Bahrain 2021: Stagnation & No Signs of Change – Annual report

The human rights situation has not improved during 2021. The authorities are still intolerant to dissent and criticism and restrict the Bahrainis’ exercise of internationally-guaranteed fundamental rights. The government has continued to exclude and ostracize its opponents, systematically closing civil and political spaces and muting dissenting voices.  All political opposition parties are still outlawed. Their former members are banned from running for parliamentary elections and leadership positions in civil society organizations. As long as Law No. 25 of 2018 is in place, they cannot run for the upcoming elections in 2022. Moreover, under the new press law, which was referred to the Parliament in April 2021 for review, the former members of dissolved political parties and those convicted for political reasons are not allowed to own or manage media outlets in Bahrain.

Press freedom is highly restricted. No independent media operates inside the country. Heavy censorship has persisted on and offline. There were many arrests and summons for interrogation during the year in relation to exercising the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. The government enacted a new restrictive law to control dissenting voices in Parliament. Decree-Law No. 26 of 2020, adopted in April 2021, restricts the number of MPs allowed to participate in Parliament’s general discussions and controls the extent to which MPs can criticize the government. There have been reports of the government’s utilization of advanced technologies to pursue activists and human rights defenders in a huge violation of the right to privacy. Citizen Lab confirmed that the phones of 12 Bahraini activists and human rights defenders were hacked by the government with the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. There have also been reports of hacking the phones of 20 Bahraini officials with the same spyware.

The prison condition remained poor. There were two Covid-19 outbreaks in Jau prison, during the year, due to lack of hygiene and proper precautionary measures. The Covid-19 outbreaks steered condemnation and led to hundreds of small marches and demonstrations in different areas in Bahrain to demand the release of political prisoners, especially in April and May 2021. The reports of lack of medical attention inside detention centers continued to emerge during the year. The overall ill-treatment, particularly the unjustified confiscation of his book, led prominent human rights defender Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace to start a hunger strike in July 2021, which continues today. There were also three deaths in Jau prison amid allegations of medical negligence.

On the positive side, the government expanded the implementation of the Alternative Penalty Law in September 2021. Under this law and a special royal pardon, 395 prisoners were released in 2021, including many political prisoners.

Overall, the government does not seem to have any intention of genuine reform. The human rights situation is in a state of stagnation with no signs of drastic changes so far.

To read the full report, click Bahrain 2021: Stagnation and No Signs of Change