politics and government of
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The government of Bahrain has marginalized the native Shia Muslim population. Torture and forced disappearances are common in Bahrain. The crackdown on protesters during the 2011 Arab Spring has brought further human rights complaints, including the destruction of dozens of long-standing Shia mosques.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry was established on 29 June 2011 by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to assess the incidents that occurred in the Kingdom during the period of unrest in February and March 2011 and the consequences of these events. The report was released on 23 November of that year and confirmed that there were some incidents of physical and psychological abuse on detainees. It has been criticized for not disclosing the names of individual perpetrators of abuses and extending accountability only to those who actively carried out human rights violations.
There is a growing problem of stateless people, known as Bedoon, who are descendants of Iranians (especially ethnic Persians) who have lived in Bahrain for many decades. Most of Bahrain's stateless are Muslims, some of Bahrain's stateless are Christians.
In Bahrain, stateless people are denied the right to hold legal residency, are not allowed the right to travel abroad, buy houses, and to hold government jobs. They are also not allowed to own land, start a business and borrow loans. Recently, the Bahraini government issued regulations preventing them from sending their children to public schools and to receive free medical care. The stateless can also get deported at any time. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the Bahraini government has deported hundreds of Bedoon to Iran.
According to a 2011 report by Human Rights Watch, between 2007 and 2009, the government regularly practiced torture and ill-treatment in interrogating security suspects. Although government spokesmen have issued denials, there is no evidence of criminal investigations and the government has not imposed disciplinary measures on the alleged perpetrators.
In 2011, Human Rights Watch claimed to have found evidence that protections for migrant workers have improved.
In November 2018, a Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who had been sentenced in absentia by Bahrain to 10 years in prison for vandalising a police station, was arrested upon arrival in Thailand with his wife for their honeymoon. The footballer, who was given refugee status by Australia in 2014, urged the Thailand authorities not to deport him to Bahrain as he was previously tortured in Bahrain for his political views.
He was kept in detention in Thailand while the Australian government and many international organisations and individuals lobbied for his release, until it was announced on 11 February 2019 by the Thai Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) that the extradition case against al-Araibi had been dropped by the criminal court at Bahrain's request. No reason was given by the foreign ministry, but the decision was made under Section 21 of the Prosecution Act, which allows for cases to be dropped if not in the public interest, and he would be released and allowed to return to Australia as soon as possible.
Majority of the citizen population of Bahrain are Shia Muslims. The ruling Sunni Al Khalifa family, who were supported by the US, arrived in Bahrain from Qatar at the end of the eighteenth century. Shiites alleged that the Al Khalifa failed to gain legitimacy in Bahrain and established a system of "political apartheid based on racial, sectarian, and tribal discrimination."Vali Nasr, a leading expert on Middle East and Islamic world said "For Shi'ites, Sunni rule has been like living under apartheid".
According to The Christian Science Monitor, Bahrain is practicing "a form of sectarian apartheid by not allowing Shiites to hold key government posts or serve in the police or military. In fact, the security forces are staffed by Sunnis from Syria and Pakistan who also get fast-tracked to Bahraini citizenship, much to the displeasure of the indigenous Shiite population."
According to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, while the Shiites exceeds 70% of the population, "they occupy less than 18% of total top jobs in government establishments. In several government ministries and corporations no Shiite is appointed in leading jobs."
Jobs in the police and armed forced are reserved for Sunni. Sunni Saudis are admitted to Bahrain as citizens to fill these jobs. Shiites and "some Sunnis of Persian origins", are banned from residing in the city of Riffa, where only the Sunni Muslims are permitted to live.
There are also concerns of the Bahraini government's systematic efforts to diminish the Shia majority by promotion of immigration of Sunni Muslims and granting them citizenship. According to Dr. Saeeid Shahabi, a London-based journalist, "there is the problem of political naturalization. The ruling family - similar to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, where you had a minority ruling a majority - wants to change the demographic situation of the country."
On 28 April 2007, the lower house of Bahraini Parliament passed a law banning unmarried migrant workers from living in residential areas. To justify the law MP Nasser Fadhala, a close ally of the government said "bachelors also use these houses to make alcohol, run prostitute rings or to rape children and housemaids".
Sadiq Rahma, technical committee head, who is a member of Al Wefaq said: "The rules we are drawing up are designed to protect the rights of both the families and the Asian bachelors (..) these labourers often have habits which are difficult for families living nearby to tolerate (..) they come out of their homes half dressed, brew alcohol illegally in their homes, use prostitutes and make the neighbourhood dirty (..) these are poor people who often live in groups of 50 or more, crammed into one house or apartment," said Mr Rahma. "The rules also state that there must be at least one bathroom for every five people (..) there have also been cases in which young children have been sexually molested."
