Bahrain’s Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction.
  2. Assessment
  3. Article 6. Death Penalty.
  4. Article 7. Freedom from Torture and Other Inhuman Treatment
  5. Article 9. Arbitrary Arrest and Enforced Disappearance.
  6. Article 10. Treatment in Detention.
  7. Article 12. Freedom of Movement
  8. Article 14. Rights to a Fair Trial
  9. Article 18. Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion.
  10. Article 19. Freedom of Expression.
  11. Article 21. Freedom of Assembly.
  12. Article 22. Freedom of Association.
  13. Article 24. Rights of Children.
  14. Conclusion.


Bahrain ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite its ratification of the international treaties and commitment to defend human rights, the brutal human rights abuses have been continuously reported.

A worrying new set of methods repressing the human rights of its own people have come into practice. The government continued to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly through various unlawful measures. By revoking nationality of more than 350 Bahrainis, the government has been wielding citizenship as a weapon of control and oppression. It has also criminalised freedom of assembly and expression by implementing unnecessary restraints and inappropriate regulations on peaceful assembly. A number of detainees have been physically assaulted by staffs who had not given any proper training on the lawful use of force. The security apparatus also has continued to use torture to extract false confessions. Children have been no exception from becoming victims of human rights abuses. Security forces have routinely detained children without clear charges, which often results in ill-treatment on a serious level.


Article 6. Death Penalty

Article 6 of ICCPR clearly states that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. It also emphasises that the death penalty would be imposed only for the most serious crimes. In Bahrain, the death penalty has been deployed as a tool of political revenge tool. Since 2011, Bahrain’s court has issued a number of death sentences, some in military court and others in criminal courts.

Most recently, on 9 January 2017, the Bahraini authorities upheld the death sentence against three activists – Sami Mushaima, Abbas Al-Samea, and Ali Abdulshaheed Al-Singace, who were arrested in 2014, being accused of killing three policemen in a bombing incident. After exhausting all legal procedures, on 15 January 2017, the three individuals were immediately executed.[1]

It was the first executions of Bahraini citizenship holders since 1996, although the victims were technically stateless after being stripped of their citizenship. This proves the serious retrogression of human rights in the country in the last two decades.

The Constitution of Bahrain does not refer to the death penalty and it is unclear whether the death penalty is mandatory for any offence in Bahrain.[2] Nevertheless, the death penalty in Bahrain has been carried arbitrarily and discriminately, especially against political dissidents. The Bahraini courts have continued to disregard of evidence and proofs that the security apparatus caused deaths, tortured prisoners, extracted false confessions and fired live rounds during the crackdown on peaceful protests.

All those sentenced to death have complained of the same or similar treatments and processes. These include rough arrests, harsh torture and obscure and questionable evidences. These all strongly indicate and illustrate a political scheme. The typical practices endured by death row inmates include blindfolding, long periods of forces standing, electrocution, insults, sleep and deprivation, etc.[3]

Now the total number of Bahrainis on death row is 16; all coming from politically related backgrounds following the uprisings in 2011.[4] All of them have suffered mistreatment, torture, and unfair trials.

Article 7. Freedom from Torture and Other Inhuman Treatment

Widespread Torture in Bahrain

Despite its ratification of the international treaties, including the ICCPR, and commitment to fight against torture during the BICI investigation in 2011, the brutal torture cases have been continuously reported.[5]

According to the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC) report in 2015, a number of prisoners have been physically assaulted by staffs who had not given any proper training on the lawful use of force.[6] The Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), Dry Dock Prison and Jau Central Prison, in particular, have been infamous for coercive interrogations and human rights abuses. A number of former detainees gave testimony that they were subject to physical assault, including electric shocks, suspension in painful positions, compulsory standing for prolonged periods, exposure to extreme low temperatures, sexual assaults and abuses, and other forms of torture. Most of them were not permitted to contact their families nor request proper legal assistance. This is also a serious violation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance that aims to prevent the occurrence of enforced disappearance, adopted by the United Nations in 2006.

Use of Torture to Extract False Confessions

The Bahraini security apparatus have continued to use torture on detainees to extract false confessions. All prisoners who are sentenced to death have complained of the same or similar conducts and processes of torture. The typical practices endured by inmates include blindfolding, long periods of forced standing, electrocution, insults and humiliation, sleep deprivation, etc.

