4 Feb, 2015

Freedom House's Annual Report on Political Rights and Civil Liberties: Freedom in the World 2015

Regional Trends
The negative pattern in 2014 held true across geographical regions, with more declines than gains in the Middle East and North Africa, Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the Americas, and an even split in Asia-Pacific.

Middle East and North Africa:  Tunisia a bright spot in troubled region Although Tunisia became the Arab world’s only Free country after holding democratic elections under a new constitution, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa was racked by negative and often tragic events. The Syrian civil war ground on, the Islamic State and other extremist militant factions dramatically extended their reach, and Libya’s tentative improvements following the downfall of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi rapidly disintegrated as the country fell into a new internal conflict. Rival armed groups also overran a fragile political process in Yemen, and the effects of the Syrian war paralyzed elected institutions in Lebanon. Egypt continued its rollback of post- Mubarak reforms and solidified its return to autocracy with sham elections and a crackdown on all forms of dissent.

Following high-profile killings of Israeli and Palestinian civilians and a campaign of rocket attacks on Israel by Gaza-based militants, the Israel Defense Forces launched a 50-day air and ground offensive in Gaza over the summer. More than 2,200 people died, mostly Gazan civilians, and tens of thousands of homes in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. Israel was criticized for responding to attacks by Hamas militants in a disproportionate way, while Hamas was criticized for entrenching rocket launchers and fighters in civilian neighborhoods.


Notable gains or declines:
BAHRAIN'S political rights rating declined from 6 to 7
due to grave flaws in the 2014 legislative elections
and the government’s unwillingness to address
long-standing grievances among the majority Shiite
community about the drawing of electoral districts and
the possibility of fair representation.


Egypt received a downward trend arrow due to the
complete marginalization of the opposition, state
surveillance of electronic communications, public
exhortations to report critics of the government to
the authorities, and the mass trials and unjustified
imprisonment of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Iraq’s political rights rating declined from 5 to 6 due to
the Islamic State’s attempts to destroy Christian, Shiite,
Yazidi, and other communities under its control, as well
as attacks on Sunnis by state-sponsored Shiite militias.

Lebanon received a downward trend arrow due to the
parliament’s repeated failure to elect a president and
its postponement of overdue legislative elections for
another two and a half years, which left the country
with a presidential void and a National Assembly
whose mandate expired in 2013.

Libya’s political rights rating declined from 4 to 6,
its civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6, and its
status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the
country’s descent into a civil war, which contributed to
a humanitarian crisis as citizens fled embattled cities,
and led to pressure on civil society and media outlets
amid the increased political polarization.

Syria received a downward trend arrow due to
worsening religious persecution, weakening of civil
society groups and rule of law, and the large-scale
starvation and torture of civilians and detainees.

Tunisia’s political rights rating improved from 3 to
1 and its status improved from Partly Free to Free
due to the adoption of a progressive constitution,
governance improvements under a consensus-based
caretaker administration, and the holding of free and
fair parliamentary and presidential elections, all with a
high degree of transparency.

Yemen received a downward trend arrow due to the
Houthi militant group’s seizure and occupation of the
capital city, its forced reconfiguration of the cabinet,
and its other demands on the president, which
paralyzed Yemen’s formal political process.

Courtesy: Freedom House - Freedom in the World 2015: Regional Trends - Middle East and North Africa/ Bahrain

Click here to view the full report

4 Feb, 2015

Human Rights Watch - World Report 2015: Events of 2014 - Bahrain

In 2014, the main opposition party continued to refuse to participate in the national dialogue process to protest authorities prosecuting some of its senior members and, with other opposition parties, boycotted November’s elections in protest at an unfair electoral system.

Bahrain’s courts convicted and imprisoned peaceful dissenters and failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations. The high rate of successful prosecutions on vague terrorism charges, imposition of long prison sentences, and failure to address the security forces’ use of lethal and apparently disproportionate force all reflected the weakness of the justice system and its lack of independence.

Human rights activists and members of the political opposition continued to face arrest and prosecution, and the government invested itself with further powers to arbitrarily strip critics of their citizenship and the rights that attach to it.

