US State Department Report Criticizes Bahrain's HR, Political Situation: Absence of Environment Conducive to Holding Free Elections

2022-04-16 - 1:51 ص

Bahrain Mirror: The 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices issued by the US Department of State has criticized the Bahraini authorities and Bahrain's political and human rights situation, starting with the absence of an environment conducive to holding elections, the judiciary in Bahrain, performance of the Ministry of Interior, lack of implementation of the BICI recommendations, violations practiced against detainees and political prisoners, as well as the continuation of sectarian discrimination, especially in employment. 

The report said "A number of measures created a political environment that was not conducive to free elections, including the dissolution of the country's principal opposition political groups and laws restricting their former members from running for office; the absence of an independent press; and the criminalization of online criticism."

It criticized the ban on assembly and the restrictions imposed on the civil society in Bahrain. It said that there are stressful bureaucratic measures. "The government sometimes prevented civil society activists and others who publicly criticized the government from leaving the country. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development routinely exploited its oversight role to stymie the activities of NGOs by imposing burdensome bureaucratic procedures."

"The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political topics," the report stated.

Activists reported repeated interrogations that included threats against their physical safety, livelihood, and families. They also reported being threatened with denial of social services, such as housing and education. 

The Ministry of Interior maintained a prohibition on public demonstrations for the sixth year. The Interior Ministry had dispersed peaceful demonstrations against normalization and the use of tear gas against demonstrators. 

As for the cases fabricated by the Ministry of Interior and lack of justice in judiciary in Bahrain, the report noted that the Supreme Criminal Court sentenced eight defendants to life imprisonment and convicted 10 other members in absentia, sentencing them to prison terms ranging from five to 15 years. on terrorism charges for reportedly forming an Iran-backed terrorist cell, known as the "Qassem Soleimani Brigades." 

According to a January 2020 Ministry of Interior statement, the cell planned to carry out terrorist activities in retaliation for the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Local human rights defenders criticized the lack of transparency of court hearings and questioned how the group could have planned retaliatory terrorist activities months before Soleimani's death in January 2020. Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients.

The report also tackled the human rights violations practiced against political prisoners. It said that the Bahraini authorities denied political prisoners and prisoners of conscience adequate medical treatment despite their critical cases.

"73-year-old Hasan Mushaima issued a recorded message from Jaw Prison to complain of his deteriorating health and prison authorities' refusal to refer him to outside medical specialists."

Detainees reported that security forces committed abuses during searches, arrests at private residences, and during transportation to detention centers.

"Some detainees at the CID reported security officials used physical and psychological mistreatment to extract confessions and statements under duress," the report added.

With respect to detained children, the report indicated that "Authorities subjected children, sometimes younger than age 15, to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, and verbal abuse."

The report conveyed the concerns of the families of prisoners and human rights organizations about the Coronavius outbreak in detention centers. It said "families of detainees protested in front of the Ombudsman's office and Jaw Prison against the spread of COVID-19 in prison and called for the release of their relatives. After reviewing Ministry of Health data, human rights groups reported that more than 39 positive cases had been detected in Jaw prison as of March."

In April 2021, inmates in Building 17 of Jaw Prison undertook a hunger strike to protest mistreatment, including religious discrimination, lack of access to medical facilities, and limits on family visitation. On April 17, human rights groups reported prison officials violently assaulted inmates. The security 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.

The report also discussed the issue of arbitrary arrest, and noted the reports of human rights groups that confirmed that the Ministry of Interior arrested individuals for activities, such as calling for and attending protests and demonstrations and expressing their opinion in public or on social media. Some detained individuals reported that arresting forces did not show them warrants.

With regard to freedom of expression, the report spoke of the "serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship, and the existence of criminal libel law, serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and restrictions on workers' freedom of association."

Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles on certain subjects.

The report mentioned that "Shia citizens faced widespread employment discrimination in sensitive government positions, notably in the managerial ranks of the civil service, the security services, police, and the military. It also tackled political isolation, as the government did not allow the formation of new political societies after the dissolution of the two most prominent political societies, Al-Wefaq and Wa'ad. 

Arabic Version