All three victims of the recent execution in January 2017, Sami Mushaima, Abbas Al-Samea, and Ali Abdulshaheed Al-Singace were tortured by police and were forced to sign false confessions under duress. For instance, Sami Mushaima was forced to sign documents despite being illiterate. Although he had a family member who was a prominent opposition politician, it was known that he had never been involved in activism. Furthermore, Abbas al-Samea, a teacher who was at school at the time of the bombing incident, got admitted in hospital for surgery after interrogation due to torture. The third, Ali Abdulshaheed Al-Singace was arrested as a teenager and convicted in absentia, after being tortured using electric shocks.[7]

Lack of Impartial Instrument for Investigation

Although the ill-treatment of detainees has been continuously reported, there have been almost no proper prosecution of senior officers who have been accused of being in charge of torture. Since 2012, Bahrain has formed three instruments to investigate cases of torture and mistreatment—the Ombudsman, Special Investigations Unit (SIU), and Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC)—as recommended by the BICI report.

Despite the establishment of these channels, there have been no appropriate convictions in alleged cases of torture. Only between May 2015 and April 2016, up to 992 investigation case requests were made to the Ombudsman, which was formed to receive complaints in order to investigate torture and ill-treatment cases; yet no appropriate conviction was handed out against any senior officer with all cases generally dismissed.[8] Also, the Special Investigation Unit SIU has never taken serious measures to investigate these complaints, preferring form over substance rather than any practical steps to protect detainees and prisoners.

Likewise, the authorities have impeded investigations of the international community on torture in Bahrain. In 2012 and 2013, the government of Bahrain postponed the scheduled visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture.  It has been also reported that the government provides false information to third parties. For instance, with regards to a torture case of 32-year-old detainee, Muhammad Ramadan, the Bahraini authorities responded to a question raised by the UK government that there had been no such allegation, contradictory to several independent and documented human rights reports.[9]

On top of that, a number of state perpetrators of torture have been promoted with impunity. For instance, Bassam Al-Muraj, who have been accused of supervising the systematic torture for years, was promoted to be the General Director for Anti-Corruption, Economic and Electronic Security in the General Directorate in 2013, without any investigation of torture allegations.[10]

Article 9. Arbitrary Arrest and Enforced Disappearance

Article 9 of ICCPR states that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention, and anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.

Nonetheless, the government of Bahrain has continued arrest without presenting a warrant or informing them of any charges. Furthermore, most of former detainees gave testimony that they were not permitted to contact their families nor request proper legal assistance upon arrest. This is a serious violation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance that aims to prevent the occurrence of enforced disappearance, adopted by the United Nations in 2006.

For instance, Khalil al-Marzooq, a former member of Parliament for the largest opposition group al-Wefaq, was arrested after his call for peaceful protests in 2013. His lawyer was not able to meet him before the trial.[11] Likewise, in June 2016, a prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was also arrested allegedly without a warrant at his home, and no reason was given.[12] The list goes on.

Article 10. Treatment in Detention

A proper treatment of prisoners is essential as written in Article 10 of the ICCPR. A number of human rights organizations, however, continue to receive many reports and testimonies about prohibiting detainees, especially those who suffered from torture, from medical care and psychological rehabilitation. Many are forced to wait for treatment or operation for more than months to no avail, which only deteriorate their conditions to a critical level.

For example, the victim of torture, Akbar Ali, who was recently released, was prevented from his right to treatment by the administration of Jau Central Prison, despite his deteriorating psychological condition that resulted from torture, which caused several attempts to commit suicide. Muhammad Faraj is sentenced to seven years in prison. He suffers from MS and needs periodic and regular treatment as a result of the chronic disease. The Jau prison administration refuses to offer him a medical treatment, which has led to multiple health complications. Elyas Faisal Al Mulla is also a victim of torture and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He is suffering from cancer, but has been prevented from treatment for many periods that caused health complications. The prison administration continues to delay his treatment, ignoring the fact that the proper medical treatment is guaranteed by both local and international laws, as it is stipulated in the Constitution of Bahrain. Jaafar Oun was tortured in the head area, which caused complications, the most recent of which was a swelling of the head. He asked for treatment and to be diagnosed by a specialist doctor, but the prison administration of Jau has procrastinated his transfer to a specialized hospital outside the prison clinic. This may cause serious health complications. [13]

The absence of treatment after relentless torture has occasionally taken away life of inmates. In November 2014, a 35-year-old prisoner, Hasan Majeed al-Shaikh was severely beaten to the extent of having his skull and jaw broken and kidney ruptured. He was placed in solitary confinement without proper medical treatment, which eventually resulted in his death. In March 2017, Muhammad Sahwan, a victim of excessive torture, died of heart failure in the infamous Jau Prison. He was shot by security forces in 2011, but never treated for the 80-birdshot pellets in his head. Until recently he had denied full treatment with his life at risk, which resulted in sudden cardiac arrest.[14]

Article 12. Freedom of Movement

Travel Ban

The government of Bahrain does not comply with Article 12 of the ICCPR that everyone has the right to liberty of movement and shall be free to leave any country, including his own.

