US Department of State Report Criticizes Human Rights Violations in Bahrain

2021-04-06 - 1:01 am

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): US Department of State issued its 2020 annual human rights report and discussed the human rights situation in Bahrain in 39 pages.

The Department of State started its report talking about the latest elections conducted in 2018 and reminded that two formerly prominent opposition political societies, Al-Wefaq and Wa'ad, did not participate in the elections due to their dissolution by the courts in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The report also indicated that the government did not permit international election monitors.

It said that the dissolution of the country's principal opposition societies and laws restricting their former members from running for office, the absence of an independent press, and the criminalization of online criticism created a political environment that was not conducive to free elections, according to Human Rights Watch.

Significant human rights issues included: torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh prison conditions, including lack of sufficient access to medical care in prisons; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, criminal libel, and arrests stemming from social media activity; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; overly restrictive laws on independent nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement, including revocation of citizenship; restrictions on political participation; and significant restrictions on workers' freedom of association.

Human rights groups reported accounts alleging security officials beat detainees, placed detainees in stress positions, humiliated detainees in front of other prisoners, deprived detainees of time for prayers, and insulted detainees based on their religious beliefs.

Detainees reported that security forces committed abuses during searches, arrests at private residences, and during transportation. Detainees reported intimidation, such as threats of violence, took place at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) headquarters facility.

Some detainees at the CID reported security officials used physical and psychological mistreatment to extract confessions and statements under duress or to inflict retribution and punishment.

Human rights groups reported authorities subjected children, sometimes younger than age 15, to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, and verbal abuse. Human rights organizations and families of inmates also reported authorities denied medical treatment to injured or ill detainees and prisoners, including Hassan Mushaima, a prisoner of conscience whose health has severely deteriorated, and Khalil al-Halwachi, was didn't receive adequate medical treatment in Jaw Prison.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.  The ministry reported it took disciplinary action against officers who did not comply with the police code, although it did not publish details of such steps.

The report also tackled the prison and detention center conditions. Human rights activists reported conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and sometimes life threatening, due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) reported Building 13 of Jaw Prison housed inmates at 30 percent over capacity. In August inmates in Building 14 undertook a hunger strike to protest religious discrimination, lack of access to medical facilities, and limits on family visitation due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

Although the government reported potable water was available for all detainees, there were also reports of lack of access to water for washing, lack of shower facilities and soap, and unhygienic toilet facilities.

Although the ministry reported detention centers were staffed with experienced medical specialists and outfitted with modern equipment, prisoners needing medical attention reported difficulty in alerting guards to their needs, and medical clinics at the facilities were understaffed. Prisoners with chronic medical conditions had difficulty accessing regular medical care, including access to routine medication. Those needing transportation to outside medical facilities reported delays in scheduling offsite treatment or very short stays in the hospital, especially those needing follow-up care for complex or chronic conditions.

The report discussed the issue of arbitrary arrest. Human rights groups claimed Ministry of Interior agents conducted many arrests at private residences either without presenting an arrest warrant or presenting an inaccurate or incomplete one.

Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients in a timely manner through all stages of the legal process. They reported difficulty registering as a detainee's legal representative because of arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles and lack of official government notaries; arbitrary questioning of credentials by police; lack of notification of clients' location in custody; arbitrary requirements to seek court orders to meet clients; prohibitions on meeting clients in private; prohibitions on passing legal documents to clients; questioning of clients by the Public Prosecutor's Office on very short notice; lack of access to clients during police questioning; and lack of access to consult with clients in court. While the state provides counsel to indigent detainees, there were reports detainees never met with their state-appointed attorney before or during their trial.

As for the arrests, Human rights groups reported the Ministry of Interior sometimes arrested individuals for activities such as calling for and attending protests and demonstrations, expressing their opinion either in public or on social media, and associating with persons of interest to law enforcement. Some of these detained individuals reported arresting forces did not show them warrants.

Political opposition figures reported the judiciary remained vulnerable to political pressure, especially in high-profile cases. It also tackled the death sentences that were upheld by the courts against Zuheir Ibrahim Jassim, Hussein Abdullah Khalil Rashid, Hussein Mousa and Mohammad Ramadan.

With respect to the alternative penalty law, the report stated that prominent political opposition figures serving life sentences did not benefit from application of the alternative sentencing law and were held separately from the general prison population. Although the authorities released Nabeel Rajab, they refused to grant Al-Halwachi an alternative noncustodial sentence, and his family continued to call for his release on humanitarian grounds amid concerns over his health.

