Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab (left) speaks to his neighbor after his release from jail on May 24, 2014. Authorities arrested Mr. Nabeel again on October 1, 2014, after he criticized the government.

(Beirut) – Bahrain’s government violated core rights in 2014 as further evidence emerged of the role that its courts play in maintaining the repressive order, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. Human rights activists and members of the political opposition were arrested and prosecuted, often for peaceful criticism of the authorities, and the government invested itself with further powers to arbitrarily strip critics of their citizenship and the rights that attach to it.

The government has not carried out key recommendations of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry that it had pledged to adopt. Bahraini courts, which lack independence, sentenced more than 200 defendants to long prison sentences, including at least 70 for life, on broadly drawn terrorism and national security charges. Bahraini security forces fatally shot at least three people – including a boy of 14 – in circumstances indicating that they used excessive force.

“When you look at the evidence and tot up the abuses, it’s difficult to see how anyone could claim with a straight face that Bahrain is on the path to reform,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Unfortunately, Bahrain’s allies in the West, in particular the UK, have become adept at seeing only what they wish to see.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

Bahrain authorities arrested the prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab on October 1, 2014, on charges that he “offended national institutions” after he accused the security forces of fostering violent beliefs akin to those of the Syria- and Iraq-based Islamic State (also known as ISIS). He faces a possible three-year prison term. In December, the rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja received a three-year sentence for ripping up a photo of the king, and faces four further charges that relate to her criticism of the authorities.

Analysis of court verdicts in the trials of the more than 200 people on terrorism or national security charges revealed the key role of Bahrain’s courts in maintaining the country’s highly repressive political order. Courts routinely sentence peaceful protesters to long prison terms, but members of the security forces are rarely prosecuted for unlawful killings, including in detention.

The government has passed new repressive laws that can be used to target its critics and opponents. In April, King Hamad ratified an amendment that will increase the prison term for criticizing the king to seven years from two years. An amendment to the citizenship law empowers authorities to strip the citizenship of anyone who “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.”