14 February 2020 – Bahrain has “regressed in almost every area of human rights” over the decade since hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis joined pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring, despite the UK government spending over £6.5 million on reform efforts in the country, a new report by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) to mark the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring has found.
Despite vowing to respond to protesters’ demands for change, the report published this week reveals that reforms promised by Bahrain’s rulers in the wake of the uprising have “largely been reversed or abandoned”, while aging leaders of the protests continue to languish in prison, including Hassan Mushaima, Dr Abduljalil Al Singace, Sheikh Mohammed Habib Al Muqdad and Abdulhadi Al Khawaja.
The report goes on to document a range of serious violations committed by the Bahraini state since 2011, with government repression intensifying considerably after the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017. Abuses include a severe crackdown on civil society, bans on independent media and political opposition parties and the targeting of journalists, political activists and other civil society figures with arbitrary arrests, vexatious prosecutions and citizenship revocation.
The report also condemns Bahrain’s execution of six individuals since a moratorium on the death penalty was abandoned in 2017, five of which were deemed to be arbitrary by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard, in 2017 and 2019. Continued reports of torture and mistreatment of political prisoners by security forces are also documented, including the widespread practice of medical negligence against political prisoners in Bahraini detention centres.
While prospects for democratic reform in Bahrain have dwindled, support from the UK government for the country’s ruling monarchy has remained unwavering. However, evidence featured in the report suggests that UK-backed reform efforts have failed “to improve the human rights situation in Bahrain” and that taxpayer money appears to have benefitted “institutions implicated in human rights abuses”, including human rights oversight bodies described as “not independent” and “not effective” by the UN.
Additionally, Campaign Against Arms Trade report that the UK has also sold Bahrain at least £115 million in arms since February 2011, despite their potential use for internal repression or in the war in Yemen – named the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe by the UN. This statistic does not cover the 61 unlimited value “open licenses” sold to Bahrain over the period, meaning that the actual figure is likely considerably higher.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of BIRD, commented: “The more than 100,000 Bahrainis who took to the streets during the Arab Spring have been exhausted by a decade of brutal repression. However, if anyone believes that the government no longer fears the democratic ideals which inspired the protesters, just look to Bahrain’s prisons, where the leaders of the uprising still languish. The US and the UK have played a crucial role in propping up Bahrain’s regime over the last decade; the next few years will be a test of Joe Biden’s commitment to democracy and human rights in Bahrain. We still remember how President Obama’s support for reform in 2011 proved hollow.”
Read the full report here.