Jump to page content


last updated Mar 04, 2014

Current Profile Status: July 2011

Table of Content

  1. Background Information

  2. Situation of Torture

  3. Documents & Resources

Key Facts


758 sq km

Total Population

791,000 (UN 2009)

Prison Rate

136 (per 100,000 of national population)
Capital Punishment



ratified (21 March, 1998) , individual complaints (Art. 22) procedure not accepted


not signed



Background Information

Bahrain was a British protectorate, until it was granted formal independence in 1971 under Sheikh Isa, reinstating the traditional rule of the al-Khalifa family. The Bahraini population is predominantly Shia, whereas the al-Khalifa family and the majority of the political and economic elites are Sunni. In 1973 a parliamentary constitution was passed providing for a majority-elected National Assembly, political parties and independent trade unions, but in the wake of social unrest and political struggles resulting from the Sunni-Shia divide in the country, the emir dissolved the Assembly again in 1975. The country was ruled in authoritarian manner throughout the 1980s. and the 1990s were marked by a bitter and fierce confrontation between the Sunni-dominated government and various, mostly Shia, oppositional groups. In 1999, Isa´s son, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, became head of state pronouncing a National Action Charter in 2001, which aroused hopes for democratisation. The new constitution, rendered effective in 2002, re-established an elected lower house of parliament severely limited by the upper house, the Consultative Council, appointed by the King.

Despite some political liberalisation, Bahrain still is, by and large, directly ruled by the executive, which is mostly composed of al-Khalifa family members, and thus remains relatively unaccountable to the legislature. According to the constitution, the King, whose rule is hereditary, has far-reaching powers, including the right to amend the constitution, to choose the prime minister, or, notably, to appoint judges, which limits the independence of the judiciary. The king is head of the Higher Judicial Council and also appoints the prime minister, who in turn appoints the justice minister. Bahrain´s laws mainly draw on British and Egyptian civil law and the Sharia.

The Bahraini economy is relatively diversified, but heavy industry are the economy´s cornerstones. Bahrain is a high-income country, measured by GDP per capita, but is not as affluent as other Gulf States. Unemployment is a serious problem and there is social deprivation in some parts of the population. In 2010, GNI per capita was US $15,910 (World Bank, 2010). The Human Development Report ranked Bahrain 48th out of 187 countries with comparable data in 2012.1

Bahrain has a significant tradition of extra-parliamentary political opposition and civil society activism compared with the rest of the Gulf countries. In many cases, human rights violations are a reflection of Sunni-Shia tensions in the country. The opposition is primarily organised along Shia lines, but there are independent human rights groups and other civil organisations campaigning for particular interests. Apart from regular reports about breaches of worker´s rights and women´s rights , a recurrent theme of criticism concerns the discrimination of the Shia population in public employment, political representation and social services.

According to a Human Rights Watch report in 20132, abuses against migrant workers still occur in Bahrain despite the fact that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa signed a new private sector labour law improving safety regulations. Migrant workers suffered from abuses such as unpaid wages, unsafe housing, excessive work hours, forced labour and physical abuses. Because of concerns about safety and human rights violations in Bahrain, firms and international companies may be hesitant to engage in economic activities in Bahrain. Several factors such as domestic unrest had a negative impact on the economy in recent years. However, the return of the formula one race and tourist cruise ships to Bahrain are promising signs of recovery of the economy. 3

According to Amnesty International country reports of the past few years, the government, at times, heavily cracks down on individual opposition and demonstrators, and tries to curb civil society campaigning. Human rights violations still occur during detention and interrogation, but few severe sentences against oppositional figures have been handed out in recent years, and most government critics are generally released after short periods of detention. Freedom association and the freedom of the press have improved but are still restricted, in particular as a reaction to direct attacks on the legitimacy of political system and criticism of the royal family. In 2002, in line with a common regional pattern, the Government granted immunity to security personnel accused of committing human rights violations in the 1990s. At the same time Bahrain has greatly stepped up its human rights commitments, including the establishment of a national human rights institution, the withdrawal of reservations of certain ratified human rights treaties, and reform of laws concerning the freedom of opinion and expression, or the non-discrimination of women. In recent years, Bahrain has also increasingly cooperated with the Special Procedures, such as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, and contributed financially to the OHCHR as well as to the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

In February 2011, people started demonstrating against the monarchist reign of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and for a democratic transition. The protests were sparked by the political upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt which triggered similar movements in many Arab countries. Peaceful street demonstrations were dissolved by security forces - several demonstrators were killed and hundreds injured.

