Throughout 2014, the government of Bahrain continued to take
incremental steps to implement its human rights and political
reform agenda, though there continued to be serious concerns
related to political and civil rights. The UK continued to provide a
package of technical assistance focused on strengthening human
rights and the rule of law, in line with the Bahrain Independent
Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the UN Universal Periodic Review
In November, Bahrain held its fourth parliamentary and municipal
elections, the first full elections since the unrest in early 2011.
Turnout for the first round on 22 November was 52.5%, although
no figures were publicly released for the second round on 29
November. The UK, along with other members of the international
community, was disappointed by the decision of the main
opposition societies to boycott the elections and to call for their
supporters not to vote. This followed the breakdown of the political
dialogue with the government of Bahrain. The election period
saw acts of intimidation against candidates and voters and a spike
in violence. However, overall, we judge the process to have been
The government of Bahrain continued its efforts to strengthen
police accountability and build oversight mechanisms across the
criminal justice system. The Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman’s
Office, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission, and
the National Institute of Human Rights (NIHR) released their
inaugural reports this year. Some progress has been made in
implementing their recommendations, and we encourage the
government of Bahrain to move resolutely to address the remaining
recommendations in all three reports.
In December, the Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman and the NIHR
received the EU Chaillot award for the Gulf region in recognition of
progress made on promoting human rights.
We continue to raise our concerns over allegations of mistreatment
and torture, and urge the government of Bahrain to ensure that all
allegations are fully, independently and transparently investigated.
In November, we registered concern at the death of an inmate at
Bahrain’s Reformation and Rehabilitation Centre. An investigation
by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) led to six members of
staff, including three high-ranking officers, appearing before the
High Criminal Court on 25 November. All six defendants pleaded
not guilty, and the case was adjourned until a later date. In
November, the SIU investigated video footage showing a person
being assaulted in a police car, and charged the police officer in
question. The SIU also probed nine cases of alleged torture and
four cases of alleged mistreatment in December, which remain
under investigation. It is crucial that police officers are held fully
accountable for their actions and are sentenced accordingly.
Ombudsman’s Office figures in July 2014 showed that 14 officers
had been charged with human rights violations. Of those, 12 are
facing trial, one received a six-month sentence, and another faced
disciplinary action. During his visit to Manama in December, the
Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, raised UK concerns about
human rights issues with the King and Crown Prince of Bahrain.
The NIHR report, published in September, made recommendations
on Bahrain’s judicial system. Some progress is being made. In
November a Bahraini delegation carried out a study visit to
Northern Ireland to learn about the juvenile justice system. SIU
staff members also attended training sessions in the UK on forensic
evidence, interviewing skills, and the rights of suspected persons.
However, concerns remain about apparent inconsistencies in sentencing.
Freedom of speech and expression continued to be inhibited. In
July 2014, the 2013 decree requiring the registration of contacts
between political societies and foreign parties was enforced for
the first time. Over the course of 2014, a number of individuals
were convicted for inciting illicit activity, insulting ministers and/or
ministries, and spreading false information. In December, Sheikh
Ali Salman, the Secretary-General of the main opposition society
Al-Wefaq, was charged under anti-terrorism and anti-coup laws.
We encourage the government to ensure that due legal process
is followed in all cases, and that sentencing is proportionate. In
addition, Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human
Rights, was arrested on charges of insulting the Ministry of Interior
and the Bahrain Defence Force.
Although there is a de facto moratorium on carrying out the death
penalty, three people received death sentences in 2014. All three
still have the right to appeal, and we will continue to monitor any
FCO Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, hosted the fourth
UK-Bahrain Joint Working Group on 4 December, which focused on
reform and the UK’s technical assistance.
In 2015, the UK will continue to support the government of Bahrain
in implementing its human rights and political reform programme
through the provision of technical assistance, training, and best
practice sharing. This will include support on reforms of the youth
justice system, and court administration and further capacity
building for key institutions such as the Ombudsman’s office.