Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, the head of state, appoints the cabinet, consisting of 26 ministers; 12 of those ministers were members of the al-Khalifa ruling family. Parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives, each with 40 seats. Approximately 52 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections held in 2014. Turnout was significantly lower in opposition districts, due in part to a decision to boycott the elections by the main opposition political societies and a lack of confidence among opposition communities in the electoral system.
The most serious human rights problems in 2016 included limitations on citizens’ ability to choose their government peacefully, including due to the government’s ability to close arbitrarily or create registration difficulties for organized political societies; restrictions on free expression, assembly, and association; and lack of due process in the legal system, including arrests without warrants or charges and lengthy pretrial detentions--used especially in cases against opposition members and political or human rights activists. Beginning in June government action against the political opposition and civil society worsened these problems.
Other significant human rights problems included lack of judicial accountability for security officers accused by the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of committing human rights violations; defendants’ lack of access to attorneys and ability to challenge evidence; prison overcrowding; violations of privacy; and other restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of press and association. Societal discrimination continued against the Shia population, as did other forms of discrimination based on gender, religion, and nationality. The government imposed travel bans on political activists to prevent travel to participate in international fora. The government maintained the revocation of citizenship for 103 individuals whose citizenship it revoked in previous years, and it revoked citizenship from others during the year.
Beginning in 2011 the country experienced a sustained period of unrest, including mass protests calling for political reform. The government has taken steps since then to implement recommendations by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which the government tasked to review widespread allegations of police brutality, torture, arrests, disappearances, and violence by both security forces and demonstrators that year. International and local human rights organizations viewed the BICI report as the standard against which to measure the country’s human rights reforms and noted that the government had not fully implemented the report’s recommendations, particularly those involving reconciliation, safeguarding freedom of expression, and accountability for abuses.