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Amnesty International Report 2014/15: The State of the World's Human Rights

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BAHRAIN

The government continued to stifle and punish dissent and to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Security forces used excessive force to disperse protests, killing at least two people. Opposition activists sentenced after unfair trials in previous years continued to be held, including prisoners of conscience. Torture of detainees continued and a climate of impunity prevailed. Twenty-one Bahrainis convicted on terrorism charges were stripped of their nationality. The courts sentenced five people to death; there were no executions.

BACKGROUND
Tension between the Sunni-dominated government and main opposition political associations remained high throughout the
year following the suspension in January of the National Dialogue initiative. There were new protests by activists from the Shi’a majority population demanding political reform, including some violent protests, to which the security forces frequently responded with excessive force, including shotgun fire. In March, a bomb explosion at al-Daih village killed three police officers. In December, bomb attacks in the villages of Karzakan and Demistan killed a police officer and another person. The government banned the “14 February Coalition”, a youth movement, and two other organizations declaring them terrorist groups.

     Bahrain’s first parliamentary elections since unrest broke out in 2011 were held on 22 November but were boycotted by the main opposition, led by al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest Shi’a political association. Amendments to anti-terrorism legislation adopted in December increased police
powers, allowing them to detain terrorism suspects incommunicado for up to 28 days. Representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Bahrain from February to May to assess human rights training needs. In September, the government issued a mid-term review of its progress in implementing recommendations it had accepted at the UN Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain in 2012.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The authorities continued to clamp down on dissent. In February, shortly before the third anniversary of the outbreak of public protests in 2011, the government increased the penalty for publicly insulting the King, the Bahraini flag or the national emblem to between one and seven years in prison and a heavy fine.

     Dr Sa’eed Mothaher Habib al-Samahiji, an ophthalmologist, was arrested on 1 July to serve a one-year prison term imposed on him in December 2013 on a charge of “publicly insulting the King” in a speech at the funeral of a protester killed by a police car. He was held at Jaw Prison, south of Manama, at the end of the year.

     Other prisoners of conscience held at Jaw Prison included opposition leaders and human rights activists sentenced after unfair trials in previous years. Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was released in May after completing a two-year prison term for “illegal gathering” but was rearrested in October on charges of insulting public institutions. He was released on bail in November but banned from travel, pending 70  a court verdict on his case in January 2015. Activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested in October and sentenced in November and December to prison terms totalling four years and four months, including three years on a charge of “insulting the King”. She was at liberty at the end of the year awaiting the outcome of an appeal. Women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer, arrested in September, faced trial on various charges, including assaulting a police officer. She was released on bail in December.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
All public gatherings in the capital Manama remained indefinitely banned under government decrees issued in 2013. However, sporadic protests were held in other places. The security forces arrested scores of people for participating in protests; some received prison sentences.

     Ahmad Mshaima’ stood trial in May, five months after his arrest, charged with “illegal gathering with an intent to commit crimes and disturb public security”. He alleged that security officials tortured him in the days following his arrest, but the authorities did not investigate his allegations. He was released on bail in June but rearrested in November and sentenced in December to one year’s imprisonment on a charge of “insulting the King”.

     In December, human rights defender Mohammad al Maskati and 10 other defendants were sentenced to six-month prison terms on charges of “illegal gathering”.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The government restricted freedom of association using new powers that allowed the Minister of Justice to suspend or dissolve political associations on vague grounds. The Minister filed suspension cases against two main political opposition associations, Wa’ad and al-Wefaq, for alleged irregularities during their activities. The Ministry of Justice dropped its case against Wa’ad in November. In October a court ordered the suspension of al-Wefaq for three months. The court action began shortly after the Public Prosecution charged al-Wefaq’s leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, and his deputy with “meeting foreign officials without notifying” the government, after they met with the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Tom Malinowski. In late December, the authorities arrested Sheikh Ali Salman on charges including incitement to promote the change of the political system by force, threats and other illegal means.

