The Bahraini government is using its “political isolation laws” and a series of other tactics to keep the opposition out of public office and other aspects of public life, according to a report by NGO Human Rights Watch.
Monday’s report documents the alleged use of Bahrain’s 2018 laws to keep political opponents from running for parliament seats or even serving on the boards of governors of civic organisations, calling the practices “targeted marginalisation of opposition figures from social, political, civil, and economic life”.
“Bahrain has spent the last decade cracking down on peaceful opposition and the political isolation laws are yet another example of the government’s repression expanding into new spheres,” said Joey Shea, Middle East and North Africa researcher with the rights group, which is based in the United States.
“These draconian laws have made a mockery of Bahrain’s upcoming parliamentary ‘elections,’ which can neither be free nor fair when you make any political opposition essentially illegal.”
Parliamentary polls will be held in Bahrain on November 12 to elect the 40 members of the Council of Representatives.
Human Rights Watch said that it interviewed activists, civil society members, and opposition figures, and reviewed and analysed government statements, laws, and court records.
The group added the laws in question introduced new punitive consequences by punishing individual members of two major opposition parties, al-Wefaq and Wa’ad, that were dissolved in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Shea said the two parties were “hugely popular political parties” before they were dissolved.
“Not only these groups were dissolved by the judiciary, 2018 law takes the repression further by barring individual members from running for parliament, not even part of these societies,” she told Al Jazeera.
Al-Wefaq won 18 out 40 seats in the 2010 parliamentary polls, which is the last election the party joined.
The report also said that the law targets activists and human rights defenders who were arrested in the government’s large-scale crackdown during the peaceful 2011 pro-democracy and anti-government uprising and in its aftermath.
The final clause of the political isolation laws, concerning individuals who have “disrupted” constitutional life in Bahrain, has been interpreted by Bahraini lawyers and civil society to prevent former MPs and others from running for office again, Human Rights Watch said.
In addition to cases of people barred from running for office, the group said it documented three cases of civil society organisations that struggled to form a board and carry on with their activities due to the effect of these laws.
The report says the group also documented the continued detentions and summons of Bahraini citizens for speech-related offences.
“The Bahraini government should repeal the 2018 political isolation laws, end the practice of denying certificates of good behavior to punish perceived opponents, and restore full legal, political, and civil rights to all Bahraini citizens,” according to the group.
Human Right Watch also called on the international community, including close allies like the US, United Kingdom, and European Union member states, to pressure Bahraini authorities to end the “repression of peaceful opposition and civil society”.