19 Apr 2013

Bahrain is a monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the head of state, appoints the cabinet consisting of 29 ministers; approximately half are members of the Sunni Al-Khalifa ruling family. The parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives. Approximately 17 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary by-elections for 18 seats vacated in September 2011. Independent human rights organizations did not consider the elections free and fair. On May 19, the king ratified constitutional amendments broadening the powers of the elected chamber of parliament. Security forces reported to civilian authorities during the year.

The most serious human rights problems included citizens’ inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention; and lack of due process in trials of political and human rights activists, medical personnel, teachers, and students, with some resulting in harsh sentences. Some protesters engaged in lethal acts of violence against security forces, including the use of improvised explosive devices, Molotov cocktails, and other improvised weapons.

Other significant human rights problems included arbitrary deprivation of life; arrest of individuals on charges relating to freedom of expression; reported violations of privacy; and restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices. The government sometimes imposed and enforced travel bans on political activists. Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect persisted, especially against the Shia population. There were reports of domestic violence against women and children. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of foreign workers continued to be significant problems.

Beginning in February 2011, the country experienced a sustained period of unrest including mass protests calling for political reform. In 2011, 52 persons died in incidents linked to the unrest, and hundreds more were injured or arrested. The government prosecuted some police personnel implicated in abuses committed during the year and in 2011. Courts convicted six individuals of crimes related to police abuse, resulting in prison sentences ranging from three months to seven years. It was unclear whether any of those convicted were in prison at year’s end. Many of the trials continued. In the pending cases, charges ranged from misdemeanor assault and battery to murder. The government took some steps to address the “culture of impunity,” which the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report identified.

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