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the Government limited it during 2011 and prosecuted individuals in courts for incitement against the Government and Islam. Journalists were also arrested and attacked due to their reporting during 2011 according to Reporters without Borders.4 Several websites, such as the one of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, were also blocked for allegedly spreading anti-government messages.

Situation of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Legal Framework

Bahrain is State Party to the ICCPR and has ratified the CAT, but is neither Party to the OPCAT, nor the optional protocols to the ICCPR. Torture is prohibited under Article 19 (d) of the 2002 Constitution. The definition of torture, however, in this article is not entirely congruent with the definition of torture under Article 1 CAT. Article 19 (d) of the Constitution states that any „statement or confession proved to have been made under torture, inducement, or such treatment, or the threat thereof, shall be null and void.“

Article 61 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides that a detainee must be treated „in such a manner as to maintain his human dignity and shall not be subjected to any bodily or psychological harm.“ Articles 208 and 232 of the Bahraini Penal Code of 1976 criminalise the use of “torture, force or threats, either personally or through a third party, against an accused person, witness or expert” in order to induce a person to confess to an offense or to give statements or related information. Furthermore, in these articles it is stipulated that civil servants, and any other persons, who engage in torture shall be subjected to a term of imprisonment, ranging from at least six months to life imprisonment, if the use of torture leads to death. Perpetrators of torture or inhumane and degrading treatment may fall within other crimes defined in the in the Penal Code and may amount to an aggravated crime, – for instance rape –, pursuant to article 75(4) of the Criminal code. Victims of torture can seek redress through a civil claim, however, Decree 56 of 2002, grants immunity from investigation or prosecution to government officials alleged to be responsible for torture or other serious human rights abuses committed prior to 2001.

Practice of Torture and Ill-Treatment

From 1974 to 2001, during the time in which the State Security Act was in force, torture was reportedly widespread in Bahrain. In his 1997 report, the Special Rapporteur on Torture noted in regard to the practice of torture in Bahrain during this time that „most persons arrested for political reasons in Bahrain were held incommunicado, a condition of detention conducive to torture. The Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were alleged frequently to conduct interrogation of such detainees under torture. The practice of torture by these agencies was said to be undertaken with impunity, with no known cases of officials having been prosecuted for acts of torture or other ill-treatment.“ Torture allegations dating back to this period have not been investigated due to an amnesty law that confers immunity from prosecution on public officials, affects present third party rights and is contrary to the Convention against Torture. Reparations for victims of torture before 2001 have not materialised..

With the accession of king Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa to the throne in 1999, reports about the occurence of torture have dramatically dropped. In 2001, State Security Laws were repealed and the State Security Court has been abolished. In the same year, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention welcomed “the decisive scale and scope of the reforms that have been undertaken and the accompanying acts of clemency” following the repeal of the State Security laws and the release of political prisoners.

In 2005, responding to the first state party national report under CAT, the Committee Against Torture noted in its Concluding Observations that „systematic torture no longer takes place following the 2001 reforms“, but stressed that is was concerned about the large number of torture allegations in the past and „the apparent failure to investigate promptly, impartially and fully the numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment and to prosecute alleged offenders, and in particular the pattern of impunity for torture and other ill-treatment committed by law enforcement personnel in the past.“ Furthermore, the Committee noted that isolated reports about ill-treatment of prisoners, incommunicado detention, in particular during pre-trial detention, persisted after the 2001 reforms, as did reports about the lack of adequate access to legal advice and medical assistance for detainees. It also remarked that, contrary to the promises made by the Government, local civil society organisation have not been granted the right to monitoring all places of detention.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, Bahrain has returned to torture and ill-treatment of detainees since late 2007. This development has been taking place in an environment of rising political tensions involving the country’s majority Shia community. Recurrent demonstrations throughout 2007 and 2008 and clashes of demonstrators with security forces have led to large-scale arrest of primarily young Shia protesters. According to the report security officials have used torture techniques reminiscent to those applied during the 1990s against many of those arrested designed to elicit confession at the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Criminal Investigation (CID) in Adliya, at the Ministry of Interior’s Short-Term Detention Unit, at the offices of the NSA, also on the grounds of the Ministry of Interior. Government officials denied the occurrence of any of these events, despite, several court-ordered medical reports that showed that some of the defendants had marks on their bodies which might have been caused by torture. The Government has not ordered an independent investigation into these torture allegations.

