Human Rights Watch: Civil Rights and the Political Crisis in Bahrain
ROUTINE ABUSE, ROUTINE DENIAL
Civil Rights and the Political Crisis in Bahrain Human Rights Watch/Middle East Human Rights Watch New York Washington London Brussels Copyright © June 1997 by Human Rights Watch.
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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Human Rights Watch conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world. Our reputation for timely, reliable disclosures has made us an essential source of information for those concerned with human rights. We address the human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions. Human Rights Watch defends freedom of thought and expression, due process and equal protection of the law, and a vigorous civil society; we document and denounce murders, disappearances, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, discrimination, and other abuses of internationally recognized human rights. Our goal is to hold governments accountable if they transgress the rights of their people.
Human Rights Watch began in 1978 with the founding of its Helsinki division. Today, it includes five divisions covering Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, as well as the signatories of the Helsinki accords. It also includes three collaborative projects on arms transfers, children's rights, and women's rights. It maintains offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, London, Brussels, Moscow, Dushanbe, Rio de Janeiro, and Hong Kong. Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly.
The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Michele Alexander, development director; Cynthia Brown, program director; Barbara Guglielmo, finance and administration director; Robert Kimzey, publications director; Jeri Laber, special advisor; Lotte Leicht, Brussels office director; Susan Osnos, communications director; Jemera Rone, counsel; Wilder Tayler, general counsel; and Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative.
The regional directors of Human Rights Watch are Peter Takirambudde, Africa; José Miguel Vivanco, Americas; Sidney Jones, Asia; Holly Cartner, Helsinki; and Eric Goldstein, Middle East (acting). The project directors are Joost R. Hiltermann, Arms Project; Lois Whitman, Children's Rights Project; and Dorothy Q. Thomas, Women's Rights Project.
The members of the board of directors are Robert L. Bernstein, chair; Adrian W. DeWind, vice chair; Roland Algrant, Lisa Anderson, William Carmichael, Dorothy Cullman, Gina Despres, Irene Diamond, Fiona Druckenmiller, Edith Everett, Jonathan Fanton, James C. Goodale, Jack Greenberg, Vartan Gregorian, Alice H. Henkin, Stephen L. Kass, Marina Pinto Kaufman, Bruce Klatsky, Harold Hongju Koh, Alexander MacGregor, Josh Mailman, Samuel K. Murumba, Andrew Nathan, Jane Olson, Peter Osnos, Kathleen Peratis, Bruce Rabb, Sigrid Rausing, Anita Roddick, Orville Schell, Sid Sheinberg, Gary G. Sick, Malcolm Smith, Domna Stanton, Maureen White, and Maya Wiley.
ABOUT THIS REPORT
Material for this report was gathered by Human Rights Watch/Middle East between March 1996 and February 1997. The government of Bahrain rejected our request to send an official information-gathering mission to the country. Human Rights Watch representatives did visit Bahrain briefly nonetheless, where they met with defense lawyers and persons who had been detained by the authorities, as well as prominent persons in various professions and in business. Because of the unauthorized nature of the visit, however, Human Rights Watch was unable to speak with government officials, and our access to persons in neighborhoods under surveillance was severely constricted. In addition, Bahrainis living in the country, even lawyers and prominent businesspeople, agreed to speak with Human Rights Watch only on condition that they not be identified. We also met with Bahrainis living in exile in Dubai, Kuwait, Beirut, Damascus, London, Lund and Copenhagen, and with Bahrainis living in and visiting the United States. Interviews referred to in the text, unless the location of the interview is specified, took place outside of Bahrain.
This report was written by Joe Stork, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch/Middle East. Steve Rothman, intern at Human Rights Watch/Middle East, and Shira Robinson, Human Rights Watch/Middle East associate, provided greatly appreciated research assistance. Clary Bencomo and Gamal Abouali of Human Rights Watch/Middle East helped with the translation of Arabic documents. Kuwaiti human rights activists who cannot be named provided translation assistance with interviews conducted in that country. Several Bahraini lawyers also provided invaluable assistance and clarifications on points of Bahraini law, but they cannot be named for reasons of personal safety. Said Essaloumi, of Article 19, kindly shared with Human Rights Watch an unpublished report covering press freedom issues in Bahrain.
This report was edited by Jeri Laber, senior advisor to Human Rights Watch, and Eric Goldstein, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch/Middle East. Shira Robinson and Awali Samara, Human Rights Watch/Middle East associates, prepared the text for publication.
Human rights abuses in Bahrain are wide-ranging and fall into two basic categories. The first relates to law enforcement and administration of justice issues. These encompass the behavior of security forces toward those under arrest and detention, and when confronting civil disturbances; arbitrary detention; physical and psychological abuse of detainees; denial of access to legal counsel; and denial of the right to a swift and impartial judicial hearing. The second area of human rights violations relates to the broad denial of fundamental political rights and civil liberties, including freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and the right to participate in the conduct of public affairs. In terms of numbers of people affected, the situation has been particularly acute since the end of 1994, with the onset of a period of protracted civil unrest that has continued into the spring of 1997.1 This unrest has increasingly taken on the coloration of a sectarian conflict between the majority Shi`a population and the Sunni ruling family and military-political establishment. The government of Bahrain has dismissed the unrest as the work of "Hizb Allah terrorists" instigated and supported by Iran.
Respect for human rights has long been problematic in Bahrain, and many abusive practices derive from the policies pursued by Great Britain prior to independence in 1971. From the early 20th century on, British colonial rule grafted numerous legal and administrative reforms onto a tribal form of local political authority centered around the Al Khalifa family. These reforms were also propelled by the transition from an economy organized mainly around feudal-type estates to a more complex commercial and industrial economy based on oil production and export. In the pre-independence period, as rule of law was constructed in numerous domains, political challenges to local and colonial authority continued to be dealt with in summary fashion, with little regard to emerging international norms of political and civil rights.
The first years of independence, from 1972 to 1975, constituted an interlude of sorts. A partially-elected constituent assembly constructed a constitution that endorsed a wide range of internationally recognized civil and political rights and called for a National Assembly of thirty elected and up tofourteen appointed cabinet ministers ex officio, with powers to review (though not initiate) legislation and interrogate members of the government. Although political parties remained illegal, a national campaign and elections in 1973 led to the emergence of three relatively distinct groupings-a so-called People's Bloc, mainly leftists and Arab nationalists; a Religious Bloc comprising teachers and religious court judges mainly from rural constituencies; and an Independent Middle.
