What does the New Year have in store for Bahrain?

The Prime Minister

Two years ago, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa ascended the position of Bahrain’s prime minister. Before his ascension, Prince Salman bin Hamad was involved in the National Action Charter, a document encouraging the reformation and modernisation of Bahrain. In addition to this, Prince Salman bin Hamad voiced his support for the establishment and freedom of independent newspapers. During his premiership, Bahrain has continued to maintain and strengthen ties with neighbouring countries as well as the United States, which Prince Salman bin Hamad has acknowledged as a source of stability in the region. Furthermore, he has emphasised the importance of strengthening relations between the Council of Representatives, the Shura Council in addition to regional and international legislatures. For instance, in the case of Bahrain and Israel, there has been significant progress in relations. Under Prince Salman bin Hamad, Israel’s first ambassador to Bahrain was appointed alongside the approval of several trade agreements signifying a shift in dynamics. The Next Century Foundation hope that the Prime Minister continues to direct Bahrain towards reformation and modernisation both in the national and international sphere.

The Upcoming Elections

The general election of 2018 in Bahrain was far from free and fair. The implementation of the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights effectively banned opposition parties from partaking in the elections. Despite receiving national and international criticism, the law continues to exist. Furthermore, the prosecution of opposition members under questionable charges is equally problematic. The upcoming elections this year provide Bahrain with the opportunity to conduct democratic elections with the participation of opposition candidates. Bahrain must ensure that the formation of political organisation as well as the safety of its members is respected and maintained. It is essential that all members of society are represented in the politics of Bahrain.

The Freedom of the Press

The freedom of the press is a vital element in the existence of a democratic society. To ensure that there is freedom of opinion and expression in the upcoming elections, freedom of the press is crucial. The establishment of a free press ensures that those in positions of power can be held accountable. Moreover, a free press can become a source of education for the public. In 2017, the last independent newspaper, Al-Wasat was forcibly closed by the government. The newspaper notably echoed the voices of the opposition. The creation of Al-Wasat symbolised the transformation of Bahrain into a democratic society. Yet almost a decade later, the newspaper was accused of initiating division in Bahrain. The country has signalled some progress in regard to freedom of the press with the amendment of the Press, Printing and Publishing Law in 2021. The most significant amendment included the abolition of imprisoning journalists. Although this change is welcomed, it is imperative that freedom of the press is fully restored in Bahrain.

The Universal Periodic Review

This upcoming year, Bahrain is participating in the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review. In 2017, the Universal Periodic Review produced 175 recommendations of which 139 Bahrain agreed to implement before the next review in May 2022. Recommendations range from the quality of education, reduced inequalities and gender equality. However, the subject of peace, justice and strong institutions included the largest number of recommendations. These recommendations included the formation of an independent body to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, guarantee that all detainees receive a fair trial, and the creation of legislation that ensures law enforcement officials are held accountable and respect human rights. Yet, a mid-term assessment indicates that the country has failed to implement the majority of the recommendations. With the review months away, Bahrain should fulfil the recommendations it agreed to.

Bahraini Citizenship

The topic of nationality is included in the recommendations set out by the Universal Periodic Review. The review suggested that the government should adopt legislation that allows the children of Bahraini mothers and non-Bahraini fathers to acquire Bahraini nationality. Since the review, the Bahrani government has amended the law to address the inequalities between mother and father. However, the review did not address the more controversial issue regarding Bahraini nationality: the revocation of nationality. In 2019, 139 people were charged with terrorism by the High Criminal Court in Bahrain following a questionable trial. As a result, the court revoked the citizenship of all but one. Since 2012, approximately 900 people have had their citizenship revoked. Evidently, citizenship was being used as a tool by the authorities to oppress dissidents. Recently there have been encouraging developments with the restoration of many of the revoked citizenships. But there is still quite a lot to be done before this stain on the conscience of the Kingdom of Bahrain is removed.

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