The government took steps to promote human rights and to improve conditions for some migrant workers. However, it continued to penalize criticism of the royal family and failed to investigate allegations of torture in 2008. One person remained at risk of execution.
In November, a royal decree established a national human rights institution. Its mandate includes promoting awareness of human rights in Bahrain and proposing legal reforms. The government said it was considering withdrawing some reservations entered by Bahrain when ratifying key international human rights treaties. It also said it would introduce various legal reforms and provide human rights training to judicial and other officials.
In March, the security forces shot and injured demonstrators in Sitra and al-Duraz who were protesting against alleged land seizures and for the release of prisoners sentenced after violent protests in 2007 and 2008. The authorities denied the use of excessive force and said the security forces had intervened when the protests became violent.
Justice system – trials and prisoner releases
Three Shi’a activists – Hassan Meshaima’, ‘Abd al-Jalil al-Singace and Mohammad Habib al-Muqdad – appeared before the High Criminal Court in March. They and 32 other defendants, some of whom were being tried in their absence, were accused of financing and planning acts of violence with the aim of overthrowing the government. Thirteen of the accused, who had been arrested on 15 December 2008 and later shown on television “confessing”, alleged that they had been detained incommunicado and tortured. They said they had been subjected to electric shocks, beaten while suspended by their arms, and held for prolonged periods with their hands and feet bound. Before the trial concluded, all the defendants were released in April under a royal pardon. A total of 178 prisoners, including political prisoners, were released under the pardon.
The authorities failed to investigate alleged torture of detainees in late 2008.
Freedom of expression
The government remained especially sensitive to criticism of the monarchy. Amendments to the 2002 Press and Publications Law, proposed in 2008, remained pending before the House of Representatives. If implemented, the amendments would remove imprisonment as a penalty for those convicted of criticizing the King or “inciting hatred of the regime”.
In January, the Ministry of Information and Culture blocked a number of websites, blogs and discussion forums, including some deemed to “incite hatred and sectarian violence”. Hundreds of websites were said to remain blocked at the end of the year.
- ‘Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, a human rights defender, was charged under Articles 92, 160, 165 and 168 of the Penal Code in January after he criticized the royal family. He was accused of calling for the use of force to change the political system, inciting hatred against the country’s rulers and inciting unrest by deliberately spreading rumours. He was also banned from travelling abroad. He denied the accusations. The charges were dropped in accordance with the royal pardon in April.
- In February, Lamees Dhaif was charged under the Penal Code after she published several articles on alleged judicial corruption in al-Waqt daily newspaper. She faced possible imprisonment or a fine if convicted of insulting a public authority. At the end of the year, the case was still being investigated.
In May, the government announced a revision of the sponsorship system – known as kafala – through which foreign migrant workers obtain employment. The new system, which came into force on 1 August, permits foreign workers to change their employment without obtaining their current employer’s consent. The kafala had previously prevented workers from changing their employers or leaving the country, facilitating exploitation and abuse of workers’ rights by employers, including non-payment of wages. The reform does not apply to migrant domestic workers, mostly women, who remain particularly vulnerable to abuse by employers.
In November, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence against Jassim Abdulmanan, a Bangladeshi national. He was sentenced to death in 2007 for premeditated murder. The execution was pending ratification by the King.
Amnesty International visits
- In March, Amnesty International observed the trial of the 35 people accused of terrorism-related offences. The same month, an Amnesty International delegate participated in an international conference on human trafficking.