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights issued a press release condemning this decision as discriminatory and promoting negative racist attitudes towards migrant workers.Nabeel Rajab, then BCHR vice president, said: It is appalling that Bahrain is willing to rest on the benefits of these people's hard work, and often their suffering, but that they refuse to live with them in equality and dignity. The solution is not to force migrant workers into ghettos, but to urge companies to improve living conditions for workers - and not to accommodate large numbers of workers in inadequate space, and to improve the standard of living for them.
There was a flurry of race hate messages sent to naturalized Bahrainis from developing countries after opposition political leaders alleged that immigration was tantamount to 'cultural genocide'. In November 2006, Al Ayam published a collection of threats sent to naturalized citizens warning that they would have to 'choose between the suitcase and the coffin', promising 'Death and fire are your destiny' and another warned that the author hated all naturalized Bahrainis, "You are detested. You have taken from us, the sons of Bahrain, our homes, jobs and education opportunities. You will face the same destiny as the Egyptians in Iraq [after the end of the Iraq-Iran war]. It will be nails, hammers and a coffin. Your destiny is near."
According to Human Rights Watch, Bahrain's personal status law (Law 19/2009), adopted in 2009 and marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance cases, applies only to Sunnis although women's groups believe that it should treat all citizens equally.
On 27 September 2017, Bahraini authorities attacked and took down many Ashura banners and slogans. Ashura, the tenth day of the Islamic year, is an event commemorated by Shias annually, as it marks the date that Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was martyred in the Battle of Kerbala. This is not the first time that Bahraini authorities have attacked the commemoration of Ashura; rather, they do so on a yearly basis.
Among the journalists, authors and human rights activists who have criticized Bahrain's system as apartheid are Mansoor Al-Jamri, former editor of the Bahraini newspaper Alwasat, the Voice of Bahrain,Saeed Shahabi of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, Iranian Press TV,New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof,Irshad Manji,Shibil Siddiqi,Ameen Izzadeen, Ben Cohen, Professor Staci Strobl,Ali Akbar Salehi, the Foreign Minister of Iran.
In 1996 the UK newspaper The Guardian stated that, "if Bahrain is to preserve its reputation as a financial and service center in the Gulf, then the government must begin to forge a new national consensus and end the apartheid against the Shi'ites".
In August 2017, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke against the discrimination of Shias in Bahrain, saying, "Members of the Shia community there continue to report ongoing discrimination in government employment, education, and the justice system," and that "Bahrain must stop discriminating against the Shia communities." He also stated that "In Bahrain, the government continue to question, detain and arrest Shia clerics, community members and opposition politicians."
Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was released from prison on 9 June 2020. He was detained in 2016 and then sentenced for five years in prison on peacefully expressing his views on the Bahraini government online. Human Rights Watch urged the government to release the human rights defenders, political activists, opposition leaders, and journalists who were unjustly imprisoned for peacefully expressing their opinions.
In 2010 the Al-Wafa Islamic Movement, Haq Movement and Bahrain Freedom Movement called for a boycott of the 23 October election to the Bahraini Council of Representatives on the grounds that participation would be "tantamount to accepting the unjust sectarian apartheid system."
On 19 August 2015, Bahraini authorities arrested Shia cleric and former MP Sheikh Hassan Isa. His arrest on false charges was said to be a reprisal of the Bahraini government against him, and it was reported that the measures taken against Sheikh Isa, who was innocent, violated national and international law.
On 20 June 2016, Ayatullah Sheikh Isa Qassim was stripped of his nationality. As a result, some people protested the Bahraini government's act of doing this by holding a sit-in outside the home of the Ayatullah. On 23 May 2017, however, Bahraini security forces attack the sit-in. As a result of the attack, five people died, dozens of people were injured, and hundreds of people were arrested. The Ayatullah was also placed under house arrest.
In August 2017, Bahraini authorities arrested Shia cleric Sayed Mohieldin Al-Mashaal. Sayed Al-Mashaal had previously been harassed by the Bahraini authorities for about 5 years.
Also in August 2017, around the three-month anniversary of Ayatullah Sheikh Isa Qassim's house arrest, it was reported that Bahraini authorities were placing concrete barriers around his house.
On 1 November 2017, Bahrain imposed charges against Sheikh Ali Salman, Hassan Sultan, and Ali al-Aswad because of their efforts for reform through peaceful means. In March 2018, Bahrain refused to grant Bahraini citizenship to the daughter of Sheikh Ali Salman, a prominent Shia and opposition leader in Bahrain. This was Bahrain's retribution for the imprisoned Shiekh's peaceful attempts for reform in the country.
