Hundreds of people were reported to have been arrested during the year for suspected anti- government activities or in connection with anti-government protests. Hundreds of others arrested in previous years remained held without charge or trial; they included eight religious and political leaders, all prisoners of conscience, who were arrested in 1996, as well as possible prisoners of conscience. Sixteen people charged with arson and possession of "unlawful leaflets" were sentenced to prison terms after an unfair trial. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. One person died in custody reportedly following torture. Three people remained under sentence of death. At least three Bahraini nationals were banned from entering the country.

Anti-government protests continued during the year reportedly on a lesser scale than in previous years (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 to 1998). The protests called for the reinstatement of the National Assembly, which was dissolved by the Amir, Shaikh ‘Issa bin Salman Al Khalifa, in 1975; the restoration of the country's 1973 Constitution; and the release of political prisoners. Security forces carried out arrests of suspected political opponents, especially in Shi‘a Muslim areas such as al-Sanabis, al-Nu‘aim, al-Daih and Sitra. A number of arson attacks, often targeting commercial buildings, were reported.

In March the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs issued an order to dissolve the elected executive committee of the Bar Society. The dissolution was reported to have been connected with seminars about economic and social developments in Bahrain organized by the Bar Society.

Also in March Bahrain acceded, with some limiting reservations, to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, by the end of the year the government had reportedly agreed to remove the reservations and to allow the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit the country.

Hundreds of people were said to have been arrested during the year for suspected anti-government activities or in connection with anti-government protests, including arson attacks. Arrests reportedly took place at homes during the night or at dawn, at workplaces, or following anti-government protests. Many of those held were released without charge after days or weeks of incommunicado detention; the rest were still held without charge or trial at the end of the year. Scores of young women and men, as well as children, were reportedly among those arrested, some of whom were said to have been beaten before being released without charge.

Other people were arrested during 1998 and held incommunicado before being released without charge. In February Muhammad ‘Ali Muhammad al-‘Ikri, aged 17, was arrested while visiting his mother's home in Jidd Hafs, apparently in connection with a previous arrest and conviction (see Amnesty International Report 1996). He was held incommunicado until his release without charge in March. He was then rearrested in November for unknown reasons and remained held without charge at the end of the year. Rabab ‘Abd al-Nabi ‘Abd al-Wahab Rabi‘ and her father ‘Abd al-Nabi were arrested in March at their house in Sitra, held incommunicado and released without charge in April. The reason for their arrest remained unclear at the end of the year. In May ‘Abd al-Hussain ‘Ali al-Sayegh, aged 66 and ill, was arrested in Madinat ‘Issa and released without charge after five days of incommunicado detention. The reason for his arrest was not known but was said to be connected with his son Yassir, who was arrested in December 1996, accused of possessing "illegal pamphlets" and allegedly subjected to various forms of torture. The son was held until May 1997, after which he travelled to the United Kingdom where he described to the press how he had been tortured.

In November, five women – Salwa Hassan Haidar, Hanan Salman Haidar, Maryam Sa‘id al- ‘Aradi, Mona Salman Haidar and Laila Mahdi al-Bazaz – were among a number of people arrested at their homes in al-Daih village near the capital al-Manama. The authorities reportedly suspected them of hiding weapons. Salwa Hassan Haidar and Hanan Salman Haidar remained held incommunicado until their release on 30 December; the other three women were released without charge after a few days in custody.

Hundreds of people, including prisoners of conscience, arrested in previous years remained held without charge or trial at the end of the year. Among the prisoners of conscience were Shaikh ‘Abd al-Amir al-Jamri and ‘Abd al-Wahab Hussain ‘Ali who, with six other prisoners of conscience, remained held since their arrest in January 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997). Sayyid Jalal Sayyid ‘Alawi Sayyid Sharaf, who was arrested in March 1997 reportedly on suspicion of transmitting information about the internal situation in Bahrain to people abroad, reportedly received a one-year prison sentence and was released in November 1998 (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

Muhammad Jamil ‘Abd al-Amir al-Jamri, son of Shaikh ‘Abd al-Amir al-Jamri (see above), was released in September on completion of his prison sentence. He had been arrested in September 1988 on charges of membership of an unauthorized organization and other offences, and sentenced in 1990 to 10 years' imprisonment (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

Four young women – Ahlam al-Sayyid Mahdi Hassan al-Sitri, Amal Ahmad Rabi‘, Maryam Ahmad ‘Ali Bilway and Laila ‘Abd al-Nabi Rabi‘ (see Amnesty International Report 1998) – appeared before the State Security Court in April and received three-month suspended prison sentences reportedly for taking part in anti-government demonstrations in March 1997.