The report issued by the US Department of State discussed the Bahraini government violation of privacy whether through entering homes without authorization, destroying or confiscating personal property, monitoring telephone calls, email, and personal correspondence. Reports also indicated the government used computer programs to surveil political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country. According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened a detainee's unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.

Defense attorney Abdulla Al-Shamlawi, who defended prominent opposition figures, including members of the now banned opposition group Al-Wefaq, was prosecuted for "defamation." Al-Shamlawi was sentenced to 8 months in for "inciting sectarianism, humiliating an Islamic sect and misusing a telecommunications device". Besides, the Court of Cassation upheld a one-year prison sentence against Shia religious preacher Sheikh Abdul Mohsin Mulla Atiyya Al-Jamri for a sermon "disdaining a figure that is revered by a religious group". Public Prosecutor's Office arrested a Bahraini doctor for defaming religious figures during a sermon, stating the sermon promoted violence and sectarian sedition. Activists and rights groups claimed the sermon misinterpreted. The Public Prosecutor's Office released the doctor later and placed a travel ban on him.

The report referred to the control and surveillance that government imposes on private media outlets, in addition to prosecuting, arresting or threatening journalists, photographers, and "citizen journalists" active on social media due to their reporting. The government brought criminal complaints against journalists who worked without accreditation. Family of former Member of Parliament Osama Al-Tamimi, who had been critical of the ruling family on social media, reported he was harassed by security forces and was reportedly under a travel ban.

Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles on certain subjects. The government blocked access to some websites from inside the country, including some opposition-linked websites. The government continued blocking Qatar-funded web-based outlets. Access to overseas human rights groups reporting on human rights and political prisoners in Bahrain and opposition-leaning news sites that were critical of the ruling family and the government were blocked within the country. The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals' online activities, including via social media, leading to degradation of internet and mobile phone services for some neighborhoods and to legal action against some internet users. Defense attorney Abdulla Hashim was charged with misusing social media and publishing "fake news" for eight tweets between 2017 and 2019 highlighting government corruption.  Political and human rights activists reported being interrogated by security forces regarding their postings on social media. They sometimes reported repeated interrogations that included threats against their physical safety and that of their families, threats against their livelihood, and threats of denial of social services such as housing and education.

The report highlighted that the government put pressure on academic freedom and cultural events. Historian Jassim Hussain Al-Abbas was summoned for a speech he gave at a conference in which he discussed the history of mosques in the country and alluded to Shia rulers before the first Al Khalifa emir.

With respect to freedom of assembly, the report noted that police reportedly broke up some of these protests with tear gas. Groups participating in these protests often posted photographs on social media of these events, participants were careful to hide their faces due to fear of retribution.

The report said that the government imposed many restriction on freedom of association, local NGOs asserted officials actively sought to undermine some groups' activities and imposed burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The Interior Ministry didn't allow them to receive funding from international parties.

As for freedom of movement, the Bahraini government imposed a travel ban on a number of individuals. Authorities relied on determinations of "national security" when adjudicating passport applications. During the year the government lifted 37 of 87 travel bans against citizens who were previously restricted from leaving the country. The government prohibited the return of those whose citizenship were revoked. International human rights NGOs placed the total number at more than 700 since 2012. There were reports authorities refused applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose Bahraini 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.

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and their political system, the report said. The constitution provides for an elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. The constitution permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives, but it requires that he first consult the chairpersons of the upper and lower houses of the parliament as well as the head of the Constitutional Court. The king cannot dissolve the Council of Representatives for the same reasons more than once. The king also has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Significant areas of government activity, including the security services and the Bahrain Defense Force, lacked transparency, and the privatization of public land remained a concern among opposition groups.

Domestic human rights groups faced significant difficulties operating freely and interacting with international human rights organizations. The government sometimes harassed and deprived local NGO leaders of due process. Local NGO leaders and activists also reported government harassment, including police surveillance, delayed processing of civil documents, and "inappropriate questioning" of their children during interviews for government scholarships. Activists reported forgoing travel, in particular to international human rights events, fearing a reimposition of international travel bans. Individuals affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations, or who were critical of the government, reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused visa applications, or at times refused entry to the country for individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country's visa-free entry program.

Local and international observers and human rights organizations continued to express concern the government had not fully implemented Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry recommendations, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia citizens into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation.

The report also shed the light on a number of issues including discrimination, societal abuses, and trafficking in persons, as well as labor rights, indicating that the labor law doesn't provide needed protection for them. It also stated that some workers were not paid wages and that other cases included

inadequate enforcement of standards, violations of standards, inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of those procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment, especially in the construction sector.  

Arabic Version

المصدر: Bahrain Mirror
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