The political detente between the ruling Al Khalifa family and the disparate forces of civil society came apart in 1975, when the government was unable to obtain National Assembly approval of a State Security Measures Law, which authorized arrest and imprisonment for up to three years without charge or trial for undefined "acts" or "statements" that could be construed to threaten the country's internal or external security. In August 1975, the government dissolved the National Assembly by decree. The constitution stipulates that in such an event elections for a new assembly must be held within two months. This the ruling family, nearly twenty-two years later, has steadfastly refused to do, and this refusal is one major factor underlying the current unrest.
In 1976, the year following the dissolution of the assembly, the government decreed a new penal code that substantively nullified many of the civil liberties and political rights protected by the constitution and effectively criminalized a wide range of nonviolent political activities. Over the more than two decades of unconstitutional rule by decree that have followed, other decrees discussed in this report have further undermined basic political and due process rights. As a consequence, Bahrain since 1975 is country where citizens risk search and seizure, and incarceration without charge or trial, for speaking out publicly in a manner that the government regards as hostile or critical. Public advocacy of restoring the National Assembly provisions of the constitution falls into this category. Communications among citizens, and between residents and persons outside Bahrain, are monitored. Political parties and organizations are proscribed, as are independent trade unions. Public meetings and gatherings require prior authorization, which in practice is not given. Radio and television media is directly controlled by the state; a combination of state censorship and stringent self-censorship rules out critical discussion in print of domestic politics or of relations with neighboring states. Abuses that are categorically forbidden by Bahrain's constitution, as well as by international law, such as torture and forced exile, are practiced routinely, as matters of state policy.
Recent decrees have expanded the articles of the penal code coming under the jurisdiction of the so-called State Security Court, where most due process protections are absent. Among the thousands of persons detained in the course of the past two-and-a-half years of protracted unrest, most who have been chargedhave been tried before the security court. Defendants wait many months, sometimes more than a year, to be tried. According to defense lawyers and former detainees, beatings and other forms physical and psychological abuse in the course of arrest and during detention are common and are frequently administered by security personnel as a form of extra-judicial punishment. This abuse becomes especially severe when used to secure confessions, and frequently amounts to torture. A person brought before the security court first meets his or her lawyer only on the day of the first hearing, and subsequent meetings in practice occur only at the time of subsequent court hearings. Security court sessions are generally held in camera. Uncorroborated confessions, secured in the absence of counsel, are sufficient for conviction. Judgments of the security court cannot be appealed. There are no instances known to Human Rights Watch where Bahraini authorities have conducted an investigation as a result of allegations of torture, or where anyone in a position of responsibility has been disciplined for committing such acts.
The government of Bahrain denies that it sanctions torture or other forms of physical abuse in any manner. The government also maintains that its policies do not in any way violate international human rights standards. In response to a letter to the government from Human Rights Watch, Bahrain's ambassador in Washington, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, wrote, "The allegations made against Bahrain originate from a very small, but skillful group of fundamentalist zealots and extremists, who are connected to terrorists in Bahrain.... They have disseminated their propaganda through manipulation of the media and of the international human rights movement."2 At the same time, the government's repeated refusal to grant visas to allow independent human rights monitors to conduct research or attend trials undermines the credibility of such denials. Bahrain is not a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) or to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).3 The government recently reached an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to inspect prisons and interview detainees, and the ICRC began conducting visits in November 1996. While this is a positive development, it is no guarantee that abuseswill be exposed because the ICRC as a matter of policy keeps its findings confidential and shares them only with the government of Bahrain.
The government of Bahrain's dismissal of the country's political unrest as Iranian-sponsored "terrorism" has enjoyed the public support of Arab states in the region, especially Saudi Arabia. Bahrain's most important military and political allies outside the region are the United States and the United Kingdom. Bahrain is the site of the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, and the country has generally supported U.S. military and strategic policy in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. is the Bahrain Defense Force's major source of weapons. Washington has publicly endorsed Bahrain's attribution of responsibility for its unrest to Iranian meddling, and, except for the Bahrain chapter in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, has refused to speak out critically about the human rights situation in the country. The U.K.'s approach has been similar to that of the U.S., although, perhaps owing to the presence in London of a vocal Bahraini opposition community, it has publicly expressed concern in very general terms about human rights practices of the government of Bahrain.
To the government of Bahrain concerning law enforcement and administration of justice:
* Amend the State Security Measures Law of 1974, the Penal Code of 1976, and all other laws and decrees to eliminate those provisions that violate rights protected by Bahrain's Constitution, including those provisions that allow for unlimited or arbitrary detention. Enact amendments to those laws that will ensure the rights of a detainee to challenge promptly the lawfulness of his or her detention before a judicial authority and to have prompt access to family and legal counsel in accordance with international standards.
* End the practice of detaining persons for unlimited or extended periods without charge or trial for vaguely-defined "acts" or "statements." Release immediately all persons being so detained or bring formal charges and try those persons in a court of law in which they have full access to defense counsel, the right to call defense witnesses and to question prosecution witnesses, and the right to appeal the verdict to a higher judicial tribunal in accordance with international fair trial standards.
* Ensure that members of the Ministry of Interior directorates of Public Security, Criminal Investigations, and State Security comply with the requirements of the criminal procedure code and with international law enforcement standards in conducting arrests and searches of premises.
* Establish by legislation, in accordance with the constitution of the state of Bahrain, a Supreme Council of the Judiciary to supervise the functions of the courts (Article 102[d]) and a judicial body competent to rule on the constitutionality of laws and regulations (Article 103).
* End the practice of interrogating detainees without allowing them to exercise their right to legal counsel. Release or conduct an independent judicial review of the cases of all persons convicted solely on the basis of uncorroborated confessions secured without the presence of defense counsel. This review should take the form of a public hearing involving the accused and legal counsel of his or her choice.
* Abolish the State Security Court and end the practice of trying detainees before any tribunal that is closed to the public and in which basic fair trialstandards are not guaranteed. Release all persons convicted by the State Security Court, or conduct an independent judicial review of their cases and reverse or amend convictions and sentences accordingly. This review should take the form of a public hearing involving the accused and legal counsel of his or her choice.
* Transfer the office of public prosecutor from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs, and take other steps as necessary to separate institutionally the state's public security and the administration of justice functions.
* Appoint a special independent public prosecutor to investigate deaths at the hands of the security forces, including those occurring in detention, and alleged acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment committed by officers with the Special Investigation Service, the Criminal Investigation Directorate, and the Public Security Force. This prosecutor should be empowered to report publicly on the findings of such an investigation and to bring charges against any officials implicated as responsible for ordering, for carrying out, or for tolerating such acts of torture or acts resulting in wrongful death. The special prosecutor should receive the firm public backing of the head of state, Amir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and have a length of tenure sufficient to ensure independence.
