(Beirut) – Bahrain’s human rights record worsened in 2019, as the government carried out executions, convicted critics for peaceful expression, and threatened social media activists, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.
The government executed three people in July, including two prisoners convicted in a mass trial marred by serious due process violations and allegations of torture. On December 31, 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld a five-year sentence for the human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, arising from his social media activity. The courts subsequently rejected motions filed by Rajab’s lawyer requesting that he serve a non-custodial sentence. The Court of Cassation upheld the life sentence against Shaikh Ali Salman, leader of Al-Wifaq, Bahrain’s largest but now-dissolved opposition political society, on January 28 on dubious “espionage” charges.
“Bahraini authorities have silenced, exiled, or imprisoned anyone who criticizes the government,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “To make matters worse, Bahrain’s allies are burying their heads in the sand and conducting business as usual instead of pressing Bahrain to release Nabeel Rajab and others jailed for speaking out.”
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.
In 2019, Bahrain widened its suppression of online and social media activity. On May 30, the Interior Ministry declared that it will prosecute people who follow “inciting accounts” or share such posts on Twitter. No independent media have operated in Bahrain since the Information Affairs Ministry suspended Al Wasat, the country’s only independent newspaper, in 2017. Foreign journalists who have written critically about Bahrain as well as Human Rights Watch and other rights groups are routinely denied access to the country.
Bahrain’s prison authorities are failing to provide adequate medical care to high-profile prisoners, some of whom are in critical condition. On August 15, more than 600 prisoners in the Jaw Prison and Dry Dock Detention Center began a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, including denial of medical care and placement in cells where prisoners are held with people with whom they do not share a common language, culture, or religion.
Oversight bodies set up in 2012, such as the Interior Ministry’s Ombudsman office, have not investigated credible allegations of prison abuse or held accountable officials responsible for torture during interrogations.
In a positive move, on April 20, 2019, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa reinstated the citizenship of 551 people whose citizenship had been stripped. In July, the courts restored the nationality of another 147 people. Almost 300 people whose citizenship had been stripped in recent years remain without Bahraini nationality and in most cases are stateless.
Despite significant human rights concerns in Bahrain and its participation in the Saudi-led coalition responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, the United States State Department approved two major weapons sales to Bahrain in May. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, in its human rights report for 2018 released in June, gave a highly misleading picture of Bahrain’s human rights crisis, lauding its “unprecedented reform programme.”