Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Human Rights Priority Country update report: July to December 2016 - Bahrain

There was a mixed picture on human rights in Bahrain between July and December 2016.

The UK government has continued to emphasise the need to respect the rights of all citizens and to act proportionately to protect human rights, including freedom of expression. We have raised our concerns with the Bahraini government at the highest levels. We issued a national statement under Item 2 at the UN Human Rights Council in September where we registered concern about recent developments in Bahrain, and encouraged all sides to engage in constructive and inclusive dialogue to promote social cohesion and inclusivity for all Bahrainis.

The UK government has raised a number of recent cases with the government of Bahrain, including:

  • the dissolution of the main Shia opposition political society in Bahrain, Al Wefaq, including the closure of its headquarters and seizing of its assets by the state
  • the arrest of prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab in relation to tweets last year
  • the alleged prevention of a group of Bahraini human rights activists from travelling to Geneva for events at the UN Human Rights Council in June and September 2016
  • the alleged prevention, more widely, of lawyers, journalists and human rights activists from travelling
  • the announced revocation of citizenship of Bahraini Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim
  • the ongoing security impasse in Diraz

We have concerns over the deprivation of citizenship where this renders an individual stateless. We also have concerns over the handing down of the death penalty. We were concerned in particular with the death sentences handed down at the Court of Appeal to Sami Mushaima, Abbas al-Samea, and Ali al-Singace on 4 December, who were found guilty of killing 3 police officers in 2014. The UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty, and it is our longstanding policy to oppose capital sentences in all circumstances. The Foreign Secretary raised these cases with the Bahraini government and issued a statement after their execution on 15 January 2017.

The UK continued to work with the government of Bahrain to encourage progress on human rights in areas which included focusing on building effective and accountable institutions, strengthening the rule of law and justice reform. Additionally, new projects have begun which are designed to build capacity with the Supreme Judicial Council and the Bahraini parliament. UK support is directly addressing areas of concern. All of our work aims to support these institutions to operate in line with international standards, including on human rights, through sharing UK expertise and experience. All projects carried out by the UK government in conjunction with the government of Bahrain comply with the UK’s domestic and international human rights obligations.

The UK continued to support independent human rights and oversight institutions such as the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR), the Ministry of Interior (MOI) Ombudsman, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC), and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which work to safeguard human rights and provide independent oversight of police behaviour and detention standards. These were the first of their kind in the region and remain unique within the Gulf.

We welcome the NIHR being awarded status ‘B’ in August 2016 by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the Global Alliance of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The UK has supported the NIHR in increasing its outreach with a range of stakeholders to emphasise the importance of human rights compliance. The NIHR has recently increased the number of mechanisms through which citizens and residents can report complaints of human rights abuses, which complement the traditional means already in existence.

The UK is assisting the Ministry of Labour and Social Development and the civil society sector more broadly to help to create a more enabling environment for NGOs and civil society. The UK government also supported a new project, led by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, for post-legislative scrutiny with the Council of Representatives. Workshops held in December discussed the mechanisms adopted by the UK in particular in evaluating the impact of legislation and the role of MPs in the legislative process.

The government of Bahrain has an ongoing programme of socio-economic reform which was implemented further and publicised more widely in the latter half of 2016. These initiatives are intended to empower all communities and include programmes which enable citizens to hold government institutions to account. For instance, in December 2016 the government began to promote and encourage further use of the Tawasul system, an app which enables anyone in Bahrain to complain to any Ministry about the provision of public services (there are currently 27 entities signed up to Tawasul).

The Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit are continuing with investigations into complaints of torture in the case of Mohammad Ramadan. The UK welcomes this and encourages a swift, transparent conclusion to the investigation.

Cooperation between Bahrain and the UN Office of the Hugh Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding a programme of technical assistance has stalled in recent months. The UK encourages further cooperation in this area.

The Office of the Public Prosecution announced on 23 November that the case against Ebrahim Sharif, who was charged in relation to an interview in an international newspaper, had been closed and the charges against him dropped. The UK government welcomes the positive outcome on this case.

We also welcome the release of Ghada Jamsheer on 12 December on medical grounds, to serve the remaining 4 months of her sentence as community service.

Bahrain continued to face genuine security threats and extremist groups continued to target security personnel. On 30 June, a Bahraini woman died and her 3 children were injured as a result of a detonated IED in East Eker. In July, the Bahraini authorities detained 5 men suspected of receiving military training in bomb-making, alongside a weapons cache.

The FCO Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood MP, co-hosted the eighth biannual UK-Bahrain Joint Working Group on 29 November in London, which focused on reform and the UK’s technical assistance.