An anti-government protester holds a flag in front of a line of police in Bahrain.

Hopes for justice and reform fading in Bahrain

Five years after a wave of protests demanding widespread reform rocked Bahrain, hopes for progress on human rights and accountability for past and present abuses have faded.

The mass protests, which began on 14 February 2011, were met with violence by the security forces, who shot dead and injured protesters. Others died in custody after being tortured.

Waiting for justice

“Five years since the uprising, torture, arbitrary detention and a widespread crackdown against peaceful activists and government critics have continued,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“Today in Bahrain, anyone who dares to criticise the authorities – whether a human rights defender or political activist – risks punishment.”

“Despite pledges from the authorities to prosecute security forces responsible for human rights violations in 2011, the Bahraini people are still waiting for justice. James Lynch, Amnesty International

“Institutions set up to protect human rights have not only failed to independently investigate or hold perpetrators to account, but now increasingly appear to be used to whitewash continuing abuses.”

Still behind bars

Political activists, human rights defenders, teachers and doctors were among those arrested for leading or participating in the 2011 protests or speaking out about abuses.

Many of them remain behind bars. Several are serving life sentences, in some cases after being convicted based on “confessions” they said were extracted through torture. In stark contrast, there has been no accountability for the overwhelming majority of violations.

Accountability failures

The few members of the security forces who were prosecuted for committing violations, including those who fatally shot protesters, were either acquitted for “self-defence” or given token sentences that did not reflect the gravity of the violations.

“The failure to effectively hold security officers who committed abuses in 2011 to account sends the message that torture and arbitrary and abusive force will go unpunished,” James Lynch said.

“The authorities must rein in the security forces and make absolutely clear that violations will not be tolerated and those responsible will be brought to justice.”