* Appoint an independent commission to investigate overall law enforcement and administration of justice under the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs, and to recommend changes in the 1976 Penal Code and in the administration of justice that will bring that administration into compliance with Bahrain's constitution and with international standards.
* Establish a public register of all detainees, in accordance with international standards, that will include names and whereabouts of those arrested, time of arrest, by which order and under what charge, to be updated on a frequent and regular basis and made available without restriction to judges, lawyers, families, and human rights organizations.
* Enact legislation that will allow victims of torture, prolonged or arbitrary detention, and other gross abuses of basic human rights, or their families,to obtain compensation from the government and from those responsible for such violations.
* Take immediate steps to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
To the government of Bahrain concerning the provision of basic political rights:
* Amend the 1976 Penal Code to eliminate or modify those articles and provisions that unduly restrict the ability of Bahraini citizens to exercise peacefully their rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression, in particular Articles 134A, 163, 164, 165, 168, 169, 178, and 222.
* Restore the right of Bahraini citizens to participate in public affairs and governance, directly or by means of freely elected representatives, in accordance with international law and with Chapter Two of Bahrain's constitution.
* In accordance with Article 26 of the constitution, end the practice of monitoring postal, telephone, and electronic communications among persons inside Bahrain and with persons outside the country, except when subjected to the oversight of an independent judicial authority.
* End the practice of forcibly exiling Bahraini citizens and announce that Bahrainis living in exile are free to return to the country. If the authorities have reason to believe that a person returning from exile is guilty of a crime, that person may be formally charged and tried before a court of law in which he or she has full access to defense counsel and the right to call defense witnesses and to question prosecution witnesses, and to appeal the verdict to a higher judicial tribunal in accordance with the law.
* Amend the Law of Social and Cultural Societies and Clubs so as to eliminate all unreasonable obstacles to nonviolent political and trade union activity.
* Amend Amiri Decree No. 14/1979 with Respect to Publications in order to eliminate undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and to receive information.
* Restore civilian leadership to the Ministry of Education and Bahrain University, and restore a policy of faculty recruitment and student admissions to the university that does not discriminate against persons based on their religion or their political opinions.
* Take steps to regularize the status of Bahrain's biduun population-long-term residents without nationality-by facilitating their applications for citizenship and passports and by permitting the return to Bahrain of biduun who have been arbitrarily or summarily deported.
* Allow international and Bahraini human rights workers to exercise their rights to seek, receive, and disseminate information in Bahrain concerning the human rights situation there.
To the United States:
To the Clinton administration: The high-level and long-standing political and military relationship between the U.S. and Bahraini governments presents the opportunity for the U.S. to take an overdue vocal and assertive role in addressing recurrent human rights violations in Bahrain. U.S. government officials have told Human Rights Watch that U.S. concerns in this regard are conveyed regularly to the government of Bahrain by the U.S. ambassador in Manama. If this is indeed the case, there are no signs that demarches at this level, and in this fashion, are producing any results. We therefore urge the Clinton administration, as a matter of high priority, to:
* Publicly criticize human rights abuses by the government of Bahrain that are recurrent, systematic, and matters of state policy, and discontinue the policy of public silence concerning those abuses.
* Raise the issues discussed in this report with Bahraini officials at the highest levels, and urge the government of Bahrain to take specific and measurable steps toward implementing the above recommendations.
* Instruct the embassy staff in Manama to request permission to attend trials in state security courts and to demonstrate U.S. concern about court proceedings that fall short of international fair-trial standards.
* Instruct Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Rights and Labor John Shattuck to focus more of his attention and his office's resources on the human rights problems of the Middle East, including Bahrain.
* Ensure that Bahrain's compliance with international human rights standards is on the agenda of all meetings between high-level U.S. and Bahraini officials, including meetings during visits of U.S. military and Department of Defense officials.
* Instruct the embassy staff in Manama to request the right to visit Shaikh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri, in order to demonstrate U.S. concern about the lengthy detention without charge or trial of persons for whom no evidence has been divulged that they have committed or advocated acts of violence.
* Request the embassy staff in Manama to improve its monitoring and accurate reporting of human rights in Bahrain, as reflected in the Bahrain chapter of the annual U.S. State Department Country Reports, by subjecting to greater critical scrutiny the claims of the government with regard to its policies and by assessing directly and without innuendo the accuracy of allegations of government violations made by the Bahrain Human Rights Organization and the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Bahrain.
* Make clear to the government of Bahrain, both publicly and privately, that persistent and recurrent human rights violations will affect negatively the depth and quality of relations with the United States, including military and security relations, and that improved respect for human rights will, by contrast, strengthen those relations.
* Instruct the ambassador in Manama and visiting U.S. military and diplomatic officials to raise the issue of human rights in interviews with Bahraini media.
* Urge the government of Bahrain to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.
* Request the government of Bahrain publicly to respond positively to requests by international human rights organizations for visas to conduct research missions.
To Members of Congress:
* Schedule hearings before the House International Relations and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees in which the human rights record of the Bahraini government is explicitly on the agenda.
* Question administration officials, during hearings and briefings on Middle East and Persian Gulf developments, about human rights developments in Bahrain.
* Request the administration to assess and report publicly on steps being taken by the government of Bahrain to ensure basic civil and political rights for all Bahraini citizens.
To the United Kingdom:
The close and long-standing political and military relations between the governments of the United Kingdom and Bahrain give the United Kingdom an important role in bringing about an improvement in Bahrain's human rights record. Officials of the former Conservative Party-led government have told Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations that they regularly raise these issues with the government of Bahrain on a confidential basis. As discussed above with regard to the U.S., this form of intervention can no longer be regarded as adequate or sufficient. Human Rights Watch therefore urges the government of the United Kingdom, as a matter of priority, to:
* Publicly criticize human rights abuses by the government of Bahrain that are recurrent, systematic, and matters of state policy, and discontinue the policy of public silence concerning those abuses.
* Raise the issues discussed in this report with Bahraini officials at the highest levels and urge the government of Bahrain to take specific and measurable steps toward implementing the above recommendations.
* Instruct the U.K. embassy staff in Manama to request permission to attend trials in security courts and to demonstrate concern about court proceedings that fall short of international fair-trial standards.
* Ensure that Bahrain's compliance with international human rights standards is on the agenda of all meetings between high-level U.K. and Bahraini officials, including meetings during visits of Ministry of Defense as well as Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials to Bahrain.