In late April 2018, after the Bahraini monarch commuted the death sentences of four men who had been tried by Bahrain's military court, four Shia sheikhs released a statement saying that they hoped that such steps would be "extended to the rest of those sentenced [to death]." The statement also called for a "homeland of love, tolerance, justice, and prosperity." In response, Bahrain's interior ministry threatened the sheikhs with "legal action."
Since June 20, 2016, Bahrain has prevented the leader of Friday prayers of Diraz, a village of about 30,000 people, from entering.
In February 2011, the tensions between the Sunni ruling minority and the Shi'a majority spilled over into street protests which was violently suppressed by police forces, resulting in multiple civilian deaths. McClatchy Newspapers/csmonitor.com reported that as of mid-May 2011,
Authorities have held secret trials where protesters have been sentenced to death, arrested prominent mainstream opposition politicians, jailed nurses and doctors who treated injured protesters, seized the health care system that had been run primarily by Shiites, fired 1,000 Shiite professionals and canceled their pensions, detained students and teachers who took part in the protests, beat and arrested journalists, and forced the closure of the only opposition newspaper.
Physicians for Human Rights reported that during the 2011 uprising the Bahraini government initiated systematic and targeted attacks against medical personnel who had witnessed government atrocities while treating civilian protesters. In a report titled Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients, released in April 2011, Physicians for Human Rights documented violations of medical neutrality including the beating, abuse, and threatening of Shi'a physicians at Salmaniya Hospital; government security forces stealing ambulances and posing as medics; the militarization of hospitals and clinics, thus obstructing medical care; and rampant fear that prevented patients from seeking urgent medical treatment. Other key findings in the report included the use of excessive force against unarmed civilians and violent assaults on civilian detainees by government authorities and security forces.
In May 2011, Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the US House of Representatives, at a hearing on Bahrain. He reported the abuses documented by Physicians for Human Rights and called upon Congress to take a stronger stance against human rights violations in Bahrain.
An estimated 1000 Bahrainis have been detained since the uprising and Bahraini and international human rights groups have documented hundreds of cases of torture and abuse of Shia detainees. According to csmonitor.org, the government has gone beyond the crushing of political dissent to what "appears" to be an attempt to "psychologically humiliating the island's Shiite majority into silent submission."
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry was established on 29 June 2011 by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to assess the incidents that occurred in the Kingdom during the period of unrest in February and March 2011 and the consequences of these events. The report was released on 23 November and confirmed the Bahraini government's use of torture and other forms of physical and psychological abuse on detainees. It has been criticized for not disclosing the names of individual perpetrators of abuses and extending accountability only to those who actively carried out human rights violations.
A security court handed down what have been described as "harsh sentences" to 20 Bahraini medical workers in September 2011. The accused workers, who all worked at the Salminaya Medical Center, were given prison terms ranging from 5-15 years based on government claims that the medical workers had taken over the hospital and used it for antigovernment activity.
After the sentences were condemned by United Nations secretary Ban Ki-moon and international human rights groups such as Physicians for Human Rights, Bahraini judicial authorities nullified the convictions and ordered retrials in civilian court.
In January 2012, Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, was denied entry to Bahrain, where he had travelled to monitor the appellate court trial of the 20 previously sentenced medics. Bahrain had promised greater transparency in the wake of an international investigation into the human rights violations that occurred during the uprising, yet refused to allow Sollom, who carried a valid entry visa, to view the trial or even enter the country.
Parliamentary and municipal elections take place every four years, since the restoration of elections in 2002, when women were also given the vote for the first time as part of reforms by King Hamad. Bahrain has a bicameral legislature with the lower chamber of parliament, the (Council of Representatives of Bahrain), elected by universal suffrage, and the upper chamber, the (Shura Council), appointed directly by the King. Those represented in the Shura Council include members of Bahrain's Christian and Jewish communities.
The Prime Minister and government ministers are not elected. They are appointed directly by the King, but ministers can be removed by parliamentary no-confidence votes. The current Prime Minister, Khalifah ibn Sulman Al Khalifah, is the King's paternal uncle and has been in office since 1970. Twelve of the twenty-three cabinet ministers appointed in November 2006 are members of the Al Khalifa royal family.
