Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy. The King and many ministers are members of the Sunni al-Khalifa ruling family. The parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives, with 40 seats each. Turnout for the November 2014 elections 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.
During 2015, the most serious human rights problems included citizens’ limited ability to change their government peacefully; 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; and restrictions on free expression and assembly.
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 at times imposed travel bans on political activists in conjunction with arrest charges and in some cases continued to enforce them after authorities had dropped charges or pardoned the individual. Despite government efforts at reform, the rights of foreign workers, particularly domestic workers, continued to be restricted, leaving them vulnerable to labor abuses and human trafficking.
Beginning in 2011 the country experienced a sustained period of unrest, including mass protests calling for political reform. The government has taken steps to address the “culture of impunity,” identified by the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, tasked with reviewing including allegations of police brutality, violence by protesters and demonstrators, arrests, disappearances, and torture earlier 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 its recommendations, particularly those involving reconciliation, safeguarding freedom of expression, and accountability for abuses.