* Instruct the U.K. embassy staff in Manama to request the right to visit Shaikh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri, in order to demonstrate concern about the lengthy detention without charge or trial of persons for whom no evidence has been divulged that they have committed or advocated acts of violence.
* Make clear to the government of Bahrain, both publicly and privately, that persistent and recurrent human rights violations will affect negatively the depth and quality of relations with the United Kingdom, including military and security relations, and that improved respect for human rights will, by contrast, strengthen those relations.
* Urge the government of Bahrain to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.
* Request the government of Bahrain publicly to respond positively to requests by international human rights organizations for visas to conduct research missions.
3. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Bahrain takes its name, which means "two seas" in Arabic, from the main island of a small archipelago located in the Persian Gulf about midway along the Arabian littoral and some 25 kilometers by causeway from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The country's total area is 694 kilometers, about four times that of the District of Columbia. The main island (89 percent of this total area), along with the smaller islands of Muharraq and Sitra, account for virtually all of the population and economic activity.4
The population in 1996 was around 598,000, of which some 62 percent are Bahraini nationals and the rest workers from South Asia and other Arab countries.5 Eighty-five percent of the people live in the country's two cities, Manama and al-Muharraq, or in main towns such as Jidd Hafs, Sitra, al-Rifaa or Madinat Isa in the northern third of the country, making Bahrain one of the most highly urbanized countries in the world. Manama's expansion over the past thirty-five years has transformed many of the surrounding villages and towns into suburbs of the capital. A similar process has fused the villages of Sitra into one large town.
Bahrain has historically been a center for regional trade, and Bahrain's local population comprises several distinct elements. About 70 percent are Shi`a Muslims; most of these are the original Arab people of the islands, known as Baharna. There is also a small community descendant from Iranian Shi`a migrants.The Sunnis, approximately 30 percent of the total, include the descendants of the tribes that accompanied the Al Khalifa family conquest of the island in 1783, after nearly two centuries of Persian rule. The other components of the Sunni population are the descendants of Arabs who migrated from the Najd region of north central Arabia, also in the late 18th century, and Arabs, Iranians, Indians, and others who migrated (or in some cases returned) to Bahrain and eastern Arabia.6 These communal distinctions, and especially the relative Sunni monopolization of political power and land ownership under the ruling Al Khalifa family, have played a key role in the island's political dynamics to this day.7
Bahrain's 20th century political and socioeconomic history is dominated by two factors. The first is British rule: from 1868 until the country's formal independence in 1971, Bahrain was essentially a British protectorate. The primacy of the Al Khalifa family is one consequence, and hereditary rule by the Al Khalifa amir (prince) is now enshrined in Article 1 of the 1973 Constitution. The present amir, Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, was born in 1933 and became amir in 1961. A British Political Agent resided in Manama beginning around the turn of the century and played an increasing role in local affairs. After World War II, Britain'sPolitical Residency for the Persian Gulf region was moved to Bahrain from Bushehr (Bushire), in Iran, and the Royal Air Force base and Royal Navy facilities on the island assumed greater importance as Britain consolidated its regional forces there. A formal United States military presence in the Persian Gulf also took shape then, with the formation of a three-ship naval task force headquartered at the port of Jufair.8
The second defining element is oil. Bahrain was the site of the first commercial oil discovery in the Arabian Peninsula, in 1932. The concession was won by Caltex, a consortium of Texaco and the Standard Oil Company of California (today's Chevron) which established the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) as the local operator. Production for export began in 1933, and in 1937 BAPCO opened a large state-of-the-art oil refinery. Bahrain's oil production capacities were always quite modest compared with later finds in the region, but it was here that an oil-based political economy first developed. Oil production and refining led to the growth of ancillary industries and services, and oil revenues allowed for the creation of a modern state apparatus, including the expansion of the first secular educational system in the region. Bahrain was for several decades the main port of entry for eastern Saudi Arabia, and so benefitted from the growth of economic activity that accompanied the subsequent development of the oil industry in that country.
The growth of an administrative apparatus and economic activity powered by the presence of Western oil companies led to the recruitment of labor from outside the island. Educated white-collar workers from the Indian subcontinent, as British subjects until 1947, had an initial advantage, while Omanis, Iranians and others from the immediate environs also responded to the demand for unskilled and semi-skilled workers. More generally, the growth of Bahrain's merchant, service, industrial and administrative sectors led to the development, early compared with the rest of the region, of a relatively differentiated class structure that was reflected in political and trade-union activism to a degree not found elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula. Finally, the accrual of oil revenues, especially after the major oil companies introduced "profit-sharing" with the producing states' governments in 1950, gave the amir and his entourage a relatively rapid and great advantage ofwealth, enhancing significantly the ruling family's economic autonomy and social power vis-a-vis leading merchant families and other tribal shaikhs.
The combination of foreign (British) political rule and an expanding modern economy and state apparatus produced a political dynamic that more resembled what was happening in Egypt and Iran than elsewhere on the Arab side of the Gulf. Nationalist and pro-independence activism was accompanied by considerable underground trade union activity in sites like the BAPCO refinery, which experienced its first industrial strike in 1943. Serious episodes of political, social and labor unrest, including a dimension of communal conflict between Shi`a and Sunni, erupted on several occasions, beginning in 1953. Shi`a and Sunni community leaders subsequently banded together as the Committee of National Unity (CNU) in 1954, but secret talks between the CNU and the ruling family broke down over "the principle of elections as the legitimate basis for authority."9 The following several years saw a series of strikes and clashes over a range of local and regional issues and came to a head with the British-French-Israeli Suez invasion in late 1956. The government forcibly suppressed public manifestations of political opposition, and exiled five leaders of the CNU to the island of St. Helena. The government subsequently increased its repressive capabilities by recruiting security personnel from Iraq and elsewhere and setting up a "special branch within the police corps specializing in political affairs," under the command of a seconded British officer.10 While holding the line against structural reform, the authorities took steps to enhance their political base by decreeing improved working conditions and by conceding a dominant role in the private sector to leading merchant families. When a new wave of labor and political unrest broke out in 1965 over, among other things, the right to unionize and an end to police harassment, the authorities moved quickly to arrest the participants and once again to exile forcibly those it regarded as the leaders.11
Britain's announcement in 1968 that it would withdraw militarily from and end its direct political role in the Persian Gulf region was accompanied by efforts to forge a political federation of the small amirates it had ruled. The result was the United Arab Emirates, while Bahrain and Qatar opted for independence instead. Bahrain also had to contend with Iranian claims of sovereignty, based on its occupation of the island in the 17th and 18th centuries. A popular referendum would surely have rejected Iran's pretensions, but neither the British nor the Al Khalifa were prepared to entertain such a simple and direct means of gauging political sentiment. Iran's claims were instead neutralized by a March 1970 UN-sponsored "consultation" with, in the words of Secretary-General U Thant's special representative, "organizations and institutions in Bahrain...providing the best and fullest cross-section of opinion among the people of Bahrain."12 Bahrain became independent on August 16, 1971.
