Bahrain Table of Contents
The Bahraini national police force was believed by most sources to number about 2,000 in 1992. In addition to the usual police functions, the mission of the force is to prevent sectarian violence and terrorist actions. Bahrain has a high proportion of native Shia, possibly 65 to 70 percent of the population. Iran tried to fuel existing resentment over the inferior place of Shia in the social and economic structure. The government sought to moderate the socioreligious cleavage by appointing Shia to a number of cabinet posts and senior civil service posts, although generally not in security-related positions. A failed coup d'état against the Al Khalifa in 1981 resulted in the expulsion or trial of many Shia dissidents; Iran had armed and trained most of those convicted. A number of persons were arrested in 1987 in another plot linked to Iran. In 1989 twenty-two persons were sentenced to prison by the Supreme Court of Appeal, sitting as the Security Court, for plotting to overthrow the government; no claim was made of Iranian involvement.
Two clandestine political groups with ties to Iran are active in Bahrain. The Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, which was responsible for the 1981 coup attempt, consists of militant Shia calling for violent revolution. The Islamic Call Party, which also has ties to Iran, is more moderate, calling for social and economic reforms. Two secular leftist groups with ties to Arab regimes and Arab nationalist organizations are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Bahrain and the National Front for the Liberation of Bahrain. Their influence appeared to be on the decline as of early 1993. The agencies of the Ministry of Interior, the police force, and the Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) maintain strict control over political activity. It is thought that their operations are extensive and highly effective. Detention and arrest can result from actions construed as antiregime activity, such as membership in illegal organizations, antigovernment demonstrations, possession or circulation of antiregime writings, or preaching sermons of a radical or extreme Islamist tone. The Department of State reported some loosening of controls in 1991 over actions previously regarded as subversive, reflecting the government's assessment that domestic and foreign threats to its security had receded.
Under the State Security Act of 1974, persons can be detained for up to three years, with a right of appeal after a period of three months and thereafter every six months. Arrested persons tried in ordinary criminal courts are provided the usual guarantees, such as public trials, the right to counsel (including legal aid if needed), and the right of appeal. Prisoners charged with security offenses are tried directly by the Supreme Court of Appeal, sitting as the Security Court. The procedural guarantees of the penal code do not apply: proceedings are in secret, and there is no right of judicial appeal, although cases can be referred to the amir for clemency.
According to Department of State human rights studies, there have been credible reports that the SIS engages in torture and mistreatment of detainees. Convictions in some cases have been based only on confessions that allegedly have been extracted by torture. There were, however, no confirmed cases of torture in 1991. The independent human rights group Amnesty International claimed that as of 1992 about seventy political prisoners, many with ties to banned Islamic groups, were serving sentences after unfair trials. Between 220 and 270 people were held in Bahraini jails in 1992. Of these, fewer than 100 were thought to be serving sentences for security offenses.
Data as of January 1993