Scores of anti-government activists were arrested. Twenty-five leading opposition activists were on trial, two in their absence, accused of plotting to overthrow the government; the 23 were initially denied access to lawyers after their arrest and some said they were tortured. Other unfair trials took place. The authorities restricted freedom of expression, including by shutting down several websites and political newsletters. The government suspended board members of an independent human rights organization. One person was executed.
In April, the King appointed the 23 members of the board of the National Human Rights Institution, established in November 2009. In September, however, the board’s President resigned amid disagreement between its members about how the institution should respond to political arrests.
During 2010, sporadic protests took place in predominantly Shi’a villages against alleged government discrimination in relation to housing and employment opportunities. In some cases, protesters blocked highways with burning tyres and threw home-made petrol bombs at the police and security forces. Hundreds of people were arrested, particularly in August and September, in connection with protests and riots, including many leading opposition figures, most from the Shi’a majority community. Many were allegedly arrested without warrants and held incommunicado for up to two weeks after arrest.
Independent and Shi’a Islamists won the majority of seats in parliamentary elections in October.Top of page
Trials of people arrested in connection with the protests started; some were marred by allegations of torture, denial of access to lawyers and other abuses.
Other trials were held of people accused of murder and burning cars, tyres and other property while participating in anti-government demonstrations and riots in previous years. In some, the defendants alleged they had been tortured or ill-treated to make them “confess”.
Other cases of torture were also reported.
Several times during the year security forces were reported to have fired shotguns at protesters and others. In October, the Interior Minister told Amnesty International that the security forces had tried to contain protests and violence without using excessive force and that no one had been wounded by their actions.
Critics of the monarchy and government were warned that they would be prosecuted under the 2002 Press and Publications Law, which prescribes prison terms for those criticizing the King or “inciting hatred of the regime”, although no such prosecutions were reported.
The government clamped down further on dissent after the arrest of the 23 opposition activists. On 28 August, the Public Prosecutor invoked Article 246 of the Penal Code to prohibit the media and others from publishing or broadcasting information about the arrests; breaches would be punishable by up to one year in prison. Although no prosecutions were reported, the government banned and shut down various publications and blogs. Among them was the Bahrain Online forum, which the Director of the National Information Agency said in October had been closed because it was deemed to have incited hatred and violence. He also said that other websites had been blocked because they had published material that breached Bahraini law, and that newsletters of political associations had been banned as the law only allows their circulation to members whereas these had been distributed to the public.Top of page
In September, the government suspended the board of the independent NGO Bahrain Human Rights Society, accusing it of “legal and administrative irregularities” and “co-operating with illegal organizations”. Shortly before, the NGO had published on their website allegations of torture relating to the 23 detained Shi’a activists. The government appointed a temporary administrator, severely compromising the society’s independence.
Several human rights activists were prevented from travelling abroad, although the government denied that travel bans had been issued against them.
Foreign migrants, especially domestic workers, continued to be exploited and abused despite revisions to the kafala (sponsorship system) made in 2009 to enable foreign workers to change jobs without obtaining their employer’s consent. In several reported cases, employers confiscated foreign domestic workers’ passports to prevent them seeking alternative employment. A number of migrant workers were reported to have committed suicide on account of their poor living and working conditions. Bahraini law affords little protection to foreign domestic workers; for example, it contains no provisions establishing a minimum wage or rest time.Top of page
At least one person was sentenced to death and one man was executed. As in the previous 10 years, the death penalty was only used against foreign nationals.
In December, Bahrain abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.Top of page