Bahrain's political history, singular in the Gulf, of mass-based movements that cut across class lines and pronounced trade-union activity, required the ruling family to replace the withdrawn colonial power with some form of local legitimacy. Amir Isa, on December 16, 1971, decreed that a national parliament would be formed and announced elections for a Constituent Assembly that would draw up a constitution for the country. The assembly, composed of twenty-two elected and eight appointed members, began its work on December 1, 1972.13 The resultingdocument, promulgated in June 1973, provided for a National Assembly of thirty elected members and up to fourteen cabinet members serving ex officio. The assembly was not authorized to initiate legislation but could question the government about existing or proposed legislation and projects.14 National elections were held on December 7, 1973, and the constitution went into effect with the first meeting of the National Assembly, on December 16, 1973.15
Political parties remained illegal, and candidates ran as independents, but three relatively distinct groupings emerged from the first campaign and functioning of the assembly: a People's Bloc of eight leftist and Arab nationalist candidates with ties to underground and transnational parties such as the Communists (the National Liberation Front) and the Arab Nationalist Movement (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Bahrain); a Religious Bloc of six, mainly teachers and religious court judges based in rural Shi`a constituencies; and an Independent Middle-sixteen in number-not bound to either of the other blocs organizationally or ideologically and representing "a varying combination of wealth, education, family preeminence, government contacts, and the ability to employ or affect the employment of people."16 The fourteen appointed cabinet members had the same rights and privileges as the elected members, which meant that the government could gain majority approval of any motion or legislation with the support of fewer than one-third of the elected members, though in practice it preferred to secure an elected majority.
Bahrain's experiment in quasi-representative political participation lasted less than two years. "Many people felt emboldened," one activist of the period told Human Rights Watch:
Women's groups were circulating petitions demanding their rights, and conservative mullahs were collecting signatures demanding gender segregation in public spaces and government institutions. Clubs were organizing classes on managing strikes and labor negotiations. From the government's perspective, the situation was getting out of hand.17
In October 1974, following a period that also saw numerous strikes at the Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA) plant, the Bahrain drydocks, Gulf Air, and many less prominent establishments, Amir Isa decreed a broadly written State Security Measures Law (generally referred to as the State Security Law) that would allow the government to arrest and imprison for up to three years without trial any person suspected of having "perpetrated acts, delivered statements, exercised activities or [...] been involved in contacts inside or outside the country, which are of a nature considered to be in violation of the internal or external security of the country...."18Many in the National Assembly demanded that it be submitted for approval or modification before implementation. The government, bearing in mind the many formal protests and petitions previously submitted requesting suspension of the 1965 Public Security Law, was unwilling to do this. In the subsequent months of behind-the-scenes bargaining, the government was unable to split the alliance of the People's Bloc, the Religious Bloc, and many of the Independent Middle on this issue. "The longer the issue persisted in public and the longer the debates continued," Khuri writes, "the weaker the government's position became."19 In May 1975, the government unilaterally withdrew from a session scheduled to discuss the measures. In August 1975, when it appeared that the summer recess had not changed the dynamics, the government dissolved the National Assembly.20 When Minister of Information Muhammad Ibrahim al-Mutawa'a was asked in early 1996 why the National Assembly had been disbanded, he replied that it had"hindered the government," and that it would be restored "[o]nce we feel that we need it, when it is suitable for our society and development."21
In March 1976, in the spirit of the State Security Measures Law, the government replaced the penal code of 1955 and separately decreed what has come to be known as the State Security Court to try those accused of violating those articles relating to internal and external security.22 The government also followed its dissolution of the National Assembly with a wave of arrests, detentions without trial, and forced exile that by the end of the decade had crippled the leftist and secular nationalist opposition. This opposition, with its base in the trade union movement, was also undermined in the 1980s by socioeconomic changes that included a shift from manufacturing to services, in particular offshore banking and tourism, and a great increase in the numbers and proportion of foreign workers.23
The 1978-79 revolution in Iran, meanwhile, mobilized a different sort of opposition, one rooted in the majority Shi`a community which expressed itself in religious language and responded enthusiastically to the Ayatollah Khomeini'sidentification of Shi`a populations as among the dispossessed of the earth. The early demands of this opposition to establish an Islamic republic alienated leftist and nationalist opposition elements among the Sunnis and many secularist Shi`a as well. This specifically Shi`a opposition manifested itself in specific organizational forms, notably the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, but also in a more generalized sense of a community with multiple grievances against a government that it perceived as having a strong sectarian animus with regard to their well-being and empowerment. In December 1981, the government arrested some seventy-three persons, mostly Bahrainis but including several Shi`a from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, on charges of plotting, with assistance from Iran, to overthrow the state.24 Following several months of incommunicado detention and alleged torture, and amendments to key security clauses of the 1976 Penal Code that retroactively permitted the government to try all of the accused before the State Security Court, the defendants went on trial in March 1982; in May three were sentenced to life in prison, fifty-nine received sentences of fifteen years, and ten were sentenced to seven years.25
Over subsequent years the government continued to imprison and exile opposition activists, religious and leftist alike. Many Bahrainis who went abroad to study became engaged in Bahraini and pan-Arab organizations that the government regarded as hostile, and were subsequently refused permission to re-enter the country. The Al Khalifa family continued to monopolize political power; the cabinet or council of ministers selected by Amir Isa in 1971 included seven members of the Al Khalifa family. While there have been occasional resignations of individual ministers over the intervening two decades, June 1995 was the first time since independence in 1971 that the prime minister and the full cabinetresigned. In the new cabinet, however, the premiership and the major portfolios remained in the hands of the same members of the ruling family.