In June, 16 people were sentenced after an unfair trial by the State Security Court to prison terms ranging from one to four years on charges of arson and possession of "unlawful leaflets". The 16 had been arrested in 1996. Thirteen other defendants were acquitted. Among those sentenced were Ibrahim Yusuf ‘Abd al-Rasul Hamadi and Muhammad ‘Abd al-Karim ‘Ali Jawad who received prison terms of four and three years respectively.

Torture and ill-treatment of detainees and suspected political opponents continued to be reported, mainly during the first days after arrest in order to extract information. Reported methods of torture and ill-treatment included severe beating with electric cables on the back and on the soles of the feet; suspension by the limbs; victims being blindfolded and forced to stand for hours with their hands tied behind their back; and solitary confinement. In general, family visits were allowed only after a few weeks of incommunicado detention. The five women arrested in al-Daih village (see above) were all reportedly tortured or ill-treated. Salwa Hassan Haidar was said to have been beaten on the soles of the feet and suspended by her limbs.

One detainee died in circumstances suggesting that torture contributed to his death. In July Nuh Khalil ‘Abdullah al-Nuh was arrested apparently in good health at his shop in al-Nu‘aim, a district of al-Manama. Two days later his body was handed over to his family for burial bearing marks suggesting that he had been tortured. The authorities were reported to have promised an investigation into the death but by the end of the year no investigation was known to have been carried out.

There was no further news of three prisoners – ‘Ali Ahmad ‘Abdullah al-‘Usfur, Yusuf Hussain ‘Abd al-Baqi and Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim al-Kattab – who were sentenced to death by the State Security Court in July 1996 on charges of carrying out a fire-bomb attack in Sitra (see Amnesty International Reports 1997 and 1998).

At least three Bahraini nationals, who had spent time living abroad, were banned from entering the country. In July Qusay Shaikh ‘Ali Mohsin al-‘Uraibi and ‘Abd al-Amir al-Isqafi were reportedly held at the airport and then forcibly exiled to the United Arab Emirates and Syria respectively. In December ‘Abd al-Majid Muhsin Muhammad al-‘Usfar, his Saudi Arabian wife and their five children were held at the airport for four days and then forcibly returned to Denmark.

Amnesty International appealed to the government to release prisoners of conscience, investigate reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and provide details of all those detained without charge or trial. It also expressed concern at the dissolution of the executive committee of the Bar Society.

In April Amnesty International submitted information about its continuing concerns in Bahrain for UN review under a procedure established by Economic and Social Council Resolutions 728f/1503 for confidential consideration of communications about human rights violations.

In November Amnesty International wrote to the authorities and proposed to send delegates to Bahrain to discuss human rights protection and promotion with government officials and others. No response had been received by the end of the year.

In response to a letter sent in April, Amnesty International received in September a letter from the authorities stating that information received by the organization about a number of cases was "distorted, incomplete and inaccurate", and that Bahrain had been the target of a "sustained campaign of violence and terrorism organized and funded from abroad". The authorities pointed out that reports concerning the arrests of Rabab ‘Abd al-Nabi ‘Abd al-Wahab Rabi‘, ‘Abd al-Nabi ‘Abd al-Wahab Rabi‘ and Muhammad ‘Ali Muhammad al-‘Ikri (see above) were unfounded and that no one of these names was known to have been arrested during the year. The letter added that Ahlam al-Sayyid Mahdi Hassan al-Sitri, Amal Ahmad Rabi‘, Maryam Ahmad ‘Ali Bilway and Laila ‘Abd al-Nabi Rabi‘ (see above) were charged, tried and convicted in accordance with the law. It confirmed the sentences against three of the women but, contrary to reports received by Amnesty International, indicated that Laila ‘Abd al-Nabi Rabi‘ had been acquitted of all charges. The authorities stated that arrest, detention and trial procedures were all conducted in accordance with Bahraini laws and international standards. However, the government failed to allay Amnesty International's continuing concerns about human rights violations in the country.

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