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Bahrain 2023

The rights of people deprived of their liberty were violated, although reports of torture and other ill-treatment declined compared to previous years. Authorities continued to harass and prosecute their critics, repressed some peaceful protests and twice blocked Shia Muslims from reaching the main Shia mosque in Bahrain.


In March, Bahrain hosted an assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a body bringing together elected legislatures from around the world. In late August, Bahrain invited members of OHCHR, the UN human rights office, to visit the country, then cancelled the visit on 13 September, the day before it was to begin. The same day, Bahrain signed a new agreement to bolster military and commercial ties with the USA.

On 15 September, at a UK airport, Bahraini authorities prevented a delegation, including exiled human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja and leaders from Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders and ActionAid Denmark, from boarding a flight to Bahrain.1

Detainees’ rights

Until September, authorities at Jaw Prison kept inmates in their cells 23 hours a day and prevented hundreds of Shia prisoners convicted of violent or non-violent opposition to the government from holding group religious ceremonies in the prison prayer room, a restriction not applied to other prisoners. The prison administration continued at times to arbitrarily and punitively cancel prisoners’ phone calls and visits.

Between 7 August and 11 September, hundreds of Shia prisoners staged a hunger strike to protest at these forms of ill-treatment, which are contrary to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The prison authorities subsequently agreed to allow prisoners two hours a day out of their cells, group prayers twice a day in groups of up to 50 in the prayer room, and more calls and visits under better conditions.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Reports of torture and other ill-treatment declined compared to previous years.

On 15 August, guards at Jaw Prison pepper-sprayed and beat prisoner Ahmed Jaafar for demanding to meet a higher-ranking officer to discuss the hunger strikers’ demands.

Throughout most of the year, the prison authorities denied adequate medical treatment to imprisoned human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, arbitrarily cancelling his hospital appointments or making him wait for appointments for hours while shackled in a windowless, unventilated vehicle without air conditioning.2

Unfair trials

On 26 September, a court convicted 13 out of 65 defendants in a mass trial of prisoners for allegedly assaulting guards at Jaw Prison on 17 April 2021. Leaked contemporaneous accounts by at least five prisoners, and accounts given under interrogation by at least four, stated that guards attacked prisoners, not the other way around.

Workers’ rights

In July, Bahrain’s royally appointed upper legislative chamber proposed a legal upper limit of BHD 120 (USD 320) per month for domestic workers’ salaries. Like other migrant workers, domestic workers continued to lack the protection of a minimum wage.

Even though the effects of climate change began to be felt, with Bahrain experiencing its hottest August in over 100 years, the government did not revise its inadequate rules on heat protection, increasing the health risks for outdoor workers exposed to heat stress.

Right to a healthy environment

Bahrain remained one of the world’s top five highest emitters of CO2 per capita, according to World Bank data. Bahrain’s current Nationally Determined Contribution plan under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which it set in October 2021, makes no reference to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions, stating only a “renewable energy target” of “10% by 2025”.

Freedom of expression

Bahraini authorities continued to harass and unjustly prosecute their critics.

On 30 March, a court convicted three members of an unorthodox religious group, the Altajdeed Society, for “insulting” Islamic figures and sentenced them to one year’s imprisonment. After an appeals court upheld the verdict on 21 May, authorities arrested the two defendants still living in Bahrain.

On 22 May, police summoned a Shia cleric, Mohamed Sanqoor, for giving a sermon criticizing what he described as inhumane treatment of prisoners. Authorities interrogated him for three days, releasing him without charge on 25 May.

On 20 December, authorities detained opposition activist Ebrahim Sharif for tweets condemning the governments policy on Israel, Palestine, the USA and the Red Sea. They released him on 27 December, suspending prosecution without dropping the charges.

Freedom of religion and belief

In June, security forces twice prevented Shia Bahrainis from reaching the Imam al-Sadiq mosque in al-Duraz for Friday prayers if they were not residents of the town. This mosque is the country’s foremost Shia place of worship. Police blockades on the roads into al-Duraz turned back Shia commuters from other areas, while allowing non-Shia travellers to pass, on 9 and 16 June, three weeks after Mohamed Sanqoor was arrested (see above).

Freedom of peaceful assembly

The government reacted inconsistently to peaceful protests, repressing some but not others.

Authorities did not act to prevent or break up periodic marches and other street protests in the Shia-majority suburban areas to the west of the capital, Manama. Several such marches during the August-September prisoners’ hunger strike approached without repression the Budaiya Highway, which was an important axis during the mass protests of 2011.

However, on other occasions, the government summoned, warned, intimidated and arrested actual or potential protesters. In February, for example, the government summoned several family members of Bahrainis imprisoned or killed in the past by government forces and warned them against protesting around the anniversary of the 2011 uprising. On 21 February, the police station in Sanabis, a Shia suburb of Manama, summoned Jameel Taher al-Samea, the father of a young man executed in 2017, and compelled him to sign a statement pledging not to join any demonstrations. On 5 March, police arrested Hajer Mansoor, Ali Muhana, Muneer Mushaima and Najah Yusuf – all former prisoners or family members of prisoners – for peacefully protesting next to Bahrain’s Formula 1 racetrack. They were released after several hours without charge.

Women’s and girls’ rights

In June, in a positive step, Bahrain annulled Article 353 of its Penal Code, which had allowed rapists to escape prosecution if they married their victims.

There was no change to Article 4 of the Law on Bahraini Nationality, under which only men can pass on their Bahraini nationality to their children.

  1. “Bahrain: Maryam Al-Khawaja prevented from boarding flight for visit to demand father’s release”, 15 September
  2. “Bahrain: Prisoner of conscience on hunger strike: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja”, 17 August