Bahrain has a complex civil society, which pre-dates the reforms introduced by King Hamad, and has its roots in the emergence of the labour movement and the development of an educated middle class in the 1930s. According to a 2006 study on civil society in Bahrain by the European University Institute, Voices in Parliament, Debates in Majalis, Banners on the Street: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain:
Generally, civil society has thriven, at least numerically. Bahrain's NGOs are fragmented - many NGOs are really a spin-off of a political organisation and/or can draw only a narrow ethnic-sectarian segment to their activities. Generally the more elitist the NGO, the less narrowly defined its constituency in sectarian terms: Sectarianism does not play a role in many of the 'arty' clubs.
Contrary to views commonly held on Gulf states' societies, Bahrain's society offers a complex matrix of interlinking social institutions, understood in a broader anthropological sense. These can in varying degrees be mobilised for political ends.
Catering to the urban elites of both sects, the first clubs were opened in Manama earlier than in the rest of the Gulf region. Namely, the Uruba Club to which most prominent liberals are a member was founded in the early 1930s.
Other venues for political and social interactions are obviously the headquarters of political societies. Several of these also have regular weekly or monthly lecture days. Many headquarters of NGOs and trade unions are located very close to each other, since the king had donated a block of apartments for that purpose in 2001.
For the average politically active Bahraini, there are usually a number of outlets according to the European University Institute:
A typical male Bahraini with political interests has multiple affiliations: he is a member of a political society, has joined two or three NGOS in the first reform euphoria (related to human rights, women, environment), has been (since he entered his professional life) a member of a professional association. If Shiite, he attends ma'atim at least for holidays, and is involved in some charity, religious or through a local fund. It's quite likely he is a regular to a majlis, the likelihood even increasing in case he is Sunni with tribal affiliations.
The government's moves to join international treaties protecting human rights have often been opposed by parliament. The initial attempt to get parliamentary ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was blocked in February 2006 on the grounds that leading MPs said contradicted Islamic laws. Al Menbar Bloc president Dr Salah Abdulrahman complained that the covenant would allow citizens to change religions without any restrictions, noting "This means that Muslims could convert to another religion, something against the Islamic law, since those who do so should be beheaded," he said. "Under the convention, women have the right to marry without their father's consent, while in Islam they should do so if she was a virgin".
It was not until June 2006 that a second attempt was made to ratify the country's accession to the Covenant, meaning that Bahrain did not formally accede to the treaty until 20 September 2006.
Civil society has been prominent in supporting specific legislation promoting human rights through parliament. One recent campaign is the call for Bahrain's government to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is being led by the Bahrain-branch of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court and wants the government to transfer the draft bill on ratification to parliament at the earliest. The Bahraini Coalition for the ICC is headed by Nasser Burdestani (who is also the head of the Bahrain-branch of Amnesty International), who commented:
"The fact that we in Bahrain do not suffer from such grave crimes that are within the court's jurisdiction should facilitate the process of ratification without any reservations."
Citing the role that Bahrain plays in the region and the domino effect, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court Co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Amal Basha, said Bahrain's ratification could have a significant impact among the neighbouring Persian Gulf countries: "We believe that Bahrain could serve as a real catalyst by ratifying as soon as possible," she said. "It would provide a serious boost to the growing world movement to ensure accountability for the worst violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."
On 25 November 2020, The Guardian reported that three political prisoners, who claimed to have been victims of human rights abuses in Bahrain, appealed Lewis Hamilton to use his position as F1's champion to highlight the reality of their dilemma to the world. In a letter to Hamilton, they also praised his commitment to pursuing equality, anti-racism and human rights causes.
On the weekend of 31 January/1 February 2015, 72 Bahraini citizens, including "about 50 journalists, bloggers, religious figures, doctors, political and human rights activists" and about 20 people "suspected of or known to have left Bahrain to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria", had their citizenships revoked. The citizenship revocations were discussed on the newly launched al-Arab News Channel on 1 February.
According to Human Rights Watch annual report 2016, Bahraini authorities can revoke the citizenship of any person who involved in helping a hostile state or causing harm to the interests of the kingdom. In January, the minister of interior revoked the citizenship of 72, including former parliamentarians and politicians, claiming that they had been involved in "illegal acts," including "inciting and advocating regime change through illegal means.
The government claims that the press is free. However, the Penal Code of 1976, still active today, has been widely criticized by local and international human rights bodies for granting the regime widespread powers to suppress dissent. Human Rights Watch noted in 2004 that the Penal Code gives the government "wide latitude to suppress public criticism" and that it "has provisions that contradict international human rights standards".Amnesty International in 2004 stated the Code can be used "as a justification to restrict freedom of expression. The organization reiterates its call for the Code to be reviewed as soon a possible to ensure compliance with international human rights standards."
