There was a mixed picture on human rights in Bahrain between January and June 2016. The UK continued to work closely with the government of Bahrain to encourage progress on human rights, which included focusing on building effective and accountable institutions, strengthening the rule of law, and police and justice reform. The UK government also continued to work with civil society organisations - focusing on responsible freedom of expression and social inclusion - to encourage moderate voices to take a greater role within civil society.
UK support continued to be in line with the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights in Bahrain. The Bahrain government continued with its programme of socio-economic reform which, with full implementation, will strengthen community cohesion, human rights and the rule of law. But there is still significant work to be done.
The UK continued to support independent human rights and oversight institutions such as the National Institution of Human Rights (NIHR), the Ministry of Interior (MOI) Ombudsman, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC), and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which provide independent oversight of police behaviour and detention standards, and were established as a result of the recommendations of the BICI.
In May 2016, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC) released a report on its independent inspection of Jau Rehabilitation and Reformation Centre in November 2015. PDRC commissioners highlighted a number of key concerns in respect to prison conditions, and the report included testimony from detainees. The UK welcomed the transparent approach taken by the PDRC and the Ministry of Interior’s commitment to implement all the recommendations made in the report.
Following an earlier recommendation from the Ombudsman’s office on youth justice reform, 15 to 18 year-olds and 18 to 21 year-olds in detention continued to be accommodated separately. Work is now needed on rehabilitation, release and reintegration into communities.
We continued to encourage Bahrain to live up to its international human rights obligations, including in relation to the rights of the child, where work is underway to increase the age of criminal responsibility in line with international standards.
In January, following an appeal by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Supreme Appeals Court reinstated the sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment (having previously reduced it to 2 years) for both defendants who were found guilty of the manslaughter of Ali Saqer, who died whilst in detention at Dry Dock Detention Centre in 2011.
The UK also welcomed the release of human rights activist Zainab Al Khawaja on humanitarian grounds on 31 May.
In January, after prolonged negotiations, Bahrain and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) agreed on co-operation for a programme of technical assistance and capacity building to empower civil society actors, increase independent oversight, and increase compliance with international human rights mechanisms.
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 consistently raised our concerns about the protection of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly with the Bahraini government, including during the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Bahrain on 30 May.
The UK government has raised a number of recent cases of concern with the government of Bahrain, including:
- the suspension of the main Shia opposition political society in Bahrain, Al Wefaq
- the extension of Al Wefaq Secretary-General Sheikh Ali Salman’s prison sentence from 4 to 9 years
- the arrest of prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab in relation to tweets last year
- the prevention of a group of Bahraini human rights activists from travelling to Geneva for events at the UN Human Rights Council
- the announced revocation of citizenship of Bahraini Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim
The UK also urged the government of Bahrain to guarantee and protect political freedoms for all its citizens, and stressed the need for all sides to engage in constructive and inclusive dialogue to promote social cohesion and inclusivity, including political representation for all Bahrainis.
We continued to raise our concerns over the death penalty. In May, the Court of Appeal upheld the death sentences for three defendants who were found guilty of killing an Emirati police inspector and 2 police officers in 2014. The defendants have the right to appeal to the Court of Cassation.
Bahrain continued to face a genuine security threat, and extremist groups continued to target security personnel. In April, a police officer was targeted and killed after a Molotov cocktail attack in Sitra. Low-level civil disturbances also continued on a regular basis.
The FCO Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, co-hosted the seventh biannual UK-Bahrain Joint Working Group on 2 June in Bahrain, which focused on reform and the UK’s technical assistance.