Since 22 August 2016, the government imposed travel ban on around 20 human rights defenders attending the 32th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. Although it was temporarily lifted after the session, since March 2017, the authorities have enhanced the surveillance and travel bans against human rights defenders, which resulted in the enforced absence of Bahraini activists from the 34th and 35th Session of the UN HRC.

On both occasions, the authorities, including the Public Prosecutor, accused the activists of fabricated allegations, such as their attendance at illegal gatherings in besieged Duraz, the area which has been sanctioned for non-residents to enter for almost over a year. As a result of the counterfeit charges, more than 50 political and media activists, and human rights defenders remain under travel ban for an indefinite term.

Article 14. Rights to a Fair Trial

Subjective and Biased Verdicts

Article 14 of the ICCPR ensures rights to a fair trial without undue delay, and without any external pressure. The courts of Bahrain have exhibited a clear bias towards politically-motivated verdicts, relying on false testimonies, issuing massive sentences, and giving green-lights for death sentences despite international condemnation.

Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of Al-Wefaq, the most influential and largest political group in Bahrain, has been sentenced in July 2015 to four years in jail, after being convicted of inciting hatred and calling for forceful regime change. His sentence was bizarrely intensified to nine years after an appeal by his defence counsel.[15] In the same year, former MP Jameel Kadhim, chairman of the consultative council of Al-Wefaq, was arrested for ‘making false allegations that undermined national elections,’ after criticising the role of political money in decision-making and sentenced to 6 months in jail.[16]

In 2011, two medics were put on military trial, and sentenced between 5 and 15 years, under charges of felony and misdemeanours. For instance, Dr. Ali Al-Ekri, a renowned paediatric orthopaedic surgeon working at the Salmaniya Medical Complex for more than 20 years, was sentenced to 15 years, later reduced to 5 years after appeal, being accused of felony. During the protests in February 2011, he offered emergency treatment at the medical tent and helped in evacuating women and children, which caused his arrest in the following month.[17]


Enactment of Laws Prohibiting Military Courts from Trying Civilians

With regards to a fair trial, on the contrary to its commitment to enact laws that would prohibit civilians being tried in military courts, in March 2017, the government of Bahrain has empowered the military institution. By approving a constitutional amendment to Article 105(b), military trial for civilians has been legalised, which is a serious violation of international fair trial standards. By empowering security agencies, the Bahraini authorities are facilitating political persecution of the opposition and civilians, under the pretext of “fighting terrorism.”[18]

Article 18. Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

The Bahraini authorities have increased restrictions on freedom of religion and conscience of Bahraini citizens, especially depriving the majority of Shia population of their rights to worship and practice their religious belief. This is a serious violation of Article 18 of the ICCPR, which stipulates that everyone has right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

Violation against Religious Freedom and Restrictions on Religious Activities

A number of religious scholars have been arrested and detained simply for their expression of opinion. Many of them have been banned from organising religious activities. This has been demonstrated by the political decision, disguised under a judicial judgement against the religious authority, the Ulama Islamic Council. In 2016, the authority accused the prominent religious leader, Shaikh Isa Qassim, of money laundering, revolving around khums, an annual payment made by Shia Muslims to assist the poor. By charging the highest cleric of religious practice with collecting ‘illegal’ donation, the regime is criminalising religious practice of Shia Muslims.[19]

Furthermore, Bahrain has failed to implement the commitment to rebuild the destroyed Shia places of worship. Despite its pledge to complete reconstruction of some of Shia mosques by 2014, which were demolished by the authorities, the government have continuously delayed the plan, and by 2015, only 12 out of 38 mosques were reconstructed. Moreover, there were several other places of worship have been destroyed since its acceptance of the UPR recommendations. The government have further permanently confiscated lands where demolished mosques used to stand.[20]

Discrimination in Education

Education is a basic human right guaranteed and safeguarded by all international covenants, conventions and agreements. It is the fundamental right of all human beings, without discrimination based on affiliation, race, colour, language, religion or other reasons. Nonetheless, in Bahrain, since 2011, the Ministry of Education has increased the level of discrimination in curriculum, employment and promotions, and distribution of scholarships, targeting Shia citizens, especially, by way of reprisal for their participation in public protests calling for reforms.