During the anti-government demonstrations in February 2011, torture and ill-treatment were frequently used and military and civilian forces carried out security operations and attacks on peaceful protesters.5

On 15 March 2011 a royal decree implemented an emergency State of National Safety (SNS), which was upheld until 1st of June in accordance with the Constitution. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa granted authority to the Commander-in-chief of the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF), Field Marshal Khalifa bin Ahmad Al Khalifa to issue sweeping regulations governing public order. Special military courts, called National Safety Courts, were created to investigate and prosecute crimes relating to “national safety” and crimes committed “defying procedures” of the decree. Those Courts had jurisdiction over crimes such as protest activities, violence against officials, acts of terror and crimes related to security threats to the State.

According to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)6 which was established in order to investigate and report on the events related to the 2011 unrest, between February 14 and April 15, there were 35 deaths and 5 of the 35 persons died as a result of torture inflicted by security services during the SNS. 17 further casualties throughout the year could also be related to the uprising in early 2011. The BICI also documented torture and other ill-treatment (use of whips, rubber hoses, electric shocks, use of fire to burn body parts, place the victims in solitary confinement, extreme temperatures, etc.). Bahrain was internationally criticised for its handling of the anti-government protests. Following the violent crackdown, the Government promised reforms to ensure accountability of those who perpetrated violations against protesters.

In August 2011, the king announced that a compensation fund would be available for individuals who were “materially, morally, or physically harmed” by security forces or public officials during protests in 2011. On 26th June 2012, Judge Khalid Hassan Ajaji – Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice – announced to a Bahraini newspaper the disbursement of $2.6 million dollars to the families of 17 deceased individuals.7

Some medical personnel charged with felony crimes before a SNS Court reported to have been subjected to torture to extract a confession during their custody. Confessions have been used and declared admissible before the SNS Court and medical doctors were convicted to prison sentences. In September 2012, however, the Government declared that coerced confessions were no longer admitted in trials. As a result, some of the medical doctors have been released and others have benefitted from a shorter imprisonment. Seven police officers were charged with torture.

The BICI reported allegations of poor detention conditions (refusal of access to toilet facilities for prolonged periods, lack of access to water for drinking, washing and praying, lack of shower facilities and unhygienic toilet facilities).Visits were permitted but restricted during the SNS. It was reported by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) that juveniles above the age of 15 were held with adults. The Interior Minister signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on 8th December 2011, allowing for visits of detainees starting in the second half of January 2012.

Despite the reform promise of the Bahraini Government to ensure accountability of those who were responsible for human rights violations during 2011, Amnesty International criticised the reforms taken in a report released in April 2012.8 According to Amnesty International, the reforms were not adequate as they have not permitted justice for the victims of ill-treatment and because human rights violations against protesters continued. Security forces used extreme force and weapons (grenades, teargas, and pellet guns) in order to disperse some anti-government protests in 2012. Human rights defenders and individuals who participated in peaceful demonstrations were arrested, sometimes beaten and put in jail.

Among the recommendations made during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 21 May 2012 at the UN Human Rights Council, some included the need of prosecution of those responsible for torture and of investigation into abuses carried out by officials. However, according to HRW, as of January 2013 these key recommendations have not yet been implemented.9 Despite Bahrain’s claim that investigations were held, only a few officials responsible for abuses have been prosecuted and these sentences concerned only low-ranking officials. Despite the authorities’ promise to release protesters and review sentences for speech crimes, some are still in jail.

Furthermore, in March 2013, recent violations against freedom of opinion and expression have been reported by the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). Many Twitter users have been arrested, charged of defaming the King and sentenced to day-jail. They allege to have been verbally abused and one of them suffered mistreatment.10

2HRW (2012) Report: For A Better Life
3CIA World Factbook, Bahrain, April 2013
5HRW (2012) Report: No Justice in Bahrain
8AI (2012) Annual Report, Bahrain

Sources: Human Rights Theme Maps,: UPR Info by OHCHR (2008),Human Development Report 2009, “Country Fact Sheet: Bahrain”,: A/HRC/WG.6/1/BHR/2, p. 2,: CAT/C/CR/34/BHR, E/CN.4/2002/77/Add.2, CAT State Report 1999, Report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Nigel S. Rodley, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/37 B“, E.CN/1997/7, Redress (2003), „Reparation for Torture: A Survey of Law and Practice in 30 Selected Countries (Bahrain Country Report)“,Human Rights Watch Report (Feb 2010), “Torture Redux: The Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain“,World Organisation against Torture, BBC Country Profiles, UN Data Website, King's College London World Prison Brief, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2011/mar/22/middle-east-protest-interactive-timeline; http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/09/19/bahrain%E2%80%99s-pledge-to-implement-upr-recommendations-met-with-skepticism/