Bahrain in HRW’s Annual Report
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its World Report 2016, which
claimed the existence of credible and consistent allegations of
torture and mistreatment of detainees in Bahrain during 2015. According
to the report, such allegations undermined claims of reform. While
the Bahraini government and its friends, such as the United Kingdom,
have contended that the new institutions established by Bahrain
are effectively contributing to the development of the human rights
situation and the protection of detainees, the report argues that
these institutions have failed to provide protection, just as the
authorities have failed to hold accountable those responsible for
torture and other abuses.
The report said that the police forces still use excessive force
to disperse demonstrators, and that restrictions on freedom of expression
still exist, and trials of activists and prominent opposition figures
for crimes related to expression still continue in courts lacking
in fair trial standards.
Authorities have attributed the death of two policemen, in two
separate incidents, to terrorist acts, and complained of the escalation
of violence and terrorism.
HRW report noted that Bahraini lawyers complained about official
practices that have the effect of circumventing the country’s legislative
safeguards against torture, particularly the authorities’ failure
to divulge the whereabouts of detained suspects, often for weeks
at a time.
Former detainees and families of inmates held at Jaw Prison alleged
that security forces firing tear gas and bird shot used disproportionate
force to quell violent unrest among prisoners there on March 10,
As for the new institutions established by the authorities, such
as the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Ombudsman Office,
the report insists that they are “still failing to hold security
forces and high officials accountable for torture and serious mistreatment
of persons in custody.” The SIU, claims the report, has not conducted
investigations or prosecutions that have led to the conviction of
any individuals for acts of torture in cases relating to Bahrain’s
political unrest. According to HRW report, “The ombudsman, who accepts
individual complaints and directs them to the appropriate investigatory
authority, did not provide details concerning the 83 cases his office
referred to the SIU”.
With regard to freedom of expression and fair trial, HRW report
referred to the arrest of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. In
May 2015, according to HRW, the Court of Aappeal upheld his six-month
sentence issued in 2014 after he criticized the government on social
media for the use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute human rights
defenders. Rajab has said that the Bahraini security forces belief
in violence is similar to the practices of the Islamic State (ISIS).
In July 2015, continues the report, the authorities announced
that King Hamad had pardoned Rajab for health reasons, but the latter
still faces charges related to the comments that led to his arrest
in April, and is still banned from travelling.
HRW report also referred to the arrest, by the authorities, of
Ibrahim Sharif, Secretary General of the opposition National Democratic
Action Society, for allegedly encouraging the government’s overthrow
and “inciting hatred” in a speech that consisted solely of peaceful
criticism of the government and calls for political reform. According
to the report, the authorities had condemned Sharif in 2011, for
being a member of a group that chose to “advocate the declaration
of a republic in the country “ and he was sentenced to five years.
However, the report continues, the authorities released Sharif 9
months before the expiration of his sentence, only to be arrested
again two weeks after his release.
On the other hand, HRW’s annual report alluded to the arrest
of Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of Al Wifaq Society, claiming
that he was tried and convicted on June 16, 2015 on three speech-related
charges, and sentenced to four years in prison. According to the
report, the presiding court judge refused to allow Sheikh Salman’s
defense lawyers to present potentially exculpatory evidence, including
the speeches for which he was prosecuted, arguing that it is intended
to cast doubt on the overwhelming evidence that convinced the court.
The report noted that in August 2015, the Bahraini cabinet discussed
a draft law on criminalizing “contempt of religions”, which would
also criminalize “any hate and sectarian discourse that undermines
national unity.” The cabinet referred the draft to the Ministerial
Committee for Legal Affairs for further study.
From HRW point of view, as a result of the 2014 amendment to
Bahrain’s citizenship law, the Interior Ministry can, with cabinet
approval, revoke the citizenship of any person who, is proved “to
aid or is involved in the service of a hostile state” or who “causes
harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes
his duty of loyalty to it.”
HRW noted that on January 31, 2015, the Minister of Interior
revoked the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis stating that they had been
involved in “illegal acts,” including “inciting and advocating regime
change through illegal means,” “defaming brotherly countries,” and
“defaming the image of the regime.” HRW report added that the 72
individuals included former parliamentarians, doctors, politicians,
human rights activists, and other Bahrainis alleged to have joined