The government of Bahrain has deliberately imposed a biased curriculum of religion and belief on public and private schools, ignoring various religious denominations in the country. Shia specialist teachers have been marginalised from the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Directorate, while no other sects or beliefs than Sunni doctrine are permitted to be taught on the official curriculum.

Discrimination in employment has caused serious public grievances in the past years. It was reported in 2016 that 1,573 Bahraini teachers, all of whom are Shia, were unemployed, while foreign teachers have readily been employed, representing 20 percent of the total number of employees in the educational sector. Furthermore, a number of Shia employees in education have been arbitrarily transferred to lower positions or positions that do not come within their area of expertise, or assigned tasks that do not match their job title.[21] Likewise, scholarships represent one of the manifestations of blatant discrimination and sectarian oppression in Bahrain. Shia students have been deprived of their rights amid a sharp increase in discrimination in the distribution of scholarships. In 2015 alone, 34 percent of the top-grade students were deprived of scholarships, which has caused observers to rightly accuse the authorities of distributing educational support based on students’ political or sectarian affiliation.[22]

Article 19. Freedom of Expression

The government of Bahrain has criminalised and sabotaged freedom of expression through various unlawful measures and manipulation of relevant domestic laws. They have implemented unnecessary restraints and inappropriate regulations, and arbitrarily interpreted the law, which result in an infringement of Article 19 of the ICCPR. As a consequence, a worrying new set of methods repressing the human rights of its own people have come into practice. A number of political and religious leaders, journalists, human rights activists, and bloggers have been sentenced merely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression.

The persecution on former members of parliament has been particularly serious since 2011. Although the vast majority of former MPs have moderate and peaceful views in regard to political reform, their justifiable demands for transparency, rule of law, and the empowerment of parliament have been branded by authorities as ‘extremist and radical’ propaganda.

As a result, a number of former MPs have been targeted and punished for their political views, many of whom come from different backgrounds and sections of society. Khalil Marzooq, MatarMatar, Osama Al-Tamimi, Hasan Sultan, Hasan Isa, Jawad Fairooz, Jalal Fairooz, Khalid Abdilaal, Sayed Jamil Kadhem, Majeed Al-Sabi’, and Sheikh Ali Salman have been targeted by the government due to their critical stance against the government. Their cases clearly illustrate the extent the Bahraini authorities are going to ensure a constricted policy on freedom of opinion and expression against all citizens, and is further proof of the absence of democracy in Bahrain.

Instead of protecting rights of citizens, the government of Bahrain enhanced regulations that criminalise the legitimate exercise of rights to freedom of expression. The government approved amendments to Article 364 of the Penal Code which would increase the penalty for ‘insulting’ parliament, security forces, judges or public interests to two years’ imprisonment, and increased the punishment for publicly encouraging others to ‘defame’ to three years’ imprisonment, or longer for slander in the media.[23]

Article 21. Freedom of Assembly

Bahraini authorities have restricted practices relating to freedom of assembly by manipulating relevant domestic laws. To illustrate, the government of Bahrain have criminalised and sabotaged peaceful assembly, including the Duraz sit-in. Since June 2016, the security apparatus has sieged the Duraz area, whose population reaches 18,000. The authorities have used excessive force against citizens in the area, who are calling for reform and justice in response to the citizenship revocation of prominent religious leader, Isa Qassim. Since the early 2017, the Bahraini security forces have launched a new phase of a harsh crackdown on Duraz using the excessive force against citizens who were calling for reform and justice. The 18-year-old Mustafa Ahmed Hamdan was shot in the head with a bullet and died of his injuries on 24 March.[24] In 23 May, hundreds of security forces launched another repressive measure to disperse peaceful protesters, resulting in the deaths of five and injuring dozens of others.

Article 22. Freedom of Association

Since 2006, the following human rights NGOs, cultural, and political societies been dissolved: Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Islamic Scholars Council, Al Ressalah Cultural Society, Al Tawea Cultural Society, Islamic Action (Political Society), Al Wefaq (Political Society).

