Human Rights in Bahrain: Facts (and Some Myths)
In recent months, Bahrain received increased international scrutiny because of the Formula One Grand Prix. Bahrain has had various issues regarding human rights abuses, particularly in its handling of the 2011 protests. The Arab Spring resulted in protests in this country, which were dealt with harshly by the authorities.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and other international human rights NGOs have expressed concern about a human rights situation that many have deemed as tragic. In this article we’ve put together some facts and myths about human rights in Bahrain that all Westerners should know.
Public demonstrations in Bahrain’s capital are strictly forbidden. Although public protest is theoretically legal outside of the capital, any form of demonstration in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, has been banned for the last two years. It is important to note that public protests outside of Manama are routinely dispersed using birdshot pellets, tear gas, and excessive force. Protesters in Bahrain have been killed and are routinely injured.
Torture is widespread in Bahrain’s prison system. Human rights activists that are detained after protests are often tortured, and confessions may be obtained using torture and corporal punishment. Reports of beatings, sleep and food deprivation, burning, sexual assault, and electrocution have been received by human rights groups around the world. Torture and abuse of prisoners has not been investigated seriously. An independent commission created by the King of Bahrain reported the same findings. Although the government has made announcements that it would take measures to stop torture, currently no serious steps have been taken to stop these and other abuses.
It is important to note that charges against protesters can be very broad. “Inciting hate against the government” or “insulting the King” are charges that can be leveled against peaceful protestors and result in lengthy jail times or even death sentences in extreme cases. Authorities have arrested bloggers and individuals posting criticism of the government on social media, such as Twitter. A fear of the power of social media is the direct result of dealing with Arab Spring protests. The Bahrain government has been known to suspend or shut down any organizations that may represent a threat to their regime, and meetings with representatives of foreign governments are severely restricted.
One aspect of Bahrain’s treatment of its citizens that has attracted attention is that Bahrain will revoke individual’s nationality for political dissent. Individuals considered opponents of the government have had their citizenship revoked. These people are forced to leave Bahrain, rendered stateless and with nowhere else to go. Considering Bahrain’s importance to the region’s economy and its cooperation with Western governments in the fight against global terrorism, dealing with individuals that have been forced to leave their country can be a politically fraught situation for Western governments attempting to provide asylum without angering the regime.