The Human Rights Situation in Bahrain
Bahrain is a monarchy of approximately one million people, ruled by King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the head of state and of all branches of government. A new constitution effective February 14, 2002, reinstated a legislative body, consisting of one elected chamber, the Council of Deputies, and one appointed, the Shura Council. A 2005 law stipulates that “political parties” are prohibited but “political societies” were legalized, and those societies participated in 2006 elections, considered by many as marred by irregularities and accusations of vote rigging. A close ally of the United States with strategic importance for the region, Bahrain is a Shia majority country ruled by Sunni royal family and Sunni elites dominating the public, military and business sectors.
Shia political societies participated in 2006 parliamentary and municipal elections. Al Wifaq, the largest Shia political society, won the largest number of seats in the elected chamber of the legislature. However, Shia discontent remains and manifests itself in violent incidents connected to street demonstrations. While the constitution in Article 19(d) states that: “No person shall be subjected to physical or mental torture, or inducement, or undignified treatment, and the penalty for so doing shall be specified by law. Any statement or confession proved to have been made under torture, inducement, or such treatment, or the threat thereof, shall be null and void,” credible human rights NGOs and the State Department Human Rights Report for 2009 documented violations of these constitutional protections. Other concerns include women’s rights, trafficking, freedom of speech and religion, domestic violence and discrimination against the Shia population and foreign workers’ rights.
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Joe Stork, Deputy Director MENA, Human Rights Watch
Stephen McInerney, Director of Advocacy, Project on Middle East Democracy
Katie Zoglin, Senior Program Manager MENA, Freedom House
Mohammed Alansari, Chairman, Bahrain Society for Public Freedom