12 February 2016 – Five years ago, hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets to call for democratic reform and an end to discriminatory government policies. The Government of Bahrain responded violently, deploying security forces who used excessive force to quell peaceful protests. Their tactics have resulted in thousands of arrests, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of deaths since 2011. On the fifth anniversary of the protest movement that began that day, 14 February 2011, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), and Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO) call on the Government of Bahrain to respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and to refrain from using force to suppress non-violent demonstrations. We also urge the Bahraini government to immediately release all arbitrarily detained political prisoners and human rights defenders and for all in Bahrain to unequivocally reject violence.
In the five years since Bahraini authorities violently suppressed the 2011 demonstrations, the political situation has not improved. Following the original protests, the government established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a committee of jurists and legal scholars tasked with investigating crimes committed by the authorities and suggesting the reforms necessary to resolve the country’s political crisis. Almost half a decade later, however, no more than five of the BICI’s 26 recommendations have been fully implemented. As documented in Shattering the Façade, a report released by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD in 2015, the Government of Bahrain has not only failed to institute the most substantial reforms, it has actively obscured this fact with superficial policy changes and regular declarations of “unprecedented progress.”
“When the BICI first released its report, Bahrainis were hopeful. They saw it as a potential roadmap out of oppression, discrimination, and corruption,” Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, Vice President of the BCHR, remembers. “Now, the BICI is a constant reminder of what could have been – the justice and freedom that the government refuses to grant its people.”
Rather than implement its commitment to reconciliation, the Government of Bahrain has retrenched, coming to rely more and more on the same repressive security measures condemned in the BICI report. In the last four months of 2015, Bahraini authorities arrested more than 400 people, 76 percent of which were arrested arbitrarily or unlawfully. At the same time, ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD have documented a pattern of enforced disappearance, due process violations, and severe torture within the Bahraini criminal justice system, finding evidence of the use of systematic torture between 2011 and 2015.
“Despite its claims to the contrary, the government has effectively abandoned truth and reconciliation for violence and intimidation,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Advocacy Director of BIRD. “The security forces may not be killing protesters in the streets – as they have in years past – but it’s only because they’ve honed their practices of arbitrary detention, disappearance and torture.”
The government’s recurrent failure to address the political crisis is embodied in the aftermath of the March 2015 riot at Jau Prison, a detention facility that holds hundreds of the country’s political prisoners. After a minority of prisoners rioted over the facility’s overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, security forces subjected inmates to mass psychological and physical abuse. Less than a month ago, in the face of mounting evidence collective punishment, abuse, and due process violations at Jau, a Bahraini court sentenced 57 of these inmates to additional 15-year jail terms for offenses such as “resisting authorities” and “damaging public property.”
“The government has made clear its intentions to double down on the repressive measures it used to suppress democracy five years ago, not reform them,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “To avoid a relapse into the same unrest and instability, the Government of Bahrain must immediately change its reckless course.”
“In light of the ongoing violations, Bahrain’s continuing claims of reform are a gamble on the nation’s reputation,” stated Hugh Ali, Executive Director of JHRO. “We call for joint efforts in order to provide international guarantees to the people of Bahrain towards the exercise their legitimate rights as per the international conventions and treaties.”