Judicial System
Bahraini courts sentenced more than 200 defendants to long prison sentences, including at least 70 for life, on terrorism or national security charges. The number of prosecutions, the often vague nature of the charges, the high rate of convictions, and the length of the sentences imposed raised serious due process concerns. Bahrain’s civilian criminal courts failed to provide impartial justice and frequently convicted defendants on terrorism charges for acts that amount to legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and

In 2013, for example, an appeals court concluded that a lower court had been right to convict Abdul Wahab Hussain, an opposition leader, on terrorism charges and sentence him to life imprisonment because he had founded a group dedicated to establishing a republic in Bahrain. The same appeals court also upheld the terrorism convictions and life sentences for Hassan Mushaima and Abdul Jalil al-Singace, members of the unlicensed opposition group Al Haq, because they had participated in meetings of the group that Hussain founded and possessed “publications advocating for the group.” The court declared that while unlawful means, such as the use of force, are required for an act to qualify as terrorism, such force “need not necessarily be military [askari],” because “moral pressure” could result in terrorism.

Fifty individuals were convicted on charges of establishing and joining a group known as the February 14 Coalition with the aim of “sowing chaos in the country, committing crimes of violence and sedition, attacking public and private property, intimidating citizens and harming national unity.” The court found that only one of the 50 defendants had committed an identifiable act of violence—assaulting a policeman during his arrest at his home, causing “cut and scratch injuries”
to the officer. The defendants received sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years in prison.

Excessive Use of Force and Lack of Accountability
Security forces fatally shot at least three people in circumstances indicating that they used excessive force. Bahraini authorities and courts have rarely held members of the security forces accountable for unlawfully using force against protestors and detainees.

In January, security forces shot and killed Fadhel Abbas Muslim Marhoon. Authorities said police officers shot him in self-defense as he drove an “oncoming car” towards them, but photographs of his body appeared to contradict this version and show that he had sustained a gunshot wound to the back of his head. In February, security forces shot Abdulaziz al-Abar at a funeral procession; surgeons removed shotgun pellets from his brain, but he died on May 18.

In May, security forces shot and killed Sayed Mahmood, 14, after police dispersed a funeral protest. A hospital death certificate, three witness accounts, images
of the wound, and a forensic pathologist’s opinion indicated that his death had resulted from unlawful use of lethal force by security forces, to whom he had posed no threat when he was shot.

In 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), appointed to investigate official conduct during anti-government protests that year, concluded that “police units used force against civilians in a manner that was both unnecessary and disproportionate.”

In response to one of the BICI’s recommendations, the government established the Office of the Ombudsman within the Interior Ministry “to ensure compliance with professional standards of policing set forth in the Code of Conduct for the Police” and to report misconduct to the ministry and any criminal acts to the public prosecutor. The government created a Special Investigations Unit within the Public Prosecution Office as well.

The Office of the Ombudsman issued its first annual report in May, which listed 11 deaths under investigation, including that of Fadhel Marhoon, whom police shot and fatally wounded on January 8. The Ombudsman’s Office told Human Rights Watch that it had forwarded details of the deaths of al-Abar and Mahmood to the Special Investigations Unit for investigation.

The BICI also found that Bahrain’s security forces had killed at least 18 demonstrators and detainees without justification and recommended that the authorities investigate the deaths “with a view to bringing legal and disciplinary action against such individuals, including those in the chain of command, military and civilian, who are found to be responsible under international standards of ‘superior responsibility.’”

An analysis of court documents conducted by Human Rights Watch showed that the justice system has failed to hold members of the security forces accountable for serious rights violations, including in cases where their use of excessive and unlawful force proved fatal. The authorities have prosecuted only a few of the security personnel implicated in the serious and widespread abuses that the BICI documented, focusing almost exclusively on low-ranking officers who, in most cases, have been acquitted or punished with disproportionately lenient sentences.

For example, a court convicted a police officer only of assault, although it accepted that he had shot and fatally wounded a man from a distance of one meter because it concluded that the officer did not open fire with an intent to kill. The court imposed a seven-year prison term in this case, which an appellate court later reduced to six months. In another case, an appeals court slashed to two years the ten-year prison terms that a lower court imposed on two police officers convicted of beating a detainee to death. The appeals court said that the two defendants deserved “clemency” on the absurd grounds that they had been “preserving the life of detainees, among them the victim.” These and similar decisions by co