DEPRIVATION OF NATIONALITY
In July, the King decreed amendments to the 1963 Nationality Law giving the courts new powers to strip Bahrainis of their nationality, including if they are convicted of terrorism offences. The law also allowed the authorities to revoke the nationality of people who live abroad continuously for more than five years without informing the Ministry of the Interior. Twenty-one people had their nationalities revoked by the courts in 2014. In August, the High Criminal Court revoked the citizenship of nine Bahraini men after it convicted them on terrorism-related charges. They also received prison sentences of up to 15 years after the court convicted them partly on the basis of “confessions” that some defendants alleged had been obtained through torture. In October, a court sentenced to deportation several people whose Bahraini nationality was arbitrarily revoked in 2012. The court considered that they had remained in the country illegally after their nationality was revoked. Their appeal was set for April 2015.

TORTURE AND OTHER ILL-TREATMENT
Torture continued to be reported despite the establishment of a number of official bodies to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in custody. In some instances, detainees complained that police or other security officials violently assaulted them during arrests and house searches, or while they were being transported to police stations or prisons in police vehicles, and during interrogation by Criminal Investigations Directorate officers, when they were held without access to their lawyers and families for several days. Methods of torture reported included severe beating, punching, electric shocks, suspension by the limbs, rape and threats of rape, and deliberate exposure to extreme cold.

     Mohamed ‘Ali al-‘Oraibi alleged that security officials tortured him over five days following his arrest on 2 February at Manama International Airport when he arrived from abroad. He said officials kept him naked while they interrogated him, subjected him to electric shocks on his genitals, suspended him by his limbs and beat him with a stick, and sexually assaulted him. He was released on 17 April, pending further investigations. He complained to the authorities but no investigation into his alleged torture was known to have been conducted.

EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE
In March a royal decree (Decree 24 of 2014) was issued regulating the use of force and firearms.

     The security forces regularly used excessive force to disperse opposition protests. Among other methods, they fired shotguns and tear gas at protesters, causing injuries and at least two deaths.

     Sayed Mahmoud Sayed Mohsen, aged 14, died on 21 May after security forces fired tear gas and shotguns at protesters participating in a funeral procession on the island of Sitra. His family said he had shotgun pellets in his chest suggesting that he had been shot at close range. The Ministry of the Interior announced an investigation but had not disclosed its outcome by the end of the year.

IMPUNITY
The number of investigations into torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained low and the authorities continued to detain some of those that the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry said had been tortured in 2011. In practice, despite a few prosecutions of low-ranking officers, the security forces operated with a large degree of impunity amid continuing reports of torture of detainees and the use of excessive force against protesters. The authorities prosecuted eight police officers in connection with the killing of one person and the death in custody of another. One officer, charged with assault, was acquitted; the others remained on trial at the end of the year. In the two years since trials of members of the security forces began, a total of 15 security officers were acquitted of torturing or killing protesters and six were sentenced to between six months’ and three years’ imprisonment in relation to deaths in custody and killings of protesters.

     Two officers accused of causing the death of 16-year-old Hussein al-Jazairi at a protest on 14 February 2013 in al-Daih reportedly remained at liberty and did not stand trial in 2014. They faced charges of assault resulting in death, but were released on bail in May 2013 by the High Criminal Court. Hussain al-Jazairi died after he was hit in the chest by shotgun pellets fired at close range.

     In September, the High Court of Justice in England quashed a ruling by the United Kingdom (UK) Crown Prosecution Service that the King of Bahrain’s son, Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, had diplomatic immunity in the UK. The High Court ruled that he could face prosecution in the UK for alleged complicity in torturing detainees in 2011 if he entered the UK.

DEATH PENALTY
The death penalty remained in force for murder and other crimes. The courts passed five death sentences during the year, one of which was annulled by the Court of Appeal in December. There were no executions.

     Mahir Abbas al-Khabaz was sentenced to death on 19 February after he was convicted of killing a police officer in 2013. The court accepted a “confession” allegedly obtained through torture as evidence against him. An appeal court confirmed his death sentence and he was awaiting a final decision by the court of Cassation at the end of the year.

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