Most of all, the forceful dissolution of largest political society, Al-Wefaq, astonished the Bahraini public. There was a brief and opaque court procedure, which concluded with a severe and highly inflammatory result to close the party, sieze and sell off its assets, with no proper and fair appeal process to contest the decision – with the party’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman, undergoing an intensified sentence after appealing to reconsider the judgment against him.[25] While other long-standing societies, Tow’iya and Al-Risala, were also closed and their assets seized. The most influential liberal party, Wa’ad, has also been targeted, with numerous suspension orders handed to it over the last few years. In March 2017, a case has been lodged to dissolve the party.[26]

Article 24. Rights of Children

The government has revoked nationality of more than 420 Bahrainis, wielding citizenship as a weapon of control and oppression. This unlawful measure causes a serious violation of Article 24 of the ICCPR that every child has the right to acquire a nationality, as the citizenship revocation may render numerous children in statelessness. The impacts of citizenship revocation are especially harmful to children. They may be born stateless or fall into such predicament later in life, as a result of the revocation of a parent’s legal status. They become deprived of fundamental rights to safety and security, and denied access to basic medical care and education.


As investigated, despite its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), there has been no meaningful compliance with the most of its Articles. The government of Bahrain have increased restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association and religion of its citizens, targeting whoever raise their voices against the government to any degree. The arbitrary measures of the authorities have resulted in numerous victims of torture, travel ban, revocation of citizenship, and death penalty. Therefore, continued support, encouragement and pressure are in urgent need to ensure Bahrain implements the legal and policy changes for the real promotion and protection of all human rights for all people in Bahrain, complying with the international norms and standards, including the ICCPR.

  • [1] Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, “Bahrain Executes Three Stateless Torture Victims Following King Hamad’s Authorisation,” 15 January 2017,
  • [2] Cornell Centre on the Death Penalty Worldwide,
  • [3] Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (2017), “Systematic Torture in Bahrain,”
  • [4] Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, “Bahrain Court of Cassation Upholds Death Sentence against 3 Torture Victims,” 9 January 2017,
  • [5] Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report substantially discussed cases of torture. For instance, look at p.225, 241-246, 432-478,
  • [6] Prisoners & Detainees Rights Commission (2015) “Report on the Unannounced Visit to the Jau Rehabilitation & Reformation Centre (JRRC),
  • [7] Reprieve, “Three Executions in Bahrain Imminent Without Urgent Action,” 14 January 2017,
  • [8] Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: Lagging Efforts to End Torture,” 13 June 2016,
  • [9] The Guardian, “Bahrain Torture ‘Ignored’ by UK-Funded Monitor,” 16 July 2016,
  • [10] Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, “Bahrain: An Oasis of Torture,” 26 June 2013,
  • [11] Amnesty International, “Urgent Action: Prominent Bahraini Opposition Member Jailed,” 19 September 2013.
  • [12] Front Line Defenders, “Case History: Nabeel Rajab,”
  • [13] Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, “Bahrain Must Provide Prisoners with Full Access to Adequate Medical Care,” 5 August 2016,
  • [14] Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, “Mohammad Sahwan Dies in Jau Prison, Police Attack His Funeral,” 17 March 2017,
  • [15] Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: 9-Year Sentence for Opposition Leaders,” 2 June 2016,
  • [16] Reuters, “Bahrain Confirms Six-month Sentence for Opposition Official-Lawyer,” 15 February 2015,
  • [17] Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, “Dr. Ali al-Ekri Completes Sentence, Released from Prison,” 10 March 2017,
  • [18] Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: Proposed Military Trials of Civilians,” 23 February 2017,
  • [19] Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, “Government of Bahrain Must Drop Charges, Reinstate Citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim,” 19 May 2017,
  • [20] The Centre for Academic Shi’a Studies, “The Destruction of Places of Worship in Bahrain,” September 2014,
  • [21] Bahrain Teachers Society, “Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 27th Session of the UPR Working Group: Discrimination in Education,” 22 September 2016,
  • [22] Ibid.
  • [23] Human Rights Watch, “Interfere, Restrict, Control: Restraints on Freedom of Association in Bahrain,” 20 June 2013,
  • [24] Reuters, “Young Bahraini Dies After Being Shot Outside Shi’ite Leader’s House: Activists,” 24 March 2017,
  • [25] Aljazeera, “Bahrain Dissolves Main Shia Opposition Al-Wefaq Party,” 17 July 2016,
  • [26] BBC News, “Bahrain Court Dissolves Main Secular Opposition Group,” 31 May 2017,

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