The UK’s 2022 Human Rights and Democracy report has removed Bahrain from its list of priority countries. This acknowledgment reflects the fact that Bahrain is moving forward with its development process as it remains to be focused on economic and political reforms for the betterment of citizens lives. While many steps taken by the government remain unnoticed and disregarded, it is important to understand that Bahrain has come a long way since the February 2011 unrest.
The UK’s human rights report has commended Bahrain’s enabling of freedom of religious belief. Bahrain stands as one of few countries where places of worship of different faiths namely Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus lie within walking distance from one another in the heart of the capital Manama. Religious holidays such as Ashoora marked by the Shia faith, New Year’s traditionally marked by Christians and others are highly respected in Bahrain as the government issues circulars of official holidays marking these occasions. In recent years, the King Hamad Centre for Peaceful Coexistence has made remarkable progress in the field of coexistence. Bahrain has supported several national initiatives to promote interfaith dialogue leading to the historic visit of Pope Francis in late 2022.
Bahrain’s recent Human Rights reforms
Bahrain has taken several serious measures towards promoting human rights and ensuring justice. Prison reforms were one of the main concerns. As part of the prison reforms, in the past few years Bahrain implemented an alternative punishment sentencing system where prison sentences were replaced with community services and others such as home detention, exclusion orders, non-contact orders, electronic tagging, rehabilitation programs or compensation. This move was highly commended by many of those who benefitted from the programme, some of whom are opposition activists who had never previously spoken positively about any government initiative. The praises by such figures reflects a healthier political environment in Bahrain.
It also reflects the effectiveness of the prison reforms that fall under a wider umbrella of political reforms that started following the 2011 unrest with an aim to ease political tensions and mend the mistakes that had taken place during the peak of the unrest. . In September 2021, the Ministry of Interior announced that all prisoners are eligible for alternative sentencing without any discrimination based on the type of sentences.
Open Prison system
In addition, another positive prison reform is the recent implementation of the open prison system, that is highly considered as a progressive prison system where prisoners can serve their sentences while still maintaining contact with their families and participating in vocational training programs. Many of those sentenced on basis of violent activity during the past decade are currently benefitting from open prisons. The open prison system has been successful in easing pressure on prisoners and has been praised by human rights organizations for its focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Several recent developments include the royal pardon of hundreds of inmates. These reforms, developments and initiatives that have taken place in Bahrain are certainly positive. These moves have helped in reducing the number of inmates in prison and has given offenders a chance to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society.
Th removal of Bahrain from the list of human rights priority countries is a welcomed step. It reflects the positive outcomes of the measure taken by Bahrain to improve its human rights record and meet international standards.