The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the United States has issued its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015. The Report on Bahrain highlighted ongoing mistreatment and forms of torture of detainees over the year. Yet, it said human rights groups reported many citizens hesitated to report police abuse to the Interior Ministry’s Ombudsman Office for fear of retribution. “According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened detainees’ family members with reprisals for the detainee’s unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements”, the report states.
“Many Shia citizens and human rights organizations believed there were police informer networks, including ones that targeted or used children under 18 years of age”, the report said. “There were reports police approached children outside of schools and threatened or coerced them into becoming police informants”. It pointed out an alarming estimated number between 200 and 240 school-age boys in prison.
It said the Special Investigation Unit did not provide information about two cases of severe injuries due to police use of excessive force by the year’s end, although both were injured in January.
The Report also brought attention to the continued restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association, mentioning, “The opposition group Wifaq reported police refused to consider more than 131 applications from January through October; its last approval for a march came in December 2014”.
Details of illegal punishment practiced against individuals who dared to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and expression are included in the Report. It mentions that “Human rights groups reported the Ministry of Interior sometimes arrested individuals for activities such as calling for protests, expressing their opinion either in public or on social media, and associating with persons of interest to law enforcement. Some of these detained individuals reported arresting forces did not show them warrants. There were some reports security forces searched homes and damaged property without providing compensation”.
On censorship, it said the government used computer programming to spy on political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country. “The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to legal action and punishment of some internet users”, it said.
“The government did not own any print media, but the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media
“Some members of the media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop writing about certain subjects or told them not to publish a press release or story
“The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political issues”.
On sectarian discrimination, the report highlights a lack of transparency in the naturalization process with the citizenship law not applied uniformly. Forms of discrimination included issuing nationality to persons based on their religious sect. “There were reports of general discrimination, especially in employment practices, against Shia citizens of Persian ethnicity (Ajam)”. The Report also said that human rights advocates claimed the government unfairly distributed university scholarships and used anti-Shia bias when admitting students into certain programs.
It said significant areas of government activity, including the security services and the Bahrain Defense Force, lacked transparency, and the privatization of public land continued to be a concern among opposition groups. The law does not require government officials to make financial disclosures.
Finally, it said “Local and international observers and human rights organizations continued to view the BICI report as a standard against which to measure the country’s progress on human rights reforms and expressed concern the government did not make significant progress on other BICI recommendations, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation”.