According to Human Rights Watch 2011 country report and the international press, freedom of the press both in print and on web sites is severely restricted, with websites blocked, journalists allegedly tortured and editors fired.
As of 2017, Human Rights Watch said Bahraini authorities are apparently targeting the family members of a prominent Bahraini activist, Sayed al-Wadaei, in retaliation for his human rights work. They have detained both his brother-in-law and his mother-in-law. Sayed has accused Bahraini authorities of serious human rights abuses. Since having forced Sayed into exile in Britain, authorities have resorted to threatening and harassing his wife, infant son, and relatives with torture.
According to Amnesty international report on the human rights situation in Bahrain during 2016, Authorities continued imposing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association and continued to curtail the right to peaceful assembly. The international organization said authorities detained several activists and banned others from travelling abroad. Authorities also continued its policy in removing opponents their citizenship.
On July 11, 2020, the UK foreign office was urged to intervene to stop the execution of Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Moosa, two Bahraini pro-democracy activists who were given death sentence by a Bahrain court, despite claims of confessions extracted through torture.
Internet censorship in Bahrain is classified as pervasive in the political and social areas, as substantial in Internet tools, and as selective in conflict/security by the OpenNet Initiative in August 2009. Bahrain was placed on Reporters Without Borders' list of Internet Enemies in 2012.
On 5 January 2009 the Ministry of Culture and Information issued an order (Resolution No 1 of 2009) pursuant to the Telecommunications Law and Press and Publications Law of Bahrain that regulates the blocking and unblocking of websites. This resolution requires all ISPs - among other things - to procure and install a website blocking software solution chosen by the Ministry. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority ("TRA") assisted the Ministry of Culture and Information in the execution of the said Resolution by coordinating the procurement of the unified website blocking software solution. This software solution is operated solely by the Ministry of Information and Culture and neither the TRA nor ISPs have any control over sites that are blocked or unblocked.
According to the Human Right Watch 2011 country report, freedom of association is severely curtailed by an association law, "which prohibits organizations from involvement in political activities." The Bahrain Human Rights Society, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society have been closed or ordered to close.
On June 2017, the National Democratic Action Society party (Wa'ad) was banned on terrorism charges. The ban was criticised by Amnesty International and Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. Lynn Maalouf of Amnesty International stated that "the suspension of Waad is a flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association".
The Bandargate scandal refers to an alleged political conspiracy by the certain government officials in Bahrain to foment sectarian strife and marginalize the majority Shia community in the country. The conspiracy was allegedly led and financed by Sheikh Ahmed bin Ateyatalla Al Khalifa, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and head of the Civil Informatics Organization and member of the Al Khalifa royal family. The allegations were revealed in September 2006, in a 240-page document produced by the Gulf Centre for Democratic Development, and authored by Dr Salah Al Bandar, an adviser to the Cabinet Affairs Ministry. Following the distribution of the report, Bahraini police forcibly deported Dr Al Bandar to the United Kingdom, where he holds citizenship. According to Dr al-Bandar, the Minister paid five main operatives a total of more than $2.7 million to run:
The Constitution states that Islam is the official religion and that Shari'a (Islamic law) is a principal source for legislation. Article 22 of the Constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings, in accordance with the customs observed in the country; however, the Government placed some limitations on the exercise of this right. The Government continued to exert a level of control and to monitor both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, and there continued to be government discrimination against Shi'a Muslims in certain fields. Members of other religious groups who practice their faith privately do so without interference from the Government. There were occasional reports of incidents between the Government and elements of the Shi'a majority population, who were often critical of the Sunni-controlled Government's rule. Problems continued to exist, stemming primarily from the Government's perceived unequal treatment of Shi'a in the country.
In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising and crackdown against Shia protest in Bahrain, "dozens" of Shia mosques have been leveled by the government according to a report in McClatchy newspapers. According to Shiite leaders interviewed by the reporter, work crews have often arrived "in the dead of night, accompanied by police and military escorts", to demolish the mosques, and in many cases, have hauled away the buildings' rubble before townspeople awake so as to leave no trace. Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al Khalifa, the minister of justice and Islamic affairs for Bahrain, defended the demolitions stating: "These are not mosques. These are illegal buildings." However the McClatchy reporter found that photos taken of several mosques before their destruction by the government "showed they were well maintained, decades-old structures."
Bahrain has eight daily newspapers representing a broad section of opinion. In 2002, Al Wasat was set up by Mansoor Al-Jamri, the son of Bahrain's spiritual Shi'a leader, Sheikh Abdul-Amir Al-Jamri and the spokesman of the Bahrain Freedom Movement. The paper is broadly sympathetic to the Shia Islamist opposition, particularly Ali Salman. Akhbar Al Khaleej has traditionally been close to Bahrain's Left and Arab nationalist strands, featuring controversial columnists such as Sameera Rajab. Al Ayam is seen as solidly pro-government, with its proprietor an advisor to the King.
