constitutes human rights violations.
The cause of the clashes between demonstrators and security forces,
and the subsequent arrests and the allegations of torture, is attributed
to those who do not want to comply with the law by obtaining the
required license and commit themselves to peaceful demonstration.
We stand by peaceful and civilized demonstrations as well as by
legal, humane and civilized reactions by security forces.