US 2009 Human Rights Report: Bahrain

On 11March 2010, US Department of State launched the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The report covered 19 countries in the Middle East and North Africa including Bahrain. Regarding Bahrain, the report differed much from the previous annual reports in reflecting some positive aspects in the overall assessment of the human rights situation in Bahrain. However, the report highlighted a number of concerns, in many areas, including: restriction of civil liberties, such as freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices; domestic violence against women and children; discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect; trafficking in persons; restrictions on the rights of foreign workers; restrictions on freedom of association and expression that hinders investigation and public criticism of the government’s human rights policies; discrimination against women was systemic in the country, especially in the workplace; women cannot transmit their nationality to their children, therefore, children of some citizen mothers and non-citizen fathers are born stateless; trafficking in persons continued to be a significant problem, some victims were trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation; there was a lack of transparency in the naturalization process; practices of forced or compulsory labour, particularly among domestic workers; employers and recruiting agencies beating or sexually abusing foreign women working in domestic positions.

On the positive side, the report did not register any politically motivated killings or disappearances during the year; there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees; there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; there were no restrictions on freedom of religion; there were no reports of forced exile; rape was not a major problem in the country; the establishment on 11 November of a national institution for human rights to protect and promote human rights in Bahrain; on June 30, a new law went into effect granting resident children born to citizen mothers and non-citizen fathers free access to some social services, including health care and education; there were no reports of forced or compulsory child labour; there was no concrete evidence in relation to arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence despite that many Shia believe the contrary. Additionally, on April 11, the king announced amnesty for 178 persons, including many charged for rioting.

Below is a summary of some concerns raised in the report.

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The report referred to allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during the year committed by security forces in response to tire burnings and disturbances by demonstrators.

The youths involved in demonstrations routinely alleged that security forces beat them in custody, according to the report. To substantiate this, the report mentioned the acquittal of 19 defendants on 19 October of charges relating to the 2008 death of a police officer in Karzakan. In this case it was reported by the media that the court was influenced by the defendants’ claims that they confessed under duress.

But the report did not point to the fact that the security services, which implicitly admitted the occurrence of some abuses by its staff members, have referred a number of them to investigation. It has to be said that torture was not systematic nor is it part of the nature of security investigations. The problem lies in that the security services have accused some of those arrested on security grounds that they were not truthful regarding their torture allegations. Therefore, there is need to form an investigating committee to ascertain such allegations.

Prison and Detention Centre Conditions

Despite allegations by some detainees that pre-trial detention facility guards physically abused them, the report recognized that prisons and detention centre conditions generally met international standards. In line with this, the report relied on the finding of the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) that men were held in separate facilities from women, and juveniles were held separately from adults.

Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The report referred to some allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention during the year despite constitutional safeguards. However, the report did not criticize Bahrain in arrest procedures and treatment while in detention.

Freedom of Speech and Press

This is one of the areas where the report flagged a number of concerns, particularly when government censorship occurred. The report mentioned that the government enforced the press law to restrict freedom of speech and press. The Ministry of Culture and Information (MOCI) actively monitored and blocked local stories on sensitive matters, especially those related to sectarianism and national security or neighbouring countries, or judges. The report noted the suspension by the MOCI of Arabic daily Akhbar Al Khaleej for one day after the newspaper published an editorial by a Shura Council member criticizing Iranian political and religious leadership. Of a major concern highlighted in the report in this area is the issue of restricting use of the Internet by prohibiting access to Internet sites considered antigovernment or anti-Islamic. Approximately 100 Web sites were blocked by the government during the year including political and human rights Web sites.

The report did not indicate that the banned sites related to incitement of violence, according to the Government. The Government added that the number of such sites is limited and much lower than the figure mentioned, and furthermore, the sites were not expressing peaceful political opinion, but were encouraging the use of riots and violence.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The report mentioned that the government specifically limited political gatherings. The law regulates election campaigns and prohibits political activities at worship centres, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. The government did not allow ma’tams (Shia religious community centres) or other religious sites to be used for political gatherings without permission.

Antigovernment demonstrations occurred regularly in numerous Shia villages around the country. Bands of Shia youth, allegedly instigated by members of the unregistered Haq Movement and the newly organized al-Waf’a Islamic Movement, regularly appeared at both registered and unregistered demonstrations where they burned tires and trash and threw Molotov cocktails and stones at riot police.

Police often dispersed demonstrations with tear gas. Local human rights NGOs alleged that riot police used tear gas against peaceful demonstrators; however, the MOI countered that it used tear gas in response to attacks by demonstrators. Periodically security forces fired rubber baton rounds at the ground to disperse demonstrations.

Freedom of Association

The report noted that some NGOs were denied registration by the government such as the National Committee for the Unemployed, the Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society’s (BYHRS), allegedly because of its ties to the dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).

The report referred to human rights reports issued by three Bahraini human rights societies in 2009. The first report issued by the Bahrain Human Rights Society, which is seen as an ally of Wa’ad Society, a socialist party; the second report issued by Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, which considers itself independent, although some leaders are members of the appointed Shura Council, and its former president served as ambassador; and the third report issued by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, which is classified by the report as not registered, but the Centre was dissolved in 2004 for violating its Statute, involving in political issues, and allying with radical political parties that incite street violence. According to the U.S. State Department report, the Centre continued to issue reports and coordinate activities with the oppositional Haq movement.

Also, the report noted that senior government officials met with civil society organizations to discuss human rights issues, transparency and the reports of those organizations. On 11 November 2009, the King ordered the establishment of the National Commission for Human Rights, which its objectives include the protection of human rights, and receive complaints about violations, and issue periodic reports on the human rights situation.

In recent years, the government allowed more interaction between local civil society organizations and international human rights organizations. In 2009, members of Amnesty International organized many activities without government interference. On 11 April 2009, the International Federation of Journalists founded its first regional branch in Bahrain. On 3 June 2009, the ICRC visited Bahrain for the first time since 2002 in order to train officials and members of civil society on the management of detention and imprisonment.

Societal Discrimination

The report noted with concern government and societal discrimination against the Shia population. Some sect group received preference for employment in sensitive government positions and in the managerial ranks of the civil service. The defense and internal security forces were also predominantly Sunni, and few Shia members attained high-ranking positions.

However, the report did not refer to the Government’s views, which include: the Government does not practice discrimination; there is a legacy from the past which the Government is trying to address by various means; some forms of discrimination are societal and not official; the Interior Ministry has increased its efforts in recruiting Shia in the security institutions


The report noted the participation of women in different walks of public life including 10 women in the Shura Council, one woman in the Council of Deputies, two women served as cabinet ministers, three women sat as judges in the criminal courts, and one was a judge in the Constitutional Court.

Parliament passed, and on May 27 the king ratified, the Sunni personal status law. At year›s end, the government continued to work with the Shia community toward a new Shia law.

Women faced discrimination under the law. A woman cannot transmit nationality to her spouse or children.

A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father without just cause.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The report mentioned that citizens can bring civil suits before the court seeking cessation of, or damages for, human rights violations; however, the government maintained that the 2001 general amnesty granted immunity for alleged human rights violations committed before 2001. Coupled with this, the report mentioned the disciplinary action by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) against 23 police officers during the year for committing human rights abuses.