The Press Law 47 of 2002 has been strongly criticised as restrictive as it specifies criminal charges against those who criticise the head of state or Islam, or "threaten national security". However, discussion in the newspapers is often robust with journalists frequently criticising government ministers: for instance one newspaper recently criticised the Minister of Housing, Fahmi Al Jowder, for lavishing "ludicrous praise" on the King.
In October 2006, the Criminal Court issued a ban on the publication of any news, information or commentary on the series of allegations in the Bandargate scandal, which has continued to date. In the following weeks, the Ministry of Information ordered Bahraini ISPs to block several websites that violated the ban, include the websites of National Democratic Action (liberal opposition political society), the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. The block order was accompanied by press statements from the Ministry threatening the website owners with legal action.
Many political websites and blogs are blocked by the government, and as of November 2005 the government requires all Bahraini websites to register with the Ministry of Information. In August 2006, Bahraini government authorities blocked internet access to Google Earth and Google Video. Recently they have blocked the popular site anonymous.com
Liberal intellectuals in the press have faced concerted campaigns against them by Islamists. In 2005, hundreds of Shia Islamists protested outside the Al Ayam's offices after it published a cartoon on Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election victory; while a Sunni Islamist campaign against the paper's editor, Isa Al Shaygi, was condemned at a conference of the International Federation of Journalists: "The vicious and unprovoked attack on a respected and distinguished colleague is an example of the intolerant and undemocratic character of extremist politics that is increasingly being used against the free press."
All broadcast media is owned and managed by the government. In 2005, three website administrators were arrested by security forces.
On 31 August 2014, photographer Ahmed Humaidan was condemned to 10 years in prison after covering the 2011 uprising, allegedly for attacking the police.
New political freedoms mean that public political activity and demonstrations are a common occurrence: according to the Ministry of Interior's figures there were 498 street demonstrations in 2006, up from 259 the previous year.
In July 2005, Human Rights Watch said:
Bahrain has been a poster child for political reform in the Middle East, but police attacks like this one are a worrisome trend. [...] Bahrain is growing more repressive in response to peaceful political activism.
Despite this prediction, the European University Institute, in its study of civil society in Bahrain in 2006, Voices in Parliament, Debates in Majalis, Banners on the Street: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain, found that:
Demonstrations of all sorts occur on a regular bases - less than common in the region. The laws regulating rallies and demonstrations predate the reforms; a bill for a new one has not yet been passed by parliament. As is the case with press freedom, a general liberal practise without the necessary legal foundation can be assessed. Normally neither the government nor the security forces interfere with demonstrations - unless feeling threatened. This lack of legal certainty is obviously wanted: 'You have to see what we practice, not what is written in laws. Our practise is very liberal. One also has to see in which part of the world we're living' says the then head of the central informatics organisation and now minister of the royal court, Sheikh Mohammed bin Atiyatallah Al Khalifa.
Bahrain is the only country in the Middle East to have sacked a senior government minister as a direct result of a human rights issue. In 2004, when the security forces fired rubber bullets at a demonstration led by Shia religious leaders, King Hamad immediately fired the country's longstanding Interior Minister (and member of the royal family) Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.
While public demonstrations about various issues regularly take place, they have sometimes resulted in clashes between the police and youths. Fifteen Bahraini Shia activists were arrested between 16 and 20 May May 2007 following clashes the police. Thirteen remain in custody, (as of June 2007) according to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. In response to the problem presented by violent protestors, the Serbia-based human rights group, the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies, has been invited to Bahrain to teach demonstrators how to demonstrate peacefully. Under the scheme begun in 2007, peace camps will be set up in various trouble spots where specialists will advise on using protest strategies that do not involve violence. It is expected that a thousand youths will go through the training scheme.
The Interior Ministry had to resist pressure in May 2007 from business leaders to 'crack down' on the rioters, as well as deal with concerns that local residents would take matters into their own hands and deal with the rioters themselves. Concerns about vigilantism resulted in a call by Central Municipal Council vice-chairman Abbas Mahfoodh for closer cooperation between politicians and the Interior Ministry to stamp out rioting, after residents of the town of Tubli confronted and chased away three masked men who allegedly planned to commit acts of sabotage using Molotov cocktail firebombs.
In a report issued in 2006, the "Arab Network for Human Rights Information" (a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange) documented two cases of human rights activists being harassed by government authorities, through physical and sexual assaults, and fabricated cases.