4. ORIGINS OF THE PRESENT CRISIS
In the period immediately after the Gulf War, many Bahrainis discerned an opportunity to press for political liberalization. In discussions with Human Rights Watch, a number of Bahraini reform activists cited as inspiration the broad movement among Kuwaitis to demand political reforms, including elections and the reestablishment of the parliament disbanded there in 1986. Even in Saudi Arabia, petitions to the royal family from liberals and Islamists alike demanded political accountability and an end to corruption. Outside the region, the demise of the Soviet Union removed a longstanding anti-communist rationale for repressive policies. A related external development was the prominence of "democratization" as a policy theme among Western governments, notably the United States, and U.S. pressures on the Kuwaiti ruling family-though decidedly not on their Saudi or Bahraini counterparts-to countenance elections and to halt egregious civil rights abuses. In the words of one reformist lawyer:
[Bahrain's] 1973 constitution represented a compromise, a contract. It legitimizes the Al Khalifa as the ruling family. There were long discussions in the Constituent Assembly. The conservatives wanted any National Assembly to be appointed. The liberals wanted all the members to be elected. What we produced was a reasonable compromise. Ideal, in fact. It placed restrictions on the amir while preserving many of his prerogatives. It fit perfectly the Bahrain mix.26
While hostile to those citizens campaigning for political reforms, the Al Khalifas appreciated the need for gestures that would counter the erosion of legitimacy visited on the Gulf ruling families by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and all that followed. In April 1992, for instance, the government informally sent outword that some 120 Bahrainis living in exile would be allowed to return.27 The next month, on the occasion of Id al-Fitr, a holiday when Muslim rulers customarily issue pardons or reduce sentences, Amir Isa pardoned a number of prisoners, although it is not known if these pardons included persons jailed for political offenses. In May 1992 the government reportedly took steps, despite its own budgetary difficulties, to increase housing and utility subsidies as a move to address the growing complaints of the mostly Shi`a poor.
The Petition Campaign
The government's gestures stopped well short of any endorsement of political reform that would compromise the ruling family's absolute authority. Precisely such reforms and compromises, however, comprised the agendas of the country's political intelligentsia, particularly the issue of how to build momentum toward restoration of the National Assembly and parliamentary elections. Beginning in the early months of 1991, these themes were discussed in regular informal meetings in people's houses, since public gatherings to discuss politics were outlawed. "I was among fifteen or so persons who gathered together to discuss how to reactivate the constitution," one professional told Human Rights Watch. "Some of these meetings were at my home. Many people started to come."28 "Concentric discussion circles" was how another participant characterized the process. "Out of those discussions we set up a committee structure to move things ahead more effectively."29
A formal petition was drawn up by late October 1992. After an initial signing at the home of Ali Rabi`a, a prominent leftist and former elected member of the National Assembly, it was circulated privately and soon secured more than 280 signatures of merchants, lawyers, writers, and other professionals, including several former elected members of parliament. "It was pretty much restricted to theintelligentsia," one of those involved told Human Rights Watch, "but at that level most sectors were engaged." The petition, about two pages long, praised the amir's "pioneering" role in promulgating the 1973 constitution and requested that he "issue orders for election of the National Assembly as outlined by section two of chapter four of the constitution."30 "We paid our full respects to the amir," one participant told Human Rights Watch. "We are not a very aggressive opposition."31
The government's response was ambivalent. Initially the government moved to preempt and coopt those demanding restoration of the National Assembly by appointing a thirty-person Consultative Council, or Shura Council, whose main function would be to "comment" on legislation proposed by the government-appointed cabinet. "The shura proposal was 95 percent made-in-Saudi Arabia," one Bahraini businessman-reformer told Human Rights Watch. "Even those cabinet ministers who were not Al Khalifa were very surprised when it was announced."32 The November 1992 petition concluded by acknowledging the ruler's right to establish such a body, but declared that it "does not replace the national assembly as a constitutional and legislative authority."33
Some of those involved in the petition campaign had considered it imperative to present the petition to the amir before the expected proclamation of the Shura Council, while others counseled a more patient approach in which "acceptable liberals" rather than high-profile long-time critics would take the lead. In the end, those favoring a preemptive approach carried the day. On November 15, 1992, a six-member delegation comprising three Sunni and three Shi`a leaders-conservative Shi`a jurist and community leader Shaikh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri; Abd al-Wahab Hussain Ali, a teacher and leading Shi`a activist; Shaikh Abd al-Latif al-Mahmud, a leading Sunni reformist theologian; Muhammad Jabr al-Sabah, a former member of parliament; Shaikh Isa al-Jawdar, a prominent conservative Sunni personality; and Hamid Sanghur, a prominent Shi`a lawyer-met with Amir Isa. Of these, only Sanghur, a former head of the Bahrain Bar Association and since deceased, was not associated with dissenting politicalforces. Their reception, it seems, was frosty, and the meeting was brief. "The amir told us he was about to initiate the Shura Council and that was all we could expect," one of those involved in the campaign told Human Rights Watch.34 "Despite several calls we made to the Amiri Court over many months, we never got an official response," said another.35 This was one of the only times that the ruler met with a delegation that included both Shi`a and Sunni figures. In subsequent requests by citizens for meetings, the amir has reportedly insisted on meeting separately with Sunni and Shi`a delegations. Critics say that this is one way in which the government exacerbates communal divisions.
On December 16, 1992, Bahrain's national day, Amir Isa announced the appointed Shura Council, which held its first meeting in January 1993. The thirty council members, appointed for a term of four years, were mostly businessmen, but the group included lawyers and judges as well as several ex-members of the dissolved National Assembly. The first chair was Minister of Transport Ibrahim Humaydan. All council meetings are closed to the public and no transcripts are made available. The amir, in a November 1993 interview, characterized the council as a forum for "serious discussion." Its activities, he said, were "distinguished by civilized debate, best reflected in a democratic dialogue...and in mutual understanding between the government and the council."36 Among the dozens of interviews that Human Rights Watch conducted among Bahraini business and professional people, however, not one person considered the Consultative Council to represent a serious or sincere gesture of reform. Most Bahrainis who spoke with Human Rights Watch, including one former cabinet member, said that even the cabinet itself was no longer the site of useful policy discussion, and in recent years assembled only to rubber-stamp the decisions of Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the brother of the amir, and to hear from a small number of other influential officials, most notably Minister of Interior Muhammad bin KhalifaAl Khalifa, a first cousin of the amir. This skeptical Bahraini view of the Shura Council stands in contrast to much more positive assessments, both public and private, by Bahrain's allies, notably the United States government.37
In 1993-1994, as the political crisis continued to simmer, Bahrain's economy remained stagnant. The economic downturn in the region generally, and in Saudi Arabia in particular, reduced overall economic activity and cash transfers to Bahrain from wealthier neighbor governments. In real terms the country's gross domestic product contracted by 1.8 percent in 1994, and another one percent in 1995.38 Official unemployment climbed to 15 percent overall, and was estimated to be twice that rate among young men in Shi`a communities, as the growth in the number of jobs failed to keep pace with the growth of the labor force.39 Growth in employment of non-Bahrainis continued to exceed that of Bahrainis, despite government promises to restrict the number of new work permits.40
Several of those in the reformist camp told Human Rights Watch that they continued to be in contact with high-level government officials during this period. The prime minister, for example, conducted regular Wednesday evening informal gatherings-sometimes inviting bankers and economists, for instance, or on another occasion lawyers and judges-to which government critics were occasionally invited as well.
