Highlights of the 2014 State Dept. Human Rights Report on Bahrain

The State Department recently released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014, and the following pertains to the section on Bahrain. The report discusses some initial steps the government has taken toward improving human rights since 2011, such as establishing the Office of the Ombudsman and the National Institute for Human Rights, both of which have acted to implement some of the recommendations given by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). However, “local and international observers continued to express concern the government did not make significant progress on other BICI recommendations, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, and integrating Shi’a into security forces.”

The report cites the “most serious” ongoing human rights concerns in Bahrain as “citizens’ limited ability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters (some of whom were violent) on vague charges, occasionally leading to their torture and mistreatment in detention; and lack of due process in trials of political and human rights activists, students, and journalists, including harsh sentences.”

The report notes that police have enjoyed near total impunity as evidence of torture and abuses have continued to mount. Meanwhile, the assessment characterized conditions in prisons as falling short of minimum standards. Allegations of torture and cruel and degrading treatment continued, with beatings, sleep deprivations, and food deprivations being common. Prisons were overcrowded and unhygienic, and medical care was often not available or inadequate. It also noted arbitrary detentions and seizures of property performed without warrant. The independence of the judiciary was also called into question, and the use of closed trials and unfair procedures, including the admission of confessions allegedly obtained through torture, was highlighted.

The report notes that “the government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws; targeting civilian and professional journalists; and passing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.” Restricting freedom of speech through charges of insulting or offending the king was a common tactic, as was harassing and arresting journalists and restricting internet freedoms. Freedom of assembly was also restricted with political societies and civil society often faced with bureaucratic difficulty or denial of permits.

Other restrictions on human rights activities were reported:

“Some domestic and international human rights groups faced difficulties operating freely. Some international human rights representatives reported authorities barred them from entering the country. The government maintained the five-day “working week” visa implemented in 2012 for representatives from international human rights organizations, despite local organizations’ objections that the majority of protests and incidents occurred during the weekend and the five-day visa would prevent foreign observers from accurately documenting and reporting on events.”

Finally, the report states that “citizens have limited ability to change their government and their political system.” The king is the ultimate political power, and the Council of Representatives has been weakened due to constraints on opposition political societies.