In September Bahrain acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Elections to a new 40-seat House of Representatives took place in November. Although political parties were officially banned in Bahrain, the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the main Shi'a Muslim opposition which had boycotted the previous parliamentary elections in 2002, won 17 seats, and two Sunni Muslim groups, the al-Menbar National Islamic Society and the al-Asala Islamic Society, won a total of 12 seats. Pro-government candidates won 10 seats. Latifa al-Ga'ood was the only one of 18 women candidates to be elected.
Guantánamo Bay detainees
A Bahraini national, Salah al-Balooshi, who had been detained by the US authorities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was returned to Bahrain in October and released. Two other Bahraini nationals, 'Issa 'Abdullah al-Murbati and Juma'a Mohammed al-Dossari, continued to be held at Guantánamo Bay throughout 2006.
New counter-terrorism law
In August the King, Shaikh Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa, ratified a new counter-terrorism law which had been approved by both the elected House of Representatives and the appointed Shura (Consultative) Council in July. The new law extended the use of the death penalty and prior to its introduction was criticized by both the UN Committee against Torture and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, who expressed concern that it could be used to penalize the peaceful exercise of human rights.
Freedom of expression and association
In July the House of Representatives approved amendments to Decree no. 18 of 1973 on Public Meetings, Processions and Gatherings, and referred it to the Shura Council. Certain provisions of the decree, as well as some of the proposed amendments, imposed serious restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and of assembly. For example, the definition of "public gathering" was very broad, and even meetings held in private and involving a small number of people were subject to prior official notification. Article 10(a) prohibited political rallies and meetings for non-citizens, while Article 10(b) banned demonstrations for election purposes. The King ratified the new law in July after its approval by the Shura Council.
In October the High Criminal Court ordered a ban on the publishing of any information relating to a report issued in September by Salah al-Bandar, a UK national and adviser to the Bahraini government. The report alleged that officials had planned to manipulate the outcome of the November parliamentary elections at the expense of the majority Shi'a Muslim population. He was deported to the UK the same month and later charged with "illegally seizing government documents and stealing two cheques". He denied the charges.
In October the Minister of Information issued an order banning seven internet websites on the basis of Articles 19 and 20 of the Press and Publications Law of 2002. The reasons for the ban were not clear but were believed to be connected with the report published by Salah al-Bandar. A number of other websites were also banned during the year.
Human rights activists
During the year several human rights activists were reportedly subjected to harassment in the form of anonymous threatening telephone calls telling them to cease their human rights activities. For example, human rights activists received calls warning them to stop referring to Salah al-Bandar's report in their work.
Abuses of detainees
In August, 19 detainees, most of whom were being held at the Dry-Dock prison on the Island of Muharraq, were beaten by riot police after a court session, apparently after they announced their intention to go on a hunger strike. They were protesting against their detention without bail and repeated postponements of the court sessions. The 19 detainees were arrested allegedly for holding an illegal gathering and sabotaging property in the town of Sanabis. After they appeared before the High Criminal Court, they were reportedly taken outside the prison grounds, their hands tied behind their backs, and forced to lie face-down in the heat of the sun for more than two hours, during which time they were allegedly beaten with sticks and kicked. The men were released in September after a pardon from the King. However, no investigation into their alleged ill-treatment was known to have been carried out.
In November the King ratified the death sentences against three people. Mohammad Hanif Atta Mohammad, a Pakistani national, had been found guilty of the murder in August 2003 of Ibrahim al-Asmawi, a Bahraini national. He was sentenced to death by the High Criminal Court and the sentence was upheld on appeal. In a separate case two Bangladeshi nationals, Jasmine Anwar Hussain, a female domestic worker, and Mohammad Hilaluddin, were sentenced to death in November 2004. Their death sentences were upheld on appeal in December 2005. All three were executed by firing squad in December 2006. These were the first executions to be carried out in Bahrain since 1996.