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US State Department on HR Conditions in Bahrain: Ongoing Torture, Discrimination against Shiites

2023-03-24 - 1:53 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): The US Department of State published in 2022 annual report on human rights situations in about 200 countries and states around the world, including Bahrain.

The report discussed a number of issues including ongoing violations and torture, noting that domestic and international human rights organizations, as well as detainees and former detainees, maintained that abuse continued during the year. Detainees reported they feared for their relatives' safety during investigations.

The report pointed to the continued use of death penalty in Bahrain, according to a report issued by Human Rights Watch and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and stressed that impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

The US Department of State said that human rights activists reported conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh due to physical abuse, unjust application of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. They also reported that authorities denied medical treatment to injured or ill detainees, especially those who suffer critical medical conditions.

The report mentioned political prisoner Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who was denied medical treatment on April 1 as a punishment after he chanted anti-Israel slogans while in prison during the Israeli prime minister's visit to the country in February.

It also stated that families of prisoners demanded their relatives be released from Jaw Prison following a reported tuberculosis (TB) outbreak. During marches in September in the village of Sanabis, Jaw prisoners' families protested their relatives' alleged lack of medical access.

Prison officials restricted prisoners from contacting nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives, journalists, or family members who resided or were exiled overseas.

Human rights activists reported that police sometimes made arrests without presenting a warrant, and that the public prosecutor summoned political and human rights activists for questioning without a warrant or court order. Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients in a timely manner through all stages of the legal process. They also complained of difficulty registering as a detainee's legal representative because of bureaucratic hurdles and      lack of official government notaries; requirements to seek court orders to meet clients; prohibitions on meeting clients in private; prohibitions on passing legal documents to clients; lack of access to clients during police questioning; and lack of access to consult with clients in court.

According to reports by local and international human rights groups, authorities held some detainees for a week or more with limited access to outside resources. The government sometimes withheld information from detainees and their families regarding detainees' whereabouts for as long as two weeks.

Human rights groups reported that the Ministry of Interior summoned and questioned individuals for calling for and attending protests and demonstrations, expressing their opinion in public or on social media calling for the end of the monarchy authorities.

The US Department of State's report tackled the issue of denial of fair public trial, noting that some judges were foreign citizens, serving on limited-term contracts and, according to some observers, subject to government approval for renewal and residence permits, creating a situation where they were or were perceived to be subject to government pressure to render certain verdicts. Besides, some defendants with terrorism-related charges were convicted and sentenced in absentia.

As for the detainees and political prisoners' condition, the report said that the government did not permit access to some detainees by independent humanitarian organizations. It highlighted that former University of Bahrain professor Abduljaleel Al-Singace remained incarcerated in a private medical facility as of year's end.

According to Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs, the ombudsperson visited Al-Singace in March and asked him to edit and resubmit the book for authorities to review, but he allegedly declined to do so.

The report reviewed the case of former member of parliament Osama Al-Tamimi who remains in a Ministry of Interior medical facility.

Human rights organizations reported security forces sometimes entered homes without authorization and destroyed or confiscated personal property. Many citizens and human rights organizations believed police used informant networks, including ones that targeted or used children younger than age 18.

International human rights organizations and media outlets reported that the government used the NSO Group's Pegasus spyware to unlawfully intercept and read communications of activists, bloggers, journalists, members of dissolved political societies, and human rights activists. Others who have been critical of the government also reported that their mobile phone manufacturer informed them that their phones were potentially targeted.

According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened a detainee's family members with reprisals for the detainee's unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.

Human rights groups reported that authorities held the family of Yusuf Al-Hoori, whose citizenship was revoked in 2015 for planning terrorist attacks, at the airport on July 2 upon their return from abroad. Al-Hoori's wife and five children said authorities interrogated and detained them for several days before allowing them to depart the country on August 29.

The report highlighted the government's limited freedom of expression and press freedom through prosecutions of individuals under national security laws that targeted both professional and citizen journalists.

Shiite scholar Mohammed Al-Madi was arrested for delivering a sermon in which he allegedly spoke ill of a companion of the Prophet Muhammad. He was released later. In addition, a lawyer was summoned for a tweet he posted urging unemployed university graduates to protest.

According to opposition social media accounts, authorities sometimes summoned citizen journalists active on social media to account for their reporting. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists.

