Nine Years After Bahrain’s Uprising, Its Human...
Nine years have passed since the popular movement demanding democracy in Bahrain in February 2011, when tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in cities and towns across the country to protest the ruling Al Khalifa family’s tight grip on power, discrimination against the country’s majority Shia population, and arrests of political critics.
The 2011 uprising itself came 10 years after the 2001 referendum in which citizens voted overwhelmingly for the National Action Charter. The charter promised key democratic reforms, including a popularly elected national assembly. In the years since, Bahrain’s human rights crisis has only worsened. The authorities have demonstrated a zero-tolerance policy for any free and independent political thought, and they have imprisoned, exiled, or intimidated into silence anyone who criticizes the government.
With the international community continuing to shamefully deal with human rights issues in Bahrain, especially the humane suffering of prisoners, the official authorities have not held those responsible for torture and other forms of ill-treatment despite the establishment of oversight mechanisms as recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). In this regard, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights monitored the overall number of violations between the years 2011 and 2019, which can be summarized as follows :
- More than 14,000 cases of arbitrary detention, including more than 5,000 victims of torture and ill-treatment.
- More than 1700 cases of arbitrary detention of children.
- 810 cases of revocation of citizenship of Bahraini citizens based on political and malicious reasons.
- 4997 injuries due to the suppression of peaceful gatherings, while the peaceful gathering is completely prohibited since 2014 due to the opposition’s boycott of the parliamentary and municipal elections, in addition to the suppression of hundreds of peaceful assemblies since 2011.
In addition, according to the report of the International Center for Criminal Policy Research, Bahrain was ranked first according to the percentage of prisoners in the Middle East compared to the population, with a prison population of 301 per 100,000 inhabitants, and death sentences amounted to 36 rulings.
The most important forms of deteriorating human rights conditions in Bahrain are highlighted in restricting freedom of expression, confiscation of freedom of assembly and association, and widespread impunity. The rate of violations that include arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, and revocation of nationality, torture and ill-treatment is also increasing, along with illegal raids of homes and residential facilities and violations of freedom of movement, prosecutions of activists, the transmission of hate speeches, and extrajudicial killings. As well as the dissolution of opposition political associations and the escalation of repression against civil society, where the National Security Agency was employed to pursue human rights and political activists in the torture cellars to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities through the use of multiple methods of torture and coercion, including: electrical shocks, sexual harassment and the threat of targeting relatives.
It is worth mentioning that the most prominent human rights defenders in Bahrain are in prison and face ill-treatment, including Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who spent two years in prison for "spreading false news, statements and rumors about the internal situation of the Kingdom" as alleged by the authorities. Then, he immediately returned to prison again to serve a 5-year sentence for his tweets in which he criticized torture at the "Jaw Central Prison" in Bahrain and the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen. The Court of Appeal in Manama endorsed the last conviction, as it accused Rajab of "broadcasting false rumors in wartime", "insulting regular bodies" and "insulting a foreign country (Saudi Arabia)", and Rajab is detained since June 2016 until today, despite suffering from a serious skin disease, despite repeated international calls for his release, the authorities have not paid any attention to this, and have continued to imprison him, and issued in 2018 another arbitrary ruling against him.
His case is not unique. He is one of dozens of human rights defenders, political activists, opposition leaders, and journalists unjustly imprisoned since the government quelled the 2011 protests.
According to Human Rights Watch, Bahrain’s allies, including the United States and United Kingdom, seem reluctant to face the reality of what’s happening in the country. During 2019, the U.S. State Department approved three major weapons sales to Bahrain worth 3.4 billion dollars, despite the government’s dismal record on human rights and relentless persecution of dissidents. The United States has also failed to publicly raise human rights concerns with Bahraini authorities.
Based on freedom of information requests, the United Kingdom has provided 6.5 million pounds of technical assistance to Bahrain since 2012, including support aimed at security and justice sector reform. Yet the oversight bodies the UK has supported have repeatedly failed to hold prison guards and officers to account, amid evidence of inhumane and degrading conditions of Bahrain’s prisons.