Since June 2016, the village of Diraz has been besieged by the Bahraini government. The siege included the Bahraini government from forcibly preventing Shias to perform the congregational Juma (Friday) prayer in the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in Diraz.
King Hamad's moves to promote women's rights have been described by Amnesty International as representing a "New Dawn for Bahraini Women". In 2002, women voted for the first time in national elections and were given equal political rights.
However, these top-down reforms have proven contentious, with calls for reform opposed by conservatives and the royal family. In 2002 the decision by King Hamad to grant women the right to vote and equal political rights with men was opposed by a majority of Bahraini women, with 60% of women surveyed saying they disagreed with the move. Salafists have publicly restated their opposition to women's participation in parliament, and none of the Islamist parties that dominate parliament has ever fielded a female candidate. One woman won a seat in parliament in 2006, although her victory in the sparsely populated constituency in the south of the country was seen by some as engineered by the government which wanted to see a woman represented in Council of Deputies.
A bill prompted by women's rights activists in 2005 to introduce a unified personal status law to protect women's rights in marriage, divorce and other family matters was opposed in a series of large-scale demonstrations organised by an alliance of salafists and Shia Islamists including Al Wefaq and Asalah. The demonstrations (and the implicit threat of escalation by those who organised them) forced the government to withdraw the law and was seen as a major defeat for women's rights activists.
In response to sweeping poll victories by Islamists in 2006's election, Amnesty International Bahrain's head of campaigns, Fawzia Rabea, described the threat to women's rights as 'very serious' and called on women to do everything in their power to fight laws proposed by the new parliament that could limit their freedom. After newly elected Al Wefaq MP, Sayed Abdulla Al A'ali, called for legislation to restrict women's employment rights by banning women from "male-orientated jobs", Ms Rabea said, "With this type of thinking I am sure we are facing a very big challenge with parliament. I am worried about this, it is very serious." Bahrain Women's Union president, Mariam Al Ruwaie, expressed surprised at the MP's suggestions, "This does not agree with His Majesty the King's reforms, which give women and men the same rights for education and work. In Bahrain's society women make up 26 per cent of the labour force, there are more girls in schools and universities than men and their results are better...I am worried because the parliament has not started and he [Mr Al A'ali] has said something like this. It is a bad start."
The government is using the family law issue as a bargaining tool with opposition Islamic groups. This is evident through the fact that the authorities raise this issue when ever they want to distract attention from other controversial political issues. While no serious steps are taken to help approve this law, although the government and its puppet National Assembly had no trouble in the last four years when it came to approving restrictive laws related to basic freedoms. All of this is why no one in Bahrain believes in Government clichés and government institution like the High Council for Women. The government used women's rights as a decorative tool on the international level. While the High Council for Women was used to hinder non-governmental women societies and to block the registration of the Women Union for many years. Even when the union was recently registered, it was restricted by the law on societies.
Bahraini human rights groups say "hundreds of women have been detained" in recent weeks prior to 30 May 2011, "the first time in the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world that large groups of women have been targeted".
According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions annual report of 2006 unions are allowed to play an "effective role" with workers having the right to unionise. According to the ICTFU's annual report:
The Workers' Trade Union Law of September 2002 introduced the right to belong to trade unions in Bahrain. It established the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) but not full freedom of association, as all trade unions have to belong to the GFBTU. Workers in the private and public sector may join trade unions, including non-citizens, who make up the majority of Bahrain's workforce.
Only one trade union may be formed at each establishment, but no prior authorisation is required to form a union. The only requirement is that the union's constitution must be communicated to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, together with the names of the founding members.
An amended trade union law that would allow government employees to form trade unions but would remove some workers rights' protection was submitted to Parliament in October 2004. However it had still not been approved by the end of 2005.
Trade unions are not subject to administrative dissolution. They may not engage in political activities.
The ICFTU's main concern in its 2006 report was that a new labour law would be far more restrictive of worker's rights. The ICFTU commented:
A new law, soon to be passed, looks set to restrict unions' freedom to carry out a legal strike. There was much concern about the lack of proper protection foreseen for foreign workers who make up 60 per cent of the workforce. The head of Gulf Air's union was sacked shortly after his election.
A visiting delegate from the International Labour Organization at a seminar in Bahrain on trade unionism, held under the patronage of the Labour Ministry, described some of Bahrain's labour laws as out of line with international standards. According to the ILO international labour standards department deputy director, Karen Curtis, the current rules governing where strikes can be held in Bahrain were too restrictive.