In 1994, economic and political discontent moved from the living rooms and offices of the elite to the streets. In mid-January 1994, security forces forcibly dispersed a memorial service at Mu'min mosque, in central Manama, commemorating the fortieth day since the death of Sayyid Mohammed Reza Golpayegani, a leading Iranian Shi`a jurist and at the time one of Shi`ism's five "great ayatollahs."41 One of those scheduled to speak at the service was Shaikh Ali Salman, a young Bahraini cleric who had studied in Qom. Salman told Human Rights Watch that Bahraini authorities typically required official authorization for events of this sort, but that just as typically permission was not sought and that enforcement was erratic. On this occasion, up to a thousand persons gathered on the evening of January 19. According to Salman, no one considered it especially unusual or ominous that security forces had surrounded the mosque.42 What followed, however, was a confrontation unusual for its violence. One young man who had attended told Human Rights Watch that about one hour after the service started, following Salman's remarks, the security forces announced over loudspeakers that everyone had to leave within the next five minutes.
But before the five minutes were up, they shot a tear gas canister into the mosque. Then they threw in a lot of tear gas. People panicked. Shaikh Ali had urged us not to go outside, not to push the government. But because of the gas we had to get out. When we went outside, we threw stones at the police, and they shot tear gas back at us. Cars followed us out of Manama. Maybe two dozen people were arrested.43
According to a brief Reuter account based on interviews after the event with eyewitnesses, "at some stage the security forces fired numerous rounds of tear gas into the open area outside the mosque building," arrested about two dozen people, and subsequently sealed the area and shut the mosque.44
Several persons recalled to Human Rights Watch that 1994 was characterized by "an overbearing sense of stagnation" that was economic as well as political. Ministers spoke of "greater economic opportunities," but unemployment continued to worsen. That summer witnessed several large demonstrations of young men at the Ministry of Labor, in Isa Town. The first, on June 29, ended "amicably" when the 200 or so youths present were told to return on July 2 to register as job-seekers. When 1,500 showed up and tried to organize a sit-in, riot police were called in and tear gas was used to disperse the crowd. The similar sequence occurred on August 31 and September 3.45 Several arrests were made, including Shaikh Ali Salman, who told Human Rights Watch that he had been involved in organizing the demonstrations. He was detained and questioned by security forces for a day and had his passport confiscated.46
Political frustrations were also mounting, as the campaign to restore the parliament encountered continued government intransigence. Some of the organizers of the 1992 petition effort initiated a second, "popular" version. which retained the focus of the first but spoke more critically of the economic crisis and of "laws which were enacted during the absence of the parliament which restrict the freedom of citizens and contradict the Constitution."47 The second petition alsocalled for "the involvement of women in the democratic process." Munira Fakhro, a professor of sociology at the University of Bahrain and one of the country's most prominent women professionals, was among the fourteen original signatories.48 Within a month, the organizers claimed, between 20,000 and 25,000 signatures had been gathered. But whereas the signatories to the first petition were more or less evenly divided between Sunni and Shi`a, the tens of thousands of signatories to the "popular petition" were overwhelmingly Shi`a, reflecting the strong sense of oppression and alienation felt by many Bahraini Shi`a and the active role of young Shi`a clerics, including Ali Salman, in promoting the campaign in sermons and in meetings in various ma'tams.49 Many of those associated with the first petition also endorsed the second, although some considered it a strategic error to take the campaign for political reform to the street, thereby allowing the regime to portray it as a sectarian movement pitting Shi`a against Sunni, and to invoke in the process a "foreign threat"-i.e., Iranian support for opposition activity by Bahrain's Shi`a majority.
On November 25, 1994, a confrontation occurred around a marathon relay race involving Bahrainis and Western expatriates alike that was a vehicle for raising funds for charities. On this occasion, the route of the race ran through several Shi`a villages in the vicinity of the capital.50 A group of Shi`a young menorganized a protest, reportedly citing the participation of some Western women in running attire, which they considered to be an affront to local mores. The demonstrators held up protest signs, shouted slogans, and reportedly threw stones at the runners. According to Shaikh Ali Salman, whom the government later accused of fomenting the confrontation:
About a hundred youths went out for an hour to protest. They took banners to protest the race. They were dispersed about 1:30 p.m. The government says the youths threw stones. Maybe, but not enough to keep the marathon from proceeding to the Diplomat Hotel back in Manama, where it ended around 5 p.m.51
According to Salman, some twenty young men were arrested that night; about ten were released about two weeks later, but nine were still in detention in mid-1996, nearly a year and a half later.52 Salman was himself arrested on December 5, l994, at his home in Bilad al-Qadim, allegedly for inciting the marathon incident and then organizing protests against the arrests that followed.
The arrest and detention of Ali Salman sparked fierce protests and street clashes throughout the heavily-populated environs of Manama and Sitra in December 1994 and January 1995. According to the Ministry of Interior, which generally played down the extent of the disturbances in the period leading up to the mid-December Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ministerial conference, demonstrations occurred practically on a daily basis.53 As clashes escalated, some demonstrations involved attacks with crude petrol bombs on police stations, banks and commercial properties. On December 12, security forces sealed off the neighborhoods of Bilad al-Qadim and al-Mukharga. Security forces employedrubber bullets as well as tear gas canisters fired at street level and from helicopters.54 In Sanabis, use of live ammunition by security forces was apparently responsible for the deaths of Hani Abbas Khamis and Hani Ahmad al-Wasti. During December another civilian and one policeman were also killed. The U.S. Embassy estimated that by the end of December the authorities had detained between 500 and 600 persons, and several hundred more in January.55 In addition to those rounded up in the street, scores more were seized by security forces in raids on homes in Diraz, Sitra, Sanabis, Jidd Hafs, Da`ir and elsewhere.
