Amnesty’s 2011 Report: Paints Dismal Picture of Bahrain ‘s Human Rights Violations

Amnesty’s 2011 Report: Paints Dismal Picture of Bahrain ‘s Human Rights Violations

Amnesty International’s Annual Report of 2011 for Bahrain indicates a dismal picture of human rights in the country with unfair trials, arrests of anti-government activists, repression of freedom of expression, suppression of the media, torture and execution.

As protestors took to the streets in 2011 in the tiny nation of 0.8 million people, the unrest was felt from ordinary citizens to the head of state, King Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa, and the head of government, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Division occurred on the board of the National Human Rights Institution, established in November 2009, as 23 members – appointed by the king – disagreed on how to respond to political arrests.

From a largely literate population (90.8 per cent literacy rate), sporadic protests during 2010 broke out in principally Shi’a villages against governmental discrimination in housing and employment. Civilians used many methods to confront police and security forces and consequently hundreds of protestors were arrested, including many leading opposition figures who were held in secret locations for weeks after their arrest. Later that year, Shi’a Islamists won the majority of seats in parliamentary elections .

The trials of 25 prominent activists – beginning on 28 October – were marred by allegations of torture and denial of access to lawyers

Most of these activists were associated with an illegal opposition group called al-Haq and the people concerned were charged with ‘forming and funding an illegal organization with the aim of overthrowing the government and dissolving the constitution’ (under the 2006 anti-terrorism law). Of the 23 arrested, 2 were tried in absentia. Those who were arrested had signed ‘confessions’ under duress and only government doctors were permitted to examine them; accordingly, no evidence of torture was found.

Government lawyers were appointed for the defendants who refused to cooperate with them, and no independent investigation took place into the torture allegations. People accused of murder, burning tires and cars and other alleged crimes were also reported to have been tortured until they ‘confessed’, and this became routine practice.

In a show of excessive use of force, security forces reportedly fired shotguns at protesters despite claims from the Interior Minister to Amnesty International that security forces had not wounded anyone. Even people who helped the injured – protestors or onlookers – were arrested.

The 2002 Press and Publications Law prescribes imprisonment for anyone found guilty of criticizing the king or ‘inciting hatred of the regime’. In August 2010, the Public Prosecutor used Article 246 of the Penal Code to prohibit the media from publishing or broadcasting any details about the arrests. A number of publications and blogs were banned and closed down. Any form of protest or opposition was deemed as inciting hatred and violence in public forums.  

The Bahrain Human Rights Society – an independent NGO – was suspended in September 2010, on charges of ‘legal and administrative irregularities’ and ‘co-operating with illegal organizations’. Previous to this, the NGO had published details of the torture of the 23 detained Shi`a activists. Related, a number of human rights activists were banned from travelling abroad,  despite denials by government officials.

In Bahrain the death penalty has only been used against foreign nationals and the government abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

An Amnesty International delegation visited Bahrain in October for research purposes and meetings with the government. The delegation observed the first session of the trial of 23 Shi’a activists arrested in August and September.