Bahrain
Head of state
King Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa
Head of government
Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa
Death penalty
retentionist
Population
0.8 million
Life expectancy
76 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f)
13/13 per 1,000
Adult literacy
90.8 per cent

Scores of anti-government activists were arrested. Twenty-five leading opposition activists were on trial, two in their absence, accused of plotting to overthrow the government; the 23 were initially denied access to lawyers after their arrest and some said they were tortured. Other unfair trials took place. The authorities restricted freedom of expression, including by shutting down several websites and political newsletters. The government suspended board members of an independent human rights organization. One person was executed.

Background

In April, the King appointed the 23 members of the board of the National Human Rights Institution, established in November 2009. In September, however, the board’s President resigned amid disagreement between its members about how the institution should respond to political arrests.

During 2010, sporadic protests took place in predominantly Shi’a villages against alleged government discrimination in relation to housing and employment opportunities. In some cases, protesters blocked highways with burning tyres and threw home-made petrol bombs at the police and security forces. Hundreds of people were arrested, particularly in August and September, in connection with protests and riots, including many leading opposition figures, most from the Shi’a majority community. Many were allegedly arrested without warrants and held incommunicado for up to two weeks after arrest.

Independent and Shi’a Islamists won the majority of seats in parliamentary elections in October.

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Unfair trials, torture and other ill-treatment

Trials of people arrested in connection with the protests started; some were marred by allegations of torture, denial of access to lawyers and other abuses.

  • The trial began on 28 October before the High Criminal Court in Manama of 25 prominent activists, most associated with al-Haq, an unauthorized opposition group. They were charged under the 2006 anti-terrorism law with “forming and funding an illegal organization with the aim of overthrowing the government and dissolving the constitution” and other offences. Two of them, who live abroad, were tried in their absence. All were accused of fomenting protests and inciting public unrest. The 23 arrested were held incommunicado for two weeks before they were charged. Some told the Public Prosecutor that they had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated by National Security Agency officials and had signed “confessions” under duress; several were referred for medical examination, but a government forensic doctor was reported to have found no physical evidence of torture. During the initial stages of the trial, defence lawyers complained about continuing restrictions on their access to their clients, and most of the accused repudiated their “confessions” and repeated to the court that they had been tortured or ill-treated. No independent investigation was initiated into the torture allegations, and only two defendants were referred to an independent medical doctor for examination. In December, the defence lawyers of the 23 withdrew from the case because the court ignored their requests, and the defendants refused to recognize or co-operate with lawyers subsequently appointed. The trial was continuing at the end of the year.

Other trials were held of people accused of murder and burning cars, tyres and other property while participating in anti-government demonstrations and riots in previous years. In some, the defendants alleged they had been tortured or ill-treated to make them “confess”.

  • In March, the Supreme Appeal Court convicted 19 men accused of killing a police officer during an anti-government demonstration in 2008 in Karzakan and sentenced them to three years in prison. In October 2009 a lower court had acquitted them, finding that there was extensive evidence that the accused had been tortured in pre-trial detention to force them to “confess”. This finding was ignored by the Supreme Appeal Court. No steps were taken to investigate the men’s torture allegations.

Other cases of torture were also reported.

  • Two men, who were detained for the alleged attempted murder in August of a newspaper editor, were said to have been tortured to obtain detailed confessions used in court. They were released in December after the victim told the court that they were not the people who had attacked him.
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Excessive use of force

Several times during the year security forces were reported to have fired shotguns at protesters and others. In October, the Interior Minister told Amnesty International that the security forces had tried to contain protests and violence without using excessive force and that no one had been wounded by their actions.

  • In March, Ibrahim al-Dumistani and ‘Abdel-‘Aziz Nasheeb, both nurses, were arrested after they assisted Hussain ‘Ali Hassan al-Sahlawi who had been shot, apparently by police trying to disperse a protest in Karzakan in which demonstrators had burned tyres. The injured man said he had not been protesting and was shot by police outside his home. The nurses were charged with assisting a “cover up” and “abusing their medical profession”, and quickly released on bail.
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Freedom of expression

Critics of the monarchy and government were warned that they would be prosecuted under the 2002 Press and Publications Law, which prescribes prison terms for those criticizing the King or “inciting hatred of the regime”, although no such prosecutions were reported.

The government clamped down further on dissent after the arrest of the 23 opposition activists. On 28 August, the Public Prosecutor invoked Article 246 of the Penal Code to prohibit the media and others from publishing or broadcasting information about the arrests; breaches would be punishable by up to one year in prison. Although no prosecutions were reported, the government banned and shut down various publications and blogs. Among them was the Bahrain Online forum, which the Director of the National Information Agency said in October had been closed because it was deemed to have incited hatred and violence. He also said that other websites had been blocked because they had published material that breached Bahraini law, and that newsletters of political associations had been banned as the law only allows their circulation to members whereas these had been distributed to the public.

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Freedom of association

In September, the government suspended the board of the independent NGO Bahrain Human Rights Society, accusing it of “legal and administrative irregularities” and “co-operating with illegal organizations”. Shortly before, the NGO had published on their website allegations of torture relating to the 23 detained Shi’a activists. The government appointed a temporary administrator, severely compromising the society’s independence.

Several human rights activists were prevented from travelling abroad, although the government denied that travel bans had been issued against them.

  • Nabeel Rajab, Director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights that was banned in 2004, was prevented at the border from travelling to Saudi Arabia on 27 September, prompting international protests. In October, he was allowed to travel.
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Migrants’ rights

Foreign migrants, especially domestic workers, continued to be exploited and abused despite revisions to the kafala (sponsorship system) made in 2009 to enable foreign workers to change jobs without obtaining their employer’s consent. In several reported cases, employers confiscated foreign domestic workers’ passports to prevent them seeking alternative employment. A number of migrant workers were reported to have committed suicide on account of their poor living and working conditions. Bahraini law affords little protection to foreign domestic workers; for example, it contains no provisions establishing a minimum wage or rest time.

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Death penalty

At least one person was sentenced to death and one man was executed. As in the previous 10 years, the death penalty was only used against foreign nationals.

  • In March, Russell Mezan, a Bangladeshi national, was sentenced to death for murdering a Kuwaiti man. The death sentence was upheld on appeal in October and by the Cassation Court later in the year.
  • In July, Jassim Abdulmanan, a Bangladeshi national, was executed. He had been sentenced in 2007 for murdering another Bangladeshi national in 2005.

In December, Bahrain abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

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Country Visits

  • 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.