(Beirut) – The government of Bahrain in 2013 seriously undermined prospects of a political solution to domestic unrest, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014. The government increased restrictions on the exercise of core human rights like freedom of speech, assembly, and association.
Security forces arbitrarily arrested scores of people and authorities detained and prosecuted activists. There were continuing credible reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention. The government failed to carry out key recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which at the government’s request examined the government’s and security forces’ response to mass protests in 2011.
“Bahraini officials seem to think they can arrest and torture their way to peace and stability,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Official talk of reform is a joke at a time when peaceful critics of the government are labelled terrorists and kept in jail.”
In the 667-page world report, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Ibrahim Sharif are among 13 high-profile leaders of peaceful protests who remain in prison on charges related to their exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Bahrain’s judicial system has yet to hold any senior official responsible for serious human rights violations since 2011.
In September, authorities arrested Khalil Marzooq, the assistant secretary general of al-Wefaq, the leading opposition group, and charged him with “inciting and advocating terrorism.” The charges relate to his comments at a rally, where he publicly denounced violence. His trial is scheduled for January 27.
In September, a court sentenced 50 people, including several rights activists, to prison terms ranging from 5 to 15 years. The court accused the defendants of seeking to change the constitution by “sowing chaos in the country, committing crimes of violence and sedition … and harming national unity,” but only connected one of the 50 to any act of violence. Naji Fateel, an opposition activist, sentenced to 15 years, alleged that officials beat him severely in pretrial detention and subjected him to electric shocks.
From March onward, security forces arbitrarily detained scores of people, including children, every month. Four former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were severely beaten, and in one case sexually assaulted, at the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigations Directorate.
In May, an appeals court reduced to six months a police lieutenant’s seven-year sentence for the 2011 murder of a protester, Hani Abd al-Aziz Jumaa. The lieutenant is the highest-ranking security official known to have been convicted for abuses in the 2011 campaign of repression.
Parliament in November amended the law on public gatherings, requiring organizers of all demonstrations in Manama to seek official permission, effectively suspending the right to assembly. A September amendment to the 2005 Law for Political Societies requires political groups to secure advance permission from the government to meet with foreign diplomats in Bahrain and abroad.