“Demonstrating is our right” | An overview report on the legal structure and practices concerning the right to peaceful assembly in Bahrain

The “Demonstrating is our right” briefing sets out a summary review of international human rights obligations and domestic commitments that affirm the right of peaceful assembly in Bahrain. It briefly surveys Government of Bahrain (GoB) practice and laws, which precedes a consideration of the relevant international standards. The briefing presents a brief conclusion and sets out a small number of recommendations, principally to the GoB but also its international partners.

Bahraini domestic legislation contradicts Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right of individuals to assemble, demonstrate and freely meet to express their opinions and participate in political and social life.

SALAM-DHR shed light on the articles outlined in Decree-Law no. 18 of 1973 on public meetings, processions, and gatherings and its amendments made through Law No. 32 of 2006 and Decree Law No. 22 of 2013, in addition to the articles outlined in the Penal Code, that restricts the right to peaceful assembly, by subjecting peaceful demonstrators to criminal penalties and strict censorship. The Government of Bahrain was unable to harmonize its legislation with international law on the same subject.

In an exclusive comment from legal advisor, Ebrahim Sarhan, regarding this matter, he states: “The Bahraini government acknowledges rights and freedoms as outlined in the constitution, yet it enforces restrictions and confiscations in its laws and decisions. This process is systematic and deceptive, meticulously draining legislation of its essence and rendering it void of practical application. Its sole purpose is to serve external appearances and deceive the international community.”

In its briefing, Salam recalled the recommendations of countries to Bahrain in the fourth session of the Universal Periodic Review for the year 2022 to prove the latter’s violation of the right to peaceful assembly and its failure to implement the recommendations and to protect this right.

The briefing also reviewed the latest violations suffered by Bahraini citizens with regard to their right to peaceful assembly, through the most recent crackdown on demonstrations that began on October 13 in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Demonstrators denounced normalization with Israel, demanded the closure of the Israeli embassy in Bahrain and an end of the war on Gaza following the death of a massive number of civilians from Israeli military action on Gaza Strip.

Following the recent events, Ibtisam Al-Saegh, monitoring officer at SALAM-DHR, said: “…Bahrain has restricted and stifled the right to peaceful assembly, and made those who exercise this right a criminal.” She added: “We demand that Bahrain plays an active role in facilitating demonstrators to express their voices freely.”

As for the briefing’s recommendations, SALAM-DHR calls on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Lift restrictions and amend legislation restricting the right to peaceful assembly;
  • Allow the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association to visit Bahrain;
  • Implement the recommendations of the fourth cycle of the UPR 2022, including those related to the right to peaceful assembly; and
  • Release all detainees who were sentenced for their participation in peaceful demonstrations.
Download / Read Full Report