In response to the government's labour reforms, Bahrain's Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, was invited as guest of honour to the International Labour Organization's 96th session, where he used the opportunity of addressing the conference to announce that the first regional dialogue on workers' issues would be held in Bahrain. "This will offer countries that recruit manpower and those that provide it an opportunity to engage in an open and honest discussion on the impact of globalisation." The ILO Director General Juan Somavia has described the Crown Prince as an innovator with a modern vision of commitment to change and a belief in dialogue. Somavia has noted that Bahrain had been one of the pioneers of Decent Work Country Programmes, beginning with a pilot programme in 2002.
According to Human Rights Watch, in as of 2011 there were more than 458,000 guest workers in Bahrain, many of whom experience prolonged periods of withheld wages, passport confiscation, unsafe housing, excessive work hours and physical abuse. Government protective measures are "largely ineffective."
In August 2009 Bahrain adopted Decision 79/2009 permitting guest workers, except for domestics, more freedom to change jobs. According to Human Rights Watch, as of 2011 many workers were unaware of this right.
In 2007, government passed legislation to ban construction and other outdoor work between noon and 4 pm during the summer - the hottest times of the day. The vast majority of those involved in this type of work being expatriate labourers from the Indian sub-continent. The move was backed by a "massive" labour inspection campaign by the Ministry of Labour to ensure that companies obeyed the decision. The ban was criticized by construction companies saying that the government's decision would delay their projects, but according to the Ministry of Labour, migrant workers' protection representatives and human rights activities have welcomed the move.
An ICFTU Annual Report 2006 found that "Foreign workers harshly treated":
There are a large number of foreign workers and, while in theory they are allowed to join unions and run for union office, they mainly prefer to stay out of union activities as they have no protection against dismissal. According to the proposed legislation, if expatriate workers overstay their work permits, they suffer heavy fines, are imprisoned for unspecified lengths of time and then deported. The government admitted that the new law would not give domestic servants any employment rights, but contained measures that would protect them against abuse from employers.
Bahrain is considered a Tier 2 country on the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report, the second highest tier, and indicated that Bahrain "does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," but is "making significant efforts to do so."
There are several generic human rights NGOs in Bahrain, and other NGOs working in related fields such as women's rights, child rights and migrant labour. The two most prominent organisations have been the Bahrain Human Rights Society and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, which have frequently been highly critical of one another, the Center accusing the Society of having been unduly close to government. Other NGOs active around 2008-10 included the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, the Women's Petition Committee, the Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, the Human Rights Office of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy, the Committee for Citizenship-less and the Coordinating Committee for the Defence of Political Detainees.
In the wake of the 2011 uprising, Physicians for Human Rights has become internationally recognized for its work exposing human rights violations in Bahrain, particularly regarding medical neutrality. The organization released a report titled Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients, in April 2011 which detailed the government's persecution of medical professionals.
Shia rights watch, an NGO based in Washington, DC, has also stepped up to expose the violations against Shia Muslims in Bahrain. The organization published a report titled Shia Target of Inhumane Treatment: Bahrain Report 2011, which documents the systematic oppressions of Shia Muslims by the government of Bahrain.
In 2008, during the Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, the Government announced plans to create a national human rights institution for Bahrain. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Foreign Ministry jointly organised a workshop in Manama, bringing in NHRI experts from Jordan, Morocco and Northern Ireland to meet a wide range of Bahraini civil society. The NHRI was duly established by the King on 11 November 2009 through Royal Order No. 46/2009.
On 25 April 2010 Royal Order No. 16/2010 appointed 17 men and five women as the first members of the NHRI, including prominent human rights activists Salman al-Sayyid 'Ali Kamal al-Din, the former deputy secretary-general of the independent Bahrain Human Rights Society, as president. While the appointments were initially welcomed by Amnesty International, other NGOs including the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights questioned the credibility and independence of the new institution. The Center alleged that several of the 22 nominees held government appointments or were linked to bodies accused by the Society of operating as government fronts or GONGOs, such as the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, the Jurists Society and the Association of Public Freedoms and Human Rights.
On 6 September 2010 Salman Kamal al-Din resigned as president, in protest at the institution's failure to criticise the arrests of pro-democracy activists. The current president of the institution is Maria Khoury and the Secretary General is Dr. Khalifa Al-Fadhel.
December 2016, Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor condemned Bahrain's policies which restrict the freedom of press and media. The violations include arresting, and torturing journalists who have a contrary political view to the government. According to the International Monitor, these journalists are accused of being involved in acts of sabotage or even in supporting terrorism. The decline of the level of press freedom has put Bahrain in the 142 out of 180 on the global press freedom rankings for 2016.