The report indicated that government censorship on media outlets regularly occurred. Government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles on certain subjects. The government blocked foreign television stations it considered critical of the country.

As for internet freedom, the report said that the government restricted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government blocked access to some websites from inside and outside the country, including political opposition-linked websites, and continued to block web-based outlets it believed were supported by Qatar, as well as websites based in Lebanon, Iran, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere that published content critical of the government.

It also blocked access to international human rights groups' reporting on human rights and political prisoners, as well as news sites critical of the ruling family and the government.

Several media reports alleged the government worked with other foreign governments and private companies to monitor political opposition leaders and human rights activists' social media accounts, mobile telephones, and other forms of local and international electronic communications.

Activists reported that security forces interrogated them, sometimes repeatedly, about their social media posts and threatened their physical safety, livelihood, families, and access to social services such as housing. Some individuals were summoned to police stations and required to sign pledges to cease posting political content. Several activists said they shut down social media accounts or stopped posting to their accounts after being threatened.

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political topics. The report spoke about the case of professor Nader Kadhim who was summoned for questioning and held at the Dry Dock detention center for a week, then released two weeks later without giving a public reason for his detention. Kadhim also received a letter of termination from the university, citing the shutdown of its sociology bachelor's degree program as the reason for his dismissal.

According to the report, the government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government allows small-scale political demonstrations to         take place without obtaining permits, but photographers and participants are careful to obscure or hide faces.

The banned al-Wefaq political society said that the public prosecutor charged a resident from Damistan village in criminal court on for participating in anti-Israel protests. Social media reported on September 9 that the public prosecutor questioned four children from Sitra about their participation in weekly protests in Budaiya and Sanabis in support of political prisoners.

NGOs and civil society activists asserted that officials actively sought to undermine some groups' activities, including interference in board elections or imposition of burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The government repeatedly disqualified members of banned political societies from running for office in civil society organizations, sports clubs, and other nonpolitical organizations.

The government warned civil society organizations as well as social and cultural clubs, against organizing political events prior to the November legislative and municipal elections.

The government did not permit international election monitors for the November 12 parliamentary elections. Participation in the process was restricted by several measures, including the banning of the country's principal opposition political group; laws restricting former members of banned political groups from running for office; gerrymandered voting district boundaries; the absence of an independent press; and the criminalization of online criticism. It also banned foreign embassies from meeting with political societies prior to the elections.

The report stated that the Bahrain government continues its discriminatory approach against Shiites citizens, particularly in employment. NGOs stated the government allowed foreign Sunni employees of the security forces who had lived in the country fewer than 15 years to apply for citizenship, while there were reports authorities had not granted citizenship to Arab Shia and non-Arab foreign applicants who met the residency requirements. Human rights organizations reported that Shia citizens faced systemic discrimination in many areas and faced numerous barriers to equal participation in society and government.

The government restricted domestic human rights groups, and some human rights activists remain imprisoned, exiled, or coerced into silence, according to international human rights organizations. Local leaders, civil society organizations, and activists reported harassment, including police surveillance and delayed processing of civil documents. Activists reported not taking part in human rights-related events, fearing attendance would result in travel bans.

Non-citizens affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused their visa applications for travel to the country, or at times refused to admit individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country's visa-free entry program.

The government did not always respect freedom of movement and the right to leave the country.         Some individuals released from prison on alternative sentences were subject to travel bans or limits on their ability to attend religious or cultural events.

Bahrainis needed government permission to travel to Iraq for al-Arbaeen ceremonies. Leaders of the dissolved Shia Scholars' Council reported on their social media accounts that authorities prevented them from traveling to Iraq.

Some family members of men whose citizenship was revoked, especially women and adult and minor children, were unable to renew or obtain their own passports, residence cards, and birth certificates, limiting their access to social services including housing and education. The government refused to grant citizenship and nationality to a child named Sayed Ali Qassim, rendering him and his siblings stateless. The government revoked the citizenship of the boy's father in 2015 following his terrorism conviction. NGOs confirmed multiple cases of authorities refusing applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person.

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law if they remained in the country.

Local and international observers and human rights organizations continued to express concern that the government had not fully implemented recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, particularly those related to integration of Shia citizens into security forces and the creation of a social environment conducive to national reconciliation.

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