In a December 1994 meeting with a group of four Shi`a community leaders seeking Salman's release, the minister of interior asserted that the government had confessions and incriminating documents that confirmed Salman's instigatory role in the political turbulence. According to one participant, the minister of interior told the group that the government would not free Salman but would put him on trial and prove the charges.56 On January 15, 1995, however, the government announced it had that day forcibly exiled a group of "infiltrators whowere inciting sabotage."57 These were Salman and two other young clerics, Shaikh Hamza al-Dairi and Shaikh Haidar al-Sitri, who had been arrested in late December. Shaikh Adil al-Shu'la, age twenty-eight, was arrested on January 7, 1995, and forcibly exiled to Syria on January 18. According to Amnesty International, Shaikh Muhammad Kojestah and two other persons were also forcibly exiled in January 1995.
The Government's Response
December 1994 saw the outbreak of protracted social unrest that, with some lapses, is now in its third year. In the months following December 1994 there were continued street protests, further arrests, and several government announcements of prisoner releases. In late February 1995, the prime minister stated that 300 persons remained in detention in connection with the unrest, while Reuter cited local resident estimates of around 2,000.58 In March and April the number of incidents and arrests climbed again, and there were additional fatalities. While some of those arrested were picked up for specific offenses involving violence or vandalism, and some for nonviolent activities such as distributing leaflets, writing graffiti or publicly urging the government to negotiate with the opposition, many arrests were indiscriminate and many of those detained were never formally charged.
Among those held without charges were the most politically prominent detainees, such as Shaikh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri, an elected member of the dissolved National Assembly and the informal head of the most broadly based opposition grouping, the Bahrain Islamic Freedom Movement.59 He was detained on April 1, 1995, along with several other Shi`a community leaders, including Abd al-Wahab Hussain, Hasan Mushaima, and Shaikh Khalil Sultan. "We were notsurprised when they took us," Shaikh Khalil told Human Rights Watch. "We knew they were recording our sermons."60 At no point in the ensuing five months of captivity were any of the detained community leaders charged with a crime.61
Very soon, though, the authorities engaged them in jailhouse negotiations. "The negotiations started sometime in May," Shaikh Khalil told Human Rights Watch, "and later that month they agreed to put us together in the same mukhabarat [intelligence services] prison." According to Shaikh Khalil, between May and August there were about twenty meetings of an hour or two each with Ian Henderson, director of the government's security and investigative directorates, or one of his deputies, Adil Flaifil, and several meetings with the minister of interior.62 "They were very inconsistent," Shaikh Khalil told Human Rights Watch. "First they'd assert that our arrest had calmed things down, then they'd say we would have to promise to calm things down in order to get out. They kept insisting we were `nobodies,' and so they were reluctant to acknowledge that we could calm things down." In mid-August, according to Shaikh Khalil and other opposition sources, an understanding seemed to have been reached whereby the opposition would cease street protests, and the government would take steps toward satisfying the demands to reinstate the constitution and restore the national assembly, release political prisoners, and allow exiles to return. At the government's insistence, though, according to Shaikh Khalil, nothing was committed to paper, andindependent opposition figures subsequently told Human Rights Watch that the government in fact did not go beyond promising to "look into" these demands. Shaikh Khalil and Hasan Mushaima were released then on the understanding that they would travel to Damascus and London to persuade exiled regime opponents to end their activities. Abd al-Wahab Hussain was released on September 9, and Shaikh al-Jamri on September 26. There were also releases of persons rounded up in arrest sweeps at various points over the previous nine months.63
Street protests diminished for a time, but the regime's opponents soon charged that the government was not acting in good faith. The government denied that there had been any understanding, and the situation quickly deteriorated. By December, after the High Court of Appeal upheld the death sentence against a man convicted of killing a security officer, street protests and widespread arrests resumed.64 Shaikh al-Jamri and other Shi`a leaders, in their sermons, resumed criticism of the government for "provocative moves" and renewed calls for elections and release of prisoners, and mosques again were the sites of frequent clashes with security forces.A percussion bomb explosion in a shopping mall on December 31 and an explosion caused by a small bomb in a restroom of the Meridian Hotel on January 17, 1996, during a conference of oil industry executives, triggered more arrests and clashes.65 Shaikh al-Jamri and others were summoned to the Ministry of Interior regarding their speeches and public remarks. On January 23 the Ministry confirmed that al-Jamri, Abd al-Wahab Hussain, and others were under arrest.66 A government official asserted, "There is proof,evidence, and documents supported by pictures which prove the group's involvement in the incidents and would be submitted to the legal authorities."67
As of May 1997, some sixteen months later, no charges had been filed against al-Jamri and his colleagues, and they have reportedly been allowed three brief visits by family members. In January 1996, there were signs that the government might declare martial law and employ the 8,000-man regular army-the Bahrain Defense Force, or BDF-alongside the roughly 11,000-strong Public Security Force.68 To date, however, combating the internal unrest haslargely remained the task of the foreign-staffed security forces working under the Ministry of Interior and Director of Public Security Henderson.69
In the months that followed there were further bombings involving small, home-made devices, including a February 11 blast at the Diplomat Hotel that injured three people, a bombing of the car of the chief editor of Al-Ayam, a pro-government daily, in which no one was injured, and a blast at a branch of the National Bank that injured two persons and killed one, allegedly the perpetrator of the attack. In early March, a restaurant in Sitra frequented by Bangladeshi workers was firebombed and seven workers killed, bringing the number of fatalities since the unrest began in December 1994 to twenty-four, including three police and several confirmed cases of deaths in detention, reportedly as a result of torture and severe beatings.70
The government had been making liberal use of the security court to try hundreds of persons arrested in connection with the unrest. In the case of Isa Qambar, however, a twenty-nine-year-old accused of killing a policeman in March 1995, lawyers successfully petitioned the High Court of Appeal to rule, in May1995, that, as the security court, it did not have jurisdiction, and that the case should be tried in a criminal court. Qambar was convicted in criminal court, and his death sentence was subsequently upheld on appeal.71 The government, however, was evidently concerned that this might set an unwelcome precedent and compel it to prosecute other destruction of property and bodily harm cases in the criminal court, with its higher standards of evidence and more substantial adversarial procedure.72 On March 19, 1996, the government by decree transferred jurisdiction over some fourteen additional articles of the penal code from the criminal courts to the State Security Court.73 The additional offenses that can now be prosecuted in the security court include arson and use of fires or explosives (Articles 277 -281), and assaults or threats "against a civil servant or officer entrusted with a public service" (Article 220), or "against another in any manner, even though without having the intent of killing the victim, if the assault leads to death of the victim" (Article 336). Also in early 1996 the government quietly exp